HC Deb 12 December 1944 vol 406 cc1128-76
Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

The House has good reason to be grateful to those hon. Members who raised the question of the future of Burma, and I can only hope that the House will be equally well served by a discussion on rural housing. In last Thursday's Debate the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Donald Scott) made a very interesting speech on this subject, and I will do my best to live up to his example. All the speakers in that Debate made an appeal for vigorous action to provide adequate homes for every family in the land. They based their appeal on grounds of common decency and on what we owe to every citizen. I agree with all that was said, but, to-day, I am asking the House to support a demand for rural housing, not only on these general grounds, but as an essential part of the Government's programme of food production. There is no passage in the Gracious Speech which will do more to encourage rural areas than the reference to the Government's intention to maintain a high level of food production, but good intentions are not everything. Food cannot be produced without farm workers, and farm workers must have houses—houses of a kind in which their wives are prepared to make their homes. If hon. Members wish to see the Government's production programme fulfilled, they must insist on adequate housing to match the labour requirements of that programme.

What will the situation be at the end of the war? The Women's Land Army, to whom we owe a very great deal, will begin to disband. The prisoners of war will want to go home. A great gap in the labour force, which to-day is stretched to the full, will have to be filled by men who cannot he billeted here, there and everywhere, like land girls and Italian prisoners have been billeted, and, unless more and better cottages are available for the men returning from the war, then I do not care how attractive to the farmer the Government's agricultural policy may be, that policy will fail, because the farm workers will not be there to carry it out.

The supply and convenience of rural dwellings can be increased in two ways. We can build new cottages or recondition old ones. Let me say at once that what the young farm worker and his wife would prefer is a modern cottage, of modern lay-out and with modern equipment. If we could give them new cottages they would willingly hand over their picturesque ruins to the attentions of sentimental week-enders and tired business men. We want, in the rural areas, all the new building we can get, and we want some temporary houses as well. I hope that, when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply, she will tell us something of the Government's plans for new building, and whether we are to get any of these Swedish wooden houses which are thought to be very suitable in some country districts.

The practical questions are how much building labour and materials will be available in the countryside immediately after the war, and what is the best use to be made of these resources? In the county to which I belong, a county which has not been heavily bombed, it is recognised that the bulk of the mobile building labour should be concentrated upon the reconstruction of blitzed cities. That being the case, we have to rely on that sturdy individual the small country builder. I think most hon. Members could point to at least one small builder whose business has been paralysed by the loss of one or two key-men to the Forces or to the big contractors. Quite often the men who went to work for the big contractors did not, when that job was done, go home again to get on with the repairs that were piling up on the farm buildings or cottages, but were then directed into the Army. It is absolutely vital that my right hon. Friends the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Works should play fair with the small builder when demobilisation begins. I hope that the key-men will be returned to the small builder, so that his nucleus of immobile labour can be built up again into a compact and efficient unit. When that is done, what is the best use that we can make of the small builder? I do not believe it would be advisable to turn him over entirely to building new cottages. Speed, and results achieved at the smallest expense of labour and materials, are what we want, and I think that we could rehouse more form workers in a shorter time if a substantial proportion of the building labour available were put on to reconditioning.

It is a vigorous campaign of reconditioning which I particularly wish to urge on the Government to-day. There are many old cottages which could quickly be reconditioned with less labour and materials than it would take to build a new cottage. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) was quite right when he pointed out last Thursday that many demolition orders have been served on properties which, with a little ingenuity and the advice of a good architect, could be made quite liveable. This is a delicate subject, but I hope we will hear something about the demolition orders when the Parliamentary Secretary replies. Up and down the country, we have some good modern cottages with modern facilities. We also have some old cottages that have been reconditioned—about one per cent. of the total number of rural dwellings. Then we have some modern cottages, many of them council cottages, with no modern facilities. I can imagine nothing more exasperating than living in a house in which there are taps from which no water flows and wires from which comes no electricity. But by far the largest number of our cottages are old, dingy and damp, need new doors and floors and have neither water, sanitation nor electricity. A substantial number of these old cottages have sound walls and dry sites, with good gardens, and are admirable material for reconditioning.

If the House will allow me, I would like to turn aside for a moment to consider why it is that there are so many old cottages that need to be reconditioned. Many of them are in a disgraceful state. They belong to private owners. Have these owners wilfully neglected their duty? It is a question to which we, on this side of the House, who believe in property and the duties of property, must find an answer. In a few cases there may well have been neglect, but only where the owner possessed capital or had an income derived from the towns, from some business or other urban pursuit. If he had to rely on the land for his livelihood, he simply could not get the money to keep his property in repair, and there can be no doubt that the underlying cause of the bad condition of rural housing is the long depression in British agriculture. When farming does badly, wages are low, and out of low wages only low rents can be paid. When farming does badly, profits are low, and out of low profits the equipment of an industry can neither be kept in repair nor renewed. Whenever I go into a bad cottage, or see a village woman carrying water from the well, two words come into my mind, "Free Trade." There is the evidence of the semi-bankrupt condition to which British agriculture was reduced by generations of competition from imported food. That must not happen again.

I venture to put this point, because there is current an entirely false argument. It is said, "Rural property is in a disgraceful condition. The owner must have neglected his duty and, therefore, the State should take over that property." But it was Government agricultural and taxation policy which crippled the owners, and what can be more cynical than for one and the same institution first to render a man incapable of carrying out his duty and then condemn him for his dereliction. These difficulties of the rural property owner were recognised before the war in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. By that Act the county council, if it chose, could make to the owner of a rural dwelling a grant of £100 or two- thirds of the cost of reconditioning, which ever was the less. Certain conditions were imposed. The value of the cottage after reconditioning was not to exceed £400 and it had to be let to a rural worker for 20 years at the agricultural rent—3s. a week in Wiltshire—plus 4 per cent. on the owner's contribution. The House will realise that this increase in rent did not permit the owner to pay both interest on his capital outlay and cover the cost of repairs. Since 1926 building costs have risen. We have to pay Purchase Tax on baths and stoves and other fixtures, which enter largely into re-equipment; not only have building costs risen but the standard of amenities has risen also. The luxuries of yesterday are the necessities of to-day, and no one now disputes that the financial provisions of the Act require upward revision.

As long ago as last May my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health, replying to a question by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead), said he hoped, in due course, to submit to Parliament the Government's proposals for the amendment of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. That was six months ago and I think we are now entitled to ask the Government for a definite statement. Have they a Bill on the stocks and when will they introduce it? In any new Bill I would like to see the operative figures of grant and of value after reconditioning doubled—the grant-in-aid raised from £100 to £200 and the value, after reconditioning, to be up to £800. I would also like to see at least two administrative changes. It does not make for good administration that the rural district council, which is the housing authority, should administer the other housing Acts while the Housing (Rural Workers) Act should be left to the county council. It is a difficult matter, but I am in favour of giving the whole of the administration of housing to the rural district councils. They have a more intimate knowledge of the villages and hamlets concerned, and I wish to avoid a conflict between new building and reconditioning, which tends to arise when the rural district is responsible for the one and the county council for the other. The argument in favour of the county council is that their technical staff is superior to that of the rural district. That is not always true. There are many rural district councils which are efficient. But if there are cases where they are weak, I hope that the Minister will encourage joint housing committees on which the technical staff can be pooled. The thing to be aimed at is co-operation between county and rural district and the avoidance of conflicts, which do nobody any good.

The second administrative change I consider very important. The grant should be obligatory. By that I mean, that when a scheme of reconditioning has been passed by the local authority's advisers, the grant should follow automatically and not be at the discretion of the local authority, as it is at present. It is import-tant to define clearly what we mean by rural worker and to apply that definition over the whole country. I ask for the grant to be obligatory because I want the owners' obligation to recondition to be most strictly enforced. The time has passed when the owner of a cottage ought to think he is doing the farm worker a good turn if he puts in electricity or water, He ought to regard it as his duty to provide these amenities, as it is now his duty to stop a leak in the roof if one occurs. Just as soon as financial help is available, and the help must be adequate, I hope the local authorities will use their powers to the full to take over rural dwellings which owners refuse to recondition.

I hope that I have made a case for a new Housing (Rural Workers) Act and that the Parliamentary Secretary will not tell us that some delay must be incurred and that that will not matter because a large quantity of labour and materials will not be available in the near future. Small beginnings are valuable in the countryside. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary lives in Warwick Square. If a house is reconditioned in a London square the occupants of the other houses would not know or desire to know what had been going on. That would be a matter of indifference to them, but in a village, if a pair of cottages are reconditioned they become the sole topic of conversation round the pump and in the pub. I suggest to the Government that if they will give us the new Bill quickly, we can begin, with whatever labour is available, to recondition here and there. We should give the farmworker and his wife tangible evidence that better houses are on the way, and it would put owners on their mettle. Both these things are well worth doing.

I would like to say a word about rural housing as a vital element in the background of agriculture. When the war broke out most of the equipment of British farming—and I include farm workers' cottages in that equipment—was obsolete. That was not the fault of the farmers but was due to a long period of low, fluctuating prices, and the miracle is the volume of food which they have produced with that obsolete equipment. Equipment which is obsolete when the basic wage is 40s. or lower, is very much more obsolete when the basic wage is 65s. or over. That is the real problem facing agriculture. During the war it has only been possible to cover the sharp rises in the labour cost in farming by giving the farmer more for his products than he got before. After the war we mean to maintain this wage and, I hope, increase it, but I do nor think that a policy of subsidy on the prices which the farmer gets for his products, whether produced with efficient equipment or not, will be the the best way of laying out the taxpayers' money. I think a much sounder policy would be a national drive to improve the background of farming, that is, the common services—water, electricity, and housing. The nation could not make a finer investment, and one of the forms that investment should certainly take would be decent homes for the farm worker and his wife.

