HC Deb 25 February 1948 vol 447 cc2010-23

Bill read a Second time and committed.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

I beg to move, that it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 19. I hope it is not necessary to say that this instruction on our part is in no sense actuated by any desire to penalise the great town of Merthyr Tydfil. As the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) knows, the first official engagement which I ever fulfilled as an Under-Secretary was to open a factory in Merthyr Tydfil which, I am glad to think, is now giving a considerable measure of local employment. Nor have we any desire to penalise a town which, even at this time, under a policy of full employment, has 2,392 people out of work. But Clause 19, if it is passed, gives the Corporation of Merthyr Tydfil the power to build tied cottages in its town, linked to the job, and the power, also, to turn existing free cottages into tied cottages. We, on these benches, are not opposed to this proposal; we think it an entirely sensible one and, indeed, an inevitable one, but we also think that the Socialist Party cannot have it both ways and cannot, in agricultural districts, attack the farmer when he wants a tied cottage and, in a town of this kind, ask for the powers themselves.

According to Parliamentary Procedure, the only way in which we can draw attention to this hypocrisy is to move an instruction to the Committee to omit Clause 19. Of course, the proper way to deal with the problem that confronts Merthyr Tydfil, and confronts innumerable farmers and landowners all over Britain, is to build more cottages. It is, no doubt, particularly ironical that Merthyr Tydfil should be almost adjacent, as a Parliament constituency, to that constituency represented now by the Minister of Health, by whom the programme, in the old days, of 100,000 houses built in the first year and 200,000 built and building in the second year, was so contemptuously rejected at the general election. Now, in Merthyr Tydfil—and this is very relevant to this proposal—there are no fewer than 2,803 people waiting for cottages or houses—10 times the number that have been rehoused since the war, and a good proportion of the number rehoused have been rehoused in temporary houss.

It is no satisfaction to the 2,803 families waiting for homes in Merthyr Tydfil to know that the corporation want power to build cottages tied to the job of working for the council, nor, indeed, might it be much satisfaction to the council employees who get these cottages to know that if they lose their job they will also lose their cottage and will join the 2,803 people who are waiting for homes in their town. It seems to us, in the interests of fair politics, this issue ought to be raised. Here, the town of Merthyr Tydfil, which, I am sorry to say, is controlled by the Socialist Party in its municipal affairs, is asking for the very same power which the Labour Party Conference at Margate last year condemned by a card vote. Here, in what passes for the democratic ways in which these votes are arranged, 1,558,000 voted against tied cottages and 1,555,000 voted against the resolution calling for their immediate abolition. The Minister of Health who spoke, and asked the Conference not to accept the resolution, said he had a total objection to tied cottages. Yet here is a neighbouring constituency asking for exactly the same power.

It used to be the case that when local authorities wanted to build tied cottages, they asked for power to do so for particular groups of workers, like the police, or the fire brigade, or school teachers, or somebody of that kind. Lately the practice has grown up of asking for power to build cottages for all employees, without specifying. I do not pretend for a moment that this is the first time a local authority has asked for such power—that has happened repeatedly—but this is certainly the first Bill I have seen, since the Socialist Party became the Government, in which a Socialist council is asking for full power to build tied cottages for all workers in the town of Merthyr Tydfil. It is quite true that they are following a good precedent; all the great new corporations created by the present day administration are asking for the same power. Indeed, hon. Members opposite will remember that the National Coal Board had recently to evict somebody who ceased to work for a particular mine, which case would have had very little prominence had it not been raised in another place. The town council of Merthyr Tydfil, as it is fully entitled to do, circularised all Members of Parliament with a petition, a statement, on behalf of this Bill. I think I need add little more, but to quote from that statement, for on that statement we stand. We believe these powers are reasonable, but we ask that what is given to towns like Merthyr is given also, without a great deal of political uncharitableness, in rural districts of England. The words of the statement are: There are circumstances when it is essential that an employee of the council shall be housed near to his work"— that is exactly what farmers ask for in regard to key-men. The statement goes on to add: or near to some valuable public property for which he is responsible. The food of the nation is certainly public property and that, again, is what is asked for in agricultural districts. In order to make the position plain, and to get a statement, if we can get one, from some hon. Gentleman opposite, I move this Instruction.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I beg to second the Motion.

