§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 29, at the end, to insert:Any requirement by the Secretary of State under this subsection shall be exercised by Statutory Instrument subject to annulment by either House of Parliament.It may be recalled that in the Committee stage we had quite a long discussion on the point that in this Clause the Secretary of State was taking power to compel the local authorities, if necessary, to submit to him a scheme for the provision of houses to assist the agricultural population. So far as I know, this is an innovation in the Secretary of State's power. Considerable exception was taken to the fact that this power is being taken to deal with the lack of tied cottages when a similar power does not exist to deal with the provision of normal houses for the people under the normal local authority schemes.
It is significant that last week and this week two of the subjects which have occupied most of our time have been concerned with tied houses. It is a commentary on the priorities in the Government's mind that the first claim on the time of the House was that of tied houses for publicans; now we come to tied houses for the farmers. It seems strange that this emphasis is given to the Secretary of State's power to enforce the provision of these houses, which are far from being agreed upon by all sections of the people as a necessary element in the community's life.
Therefore, I take it that the purpose of this power is that the Secretary of State expects some grave objections from the local authorities or even some obstruction from them in the use of the power which they are offered by this Bill. I think that the House would desire to have a little more information about how this power is to be used in compelling local authorities to provide, at public expense, tied houses for farmers.
697 We on this side of the House have made our position quite clear. We want the agricultural community to have houses, which we think ought to be provided through the normal channels of the local authority, where ample subsidies are already provided, and where these houses will be under the management of somebody who has not himself a vested interest in the tenancy.
We also think that it is unnecessary and undesirable that so long as these houses are let under a tied system, under which dictatorial eviction can take place at the whim of the farmer, we should encourage that system, and the provision of more such houses, by any element of public finance. We think it morally wrong to provide public finance until the agricultural community——
§ Mr. Speaker
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep more within the point of his Amendment? He is raising the whole question of the tied cottage, which has previously received a good deal of attention. The whole point of this Amendment is whether the direction shall take the form of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment or not.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I had almost concluded the introduction to the Amendment which I admit is a little long. It is desirable that this House should exercise control over a gift of public money for this purpose, to which so much objection is taken both within the agricultural industry and in the country.
The Secretary of State may have no intention of using this power in a wrong way or even in any privileged way so far as the farmers are concerned, but I think it desirable that the House should be able to retain some control over the exercise of this power. Therefore, it is proposed in this Amendment that if the Secretary of State finds it necessary to introduce compulsion upon the local authorities, the matter should at least come before the House of Commons and the House of Lords with a view to seeing that some notice is taken of the objections and the reasons for and against. This would at least give a safeguard which I think would improve the Clause. It would keep the supervising of any use made of this power within the Houses of Parliament.
I hope, therefore, in view of the fears felt in certain areas about the use of this 698 power, in view of the apprehension that some local authorities may be compelled to spend their money on this purpose against their better judgment, the Secretary of State will agree that he and his successors shall exercise this power by Statutory Instrument which will be subject to annulment.
It is obvious that if there is no serious objection the Amendment will make no difference to the speed of getting the job done. If there is serious objection, the matter will at least be open to discussion and to the persuasion of the Secretary of State of the day by Members of this House, who will be able to represent to him the view of those who hold a view contrary to that expressed in the order.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)
This Amendment is a refinement of one that was debated during the Committee stage, and which my right hon. Friend found it necessary to reject. We feel that this proposal is far too heavy a weapon to employ for the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. My right hon. Friend has here obtained a power which enables him to say to a local authority that it must provide a scheme in accordance with this Clause. So far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, he will use that power only if it is absolutely essential that he should do so, and he does not expect to have to use it often. In those circumstances, we do not consider that this further measure is in any way necessary, and accordingly, I have to advise the House to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I wonder whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman will explain exactly what happens if a local authority does not carry out the request of the Secretary of State? How does he deal with the matter in those circumstances?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I wish to support the Amendment, because I can see that certain difficulties will arise in the constituency I represent and in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman resides. Take, for example, what is likely to happen in Ayrshire. In the landward district of Ayrshire there 699 is a Labour majority, and it is quite conceivable that the majority of the County Council of Ayr will say, "No, these are reactionary proposals, and we prefer to use our housing resources, materials and labour in ways which are better and more progressive in the interests of the community."
The Department are given power to override the decision of the Ayrshire County Council. If that should happen, the democratic opinion of the people in the area will be flouted and a scheme will be imposed on them which the electors have rejected. I suggest that we are entitled to have the security which would be given by this Amendment.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I appeal to the Government to think again about this matter. When we discussed the Amendment which the Joint Under-Secretary of State has described as being somewhat similar to this one—he said this one is a refinement of the one we discussed the other day—I imagined the position that would obtain in my constituency, and indeed throughout the whole county of Lanark, where they have made very considerable progress with the construction of houses for agricultural workers.
I can quite well imagine that members of the local authority might still take the view that it is better to continue with the policy they have been pursuing in recent years, to provide houses for agricultural workers, to be occupied by people employed in agriculture who would not be tied to any particular farm.