I wonder sometimes whether the overwhelming urban population of the country realise what the farm worker has done in this war. Does industry know the hours that are worked on a farm? Sixty and 70 hours are not unusual where milk is produced, for we have not bred a cow that will take a rest on the seventh day. During last month, the month of November, on how many days did the farm worker get home with dry clothes? In agriculture we have no canteens, no "music-while-you-work," no pithead baths, it is a hard life; but those who have a fair chance on the land always love the land. In making this appeal to the Government for better rural housing, both rebuilding and reconditioning, in the right proportion to the resources available, I am paying my tribute to scores of old friends on the farms in Wiltshire who have worked silently and steadily throughout this war, and whose wisdom, patience and skill deserve the appreciation of this House.

3.32 p.m.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

I think the House is under a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) who has raised this very important subject in a way which must appeal to all hon. Members. I only wish that he had been a little stronger in his declamation against bad housing. There is no feature in our national life which causes more pain and distress to one who loves this country than the shocking conditions under which people are housed in rural areas in all parts of Britain. I do not think there is a subject which is more worthy of the attention of hon. Members because, whether we represent directly or indirectly a rural area, or an industrial area, we represent this great countryside, which is a source of pride and interest to all people who love our native land. After all, the countryside is the backbone of our country, and without a prosperous and happy countryside there can be no happy and prosperous Britain.

Something has been said about the relation of housing to agriculture, the relation of housing to labour supply, and the relation of labour supply to the production of food on the land. It is all one question. We really cannot divorce this. We cannot say there is a serious problem of housing in the countryside, and then go away and come back in six months and talk about the labour problem in the countryside. It is all one piece, and it is the degradation of the countryside that we are examining when we talk of the conditions under which some millions of people live. It is very difficult to sort out from the rural population the number of people associated indirectly or directly with agriculture, but I have figures here which reveal the general conditions in the countryside in a way that is worthy of more minute critical attention by this House. The report from which I am quoting is a good one and it tells us that in 1919 there were roughly 1,750,000 dwellings, in which were accommodated somewhere about 7,500,000 people—I mention these figures because there is something more than figures in this but figures, too, are important—an average of 4.3 persons per house. I would ask hon. Members to remember that many of these houses are very, very small and in a house containing four and a half persons there might often be two persons per room, because many of these are only two-roomed houses. From the stand-point of accommodation the situation was bad enough at the end of the last war in 1919. Well, for 20 years we had ample time to repair the ravages of the last war—as we shall be called upon to repair the ravages of this one—and we had an opportunity to build sufficient houses to improve the accommodation of the countryside. We barely did so. It is true that we built a large number of houses, 800,000 is the figure given—20 per cent. of the whole building programme of this country in those 20 years—and in rural areas we reduced the figure from 4.3 persons per house to roughly 3½. Looking at the figures one would say that there is not very much wrong in 3½ persons per house, but when you see the houses and the accommodation they provide, those figures really reveal a shocking condition.

Now we have come to 1944, with five years' leeway to make up, for no building has taken place in the countryside in the last five years. The right hon. Gentleman (the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) made a valiant effort to arouse public opinion, I believe, and to arouse all those connected with building in this country. I think his effort was highly praiseworthy, but his programme was all too modest. I think he proposed to build 3,000 houses—a drop in the ocean. How many of the 3,000 have been built? Have one-third been built?

Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)

Over 2,000 have been built.

Mr. Grenfell

I do not know the exact number. But the situation has been worsening every day, with a growing need for more and better accommodation for the man who tills the soil. He is a most important person in the countryside, but he is not the only person within the ambit of this problem of the population of the rural areas. We have been told that the houses would cost too much, that there was not sufficient material, that there was not sufficient labour, that there was not sufficient land available for the erection of additional houses. I refuse to accept those apologies. After all that this country has done during the war in building, in the construction of war equipment from material gathered from the ends of the world, brought by land and sea over thousands of miles then we are told that we could not build 3,000 houses to relieve the pressure on the accommodation of the population of the countryside because we had not either the material or the labour or the financial resources. Ridiculous.

It is a shame upon the House. Men of all parties here have been concerned about the countryside. There is no more beautiful country in the world than ours, but there are seasons when the countryside looks well and seasons when it is not so good looking. Last week, life in West Wales and in other places was especially depressing because of the abnormal rainfall and climatic conditions. Even the slums of London are not so bad as some of those slums of the countryside. The hon. Member for Chippenham spoke with much charm, and I am blundering through my speech without much skill or judgment. Somebody will probably pay compliments to us both, and then nothing more will be heard of this matter until the next King's Speech. The programme of rural housing will be delayed and mortal decay will set in among our rural population.

The mining industry is facing a terrific problem solely because of the difficulty of maintaining its manpower. What will be the supply of labour for work on farms, and for that ambitious programme which the Minister read out to us a few days ago? Unless they get more satisfaction out of country life the labourers will not be there, and will go more and more to the slums of the cities, which are so often held up as horrible examples in relation to the joys and contentment of a countryside existence. I hope the House will make up its mind to-day. Who is the responsible Minister? If it is the Minister of Health, let him face up to his responsibility and let the House tell him what we want him to do. We cannot play with this problem; we cannot put it off any longer. If we do it will become insoluble. I am assured that there are 8,000,000,000 bricks in stock in this country to-day. At 20,000 bricks per house, which is a good-sized house, we can build 400,000 houses. There are also ample stocks of cement and lime, and I am assured by those who know best that there can even be found enough timber. Yet there is always this convenient vehicle of postponement in the words, "Materials cannot be obtained." I make this prediction: there will be no more building materials in stock in 12 months than there are to-day. There will be less building labour when the war comes to an end unless the building industry is reorganised and a start is made at once with training men for their new duties.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

Will the hon. Gentleman say where he proposes to get the labour? Does he propose to call men back from the Armed Forces, or from London, where they are rebuilding and repairing blitzed houses?

Mr. Grenfell

I hope the hon. Member will not make London his excuse. Men have not been coming into London until recently, whereas this excuse of the shortage of labour has been given to us for years. I do not know for how long men will be required to make good war damage. Further, damage is not yet ended, but that excuse has been offered to us long before there were V/'s or V/'s, or any other destructive weapon of that nature. There is abundant supply of labour, and there has been for a long time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Small builders in the rural areas are being crushed out of their job. They will not be allowed to return to their job unless the House makes up its mind to use them. These builders do not require a large quantity of materials, or a large labour staff. There is not much to choose between rural areas in any part of Britain—they all have rather backward and miserable places in which to live—and in these areas the small builder could play his part. Given a little encouragement the small builder could gather a crew of men around him and build a house or two in the next year or two. Multiply that effort by the effort of many other small builders——

Mr. Tree (Harborough)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that at any time in the last five years there has been labour anywhere in the country for rural housing?

Mr. Grenfell

Yes, and, furthermore, skilled labour is now being employed on machine tending. Do not leave this work purely to the local authorities. I know many of the kind of people who sit on these local authorities, and the houses they live in, and I know that the problem will not be solved by their efforts. The High Court of Parliament itself must give directions. It must say, to-day or to-morrow, "Parliament will not endure the continuation of bad housing; the problem must be tackled now." If a suitable quantity of bricks and other building materials were made available to small builders who could find men to work with them thousands of houses could be built before the end of next year without drawing men from the Armed Forces. There are elderly men who could work on building operations at the moment. It could be done if we made up our minds to do it. I was a member of the Forestry Commission for 13 years, and I travelled widely in England, Scotland and Wales. I was never satisfied with the miserable schools I used to see, knowing the long journeys which children made to and from their homes in all weathers, and with the vast amount of preventable ill-health which I saw, due mainly to our unwillingness to face up to the housing problem.

I would not neglect the housing of our urban population, but if I were asked to choose I should pay first attention to the rural areas, where people are less capable of exercising their influence with local councils than people in the urban areas. I ask the Minister not only to provide more houses but better houses. It is a crime that "jerry-built" houses should be built in this country. When I heard the hon. Member opposite talk I concluded that he had no experience of this kind of thing at all. He talked about reconditioning. The only way to recondition some of these houses is to raze a very large proportion of them. Has any hon. Member tried to insert a damp course in an old house, and how has he succeeded? That is not the most economical way to provide housing accommodation.