The Debate on this Instruction will give hon. Members on both sides of the House an opportunity to clear their own minds on the subject of tied cottages. It is a subject which has been discussed on many occasions with a good deal of prejudice and, if I may say so, with a good deal of woolly thinking. This desire—this very proper desire—of the borough council of Merthyr Tydfil to provide accommodation for their employees, particularly in view of the appalling housing situation in the country as a whole, brings this issue pointedly to the front. It enables hon. Members opposite to consider whether or not they are really opposed to the tied cottage in principle, because there is no possible distinction that can be drawn between the desire of municipalities to provide accommodation for their employees and the case of the farmer who desires to do precisely the same thing. If hon. Members opposite desire to support Merthyr Tydfil in this request then, logically and morally, I think they are bound to support private individuals who wish to do so, and there is an opportunity tonight in this very brief Debate for this House of Commons to come to a very clear decision of principle on this matter.

I say that hon. Members opposite, if they support the Bill of the council of Merthyr Tydfil, are forfeiting any right to denounce the tied cottage in other connections because if they do denounce it, they are exposing themselves to this charge—that they like the tied cottage where the person providing it happens to be a friend, but they dislike it where the person providing it happens to be a private individual. That is logically and morally an indefensible position, and I am perfectly certain, for that reason, hon. Members opposite would not seek to adopt it. I must ask them, if they support the Bill tonight, to appreciate that they are forfeiting any right to denounce the tied cottage as an institution in other circumstances.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Haydn Davies (St. Pancras, South-West)

It is quite obvious that this Debate has nothing at all to do with Merthyr Tydfil, because such an Instruction as this could have been moved in respect of Bills concerning many other towns. I really am amazed that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) should have moved this Instruction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will tell the House why. He referred to the fact that he once went to Merthyr Tydfil.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have been there many times.

Mr. Davies

He went on the first day after his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour in a former Government. He will recall that I travelled with him on that occasion.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

The hon. Gentlemen were fellow travellers?

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

Did my hon. Friend travel with the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford to give him publicity?

Mr. Davies

I am asked if I travelled with the hon. Member for the purpose of giving him publicity. All I can say is that I wrote the truth; and the hon. Gentleman did not like what I wrote about his visit to Merthyr Tydfil; so I would say that it was in the interests of truth. But let me remind the House, in all seriousness, that here we have a classic example of a derelict town reasserting itself. It ill becomes hon. Gentlemen opposite to speak of Merthyr Tydfil, because it is one town that they killed; and the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford was one of the principal instruments in killing that town.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I remember very well that journey to which the hon. Gentleman has referred; but I must ask, if we are talking of the death of Merthyr, whether it is not the fact that when the Labour Government began there were 5,000 unemployed there, and that when they finished there were 12,000 in Merthyr alone?

Mr. Davies

One fact that I remember about the visit of the hon. Gentleman is that he went to Dowlais to open a factory which was to bring industrial prosperity to this town. It was to give employment to 217 girls under the age of 17. That was called "bringing back prosperity" to a town which was the foremost iron town of the world. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to all the credit for that great and brave venture. After that visit, he never went there again.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That is quite wrong.

Mr. G. Thomas

The hon. Member cannot take it.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I can take criticism, but this is a question of fact. I cannot take a completely false statement of fact. I have been there many times since, and I was there three months ago.

Mr. Speaker

I would remind hon. Gentlemen that we are debating a Motion about an Instruction concerning Clause 19.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman taunted me on my memory, and so led me to embark upon a line of argument which is possibly out of Order. I promise I shall not go any further along it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] There is nothing to withdraw. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is."] I was speaking of the hon. Gentleman when he was a Minister of the Crown. I cannot hope to discuss what he has done as a Member in opposition; but, as you said, Sir, we are dealing with an Instruction concerning Clause 19. Why is it that hon. Members opposite never worried about a Clause such as Clause 19 when it was applied to Birmingham, or Southend, or Swindon, or Felixstowe? Yet they suddenly find something sinister about such a Clause when applied to Merthyr Tydfil. They are the last people, really, who ought to mention the name of Merthyr Tydfil. I was born within a few miles of Merthyr Tydfil. That is why, although I am a Member of this House for a London constituency, I do not apologise for speaking in this Debate about Merthyr Tydfil. I remember the time when night was the same as day there, because the furnaces in Merthyr Tydfil were up, and as dusk fell over Merthyr Tydfil the glow of the furnaces illuminated the sky, so that we had a perpetual light as bright as daylight, because Merthyr Tydfil was working.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

Would the hon. Member tell me whether he is in favour of or against having tied cottages in Merthyr Tydfil?