I can well imagine their being disinclined to make a scheme under Clause 3 of the Bill. If the Secretary of State says, "You must make a scheme," it seems to me that the local authority will feel very hot about it; and it is not enough for the Joint Under-Secretary of State to say that they must do it if they get a direction. My right hon. Friend asked what action would the Secretary of State take if Lanarkshire County Council should decide not to give effect to his instruction. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said, "Well, they have got to do it." But what if they still do not do it? I feel that we ought to be told what will happen if they just say, "We are not going to do it." Will they be prosecuted? Is there any power under 700 this or any other Statute to prosecute? What is going to happen? If the Secretary of State issues an instruction which is not complied with what power will he have to force a local authority to comply?
I should have thought that the proposal contained in the Amendment is one which this House ought to accept. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said that this was rather a heavy instrument to employ to secure control over what was a very small matter. But it is not a small matter. The Secretary of State will, it is said, exercise the power given to him under subsection (1) of Clause 3 in circumstances where a local authority takes the view that they would not be serving the best interests of their people by making a scheme.
But the Secretary of State is deciding what is in the best interests of the people of Lanarkshire. If the Secretary of State gives Lanark County Council such an instruction, I think that I and other hon. Members representing Lanarkshire constituencies should have the opportunity of discussing it before the instruction becomes operative. We should have the right to raise in this House the question whether the right hon. Gentleman shall give an instruction to Lanark County Council as to how the county council shall go about the business of rehousing the people of Lanarkshire, and, incidentally, as to how Lanark County Council shall spend the ratepayers' money.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman says that a considerable amount of the subsidy comes from the Exchequer, but there is certainly a very considerable amount of money being found out of the local rates, and in some counties the local rates are alarmingly high at the present time. It is most improper that the Secretary of State, by putting in a few innocent-looking words such as he has done in this Clause,A local authority may, and if so required by the Secretary of State shall.…—these are the harmless-looking words which have been slipped into the subsection—should obtain such very considerable powers over the local authorities. I submit that Ministers of the Crown exercise powers that are very much less far-reaching and still have to get the approval of this House of a Statutory Instrument enabling them to give effect to such powers.
701 This Amendment is one which in all respects ought to be accepted by the House. Even with this Amendment, I still dislike the subsection. I think the matter should be left entirely to the local authorities. But it is not to be left to them, and if they are to be compelled to make a scheme, certainly the Secretary of State, when giving such a direction to the local authority, ought to do so in the form of a Statutory Instrument, and we should have some control over that Instrument.
§ Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I intervene for a moment to say that this is altogether a new Socialist doctrine, that local authorities are now placed above the law. I always associated the Socialist doctrine with a conception of increased centralisation, with a concentration of power in the centre. Indeed, throughout the six years of their political power in this country they did everything they could to increase the centralised authority of Whitehall and the Government in every field. Now they come forward and say deliberately, "Supposing local authorities do not want to carry out the instructions of Parliament and the law of the land, what then?"—implying that local authorities are to take the field in arms against the central Government of the day.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Does the hon. Member recall what the discussion is about? This is the first occasion housing is to be taken out of the hands of local authorities, and the Secretary of State is taking power to deprive local authorities of their right to decide for themselves. The hon. Member must have misunderstood the tenor of the debate, and I take it that he is on our side in the matter.
§ Mr. Boothby
I misunderstood nothing. Indeed, I have been paying great attention to the right hon. Gentleman's observations, and I do not agree with anything he said. The Secretary of State has wide powers over local authorities and everybody else. I think that some of them may be too wide, but not in this respect, and I would never stand up in open rebellion against the exercise of these powers by anybody so reasonable as the Secretary of State. This is one of the most popular Measures that any Government has ever introduced, and I hope the Government will stand 702 firm in resistance to the continued nonsense talked from the Opposition benches.
Mr. Hector McNeil (Greenock)
Would the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) remind us of what was said by his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in Edinburgh during the last General Election about increased powers for local authorities? I do not happen to have the quotation with me, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman will remember it.
§ Mr. Boothby
I follow the speeches of my right hon. Friend with great attention, but that particular one I do not recollect.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
This discussion seems to me to touch on a rather wide constitutional issue. I am rather disappointed that the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) is not willing to take up the cudgels on behalf of local authorities and rise to their defence. Before we call upon him to do that, I am wondering whether I might ask one question, the answer to which may be of some assistance to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser).
I understand that, under Section 3 (1), the Secretary of State may require local authorities to prepare a scheme, but, under subsection (6), a local authority—may in any case refuse to give assistancein any particular case. Is the conclusion to be drawn from these provisions that a scheme may be drawn up, but in fact may never be put into operation because the local authority refuses to entertain any particular obligation under it?
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I think that the question which has just been put by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is a very pertinent one. It is, in fact, a question which I asked during the Committee stage, and to which I received no answer.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) has said that the Secretary of State has very wide powers, some of them too wide, but at the same time the hon. Member supports the extension of these powers for the first time in a field dealing entirely with local authorities. I do not think there is any 703 justification for this, and certainly not in any of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite in the last five years on interference with the powers of local authorities.