You must make up your minds to build new houses. I will not say they all need to be large. Looking at the change in the incidence of births and deaths at present, perhaps the house of the next 40 or 50 years need not be larger in dimensions on the average than those of the last 40 or 50 years, but unless we build houses of better quality we shall never get rid of slumdom. I beg the House not to accept this idea of reconditioning and patching up as a substitute for building more and better houses. It has often been said in the last year or two that the countryside is a shockingly inconvenient place to live in, far from shops, far from your place of work, far from your school, far from your church, far from everywhere, and even at this day conveyances give a very bad service to people who have to travel long distances. But that kind of inconvenience is nothing like that of living in a house with no sanitation and no water supply. A quarter of the parishes of the country have no piped water supply. What is the use of providing taps and wires for conveying the energy with no water and no juice to run through them. The problem is not insoluble. There is not a tithe of the difficulty of the war organisations connected with it. We can build houses for all our people. We can now make a bold beginning with the housing of the people on the countryside. We can make up our minds and insist that the Minister shall bring in a new Bill, soon to be implemented, which will put the necessary resources in material and labour into equipping houses on the countryside fit for people to live in.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

The hon. Gentleman shows how keenly he feels on the urgency of dealing with the problem of rural housing. I think he was right to stress the importance of the main services, such as water, drainage and electricity. Since I returned from New Zealand I have made a special point of examining the facilities in my own constituency. I was aware of them before, but, coming back afresh and so getting a new view of the problem, I am bound to say that the housing conditions, and all that goes with housing in rural England at present, are a great disgrace to those of all parties who have been concerned with for a long time and, in making this fresh start now, I believe we can go right ahead. May I quote from the report of the Spalding rural district council, only 100 miles from London? There are hundreds of premises where the water supply is unsatisfactory or inadequate. Twenty-six samples of water have been submitted for analysis, 18 from private pumps and wells, which are unsuitable for drinkng purposes, the majority showing evidence of sewage contamination. Drainage. Only a very small percentage of the houses are provided with water closets, and in most cases the accommodation is of the pail or vault type. Nuisances are continually arising through the disposal of faecal matter in the pail closets. This is particularly serious at houses where the gardens are small, as they quickly become saturated with sewage and are a constant source of nuisance from flies and effluvia. I am disappointed at finding, in the housing manual issued this year under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works, even yet some suggestion that this old earth closet is to remain. I refer to page 24. If in any area a piped water supply is not available, an earth closet may be inevitable. It should be planned so as to be entered from the open air under cover. The difficulties in the management of earth closets can be much reduced if the authority provide their tenants with a leaflet or handbook. Entering the new world after the war, we are determined to go forward with a piped water supply for our rural dwellings and a water-borne system of sewage, and we are not taking an earth closet and a leaflet from the Government.

These are the problems that we must ask the Government as a whole to face. The need is very great indeed. In the area of the rural district council from whose report I have read, out of 8,000 houses it is estimated that 1,000 or 1,500 require replacement. To that figure must be added houses for those returning from the Forces. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) refer to the place which the small builder is to take in this great task of housing our people. This is borne out by the very valuable Report on Rural Housing. I believe the small builder can make a most valuable contribution, but he has got to be helped. He works on the job with his men, sometimes only three or four of them. Often he drives the lorry. How wise the Chancellor of the Duchy was to start building houses in rural areas, because it was an experiment, on the scale of 12 inches to the foot, in showing how houses can be built. This Report on Rural Housing tells us that one of the difficulties in the way of getting the job done was that the poor small builder, on whom we must rely so largely, had to deal with no fewer than 14 departments, bodies or persons before he could get going. I believe that as the result of that experiment things have improved, but they are bad enough. I appeal to the Minister of Health to initiate a programme of exactly the same dimensions, 3,000 houses in rural areas—a small enough programme yet it means 3,000 more contented families. Let us plan for such a programme again, with new vigour to see whether, in the light of the experience and lessons of the past, we can move forward more swiftly with the provision of good houses, such as can house contented families.

If we are to get people to live in the countryside and get British agriculture back on to its feet, it will not be done on the basis of country slums. Often a rural cottage which looks so attractive as you whisk by in a motor car is an absolute slum, far worse than anything you can find in the city—lacking in sanitation, with window spaces too small, no damp-proof course and no piped water supply. When the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) said there was labour available, he was interrupted. I think he rather over-stated the case. On the other hand, I am with him part of the way on these terms. He is right about bricks being in stock now. On the main line from London to Peterborough large stocks of bricks can be seen. There are not a lot of brick-layers, but there are some, and in places one sees them replacing the low brick walls from which iron railings were taken. They could be better employed building main walls for houses. Timber is a great difficulty. Therefore, let us have concrete floors. They are unpopular, for the moment, but when wood becomes available let us cover them and thus give the dwellers in rural cottages parquet flooring.

I appeal to those who are responsible to make a start now on a limited scale. We do not want the Government to sit down and say, "Materials are difficult, labour is difficult, everything is difficult, and we won't try at all." The Government must make clear which Department is responsible. I have already referred to the 14 persons, Departments and bodies to whom the small builder has to go. He has not time for that. We up here at Westminster know the nice difference there is between the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Health, but, as you move away from Westminster, all these Government Departments are lumped together and called "They," and "They" are regarded as obstructions. I would like to see the responsibility rest with the Ministry of Health. After all, the Ministry of Health was expensively educated by the country after the last war to deal with the housing problem, and I do not think that the country, having educated one Department to do the job, desires to spend its money now on educating the Ministry of Works or the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. The Ministry of Works is the Department which must be charged with the emergency and temporary housing schemes, and all of us will wish my right hon. Friend the new Minister the greatest possible success in that. As he is thinking of allocating the temporary houses, we ask him not to overlook the needs of the rural areas.

Overcrowding can be just as great in the countryside as it can be in a bombed area. The losses in the bombed areas have been by enemy destruction. The losses in the countryside have been due to the fact that we started with worn-out houses, and for five years we have overcrowded them and racked them for all they are worth by putting into them larger numbers than ever before, and it has been more and more difficult to secure repairs. Repairs have been effective or non-effective according to the distance of houses from the big centres of population. The result is that it is the rural areas which need the greatest rehabilitation. I join with the hon. Member for Gower in his desire for new houses. I believe that we have enough work in hand to build new houses at once to be able to leave reconditioning on one side. The great need is to get up new houses of some kind. Let us try to make a plan to build a place for everybody who has to live in rural areas so that they can have their own roofs and their own front doors, and let us do this at the earliest possible moment. In making that our ambition, we shall prove our desire to bring back to the countryside that prosperity which we all desire.

4.7 p.m.

Mr. Horabin (Cornwall, North)

I agree with the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that housing conditions in the rural areas are really shocking. In my area of North Cornwall there is an acute shortage of houses. When it was announced that 3,000 rural cottages were to be built, my constituents hoped that there would be some alleviation of their lot in this respect, but I am afraid that to-day they are "browned-off" about it. The shortage of houses in rural areas is not due entirely to the war, although the war has accentuated it. The shortage was acute before the war. In some villages in North Cornwall, it was impossible for people to get married, because no houses were available. When they did get married, in some villages the husband had to live with his people and the wife with her people. That is a dreadful state of affairs to exist in a civilised country. It is not only a question of the shortage of houses. I have been shocked as I have gone round my constituency, particularly during the last few months, to see the conditions of the houses that exist. Slums in the country are worse than the slums in some of the worst of our slum towns. People do not notice them so much, because the immediate surroundings are more beautiful than those in the towns. The cottages are damp, the accommodation is wholly inadequate for a family, the roofs are often in a shocking condition, there is no sanitation of a reasonable kind, and there is no piped water. There are villages of 200 or 300 people in North Cornwall where people have to walk 250 yards in order to get water. Sanitation is virtually non-existent in the sense that it should be understood in a civilised country.

What is to be done about this housing problem? I agree that if it is possible to build houses at the present moment, everything should be done to do it. I should like to see carried out the suggestion of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston that the Government should start to build another 3,000 cottages in the rural areas. The important thing is that when we get down to rebuilding there should be a fair deal as between the rural areas and the town areas. By that, I mean that the rural areas should have an equal priority over materials and labour. I agree that the smaller builder is the backbone of building in the rural areas. At the present moment his labour has been redirected away from him to the large contractor. The first step to be taken is that that labour should be redirected back to him. Until that has been done, we shall not get effective building in the rural areas.

There is an admirable report published by the Rural Housing Sub-Committee of the Ministry of Health, and they make the suggestion, which I think should be carried out at the earliest possible moment, that there should be a thorough survey of existing rural houses. The houses should be divided into four categories: those that are fit for habitation, those that require structural alterations, those that require reconditioning and those which ought to be demolished and replaced. I am sure that if that survey is carried out thoroughly, it will be found that not 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 houses will have to be built in the next 10 or 12 years, but something in excess of 5,000,000, if the people of our country are to be decently housed. There is another point. If we are to maintain a balance between our urban and our rural populations, it is essential that the standard of housing in the rural areas should be the same as that in the towns. Hon. Members have already suggested that that means carrying out the recommendation of the Scott Committee that there should be piped water in every village and cheap electricity at the same price as in the towns. It also means indoor sanitation. With the modern equipment which is available and which we have been using for laying cables along our roads, the work could be carried out quickly, and I believe cheaply, if the job was tackled properly.

Then, of course, there comes the question of rents. I saw some of those 3,000 rural cottages that were built in my area about six or seven months ago. They were then standing empty because the rents were too high for agricultural populations in that locality. If we are to build houses for the agricultural workers, it is essential that the rents should be such as they can afford to pay. As the Rural Housing Sub-Committee says, the houses must be let at rents somewhere between 7s. and 8s. per week, plus rates. In order to do that, the country has to face paying a larger subsidy for rural houses than it does for town houses. That is the duty that the community owes to the rural population, who are living in the country with all the disadvantages implied in living in the country, in the interests of the community. They are there to produce our foodstuffs, and it is right that we should compensate them by paying adequate subsidies to give them decent houses. If we do not, we shall find further migration from the country into our towns.

4.14 p.m.

Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

The House has heard from all sides requests for improved housing conditions in rural areas, but this Amendment asks the attention of the Government to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act which is confined to reconditioning and assisting the repair of existing houses. It is primarily for that purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is no Amendment before the House."] I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I was referring to the Amendment on the Paper, which is: But, while welcoming the statement that progress will be made in fulfilling the urgent task of providing additional housing accommodation, humbly regret that the Gracious Speech makes no mention of amendments to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. —and I still think that that is the case that we should wish to see put in the rural districts. We were under the impression that, in order to make the previous Housing (Rural Workers) Act come up to date and of use, in modern conditions and prices, it was necessary that such an Amendment should be introduced, and that we should have it embodied as soon as possible. Enough has been said to show the conditions in rural districts, after four years of war the redirection of the labour staff of local builders and the enormous increase in some cottages of evacuees from the bombed areas, who were put into houses to which they were not accustomed. I must say that some of them were in very bad conditions and suffered desperately. Now, wherever one goes, one finds men being asked to live in houses which are not fit for a man who is qualified to be a skilled worker on the land.

I would urge that we should concentrate, if we can, on the White Paper on the National Water Policy, which deals with the problem of rural water supplies as applied to rural housing. It says that the Government propose to invite Parliament to pass a law in the present Session, and the text of the Bill will be available. Reference was also made to that matter in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. Further, in the same White Paper it points out that the purpose of the Bill will be to bring the service into line with the housing service proposed. It will not bring it into line, unless we have the facilities to improve existing houses, to build further houses and to introduce, so far as we can, water supplies and electricity

We should also take full advantage—I do not think this point has been mentioned in the discussion—of the emergency water and electricity supplies which have been put into camps, factories and airfields practically in every part of our country. It is absolutely essential that the Service Departments who have expended the taxpayers' money for those water supplies and so on should see that the facilities are made available to the local authorities. Water could then be given to all groups of houses in rural areas at the earliest possible moment. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) asked whether the administration should be carried out by the rural district council or by the county council. In the Hob-house Report, and in the statistics which appear, the most astonishing variation is shown in the various counties. The counties that did best have improved accommodation by means of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. Devonshire adopted the Act, with a very high percentage. The ones that were administered by the county councils seem to have a better record than those administered by the district councils.

Sir Percy Hurd (Devizes)

Success was only achieved in Devonshire because of the full measure of co-operation which existed between the county council and the rural districts.

Sir R. Glyn

I do not mean for a single moment that there should not be the closest co-operation between county councils and rural districts but it has to be remembered that the initiative must come from the owners of the houses, who do not submit their ideas so readily to their immediate neighbours as to that further off authority the county council. As long as that remains the position, it is essential that the owner who wishes to improve his property should be able to apply to the county council, and the Ministry of Health should take steps to see that there is that co-operation between the county councils and the rural districts, in order to get the utmost benefit from both forms of administration.

There is one thing about which I feel very strongly. I hope the House will agree with me that modern transport has had one effect in bringing the most diverse types of dwelling into localities where our forefathers used the only material which was to their hand. Nothing distresses me so much as to go through a Cotswold village and to see among the lovely stone houses, bricks from Fletton and tiles from Wales. The thing screams at you and disgusts the people themselves, while all the time there are available in all parts of the country skilled quarrymen who could well be employed. What you want in the rural districts is to feel that, out of the very soil and rock underneath, you have built up dwellings which do not affect one adversely because one feels that they fit in, melt into, the whole landscape.

In my constituency we have stone houses and I have had a sort of survey made as to how many of these old houses have been condemned, under a demolition order by a rural district council. I think it is rather disastrous that under the present law it is not essential for a rural district council to have the technical opinion of an architect before a demolition order is made. There are many admirable surveyors who do very good work for rural district councils—I have nothing against them—but they are not architects. There is nothing to say that a clerk to a rural district council should be trained in architecture and construction and it is easy to make a demolition order. There are, in all the Southern counties of England, houses in a poor state, which have magnificent walls, well-sited and with good gardens, sometimes with poor roofs and windows that are too small, some miserably so, some not. But I would sooner live in a Cotswold house than a brick villa. One is built by craftsmen to keep out the weather, the other not always. I should like to see everything done to encourage again these old rural crafts. We require the same sort of dwelling as we formerly had. Far more people require to be trained in the construction of a staircase than seem to be the case at present. Some modern staircases which have been put in are hopeless. You cannot get furniture up them.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

The hon. Member would not agree that small windows should continue?

Sir R. Glyn

I said so particularly.

Mr. Griffiths

I said the same.

Sir R. Glyn

It is not often an interrupter is in agreement. I am glad to know the hon. Member supports my own view.

The last point I want to make is that a great deal is being said in condemnation of the present sanitary arrangements. The sanitary arrangements are nothing to be proud of but I want the House to remember that once water is supplied which indeed is essential for drinking purposes, because people are drinking water which is not so good, demands are tacked on for sanitation and it might be found that pure water for drinking will not be available for the cottages so quickly. If there is concentration on supplying good drinking water then the supply can be increased for all the other purposes for which it is required.

An hon. Member has mentioned the conditions that exist in bad weather such as we have been having—agricultural labourers going home with wet clothes and having no place to dry them. In most cases, the town architect who designs cottages does not realise the importance of a drying cupboard and the importance of having an outside place at the entrance where dirty clothes can be taken off. He does not realise where the copper ought to be. It is because of this kind of thing, that I beg the Ministry of Health to lose no time in getting architects who understand the rural conditions, and to make it essential that district councils shall consult proper architects, before they condemn a place; and also to see how far we can accommodate old people in a village in smaller houses, thus releasing a larger house in which they live for a young married couple. I think this survey, which I trust will be made, should show the use to which existing houses are being put. You cannot turn out an old widow of a man who has done faithful service on the land for years—you do not want to—but she ought to have an opportunity of going to a smaller place which she can look after more easily and freeing the larger house in which she has been living for a young couple.

In conclusion, I think the siting of houses in the country is of importance. Wives will not be satisfied in future with living in an isolated position. Those connected with agriculture, keymen, such as stockmen who must be on the spot to look after the stock, must have houses which are equal in every way to the house of the skilled artisan in a town. I believe that we have to come to a stage when the agricultural workers' houses have to be near a village and you have to rely on transport to get them to their work. I believe that is the trend of things. I am equally sure that the country does not even understand the enormous amount of skill there is in the agricultural work. It will not be sufficient for a young man to come to a farm and say "I am an agricultural workman," as will be the case after the war. What we want to encourage is the same pride in their job by agricultural workers that all other industries have. The real agricultural worker as the term is understood should be able to thatch, to cut and lay a hedge—he should be able to do all the things required on the land. Mechanisation will never kill the actual skill of man in handling land. The nearer one gets to the soil, the more one realises the wisdom of our forefathers, and the more we ought to recognise our responsibility in this House to see that those who work on the land have houses fit to live in. Otherwise, the House itself will suffer.

4.27 p.m.

Mr. Richards (Wrexham)

I am sure the House will be glad of the opportunity given to it this afternoon of discussing the question of rural housing. We all feel that at the back of this problem is the great economic problem of the future, which faces all agriculture. It is because agriculture has been unprofitable for a great many years, that the agricultural worker found it impossible to pay for an adequate cottage to house himself, his wife and his family. I agree with those hon. Members who have emphasised the deplorable condition of rural housing.

I should like to refer particularly to the conditions in Wales, which from some points of view present peculiar problems. Speaking generally, we have in the countryside in Wales very few concentrated villages. Our population is very sparsely distributed over the countryside, and there is not the same concentration of population, both farmers and labourers, as there is in England. The result is, as we have already heard, many of our people have to live in very remote parts of the country. A curious thing, moreover, is that many of what we might call labourers' cottages have been erected by the people's own labour on the common land. They have been set up very rapidly and, as one can imagine, very roughly, because under the old Welsh law the houses had to be built in the course of a single night, and the smoke had to be coming out of the chimney by early morning. There is a very amusing account by an old Welsh poet of the 17th century of the way a whole community came together to build a house for a particular individual.

That is the history of many of them. They were built by "squatters" on the common. At first a very small rent was paid for the cottage; but in most cases the lord of the manor had designs upon them, and eventually they became entirely his property. The tragedy of the position is that in most cases that I know of—and I know of a great many—this is the kind of housing that exists in the remote rural parts of Wales. The lord of the manor took no steps to improve those houses. Whatever has been done has been done by the labour and the savings of the labourers themselves. It is a scandalous system, and it accounts largely for the unworthy conditions in which so many people in Wales are housed. Obviously, there is one thing that must be done. There is often attached to these houses a little land, for which the tenants pay a nominal rent. Sometimes they manage to keep a few sheep; very rarely do they manage to keep a cow. The State should take over this property, and get rid of the old manorial claim to this property, which should belong entirely to the people who built the houses. I do not think there is any other salvation than for the State to rehouse these people, who are in many cases the very backbone of the community. On these bits of common land live some of the most progressive people in Wales. On the rich lands, where the bigger farmers live, you do not find any of that intellectual keenness which is associated with these people, who live in such deplorable conditions.