Mr. Davies

I am in favour of the Corporation of Merthyr Tydfil having this Bill. I am sorry, but hon. Members opposite, when they raise these matters, must take what comes back to them—especially the hon. Member for Monmouth. I thought he might have learned a little since he came to my country. Obviously, he has not.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

The hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras has left it.

Mr. Davies

I remember occasions when the furnaces of Merthyr Tydfil—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Are the reminiscences of the hon. Member about the furnaces of Merthyr Tydfil in Order on a Debate on a Motion for an Instruction to leave out Clause 19?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must be allowed to develop his argument in his own way.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is, I know, a most fortunate person. I live two or three yards outside his constituency.

Mr. G. Thomas

How lucky!

Mr. Davies

I can understand that he is completely ignorant of the situation existing in the industrial areas. Ignorance is the cause of this Bill being opposed. I have no wish to detain the House, not even with reminiscences. If I wanted to do so, I could keep this House going all night—[HON. MEMBERS: "And be out of Order."]—within the rules of Order, in talking about unemployment in Merthyr Tydfil, which I knew. When a town and county borough has gone through everything that Merthyr Tydfil has been through, and comes to this House with a Bill, asking this House to help it to put itself back on its feet again, and assist in a great effort towards rehabilitation, it ill becomes this House to quibble about one Clause, when similar powers have been already granted to six corporations in Great Britain, most of them Conservative. I oppose the Motion.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) made it quite clear that we are not opposing the Bill, or the principle of the building of tied cottages by the Corporation of Merthyr Tydfil. We entirely agree that they should have these tied cottages. What we want to show is the hypocrisy of hon. Members on the other side of the House in passing the Bill without any demur, when they have opposed the erection of tied cottages in the countryside. I am surprised that I do not see on the other side of the House those hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies and have condemned the principle of tied cottages. I am surprised that they are not in their places to condemn this Bill.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)


Mr. Baldwin

I beg the hon. Member's pardon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] As the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) was one of the hon. Members I had in mind, I withdraw. I hope, however, that the hon. Member will declare whether he is in favour of this Clause 19 or not. In Standing Committee on the Hill Farming Bill, one of the most important Clauses was emasculated by an Amendment which stopped the proposed grant for the building of tied cottages on the hill farms of England, Scotland and Wales; and that Amendment killed the usefulness of the Bill. The Minister himself knew that tied cottages were necessary, and he put in the Bill provision for a grant. He had to give way to pressure from his own back benchers and the grant was withdrawn from the Bill. One of the most important matters affecting agricultural cottages—

Mr. Speaker

We cannot discuss agricultural cottages here, because that subject does not arise under this Motion.

Mr. Baldwin

I am afraid the Debate generally had gone rather a long way from the Clause.

Mr. Speaker

That thought had occurred to me, and I am now trying to get a little nearer to the subject. We have wandered too far.

Mr. Baldwin

In that case I cannot develop my argument. I would ask the House to think back on what has happened. It is quite unfair for the Socialist Party to introduce tied cottages when it suits them, while not allowing to agriculturists a grant to build tied cottages. I hope that all hon. Members opposite who support this Clause will be reminded about it on future occasions.

7.21 p.m.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

The last hope entertained by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) is a vain one, because I am certain that all hon. Members on this side of the House will support my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) in his desire for a Second Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Baldwin

So do we. That was not my hope.