Let us suppose that the Ayr Town Council decide not to make a scheme. We have the word of the Joint Under-Secretary, speaking during the Committee stage, that the Government must have these powers to deal with these "recalcitrant local authorities." Those were his words. Therefore, the Secretary of State will compel them to make a scheme, while there remains the power under subsection (6) that a local authority—may in any case refuse to give assistance under this section on any grounds which seem to them sufficient.I wonder whether, in connection with these wide powers which the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire says the Secretary of State possesses, he has power to override the power that is given in subsection (6), because, if not, it seems to me that to take these powers is sheer complete nonsense, because the local authority may say that it considers it reasonable to keep to its original intention not to work the scheme, and so the Secretary of State is no further forward.
This is a blundering and rather stupid attempt to force the local authorities to do something against their will and yet, at the same time, provide a let-out for them. Will the Joint Under-Secretary try to clear up the matter?
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Frankly, I am disturbed by this particular subsection of Clause 3, because the Secretary of State will find that some local authorities will be pleased to submit a scheme to him, and that, in the main, those local authorities will be those which have not been building the numbers of agricultural houses which they ought to have been building during the past few years.
§ Mr. Speaker
We are not entitled, on this Amendment, to discuss subsection (1) of Clause 3. We are entitled only to argue whether or not any requirement by the Secretary of State should be expressed in the form of a Statutory Instrument.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am sorry if I have infringed the rules, but I was coming to that point. The intention that we have, 704 as I understand it, is that a Scottish hon. Member shall be able to raise this matter in the House when the regulation comes before us. That would give us an opportunity of putting forward the view of the local authorities, as has been instanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). My hon. Friend indicated that, in his opinion, local authorities would not be amenable to the presentation of a scheme, and the Amendment would allow us to have, when the regulation was before the House, an opportunity of proving our point conclusively.
In the county of Ayr, which the Joint Under-Secretary knows, and in Lanarkshire, we have been re-housing more agricultural workers through the ordinary allocation schemes of the local authorities, and have been dealing with them either on the grounds of over-crowding, sub-letting or unfit housing conditions.
If the situation is such that we have been re-housing agricultural workers very successfully in comparison with other local authorities who are prepared to submit schemes, would the Secretary of State then feel it his duty to force upon our local authorities the submission of schemes, in spite of the fact that they have been doing very well in re-housing agricultural workers by means of their ordinary housing schemes and simply because of their housing conditions, and not because of employment conditions entirely?
I understand that we are likely to reach a situation in which the presentation of a scheme is not acceptable to the local authority, and in that case we should have no opportunity, unless a regulation were coming before the House, of putting the point of view of the local authorities. I hope that the Secretary of State will indicate what his attitude will be in regard to those areas where there has been already much re-housing of agricultural workers carried out through the ordinary schemes of the local authoities.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I have only two observations to make. The first is that, if my memory serves me rightly, very similar words to these were included in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1936. My second observation, although I may be wrong about this, is that surely there cannot be many precedents for a Government making Statutory 705 Instruments directing the local authority to do something without saying in precise terms what they have to do. It seems to me to be a very remarkable form of Statutory Instrument, and I should be interested to know whether there is any precedent whatever for that sort of thing.
We have had so many examples during the past six or seven years of local authorities being compelled to do things which they did not like that it seems rather remarkable, when there is a change of Government, that the Opposition should now be claiming that the local authorities should be left entirely at liberty to do what they please in the matter of local government.
§ 4.0 p.m.
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will prove himself a little pliant on this subject. We are not asking for much. He said, in quite a good natured fashion, that my right hon. Friend was looking for rather a hefty instrument, but the Government themselves have taken a very hefty instrument with which to deal with this situation. I regret that I cannot speak with any authority of the 1926 Act, but I cannot visualise any Government taking power to introduce a variation of a general intention that houses shall be built for the agricultural workers.
Houses are normally provided for agricultural workers, and the Government in their wisdom have decided that a small section of this provision shall be subject to a Statutory Instrument. If that is so, then it would not be unusual to allow the people whom it is proposed to compel in this way to have an opportunity of publicly stating their views through hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) put forward an ingenious argument but one which I do not think runs here, because, of course, subsection (6) is overridden by the following paragraph. It is quite true that there is an Amendment on the Order Paper to withdraw the paragraph, for reasons which I do not clearly understand.
Either the Government are in earnest or they are not. If the Government are solemnly seeking power by Statutory Instrument to compel local authorities to act in this fashion, and at the same time are prepared to say that if they do not want to act in this fashion the Government 706 will go through the whole business of putting up a scheme only in the end to do nothing about it if the local authority refuses to provide funds, then I suggest they are trifling with this House and proceeding in a highly unsatisfactory fashion.
I wish to put two questions to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Can he tell the House of any difficulties of this kind which he has had with local authorities? Quite plainly, if he can show that there have been recalcitrant local authorities, or short-sighted and unjust treatment of this particular section of the agricultural population for whom he seeks to make special provision, then the House might have another view on the subject.