I would make a plea for the small farmer. It has been said once or twice to-day that the rural district council has on some occasions interested itself in the housing of the working classes in the country. That is true, but the interest is very limited. These houses to which I have referred are often built against a mountainside. There is just a cavity made, a wall is put up against the ground at the back; and the house is built as I have indicated. The extent of the interest of the rural district council has been that the tenants have been forced to remove the earth at the back, and the council have done nothing to improve the houses. We want the council to take more interest, and to assume complete responsibility for rebuilding these houses. The condition of things on many of the farms in Wales, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) knows, is infinitely worse than it is elsewhere. Some of the farms are scandalous. The only concern of the landlord, or his agent—because in many cases the landlord knows very little about the conditions—is to get the rent at regular intervals. I could mention estates on which no repairs have been effected in the last 50 years, and the houses are now utterly unworthy of repair. The only thing to do is to build new houses.

I will tell you the policy of some of the Welsh landowners. Recently I went over a little farm of nearly 60 acres. The house in which the people had attempted to live was in a deplorable condition. The landlord, some years ago, had put up rather good buildings. He would not repair the house, but gave it to a neighbouring farmer. That is happening all over our country. If a farmhouse becomes dilapidated he soon finds a rich, reliable farmer, who becomes the tenant of that holding and of the farm that he already holds. That is the way the countryside is being denuded of its population. Plenty of people would like to live in some of these farmhouses if they were put in a state of decent repair, but the economic interest of the landowner in many cases lies just the other way. He wants his rent, and does not care two pennies about the conditions in which these people live. I would like to see some authority—I do not know what authority, unless it is the Ministry of Health—institute a survey of the conditions in farmhouses, as well as in labourers' cottages. I am not pleading for the farmer as against the labourer; we want them both admirably housed. I hope that, as a result of this Debate, we shall have an inquiry into the condition of the farmhouses, as well as into that of the labourers' cottages.

Might I, with some diffidence, make a suggestion, which has been passing through my mind this afternoon? If the Ministry of Health really want to have a drive in housing, as I believe they do, I suggest that they should divide the country into a number of areas, as was done for Civil Defence, and appoint in each area an individual—he might be called a Commissioner, or whatever you like. Under the Civil Defence scheme, there were a dozen such individuals appointed; and we were in contact with the Home Office over all questions relating to Civil Defence. I found that the public authorities were glad to receive advice and guidance from us. I am certain that the local authorities, particularly the rural district councils, would value immensely such assistance from individuals responsible for the housing drive in the different areas. The public authorities do not know where to turn, with so many Ministers. I myself am not clear as to the difference between one Minister and another, and the particular function that each is supposed to perform. If there was an individual of that kind, who was in contact with all the Ministries and who would be able to say to the local authorities which was the person definitely concerned with this problem, I think it would be of very great benefit to the community and it would be one way, so far as I can see, in which we could secure the new houses which are so badly needed in the countryside.

4.41 p.m.

Major John Morrison (Salisbury)

I have listened very intently during the whole of this Debate, and I wish to support the ease put by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). I wish I could agree with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) when he suggested that we should start right away and knock down houses in rural areas and have adequate labour and materials available to build them up again, but, from what I know of the building position and the number of workers available, I am afraid that that is not possible at the present time owing to the great shortage of men. It is owing to the shortage of men, and the fact that we have had to supply from the countryside as many men as possible to the cities, particularly London, to build up the blitzed areas, that there is now a very great deal to be done, and urgently needing to be done, in the housing of the countryside. After five years of war and blitz, wind, water and the elements have wrought considerable damage, which has not been repaired by the ordinary maintenance staffs, as it would normally have been done had we not been at war. Over and above that, many houses which would normally have been reconditioned have not been dealt with, on account of that very same fact, and I would particularly support the hon. Member for Chippenham in asking that the Government should give every incentive to those in the countryside and should help, with increased grants, the improvement of this difficult state of rural housing.

If this is done, I feel that we should kill several birds with one stone, because, at the present time, we are bound to be short of labour and materials for quite a considerable period, and, if everyone is encouraged to recondition houses which are capable of being dealt with in that way—and they can be, nowadays, by modern methods and by using good, seasoned stuff in them—we shall save labour and materials, and that, while the war is still on, is a vital necessity to the country as a whole.

We have seen the men who are primarily responsible for the building industry taken away from the countryside. They went into the Territorial Army at the beginning of the war, and later those who were left were directed away to build aerodromes and Service camps. They have been lost to the countryside as a consequence, and now many of them are working in London on blitz damage. From what I have seen of the countryside where I come from, the people there do not grudge the loan of these men to the unfortunate people of London. They appreciate the horrors of the blitz, and they want these men to help them, but they do want them back as soon as possible. The rural builder and his men can do a job in the countryside better than anybody else, and I think that, from the national point of view, it will be an economy if these men are allowed to return to their own districts at the earliest possible opportunity. Living in his own home, with the cooking done by his own wife, with his own knowledge of the rural area in which he works and, particularly, of rural materials, this man can do a really good job, and I hope that whoever is to reply to this Debate will be able to tell us that some of these men, at any rate, will go back to their own localities at the earliest possible moment.

There are also a number of men, not quite in the same category, who are not actually employed by the rural builder, but are employed by farmers or estate owners, and who went off at the beginning of the war and who, also, have been lost to the countryside. I hope that, when their turn comes to come out of the Army, a fair share of them will go back to their original job of keeping the countryside in repair and in a proper state of maintenance.

The hon. Member for Chippenham also referred to the question of grants. I hope the Government will see their way to increase these grants so as to give every incentive to the individual to "get cracking" as soon as possible on this vital problem. So far as I can make out, the total amount which it has cost this country up to date on account of these rural housing grants is between £163,000 and £164,000. When one thinks of what it means to the health and happiness of these people, who are the heart and soul of the countryside, and to their children, it is a pretty small sum, and a little more would not only be money well spent but, from the point of view of the future children of the land, a real investment.

We also know that, very shortly, there will be released to the country a number of men and women from the Services. As has been said, many of them will want to get married, and we are very short of houses, so I hope that, as well as every incentive being given for reconditioning where possible, we shall get our quota of new houses and, if necessary, of temporary houses. The Minister of Agriculture announced the other day a scheme for men coming from the Forces to be trained. Worthy and useful additions they will be, but you cannot train a man from the Forces, who has been driving a tank or firing a Bren gun, for rural work straight away. He will have to stay on the land quite a year or so, and I hope the Government will consider housing these trainees properly. These men now fighting in Belgium, Italy and France, will be deserving of proper housing conditions.

There is one other point. At the present time the housing grants do not cover anything to do with drainage just outside the walls of the house, and I hope that something could be incorporated so that the drains coming into the house can be included in the amount of the grant. I think that is a point which puts off a lot of people from essential reconditioning of their buildings.

4.49 p.m.

Colonel Clarke (West Grinstead)

I hope the hon. Member who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him. I agree with practically all he said, but time is short and I have other things to say myself. I congratulate the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) on having raised this subject. The prosperity of the countryside depends largely, indeed almost entirely, upon agriculture, and the importance of rural housing to agriculture cannot, I think, be exaggerated. We are apt to think of agriculture as a matter of machines, stock, fields and farms, and not to think enough about the men. If an Army really depends upon its men, and not on its tanks, guns, jeeps and so on, so does agriculture. We have got to keep the men we have, and also try to attract more men into the agricultural industry.

I am ambitious enough for that industry to believe that that can be done. It is an industry that is coming to life again and at the present moment it is fuller of vigour than it has been for a long time. There are plenty of opportunities for young men interested in mechanics, with the use of combined harvesters and lots of complicated machinery. But agricultural workers are not all bachelors. Agriculture is one of the professions in which a good wife means more to a worker than to men in most other professions. She is almost as essential to the farmer as to the agricultural worker. We shall never get wives to agree to live in the country unless we can give them accommodation comparable to that which their sisters are getting in the towns. The principle involved in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act is most important. A few days ago I asked the local publichouse keeper what the talk in the bar was about houses. We are to have a housing scheme in our village, as most villages are. The answer was that most of them said, "Why do they not bring our present houses up to date before they build new ones?" That is only in respect of one village, but I believe it is a commonly accepted view.

In 1939, three out of every four houses in rural England had been built before 1919 and are thus over 25 years old. In those 25 years there has been immense progress in all sorts of amenities and in the actual design of the house itself. There is no wonder that these people are dissatisfied. Again if one builds a new cottage, the man and his wife who go into it are very pleased, but their pleasure is discounted very considerably by the fact that all their neighbours are dissatisfied with houses with which they have been more or less satisfied for a long time. As new houses are built all over England that feeling is going to grow and spread. At the same time this Act is the method that will be useful to satisfy the discontented. By this Act some of the most needful cases are met. There is for example the case of the cottages on stock farms, where it is necessary for the men and their wives to live rather isolated lives and where rural district councils are not prepared to build new houses themselves.

I only regret that in the Amendment on the Paper the name of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was not coupled with the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938. Under Section 3 of that Act bona fide agricultural cottages, properly maintained, and kept for agricultural labourers could be built by private persons with a grant of £10 for 40 years. That total of £400 to-day is not anything like enough to enable people to build fresh cottages. We want in the agricultural districts, besides the houses which are renovated, a considerable number of new houses. I agree with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) on that point. In my own experience the renovated house is not altogether satisfactory, and if you can get an absolutely new one it is often much better. The new houses recently built by the Ministry of Agriculture cost between £950 and £1,200 and the £400 Government grant will not go very far to meet it. Possibly there has been some change and something more done of which I have not heard, and if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who, I understand, is to reply can enlighten me a little on that point, I shall be glad to know whether there is any chance that something may be done in connection with this Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, which at the moment is rather a dead letter, because the financial provisions are not enough, so that it may be brought up to date.