Mr. Austin

I support my hon. Friend on two grounds. I have been written to by my local authority, which is Conservative in colour and with whom I am generally at variance. However, in this matter they support my hon. Friend, and I propose reading out the arguments adumbrated by them: The reason for the Clause is that there are many cases where it is essential that an employee of the local authority should be housed near his work or near the valuable property for which he is responsible. In such cases the local authority should be able to provide a dwelling house. [Laughter.] The jeers of hon. Members opposite reflect their failure to appreciate constructive legislation.

The other ground on which I support my hon. Friend relates to the dispute between ourselves on the question of tied cottages. I am no authority on the countryside or tied cottages, but the principle between us is, that whereas in the past there has grown up the traditional dreadful sanction of the tied cottage in the countryside, with all it meant to the farm labourer and his children, and their welfare and surroundings, in this Clause we recognise the reasonable form of tied cottage under the surveillance of the local authority. For that reason—particularly with a local authority like Merthyr Tydfil, which is trying to rebuild the shattered life of that town—knowing that the employees will be assured of much better conditions than private enterprise could ever have given under the farm tied cottage system, I will do all I can to support my hon. Friend.

7.24 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)

It is clear that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and those who have supported this Motion are not interested in Merthyr Tydfil at all. There is nothing new about that. In my view, hon. Members opposite have no cause to congratulate themselves on trying to get a Debate on tied cottages on the side, because, as they have said, they are not really interested in Clause 19 of the Merthyr Tydfil Corporation Bill. They have moved a Motion which apparently they are not prepared to support. It will be understood by the people in the country they have tried to prevent this local authority from obtaining these powers. There are channels open to the hon. Member if he wants to have a proper Debate on this question; but he should not stage a Debate in circumstances in which we obviously cannot discuss those matters which he wants to discuss. Perhaps I have put that a little strongly, but I feel this to be the misuse of an occasion.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

On a point of Order. I respectfully ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether a perfectly proper Parliamentary Motion, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Clause 19," can possibly be construed as a misuse of an occasion?

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Before you give a Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask a question. If this Motion is put down under our procedure whereby a Private Bill, if it is opposed, has to be dealt with in this way, and since it has been said repeatedly during this Debate that hon. Members opposite have no serious intention of opposing the Bill, how is this Debate in Order at all?

Mr. Speaker

That is rather a wide question. I warned the House that we were getting very wide of the Motion, and I tried to keep the Debate within the limits of the Motion now before the House. A Motion "That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 19" is, of course, perfectly in Order. It is a matter of opinion whether this is a good use or a misuse of an opportunity; one person may think it is a perfectly proper use, whereas another may quite legitimately think it is an improper use. That is purely a matter of opinion.

Mr. Silverman

When such a Motion is moved it is opposed Business, and no complaint can be made; but when it has been said repeatedly, even by the mover, that he does not mean the Motion at all, and does not oppose the Bill, does not the whole thing become an abuse of the procedure of the House?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of Order as far as I am concerned.

Mr. J. Edwards

You will understand, Mr. Speaker, that in using the expression "misuse of an occasion," I am not talking about any formal points of Order or of procedure. I am saying that if hon. Members opposite really want to debate these things, there are ways open to them. I am sure they will be misunderstood because of the way in which they have contrived to bring these matters out. I would point out that other corporations have, even within the last year, asked for these or similar powers, but no one has objected to the Second Reading of those Bills; this objection has not been taken previously by the Opposition. Therefore, the right attitude for us to adopt on this kind of matter is: If there are differences of opinion they should be dealt with in Committee. My advice to the House would be that, it would be very bad were we to give to the Committee an Instruction such as is contained in this Motion. Were the Motion persisted in, I should ask the House to resist it on the grounds that the Committee on the Bill are quite capable of dealing with all the legitimate issues which can be raised on this Clause.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

The Opposition cannot sit down under the lecture on Parliamentary procedure and tactics just delivered by the "veteran" Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. It is perfectly proper, and exceedingly useful, for the Opposition to draw the attention of the House and of the country to this extraordinary inconsistency in the Socialist attitude. We shall continue to do so. We shall not be misunderstood in the country; nor, at the next general election, shall we let Members of the Government forget their inconsistencies with regard to tied cottages in agriculture and tied cottages in municipalities—and do not let them hope that we shall.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydfil)

I had not intended intervening in the Debate on this Motion, but after hearing so much about Merthyr Tydfil I find it impossible to sit here without speaking. I was rather disappointed that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who knows my constituency so well, should have so used this small Bill of ours. Most of what the Bill means is just a cleaning up of a constituency which has been so horribly ravaged over a period of 170–180 years of large-scale industrialism. The attitude of hon. Members opposite is a very sad mistake.