I can only say from my own experience that that has never been the case. Indeed, I have found the very opposite. I can think of two occasions on which I went to county conveners and asked them to ask their authorities to agree that a small proportion of their allocation should be made available for particular agricultural workers—in both cases afforestation—and in both cases I found the local authorities highly co-operative.
The next question I wish to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman is whether he discussed this subsection with the local authority associations prior to the introduction of the Bill. If he tells the House that the local authorities said they did not mind being compelled to do this thing without this House having any opportunity to pray against it, then, of course, our case is so much weakened.
All we are asking is that these powers should be subject to one of the minor checks of which this House is capable. That does not seem to me to be an unreasonable plea to make, and I hope that the Secretary of State will agree to what we are asking. After all, if he thinks he will use this power only in very exceptional circumstances, then the argument for the House having an opportunity to consider those very exceptional circumstances is all the stronger.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House I would only say that I think this is really a re-hash of a previous discussion we had on this subject and to which my right hon. Friend replied fully on 16th October. A number of questions is being raised as to the new powers which my 707 right hon. Friend is taking unto himself. These were included in the 1938 Act, and they were not altered by the Labour Government in 1946. Exactly similar words to those which now appear in this Bill were included in Section 145 of the 1950 Act by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite was a Member, and in these circumstances I do not think I need stress the matter any further.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Surely, on that occasion the words were used for quite a different purpose. There never has been a provision in any Statute of this country that the Secretary of State for Scotland could have power to instruct local authorities to make a scheme for the provision of subsidies from public funds, including the local rent account, towards the provision of tied houses.
If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the 1938 Act, he will find that was in fact the case. So far as the replacement of houses was concerned, the Secretary of State for Scotland could call upon local authorities to introduce a scheme, but that is not the point we are discussing here. It is whether or not these powers should be obtained through a Statutory Instrument. My right hon. Friend thinks that is a very heavy way of proceeding with the matter, and, therefore, as I said before, I have to advise the House not to accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 41, to leave out from "assistance," to the end of line 42, and to insert:(b) the house is in replacement of an existing unsatisfactory house or other premises occupied as a dwelling by a member of the agricultural population.For the purposes of this subsection "unsatisfactory house or other premises" means houses or other premises which are unfit for human habitation and which are not capable of being rendered so fit at reasonable expense.In the previous Amendment which I had on the Order Paper in Committee two subjects were combined, and, since the Government bent a little in relation to the first half of the Amendment, it was very awkward to continue the discussion, and at that stage I withdrew my Amendment.
The purpose of this Amendment is plain. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the previous history of this subject when he spoke a few minutes ago. 708 It is true that public funds were made available for what used to be called tied cottages, but it is also true that from 1938 onwards these provisions became operative only when the house being constructed was in replacement of a house unfit for human habitation, and automatically on the completion of the replacement, which attracted public funds, the original house was either destroyed or put to uses other than the housing of human beings.
It is obviously a very good principle and one which has commended itself to successive Governments. None of us on this side of the House is going to suggest for one moment that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are tardy in their determination to get rid of these indifferent and, in many cases, dreadful habitations which are to be found in every county in our land; but unless the Government accept this Amendment, it means that these less satisfactory houses will be tolerated and no doubt occupied. That in itself would be undesirable.
Moreover it will be plain to the House that it would be a most regrettable backward step if we relinquished control over public funds in this fashion. The justification for the expenditure of public funds is that they should be applied to an investment which the people of the country think attractive from a public health point of view, a social point of view, and, in this case, an industrial point of view. That justification is lost sight of under the provision of the Clause as it stands.
The Government have not produced at any stage a single reason why we are going back upon the provisions which have been accepted by successive Governments since at least 1938. The least they can do is to explain why so far they have persisted in making an alteration of this kind and have refused to stand by the undertakings which previous Governments of their own complexion have given to the House when considering comparable Measures.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
I want to oppose this Amendment on two main grounds. The first is that since 1938 there has been a very big change in the food necessities of the country. Questions were asked at Question time today about the abolition of feedingstuffs rationing. Increased food 709 production, particularly cereal production, necessitates more men being employed on the farm. There are hundreds of farms where there are not enough houses to house the men. The problem, therefore, is really not only that of replacing houses but of producing extra houses on these farms where there are not enough men to secure the increased food production which we require today.
The second point is that we still have in Scotland the bothy system, which I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), like many other hon. Members on all sides, does not like. Two, three or four men often live in a bothy. It would be very much better if these men were able to get married at a young age and obtain houses on the farms. There again, we have a demand for extra houses on the farms, and to my mind the solution is that we should provide more houses in accordance with Clause 2 of this Bill, and more houses on the farms as well. The building of these houses should be encouraged by every possible means. The Amendment, by restricting grants for the replacement of unsatisfactory houses, cuts across those two great needs, and for those reasons I oppose it.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I suggest that the two reasons given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan) for opposing the Amendment are entirely bogus reasons. He gave as his first reason that there is a need for a larger labour force in agriculture; that we want more food produced, and therefore we want more men.
