HC Deb 09 October 1946 vol 427 cc262-6
Mr. Vane

I beg to move, in page 27. line 7, after "alteration," to insert "re-siting."

The Schedule, as at present drafted, so far as it concerns cottages, relates to the erection, improvement or reconditioning of cottages, and so far as it affects farm houses, relates to alteration, enlargement or reconditioning. During the Debate in Committee the Minister said: The case for new farm houses as such is not nearly so strong as the case for the erection of cottages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, STANDING COMMITTEE D, 11th July, 1946, c. 254.] With that I entirely agree. I hope that he will accept this proposal, not so that it may give any favour to the erection of farm houses, but so that farm houses can be treated at least not less favourably than cottages. I think that from the Debate which took place in Committee, I can expect sympathy for this Amendment from all parts of the House. If one looks on hill farms as they now exist and takes, first, the smaller farms, one finds that they are very frequently sited in what may have been quite a good place before wheeled traffic came into being and when goods to and from the farm were carried on pack animals and access was by means of a lane or across fields. They were sometimes sited to be near a spring. We find buildings many hundreds of years old which have had very little improvement done to them since they were built. Large farm houses are frequently far too large for modern conditions, particularly for modern fuel rationing. In addition, they have old cobble walls which it is impossible to alter, they are frequently damp, and very rarely have a damp-course. The result is that any work of alteration is going to be extremely expensive, and even when finished, often highly unsatisfactory. If, on the other hand, the Minister will accept this Amendment, he will often find that one can carry out a better job by rebuilding a farm house on a new site and suited to modern conditions. The acceptance of this one word is not giving any particular favour to farm houses over and above cottages because it is always in the Minister's power to withhold approval to any scheme put up to him. I submit, however, that acceptance of it is going to improve the Schedule, and on many occasions will be the means of conferring very great benefit on farmers and more particularly on farmers' wives.

Mr. Turton

I beg to second the Amendment.

I would remind the House that unless we can get farm houses and cottages nearer to the amenities of today we are not going to get many people to stay on the hill farms. It is vital to get cottages and houses sited near electric light and good roads. I know that there is no disagreement in any part of the House on this. Presumably, many of these new cottages will be erected on the roads and will isolate the farmer and the farm workers, because the farmer will be on the old site up on the moor. It is not only the question of the farmer. The farmer's family is of vital importance. It is most important that these hill farm families should be brought up to where they can get easy access to the town, and where they can get modern amenities. For these reasons, I hope that the Minister will allow this small Amendment to be made in the Schedule.

It is meant to help him and to improve the Bill. At an earlier stage, he talked about agreeing with it and wanting to consider it in five years' time. That, I think, is rather delaying tactics. We want to get these hill farms improved now. I believe that we are going the wrong way about this whole question of the countryside. We want to tackle the rural areas first before we tackle the urban. We want to get people to stay in the hill farms, otherwise the whole balance of the agricultural industry will be destroyed, because there will not be the sheep and cattle coming from the hills to revitalise the agriculture down below.

Mr. T. Williams

In Committee, an Amendment was moved to insert the word "erection" before "alteration" in line 7, and following the Debate on that Amendment, it was withdrawn on my promise that if, in the light of experience, it was felt necessary or wise to extend the Schedule to include the erection of farm houses then we would take steps to do so. This is a very ingenious Amendment to obtain exactly the same thing, namely, the erection of farm houses, as would have obtained under that previous Amendment. How could one re-site a house without erecting it on some other site? I am sure the hon. Members who moved and seconded this Amendment did not expect that would have slipped our notice. It is true that many of the farm houses on hill farms are not too good. It is equally true that there are far too few houses for shepherds and other employees. Therefore, we felt that if we wanted to attract young men on to hill farms, the first thing to do would be to erect houses for workers.

We have also made arrangements, in line 7 of the Schedule, so that a farm house can be altered, enlarged, or reconditioned. I think that is putting first things first, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). We know that on most hill farms there is a farm house, but on many hill farms there are no cottages for the employees. Therefore, I think it is right and proper that the Government should assist the landlord or the occupier to erect or to recondition decent cottages for their would-be employees, and to alter, enlarge or recondition the farm house as and when necessary. I repeat my promise, for what it was worth, that if in the light of experience it is found, when building becomes easier than it is at the moment, that an extension is really necessary so that we can increase the supply of meat from our hill farms, as I think we ought to do, this is one of the things which might be considered very seriously. In the light of that promise, I hope hon. Members will not feel disposed to press the Amendment to a Division.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down)

In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill), I would like to say a word on this Amendment. I see that this Schedule applies to Northern Ireland. Only a week ago I drove through my constituency from the North about 70 miles down to Rostrevor in the South, through the Mountains of Mourne, where there are a great many sheep and hill farms. I saw how had some of the cottages were and how inconveniently they were sited, I think it is fair to say, although I may be hauled over the coals by some of my constituents, that the children there have far more trouble in getting properly educated and getting to school than they do in any other part of the constituency. I think this Amendment is a reasonable one, and it would considerably help my constituents. I know that in England, Scotland and Wales farms are very large, but in Northern Ireland the average area of a farm is under 30 acres. Some of the hill farms are not very large, and the people who farm them are, comparatively speaking, very poor people. It would give a chance of better education to the children, and improve the conditions for the farmers and their wives, if the Minister could accept this Amendment.

Sir T. Dugdale

I ask the Minister to reconsider one point before this Bill becomes law. The Minister is a very experienced Parliamentarian. It is all very well for him to say now that he will see how we get on in a year or so, and consider then whether some amending Measure is necessary, but he knows very well that it is extremely difficult for any Minister in any Government to get Parliamentary time to carry a Bill through the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) said that no scheme could go through without the approval of the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) pointed out that in the countryside today rural amenities and good housing are of vital importance. I think that this Amendment ought to be included in the Bill so that, when the Bill becomes an Act, this provision will be there for the Minister to use, without his having to come to the House in a few years with further legislation which he might not find the Parliamentary time to put through. If the provision were in the Bill, he would be able to use it when building conditions improved. I ask him to reconsider the matter further.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Collick

I beg to move, in page 27, line 23, at the end, to insert: 12. Provision of grids designed or adapted to prevent the passage of sheep or cattle. It is obviously necessary to have provision made in these schemes by which grids can be covered. We discovered that the existing words in the Schedule would not allow this to be done, and for that reason I move this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.