I know there is more important Business to discuss than this Motion, so I am not going to spend any time in reminding the House how terribly this district was abused when the Opposition were in power. I wish, however, to correct one or two of the figures given by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). I understood him to refer to the period between 1929–31. Those were the days of that miserable, minority, powerless Government, so different from these days, and Merthyr Tydfil is profoundly thankful for the change. The hon. Member's figures were hopelessly wrong. He said that there were only 5,000 unemployed in that constituency in 1929. He had better look at the figures again, because he will find that he has made a great mistake. We had mass unemployment under Tory misrule for no less than 16 years.

A whole series of similar Bills have been passed through this Parliament without any protest being made by hon. Members opposite, and there are over 100 precedents for this particular Clause. It has taken a Labour Government to attempt a real cleaning up. I want this Clause, because there is a need for it. This Motion is a miserable peg upon which to attempt to raise the whole question of tied houses, and to attempt to pillory the movement behind this Government because of resolutions on tied cottages passed at various conferences. What we object to with the tied house is the sanction and power vested in the individual. My constituency knows as much as can be known about tied houses. I will give one instance to the House.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

On a point of Order. If I understood your Ruling aright, Mr. Speaker, when my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) was speaking, you said that we could not enter into a general discussion on tied cottages. Is that not what the hon. Member is now doing?

Mr. Speaker

I agree with the noble Lord. I was listening with some trepidation to the arguments being adduced. I hope we shall not get into a general discussion on tied cottages.

Mr. S. O. Davies

We had hundreds of tied cottages in my constituency. In 1924, these tied cottages were untied. The industrial concern responsible for them offered the houses to the workers. They bought them, and within a month of the transaction being completed, the concern closed down. These houses are to be publicly owned, and the interests of the tenants living in them will be protected by the community. We in Merthyr Tydfil prefer to rely on the sense of social justice of our people rather than upon the insincere pleadings of hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the House will soon be ready to come to a decision.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)

I do not wish to delay the House, but I think that the Parliamentary Secretary was singularly unfair to Members on this side of the House in complaining that we were not interested in Merthyr Tydfil. If he had suggested that we were not interested in other towns which have been given similar powers under private Bills he would probably have been more correct, but in bringing the affairs of Merthyr Tydfil before Parliament in this way, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) has clearly indicated interest in the matter. It would be just as unfair to suggest that Members sitting on this side of the House are not interested in Merthyr Tydfil, as it would be to suggest that Members opposite are not interested in this country because they voted against conscription.

Mr. S. Silverman

The hon. Member is claiming that those who are interested in this Motion have put it down because of their love for and interest in Merthyr Tydfil. I have been a Member of Parliament for nearly 13 years, and this is the first occasion I can remember a Tory Member mentioning Merthyr Tydfil.

Mr. Butcher

The hon. Member will appreciate that I am not entitled to impute motives. I always understood that on Private Bills we do not bring to bear any party attitudes in our discussions. [Laughter.] I am surprised that hon. Members opposite receive that statement with derision. I at once declare myself a supporter of Merthyr Tydfil in requiring the whole of this Bill. Should this Motion be pressed to a Division, I shall be happy to accompany the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) into the Lobby. The question here is that under certain circumstances a tied house is essential. In the words of the promoters of this Bill, an employee should be housed near to his work, and that is a statement which has been made in favour of the tied house by many people.

I do not believe it would be right to deprive Merthyr Tydfil of the Bill for which it asks. I am in favour of letting Merthyr Tydfil have Clause 19 of this Bill. I realise that similar powers have been taken by other local authorities and national institutions, and I am glad to learn that hon. Members opposite now accept the principle that where it is necessary that an employee should be housed near his work, or near some valuable property for which he is responsible, it is desirable for his employer to provide him with a home, because the Government have failed to do so.

Question put, and negatived.