I have not the reference by me, but the Joint Under-Secretary of State, the hon. and gallant Member for Pollock (Commander Galbraith), said something of the same kind on Wednesday or Thursday last. He said that we want many more agricultural workers and that there is a great shortage of labour. I have not the figures with me, but I put it to him that the Government do not take the view that there is a great shortage of labour for agriculture and that they are not at all anxious to get more people into agriculture. [Laughter.] The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) gives his usual horse laugh. 710 The only justification that the Minister of Labour and National Service has given for calling up agricultural workers is that there is no real shortage of workers in agriculture. He said that when he was answering Questions on Wednesday or Thursday of last week.
The Government cannot defend this Clause in its present form nor oppose the Amendment on the grounds that they want to build additional houses on farms to increase the labour force in agriculture, because they have been telling us that there is no shortage of skilled labour in agriculture, that there is a difficulty at peak labour periods, at certain times of the year, for harvest operations, but that there is no constant shortage of skilled labour in agriculture. Indeed the Government are also winding up the agricultural labour service, closing hostels and dispersing foreign labourers who came here to work in agriculture and sending them to other industries because agriculture is not making a demand on that labour and the cost of that labour is becoming too heavy for the agricultural executive committees to bear.
The argument that additional houses are needed to attract more labour to agriculture is proved false by every decision taken by Her Majesty's Ministers. Indeed, all of us who make any study at all of this matter know that the labour force in agriculture is not going to grow. If we obtain a considerable increase in food production, it will not be in consequence of more labour, but the result of more efficient food production on the farms. We are producing more food than we did before the war, not because we have more labour than there was available in 1938—indeed we have less labour—but because we have more machines. These houses are not required for machines, but for labour.
The second ground on which the hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South opposed this Amendment was equally false, because he said that hon. Members know that we still have the bothy system in Scotland and that we want to get rid of it. Of course we want to get rid of the bothy system, but if the Amendment is accepted the bothy can be replaced by a new house. The hon. and gallant Member is asking that the farmer may still build a house from public funds and 711 keep the bothy. If it is said that the new house is to be in place of the bothy, we can be quite happy about it.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. and gallant Member says that it is a stupid argument. He thinks that my arguments are stupid because he did not know that under the 1938 Act houses could be built with aid from public funds in replacement of the bothy.
§ Mr. Fraser
Of course, but farmers really worth their salt in Scotland at present have got the farm workers out of the bothy and have built hostels for them. The farmers to whom hon. and right hon. Members opposite are seeking to pander still have the bothy, and will continue to have it.
In this Amendment we seek to ensure that when public money is spent on building a house for an agricultural worker, that house will be in replacement of the existing accommodation enjoyed by that worker. In this Amendment we are going so far as to admit the present number of tied houses for agricultural workers in Scotland, but we do not want the number to be increased. The Conservative Government of 1938 thought that that was all very well and said, "Let us just keep the present number." We are not adding to the force in agriculture at the present time. It is becoming less and not more. If there is anything to be said at all for the 1938 Act which was put through this House by a Tory Government, that case stills holds. There is absolutely no justification at the present time for building additional tied houses for agricultural workers.
The hon. and gallant Member for Angus, South said that we need to increase agricultural production and that we should particularly grow more cereals. Of course we do, but everybody knows that the farm worker who is employed to grow more cereals does not have to live 712 on the farm. He can so easily live in the village, in the little hamlet, or in agricultural house provided by the local authority. He can jump on his bicycle or motor cycle in the morning and go along the road one mile, two miles or three miles——
§ Mr. Fraser
It is far better that the farm worker should cycle one, two, three or even four miles to his work in the morning than that the child should walk from the farm the same distance to school—because it is no further from the farm to the village than it is from the village to the farm. The distance is exactly the same. It seems to me that if we are going to choose between a farm worker cycling or motor cycling from the village to the farm, and the child walking the same distance from the farm to the village, we should come down in favour of the child and ask the parent to go to work on his bicycle.
§ Mr. Boothby
Is the hon. Gentleman really asking us to believe that the children of the farmers in the North of Scotland walk anything up to 10 miles a day every day of their school lives? I assure him that it is not true. Let me relieve the hon. Gentleman of his anxiety on that point.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman increased my one, two or three miles into four or five miles, and now he is extending it to 10. The hon. Gentleman does not know his constituency if he does not know that children are indeed cycling 10 miles—five miles each way—to and from school. Children are doing that at the present time. That is the trouble with hon. Members opposite; they do not know their constituencies, and they do not know the problems that we are dealing with. [Interruption.] Indeed, as one of my hon. Friends reminds me, they do not cycle 10 miles either.
Nobody can argue that the Secretary of State needs to build additional tied houses to house additional workers. There is no case at all for that. We are not employing more workers than we 713 used to employ in agriculture. We are employing fewer workers in agriculture, and more machines.