We have had a great many reports ately dealing with rural housing. We have had the Scott Report, which was a wide Report embracing the life of the countryside generally, the Hobhouse Report and the Dudley Report. The last two have only been presented recently but the Scott Report was presented some time ago. There are certain recommendations in that Report which, I hope, are receiving attention. I want to call attention particularly to the supply of rural electricity. There is nothing that would make some of the rural houses more acceptable to those who have to live in them than if electricity could be brought to them. I hope that the matter of the allocation of electricity, which the Scott Report considered essential and which in due course should be available in the homes of practically every citizen in town and country alike, with no higher price either to the consumer in the country or the town, and methods of dealing with it, are being considered.

There has been some talk about the provision of materials and labour for building cottages in the country. The country must have a fair allocation in comparison with the town. I was glad to hear that there are big supplies of bricks. In my own rural area where there are nine brickworks, I believe none is working at all. In East Sussex there is only one works producing roofing tiles and that is working at very low pressure, because the managing director is away on active service. I ask the Government to try and revitalise these local sources of supply. I know the difficulties and that men cannot be spared in many cases from the Services. But it is not a question of a great many men and I am not certain whether it is a matter of the actual number of individuals, or whether it is more a case that the fact of their being allowed to go might upset the others. All of us who were in France at the end of the last war know the difficulties we got into in allowing certain categories of men to go back before others. If it is the second reason that influences the powers that be, I feel that soldiers consider the matter of housing as so important that they would be ready to see those who are concerned with it get home a little earlier than themselves.

I am afraid there has been a lot of criticism, as well as suggestions, directed to the Minister this afternoon and, if I may, I would like to finish on a different note. Two years ago to this day, I was in the capital city of a country with a history of some 3,000 years. It was nine square miles in solid houses, it had no water supply and no drainage system. None of the other smaller towns of that country had these either. I believe, a century ago, England was the same, and I think that really we have to be thankful for what has been done by the Ministry of Health and others associated with it, though much remains to be done.

5.1 p.m.

Major Sir George Davies (Yeovil)

At this late hour I want to cut down my remarks to what I may call practical measurements. This House is united on the problem of rural housing, and the deplorable conditions which exist, so it is unnecessary to continue to press that argument. I am glad that a special day has been devoted to rural housing, because the problem of urban housing is quite different. What we want now is to find how to get reasonable results as rapidly as possible, and it is to that point I want to direct the thoughts of hon. Members.

It seems to me that we have to work along what I may call lines of least resistance. What was the source of most of our rural building in the past? It was the much-abused landowner. Now I do not wish to touch on the question of whether he has outlived his usefulness, or ever had any, but the fact is that it was through him that a great amount of rural housing was done. Under those conditions, it seems to me that if we want immediate results, we must continue to work through those channels. At the present moment, that excellent measure, the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, has not been working up to 100 per cent. You cannot expect anybody, be he a wicked landlord or anybody else, to spend his money if he is not going to get one new shilling for one old. Therefore, you have to offer sufficient inducement for him, too, to play his immediate part. What has handicapped him, apart from the provisions of the Act? Two things. The problem of the rural countryside housing is one of dispersal as compared with the towns. If you take a village, even of 500 or 800 people, the number of houses which can be built there is infinitesimal, compared with a Birmingham or a London or a Manchester, but the problem becomes infinitely greater, when you have to disperse pairs of cottages here and there, on the isolated farms which have to be manned. You cannot wipe out those cottages. There are enormous difficulties in bringing water supply to them, as compared with a village of even 500 people. We have to take second-best and not first-best. Therefore, I come to this, that although much can be said for the desirability of building new houses, if we want to get results, we have to turn our thoughts at once to reconditioning and rehabilitation. It is the landlord, or the land-owner who has been providing those cottages in the past, good, bad and indifferent, and he has built them through local small builders.

I have had some experience in my own constituency of this question of labour supply. There is a firm which did a great deal of work for me, both on my own house and on cottages on my estate. It employed a considerable number of men—a couple of dozen or more—and it was a flourishing business. They were good people. One by one, their workers have been either called up to the Services, or have gone off to other directed work, and the firm has gone out of business. Nobody in the area they served can get their services any longer. In a small village near me there is a very able fellow who works on a much smaller scale, with half-a-dozen workers, and who carried out a great deal of rehabilitation and repairing work. He was able to get such scanty supplies as are to be had. It is no good the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) saying there is material to be had; there is not. If there is, it is not in the right place, and transport is difficult. We know how difficult timber is. The man, to whom I refer, who was the "king-pin" of this staff of six or eight workers, was suddenly called up by the Ministry of Labour. I intervened, personally, on the basis that if he were taken away, the whole thing would fall to pieces because there would be no directing mind, and an extensive area of the countryside would be without anybody to attend to these matters. I submit that if we want to work on the lines of least resistance, we must first give inducement to the landowner, not to make money out of it but to undertake the rehabilitation and reconditioning of these cottages and, where possible, to rebuild. Secondly, we must see that the impaired resources of the small builder are not further impaired, but are increased, so that this work can be done.

With regard to the comparison between reconditioning and building new cottages, I have done both. I have found that if you have a building which justifies it, a reconditioned cottage is much better liked by its inhabitants than a new cottage—certainly the average council cottage. I would emphasise this to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who is to reply. It is much more important, certainly in rural areas, to have a slightly larger floor-space for the rooms at the expense of a slightly reduced height. This minimum height, in my submission, is absurd. You can get just as big a "frowst" and lack of ventilation in a higher room, with all the windows and doors shut, as in a lower room with reasonable ventilation. Additional floor-space appeals much more to the mother of a growing family, than do the small rooms in some of the council-built houses.

With regard to the question of water, it is comparatively simple to get a water supply to a village of 1,000 or 500 people but it is a very different question to get a water supply to a cottage five miles from anywhere. Again, you have to work along lines of least resistance if you want immediate results. I want to address myself to one other point concerning the difference between rural housing and urban housing. Generalities are dangerous, but you can go to a great big industrial area and build a large housing estate, with houses all alike, like a pack of cards, with adequate proportions in themselves, but as a group anything but beautiful. However, the beauty of England in that area has already been spoiled by the existence of the big industrial centres. We, in the countryside, have still to protect the beauty of England's countryside. Therefore, we have to think not only of the interior amenities of the house, but of its exterior amenities too, in order to preserve them not only for the regular dwellers of the countryside, but for the satisfaction of the eye of the inhabitant of urban and industrial England when he comes to the countryside.

I want to emphasise what I have already said. What are the outstanding features of our villages and of our cottages in England? One is that the cottages nestle, and the other is that the villages cluster. If we depart from that, we shall lend a hand in ruining the beauties of rural England which we could maintain, with all the latest amenities of refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, of gas and water laid on, and all the rest of it. But in our anxiety to hasten an improvement in our rural housing—and I am second to no one in wanting to hasten it, and in not wanting the best to impede the development of the less good—all of us should see that what is spoken of as "Merrie England" is, at the same time, maintained.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I do not desire to keep the House for very long, but it is right that Members on this side should take what share they can in a Debate which definitely affects the interests of every party in this Assembly. All of us are very anxious to see rural housing complementary to urban housing. In the past, most of the emphasis has been laid on providing houses in towns while those in the country have often come off second-best. The time has now come, however, when country dwellers should have as much spent on providing houses for them and their families as those in the towns. In some ways the position of those who live in rural areas is a good deal worse than those who live in towns. They have all sorts of things to put up with which those who live in London and other great cities do not have to suffer. I have listened to a fair proportion of this Debate and I would like to suggest to the Minister that although every possible effort must be used to repair and rebuild existing houses not too much money should be spent on those which quite soon should be knocked down. There are in country districts houses which look picturesque and which for the want of something better have still to be occupied, but which have no damp courses and frequently have rotten woodwork. It would be a pity to waste too much time and money on such buildings; it would be far better to wait and spend money on temporary wooden houses, or houses of the Portal type.

When we are building houses in the rural areas we should not be cheeseparing. It is likely that for many years to come this country must try to be economical in what it spends, but I believe that it would be a bad thing for the community if we carried that too far in considering the provision of housing. I would like to see three bedrooms in every cottage, rather than a parlour and a living-room downstairs. Too often have money and space been given to the provision of a sitting-room, in addition to an ordinary living-room, which could have been better used on providing a third bedroom. I was glad to hear a previous speaker refer to the Scott Report. Of the three Reports we have had on these matters recently I think that is the only one which is completely readable, and I would like to feel that the Government were trying to "push" that more among members of local authorities, so that those charged with the provision of housing could have a better idea of what could be done to increase housing amenities. I would like to feel that the Ministry of Health looked upon that Report as its Bible, and worked to it as to a schedule.

In a part of the country I know conditions are extremely bad. There is no water, sanitation, gas or electric light, and I hope that the Ministry are fully alive to the necessity of seeing that when they do build houses they provide these amenities. It is a shocking thing that in this country, which, after all, has a very small area compared with some other countries in the world, one finds at no great distance from great cities and towns, villages which, invariably, when there is a drought, are without water for a week or two, and occasionally for months, and where the inhabitants have to walk long distances to get the articles of food they require. It should not be difficult to carry water, gas and electricity to every part of the country. Here, transport is a matter which needs attention. I hope the Ministry will realise that the question of rural housing is not one which is concerned solely with bricks and mortar. Other Ministries come into the question, and I would like to know that the Ministry of Health realises this and intends to co-operate with those other Ministries.