We are saying in this Amendment, let there be new houses built for the farm workers in Scotland—even new tied houses—but let every such house be in replacement of another house that is to be pulled down or is to be used for some other purpose than for human habitation. Let it not be said that we are at this time voting additional money to the landlords to enable them to continue in use and occupation some of the hovels that ought to have been cleared away many years ago.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
Some very odd doctrines are being preached by the Opposition this afternoon. I hope that we take careful note of them. We have had the admission of the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) that ample subsidies are being produced under this Bill. We shall be interested to compare that with what he said before and with what he is going to say in a few minutes' time.
We have had the repeated strong point made by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) that no extra labour has been employed in agriculture in this country, in spite of all the so-called expansion in the agricultural programme that has gone on under the auspices of the Socialists. We are very interested to have that naked admission made now—that no improvement whatever in agricultural employment has taken place as a result of all their efforts. We hope to improve that.
The more particular point is that the bad farmer or landowner is to be helped and the good farmer or landowner is to be penalised. The hon. Member for Hamilton said that the good farmers have taken their men out of the bothies and have put them into hostels. But surely no one will suggest that hostel accommodation is the ideal accommodation for adult men to live in. Naturally, they want houses of their own, where they can have their wives and bring up their children. But, according to the Amendment, because a hostel is built the landlord is not to be allowed to build a house.
If he has a bad house, one which has been allowed to become 714unfit for human habitation and … not capable of being rendered so fit at reasonable expenseforward come the right hon. Member for East Stirling, the hon. Member for Hamilton and the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) who say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord. Here is money. You have let your house fall into an unsatisfactory condition. Go on. Build a new house—a new tied house even. But if you have built a hostel we will proceed against you with the utmost rigour of the law, if you try to get a grant, and you will not be allowed to build a house in addition to that, even if more labour is needed on your farm."
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman intends to introduce a manuscript Amendment which says that any farmer with a cottage which is unfit for human habitation shall not attract a grant for a new house my hon. Friend will be quick to reconsider his decision, but that is not what we are discussing.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
We are trying to deal with the Amendment introduced by hon. Members opposite. They say that if a man at present has a bad house he shall be allowed to build a new tied house and get a grant for replacement of it. But if he has already improved that house he shall not be able to get help under this Bill to build another house on his farm, however good he may wish to make it. I cannot believe that hon. Members opposite are going to support that contention. Yet it is the contention which they are bringing forward. It will produce a black market in unfit and unsatisfactory houses.
Anybody will seek to go round and buy some hovel, and then say, "I undertake to pull this house down if you will let me build a tied cottage," and the right hon. Member for East Stirling will say, "I am in favour of that. Go on, buy that house, I will give you State money and I will allow you to build a new tied house"—under which all those evils about which hon. Members opposite complain can take place—"if you go through this formality of buying some old rickle of bricks which used to be occupied by people." It has got to be rather bad because, according to the Amendment, it has to beunfit for human habitation and … not capable of being rendered so fit at reasonable expense.715 We can imagine this procedure going on: the right hon. Gentleman inspecting the building and saying, "Is there any danger that this house can be rendered fit at any reasonable expense? Oh well, we cannot give a grant." But if he says, "Look, we cannot do anything to this house; there is a crack in the roof and there is no sanitation, splendid. There is a midden at the door, the water is coming in, good. The foundations are cracking, it can never be repaired: that is what we want. Now we will give you a grant. You can have your rate money and your State money; you can have your tied house because you have proved that all these things are so." Is this the contention that is being brought before the House? Those are the words in the Amendment. Could anything more ludicrous be conceived at the present time? If any hon. Member opposite wants to query this description I will give way.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that those words, which he says are so ludicrous, are taken out of the Act of Parliament which was put on the Statute Book by a Government in which he was Minister of Health?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
But we never said that public money could not be granted at all for the improvement of a tied house. We were not the Government which scrapped the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. The hon. Gentleman does not realise that we are bringing forward proposals by which new houses can be built at a tithe of the expense to the community of the local authority house. These contentions which I have described are the proposals which the hon. Member suggests should be written on the Statute Book. The hon. Gentleman says that one should be forbidden to build any new house whatever unless one can prove that it is in replacement of some house which is absolutely unfit for human habitation. That is the Amendment.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Under the 1938 Act we certainly allowed improvement of rural houses. It was the hon. Gentleman's Government which scrapped the 716 Act and refused to allow houses to be made fit for human habitation. After saying that they would do something about it his Government sat quiescent for six years and then produced a deathbed repentance at the end of its days.
Now it seeks to go back on that. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he cannot run away from his own Amendment and say that he is relying on the Tories of 1938. If that is to be the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite no wonder that the Opposition Front Bench is subject to the scarifying remarks of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and his hon. Friends. This is the defence and these are the defenders. Of what?—of the Tory Government of 1938.
A more ludricrous proposition has rarely been brought before the House of Commons, and a more unjustified defence than the defence which has been uttered this afternoon has scarcely ever been uttered, that the only reason why one should not have money to build a new house on a farm is that one has reasonable accommodation for the people already living there. Yet that is the proposal of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
We are strongly opposed to that. We say that it should be possible to build a new house if it is desirable and reasonable for the carrying on of the farm that the new house should be built. There is no reason whatever why, if he so wishes, the farm worker should not live beside his work and get home for a hot meal instead of having to cycle anything up to 10 miles to the village.
As to the suggestion about children having to walk great distances, I am surprised at the hon. Member for Hamilton. Although Hamilton is a great and noble burgh, nobody could say that it is a great agricultural centre, but if the hon. Member had ever gone about the country at all he would have seen cars taking the children to and from school. I see the cars in my own village, and so do other hon. Members in rural constituencies.
As to his suggestion that rural workers prefer to live in the towns the hon. Member should look at Lanark. Lanark is the proper capital of the county of Lanarkshire, although I admit that the town of Hamilton has in some ways usurped Lanark's noble position. The hon. Member will find that many of the houses in 717 Lanark which were built under these provisions are occupied by town dwellers and not by country dwellers, because the country dwellers cannot be bothered about living in those houses and much prefer to live in houses adjacent to their work, for which they pay very much lower rent, the result of what private enterprise has provided.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I cannot understand the right hon. Gentlemen saying that many of the people occupying the houses are town dwellers and not country dwellers. Not one of these houses has been built in a town; they are all built in the country. I do not know any of them within two miles of any large town or village in Lanarkshire.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman exposes his ignorance in speech after speech. Lanark is quite a town. If the hon. Gentleman says it is not a town he will meet some very vigorous criticism. If he goes to Lanark he will find some of these houses within a biscuit toss of the town centre. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] By the Beech Avenue, which the hon. Member must know very well, he will find——
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Hon. Members do not know much about Lanark if they do not know the Beech Avenue. I grew up close by there, and I seem to know Lanark much better than some hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Beech Avenue is within the sound of Lanark Bell. The hon. Member surely cannot tell me that he does not know the Lanark Bell.
Within the sound of Lanark Bell he will see rural cottages built for rural workers which are now not inhabited by rural workers at all. In the surrounding districts he will see the houses occupied by rural workers which the rural workers prefer for reasons of situation and rent to the houses which have been built by the local authorities. Anyone who confesses that he does not know where the Beech Avenue is, in Lanark, has no claim to talk about Lanark.
Our proposal that houses should be built not merely in replacement of old houses but in addition to old houses is a good and proper proposal to bring before the House of Commons. The 718 suggestion which is being made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would bring them into administrative difficulties, and it is such an upside-down argument that I cannot really believe that they will carry this Amendment to a Division.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I am very glad to be able to follow the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). We all admire his wide scope of mind and his very retentive memory. We have today had an example of how conveniently he can forget. When my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) was being "got" at by the right hon. Gentleman for describing unfit houses as… unfit for human habitation and … not capable of being rendered so fit at reasonable expense …I recalled that my hon. Friend was a little schoolboy when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was using his influence to have those words inserted in the Housing Act, 1923, and the Housing (Scotland) Acts, 1925 and 1930. I believe the words were also used in the Addison Act. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not imply that the words were conjured up by my hon. Friends.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Lady ought not to go too far back into the past. She ought not to bring up these old reminiscences. In those instances, the words were not exclusive.
§ Mrs. Mann
In pursuing what I have to say I would refer to the Addison Act. I am under no compunction to refrain from referring to any of these Acts. The Addison Act paid all expenses, leaving five-sixths of a 1d. rate. In comparison, this is a very poor Measure indeed.
I would draw the attention of the House to the manual of housing, the big book of words, "Planning our New Homes." All hon. Members opposite were very familiar with that book. Indeed, during the régime of the Labour Government that book held pride of place on the knees of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who at that time occupied the Front Opposition Bench. Where is it today? It does not appear anywhere on the benches opposite. Have hon. Gentlemen 719 opposite forgotten the contents of "Planning our New Homes"? They must have done so. There has not been any reference whatever to the remarks made in that book, after months of deliberation, by the committee, of which I happened to be a member, in regard to tied houses and to the development of agricultural villages. Time and again that report emphasises the undesirability of pursuing the line that is pursued in the Bill.
I would remind hon. Members that town planners of Scotland, like Mr. F. G. Mears and others, even Professor Abercrombie, who is not a Scotsman—at any rate, I do not think he is—referred to the desirability of building village communities. The tied house should be permitted, in so far as it was necessary, but not extended. It had been extended too much.
Too much importance has been paid to fathers having to travel five miles but none at all to mothers having to leave a farm and go five miles to the village, or to the children, or other members of the family, having to travel also. Their social life is affected by being around the farm because father happens to work there. Not only is their social life affected, but there is difficulty in creating a community spirit throughout the agricultural areas of Scotland. It is worse than that. It is driving young people away altogether from these areas into the cities, which are already grossly overcrowded.
Therefore, I deplore the trend in the Bill. I consider it very reactionary indeed, when one has regard to the complete picture of Scottish life: the overcrowded cities, the under-populated agricultural areas, the need for keeping young people attracted to those areas and the need for bringing in cottage-type industries. Hon. Members opposite have surely lost the complete picture of our revitalised Scotland.