I think it may be necessary for the Ministry of Health, sooner or later, to take drastic powers to deal with certain local authorities. Fairly wide powers are already on the Statute Book, but in peacetime there were many authorities which did not take advantage of all the legislation which was ready for their use. I have no reason to believe that although the war is certainly changing many of our views it will alter the attitude of some of the local authorities. It may be that when the Ministry really gets down to this job—as it will have to do at the earliest possible moment—it will find that certain local authorities are difficult to shift. If that is so I hope the Minister will not hesitate to come to the House and get the powers he may need, and make local authorities rise to their responsibilities. Knowing the temper of Members of all parties in the House, I am positive that he would be supported in whatever he might be asked to do.

5.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)

I do not think I have ever listened to a Debate in the House in which I agreed more with nearly everything which has been said. There are a few exceptions, but I think the whole tenor of this Debate has been that of realising the appalling conditions of housing in rural areas, and of a desire on the part of every Member that those conditions should be improved as quickly as possible. Really constructive suggestions have been made to-day, and as I noted the points made by one speaker after the other I found that they were points on which, it is clear, action will have to be taken if we are to bring about the production of more food in this country and to house—and house well—a larger agricultural population.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) opened the Debate with a speech which was appreciated by every other hon. Member in the House. He pointed out that in the Gracious Speech it was announced that the Government would try to maintain a high level of food production, and that in the days to come, agricultural workers who will be going back to the country areas, will want houses of their own. I was glad to hear that the agricultural worker appreciated a good wife; good houses, therefore, are necessary for these people. We have also learnt that the Minister of Agriculture is hoping to have an opportunity of giving training to ex-Servicemen to take up agricultural work, and houses will be required for them. I think everybody is agreed that many of the houses are of a standard that we are ashamed to have in this country at present.

The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), I thought, was perhaps a little more pessimistic than he need have been about the situation. I thought perhaps he did not fully appreciate what the labour situation has been during these years of war. I only hope that, if there is the supply of labour to which he refers, he will draw the attention of the Minister of Labour to these men so that labour can be moved for building, if it is not engaged in vital war services. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the 3,000 cottages which the Chancellor of the Duchy endeavoured to have built at the speed that he would have liked to see. I notice that hon. Members to-day are asking that there should be another programme of 3,000. I am sure my right hon. Friend will be glad that hon. Members are considering that it is better to have a small programme of even a few houses than none at all. I was asked about the numbers. Of the 2,844 which were put in hand, 2,528 have been completed. I also think that hon. Members who have seen them will agree that they are good cottages, and if any hon. Members are still in doubt or would like to see something more but cannot travel round the country to see them, they can go to the Ministry of Health branch at Caxton House and see photographs and plans of the internal arrangements and of the outside of the cottages, because they are cottages of which we can be justly proud.

Mr. Grenfell

We have six of them in my division and they are very good, but there is no water or light as yet.

Miss Horsbrugh

I was coming to the subject of water and light. I pointed out, in the figures that I gave the hon. Gentleman, that they are not all completed. I think it will be agreed that they are good, but the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) said they were too expensive. I would remind the hon. Member that they were planned for key workers in agriculture for the ploughing up programme, and it may be that in some cases they are too large and too expensive for other agricultural workers. Most of them are occupied, and there is a great deal of contentment and gratitude that there is at least this small amount.

The hon. Member for Gower was speaking of the labour problem and said it was not so difficult as some of us had made out. I have been at the Ministry for a good many years now and I cannot help remembering the various difficulties and disappointments that we have had—the difficulties of wartime and the difficulty of the size of the building industry. I have just been handed a note about the building and civil engineering industries and I find that the number of men in the two before the war was 1,294,000. That was in June, 1939. In June, 1944, they had dropped to 600,000 and in October, 1944, to 512,000. Since the war these men have been building factories and aerodromes. I remember well the time when hon. Members said that the work on aerodromes was ceasing and asked why more builders could not be used for building houses. We could not give a reply except that they were wanted for the war effort. All we could say was that there was no more building labour available. Hon. Members were asking for houses to go up like mushrooms in a night. The answer, which we could not give then, was that they were building the Mulberry Ports. Our next disappointment was the flying bomb. Large numbers of men who might have been engaged on building new houses were required for repairing damaged houses. We are glad to know that these men have come from all parts of the country. I quite sympathise with those who have said, let them go back to the countryside as soon as possible. The Minister of Works said, "Certainly, as soon as possible," but at present no one can give the date when that will be. The hon. Member for Gower also asked about materials and said there was any amount of bricks. There are materials, but the difficulty is labour. If we had more labour we could get on with the programme, but labour is not available at present, unless the hon. Gentleman can tell me definitely where there is labour and no one will be more grateful to know than my right hon. Friend. If we can be told, I am certain that the Minister of Labour will direct these people to building, if they are not on work essential to the war effort. It is true that there is a large stock of bricks. There are about 1,000,000,000. That is all to the good. We are getting ready and materials are being piled up for the building programme.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) asked about brickworks having been closed down. The peak of the pre-war brick output was 7,000,000,000 a year. At present, where the brickworks are open, they can produce 4,000,000,000 a year. The closed brickworks are being kept in order under a repair and maintenance scheme to enable them to open at the shortest possible notice when there is sufficient labour. As to the tiles that my hon. and gallant Friend asked about the pre-war capacity of the industry was 1,200,000,000 clay and concrete tiles. Only 20 per cent. of the works remain open, but 30 of the largest works are now being reopened, so I think I can assure him that the subject of materials is in hand and is being watched carefully. While on the subject of labour, I might say something about the small builder. Several hon. Members have spoken of the vital necessity of the small builder being able to get to work as soon as possible and to get his workers back.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

I understood the hon. Lady to say that a number of tile works were being opened. Have any steps been taken to see that they are provided with labour?

Miss Horsbrugh

When certain works had to shut it was because of the shortage of labour. When there is a necessity to open them labour is being found. If hon. Members look at the report of the sub-committee on rural housing, they will find one section devoted to the subject of the small builder. The report says: We are most anxious that the small builder who has so far proved the most effective instrument in rural conditions should be enabled to resume his activities in good time so that the improvement of rural housing may not be held up for lack of the proper type of organisation in the industry. My right hon. Friend subscribes absolutely, totally and entirely to that. Not only does the small builder know the work, but he takes a personal interest in it. His work is perhaps two or three cottages in one village. It is not suitable work for the big contractor, but it is suitable for the small builder. Perhaps I might tell the House of an instance that impressed me as an example of the interest taken in their work by the small builders in the villages. Two of the agricultural cottages that were recently built in the Warminster and Westbury rural district were to be thatched. There has been an effort to ensure that these houses are of the type that is traditional to the areas in which they are built. For these two houses, the thatcher, a local man, was instructed to put on a plain thatch. On his next visit the architect was surprised to find that the thatcher, working in his own time and at his own expense, had ornamented the thatch with three rows of scallops.

What are the Government's plans for getting on with the job? We are all agreed about the necessity. Perhaps I might say a few words about the short-term programme. The long-term programme of 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 houses in 10 or 12 years' time must be sub-divided into shorter programmes if the work is to be done. We remember what happened in 1919, when a vast programme was attempted and very little was done. This time we hope that with proper planning and organisation more can be done. Several hon. Members complain that our programme is too small. Our reply is that we would be glad if we could build more houses, but that there is no advantage in putting forward great plans for an immense number of houses and probably overwhelming the building industry. The proper way is to start with an organised plan and to work bit by bit. The rural district councils were invited to draw up short-term programmes, and the programmes submitted for England and Wales cover 48,000 houses. That is nearly one-fifth of the total short-term programme. The population in the rural area is about one-sixth of the whole. This shows that the rural district councils have not been behind hand in getting ready with their plans and in their anxiety to build. I do not wish to say too much now on the subject of drainage, water supply, electricity and the other amenities, to which hon. Members have referred, because of the time limit.

I would remind the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), who referred to the White Paper on water, that my right hon. Friend has already said that further legislation will come before the House implementing that Paper. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) on the subject of water and drainage. We all agree that we want a proper water supply, drainage and sewerage, but I think that to-day it will be better in the time at my disposal to deal with the actual housing. I agree that there may be in the earlier years after the war some houses in which we have not got all we want, but I believe it is better to get the houses up and to add the sewerage, drainage, water supply and the other amenities when it is possible to do it.

As to sites, the rural district councils have been authorised to acquire land for their programmes. They already own 3,200 acres, which are enough for 30,000 houses, and they are acquiring about another 6,000 acres, Which will be enough for 50,000 or 60,000 houses.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

Are the sites which they are invited to acquire for the whole programme or only for the short-term programme?

Miss Horsbrugh

We have asked them to acquire land for the two-year programme, but permission can be given to acquire for the long-term programme. It is only sensible, if there is to be proper planning, to get large sites of many acres. The Councils will not be able to build on the whole of the sites in the first two years, but it would be bad planning to give only permission to take small acreages. Permission, therefore, is given for larger sites than can properly be used for the short-term programme.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Is it not also bad policy to build houses and not to put in water, drainage and sewerage at the same time?

Miss Horsbrugh

It depends a great deal on individual cases. There might be some cases where people would have to be without houses for some time if they had to wait for these services. I do not want to be drawn into speaking too much about the water plans now, but it is our intention to see that these and the housing plans advance together with as little delay as possible. The delay is the war, and if hon. Gentlemen can tell me on what date the war will end and how soon our men will come back, I will then tell them when we shall be able to get on with housing. In choosing these sites, it is not the case that local authorities have to go to many departments. It has now been arranged that they have only to consult the regional planning officer, and he gets in touch with all the other Departments. We have, therefore, advanced in the direction of a unified scheme.

Sir R. Glyn

Have the views of the regional planning officer to have precedence over the views of the inhabitants in every case?

Miss Horsbrugh

Certainly not. The regional planning officer will represent all the Departments concerned, and after he has been approached the plans will go to the Ministry of Health.

Mr. Grenfell

Will the regional officer be the liaison between the Ministry of Health and the planning authorities?

Miss Horsbrugh

I am sorry that I have not made it clear. As hon. Members have said, the Minister of Agriculture must be consulted because he will not want to give up good agricultural land for housing. The Minister of Town and Country Planning is also concerned to see about planning, and so on. Instead of local authorities having to deal with each of these Departments separately, they can now deal with the regional planning officer, and he will keep in touch with these different Departments.

Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)

Would the hon. Lady make it clear that there will be an appeal from him to the Minister? Otherwise there will be a departmental blockage, which we shall not be able to get over.

Miss Horsbrugh

Certainly, there is. The plans must afterwards come to the Minister of Health, who is the Housing Minister but, in order to prevent the difficulty of which I have spoken, we have thought that this is a scheme which will ensure efficiency and speed.

Now, as to the siting of the cottages which, we all agree, is very important. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) saying that a village clusters and the cottage nestles; I can assure him that we shall do our best to help on both clustering and nestling. We have suggested, in the Housing Manual, that cottages should, as far as possible, be sited in or near existing villages, but there are cases where that cannot be carried out. The agricultural industry will be turning over more and more to livestock and there must be cottages, new cottages, more distant. Therefore, there must be exceptions, and nothing can be laid down as an absolute rule. We hope that there will be additions to existing villages. There is no suggestion, as some hon. Members have thought—there is some misunderstanding on this point so I had better clear it up—that rural districts will be allowed only to have large blocks of 25 or 50 cottages. There will be nothing to prevent rural housing authorities building in small numbers and on sites selected with regard to the proper principles of good planning and good agriculture.

Mr. Colegate

Does that observation apply to the permanent houses or to temporary houses?

Miss Horsbrugh

I was just coming to the temporary houses when I was temporarily interrupted. It has been made clear that temporary houses have been allocated to districts, where they can be put up on single sites of 50, or on sites in close proximity. We want to put these temporary houses up in larger numbers because of speed of distribution and erection. The temporary houses will be going up mostly near towns or in areas such as mining areas or others where there is already a nucleus of population. The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. D. Scott) asked what number of temporary houses had been allocated to the rural areas. The number, on the first allocation, is 2,400 to 23 rural districts. The next questions were on the subject of the possibility of further reconditioning and on the financial arrangements. Those questions were raised by the hon. Member for Wansbeck and the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) in the previous Debate, and to-day by the hon. Member for Chippenham and by several other hon. Members.

Let us be quite clear on the matter. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) seemed to think that perhaps there would be reconditioning of houses that were not worth reconditioning, but that is not the policy of the Government. I do not think it is the policy of the local authorities or of any sensible people. There must be a good house which, by some scheme of reconditioning, can be brought up to date and modernised; otherwise the grant certainly would not be given. The number of houses that have been reconditioned in England since the 1926 Act is 22,840. Scotland has done better. I am glad to say that in my country the number is 32,500. In England, it was only just before the war that they seemed to be doing more of this work. In the year preceding the war there was a reconditioning of 4,000 dwellings, so perhaps it had been realised by that time what valuable work could be done.

The financial provisions of these two Acts were originally fixed in relation to building prices ruling in 1926 but, as the Rural Housing sub-Committee has pointed out, and as hon. Members have pointed out, those provisions are no longer appropriate. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has undertaken that he will introduce the necessary legislation this Session to put that right and, as the hon. Member for Chippenham asked him, that legislation will deal with both the amount of maximum grant and with the limit of the value of the reconditioned house. It has been suggested that a number of rural cottages in rural areas have been made subject to demolition or clearance orders but which could properly have been dealt with under the scheme for reconditioning. In some cases I believe that substantial works, alleged to have made the cottage fit for habitation, have been carried out since the Order was made. There is no power under the present Housing Acts to rescind the Order, but the existence and the occupation of houses which had been condemned before the war has been preserved by defence regulations. These continue in existence and will no doubt continue for some time. There is, therefore, no question of any likelihood of demolition in the near future and in view of the shortage of houses there will be ample opportunity for considering those cases where it is suggested that, since the demolition order was made, such large-scale works of reconstruction have been carried out as to make the house now fit for habitation. A change in the legal status of the house could only be effected by legislation. While this possibility will be examined—and whether legislation will be possible or what form it will take I cannot say—I must point out that the position was examined before the war and was then found to be fraught with many diffi- culties. In any case, there is no prospect of immediate demolition of the cottages and there is time to go into the matter.

Hon. Members have referred to the survey of rural housing. Rural district councils are being asked to classify all their houses. It will be for the councils to decide how to classify houses which they consider have been made fit for habitation, and no objection will be made by the Minister if the classification is based on the present condition of the houses. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon spoke about demolition and wished that architects were consulted. I would remind him that the onus is on the owner of a house. If he wishes to recondition a house so as to bring it up to the state where it can be passed as fit for habitation he can employ his architect. As the hon. Gentleman knows, if the house is condemned he can appeal, in the case of a single house, to the county court or, in the case of a house included with others in a clearance area, to the Minister of Health. In the latter case, an inquiry is held by qualified architects in the presence of both parties. The owner of the house can employ an architect and, I presume, generally does. I feel that the hon. Member's anxiety on this point will therefore probably be relieved.

Another point by the hon. Member for Chippenham was on the subject of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, as to its administration by county councils and sometimes by rural district councils. He wanted a more unified system. The original Act gave power to the county councils, but in some cases it has been delegated by the Minister of Health to rural district councils. Hon. Members have pointed out cases where county councils seem to have done more and cases where rural district councils have done more. I do not think there is much to choose between the two. The Report of the Housing Sub-Committee suggests an arrangement for joint county committees so that the rural district councils and the county councils will be able to work together. It goes very carefully into this point and into the financial arrangements. If hon. Members will look at that part of the Committee's report they will see that they suggest that these schemes should come before these Joint Committees so that in that way we shall get co-operation, as the hon. Member suggested, and not conflict.

Perhaps I might now say a few more words on the subjects brought to our notice by the report of this sub-committee. I have mentioned the joint committees, and the House might be interested to know that committees have already been established in 52 out of 62 administrative counties in England and Wales. No committees are needed in two counties—London and Middlesex—because there are no rural districts. Out of the eight remaining counties, five are now arranging their Committees, and it only remains for three to get on with the job, one county in England and two in Wales. They have not yet formed their joint county committees [An HON. MEMBER: "Name them."] I am asked to name them—Flint and Cardigan and the Isle of Wight. Officers of the Ministry of Health have attended many of the initial conferences of these county committees, and I would assure hon. Members that there is a real drive going on, both from the point of view of the people in the country who want houses, and of the rural district councils, the county councils and the officers of the Ministry of Health, to get plans ready. The rural areas, I know, are simply waiting for the word "Go," longing to begin and do the job. They are also getting to work on the surveys. In a few cases the survey recommended has been started. This will give—the hon. Member for Wansbeck was interested in this—greater uniformity of housing standards, because it will be done by the joint committee.

The sub-committee also recommend that there should be more sanitary inspectors. They realised there would be a shortage, and a scheme has been prepared for ex-Servicemen for intensive and specialised training, both in the theoretical instruction in centres arranged by the Ministry of Education, and then in practical training under the personal supervision of the medical officer of health and the chief sanitary inspector of one of the local authorities. The Committee also recommend that women should be co-opted on to the housing committees. That has been done in a great many cases. In 12 cases the joint county committees have co-opted women. It was also recommended hat architects should be employed by the rural authorities when they were making their plans. The Royal Institute of British architects have undertaken to put local authorities in touch with architects who are ready to undertake the preparation of the lay-out and plans for the houses.

I have given some examples of what we are doing to deal with the recommendations of the Hobhouse Sub-Committee to show that since that Report was received and published it has certainly not been pigeon-holed. Action has begun already, action to prepare for this housing drive, which we all want to see. Hon. Members have talked to-day of housing in rural areas being worse than in urban areas. I think it is appalling in both. I think that it is one of the biggest problems which, we all agree, has to be tackled. If we are to have a healthy, happy, contented people we have to have decent houses. But merely making plans, merely having reports, is not going to do the job. It has to be well organised. Schemes have to be prepared not merely as window-dressing, but with due consideration to what the building force will be, and how we can plan it to do the job and do it well.

To-day we are ending our Debate on the King's Speech. Our Debate has ranged over a wide number of subjects. National security, foreign affairs, international relationships have taken an important place, as they always must, because we know as never before that it is no use going on with our social schemes, or building houses, if we are going to have wars in which those houses will be destroyed. From home affairs we have gone on to export trade. To me it seems that we have ended this Debate on one of the most important subjects of all. Eight years ago, I had the honour and privilege of saying the first words in the Debate on the Gracious Speech. To-day, I have the chance of saying the last. When the Debate takes place on the next Gracious Speech, I hope that there will be more speeches on housing and above all that there will be more houses.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.

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