I consider the Clause very reactionary because it permits additions to undesirable houses which might be admitted to be unfit for human habitation and would have been demolished 20 years ago if our building progress had been what it ought to have been. I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench to give heed to the Amendment.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Manuel
I was astonished at the contribution we had from the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). In my innocence I had imagined that he was merely interested in housing and in our problem of housing provision throughout Scotland. Today he has certainly given me another slant on his views. He was very flippant in parts of his speech and completely callous in other parts of it.
Most hon. Members in any quarter of the House would agree that we have far too many unfit houses in Scotland. Unless we do what this Amendment proposes, and when we provide a new house knock out a house that is listed as unfit for human habitation, we shall not get any forward move, in the provision of houses in Scotland. I am not going to be a party to agreeing to the barrier raised by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that there is something different between an unfit house in a rural area and one within a burgh or a built-up town. That is the case that he was putting. Whether he likes it or not, we get housing conditions in rural Scotland that are deplorable, are a contributory factor to ill health, and are every bit as bad as the hovels in some of our towns.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Does the hon. Gentleman ask this House to believe that for every new house built in an urban area an unfit house is knocked down? I wish I could say that of Kelvingrove and elsewhere. I have no doubt that the hon. Member wishes that it could be said of Ayrshire. It is not true. It has not happened. I am not asking that we should put a premium on bad housing. It is the hon. Gentleman who is asking that.
§ Mr. Manuel
We are discussing the provision of housing in rural and agricultural areas, and I am referring to agricultural workers. In my 15 years' membership of a local authority I have all the time said that when we provide a house for a family coming out of an unfit house we must close the unfit house and not agree to its being reopened. That has happened consistently in that local authority right from the end of the war. I deplore that many other local authorities have not taken that view, which is the only way to get progress.
721 I hope that we shall not have this artificial barrier that there is something different about an unfit house simply because a farm worker is living in it, and that it is so much different from one occupied by a shipyard worker in a town, or some other type of artisan. I deplore that sentence in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech where he talked about a midden at the door, effluent from a stable for animals which has not been taken away from where people reside. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was talking about it as though it was a condition that we ought not to disturb.
§ Mr. Manuel
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did say it. It is within the recollection of the House that during a scoffing and callous part of his speech, where he was dealing with children, he mentioned about the midden. An hon. Gentleman sitting opposite laughed at it. If he wants it to be known throughout Scotland that he thinks children should live under those conditions we are not associating ourselves with that suggestion.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. If he will read the Report of what I said he will see that I carefully catalogued all the possible defects in a house and that then I said, "That is the house hon. Members opposite wish to reward." I am not in favour of a house with a midden at the door or a house with a cranky gable or with water coming through the ceiling. It is hon. Members opposite who are in favour of that sort of house, for it is the man with that sort of house whom they will allow to build a new house with public funds—even a tied house. If he has not such a house he is not allowed to build a new one. It is hon. Members opposite who are defending the midden at the door. I am attacking it.
§ Mr. Manuel
No matter how the right hon. and gallant Gentleman may wrap this up, the intention on this side is that where there is a house in that category it ought to be demolished, and the whole force of the argument on the other side is that it ought not to be demolished and ought to be occupied for human residence still. I do want to appeal to the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) who has just come into the Chamber, 722 who has heard none of this argument, to stop interjecting so rudely. He does not know what he is talking about. I am not quite certain that the sort of steps he has taken in the past to protect bad housing means he is to resume those activities these days.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
Would the hon. Gentleman mind specifying those steps he is criticising? He is making some wild statements.
§ Mr. Manuel
It was the hon. and gallant Gentleman's protection of the Royal Burgh of Ayr, when it had to be forced by a public inquiry and a decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland to condemn houses which it would not otherwise condemn. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows he supported it.
I want to get back to the theme of the unfit house.
§ Mr. Manuel
I think I have been sticking to it, but I have been drawn into certain avenues; but I am not going to be drawn into Beech Avenue. Sycamore Avenue is much nicer and much more like Ayrshire.
However, what I want definitely to say is that I think we all agree that bad housing in Scotland has certainly been a contributory cause of ill-health, and we are all desirous of knocking out that type of house contributing to diseases. We on this side are convinced that the incidence of tuberculosis is as prevalent in an unfit house in an agricultural district as it is in an unfit house in a town area. If that be so, I think that we could agree that where we can we should knock out the unfit house when we build a new one. Especially if we are taking a family out of that unfit house, we should see it is not again occupied. Certainly let it be used as a store for turnips or anything else about the farm; but let it not be used for a human habitation.
I was interested in the point about more men in agriculture, because we know there has been a great advance in productivity up and down the country of Scotland. We have got to recognise that that productivity is being accomplished by less men doing certain jobs. There has been more mechanisation. There is still room for more mechanisation, and I do hope that we are to go ahead with a "more production" campaign.
723 There is an aspect of this that I think the Government should consider. I do hope there is not going to be an inducement in the argument from the opposite side today to local authorities to be lax in using the powers that they have to condemn unfit houses. I do not know whether there is anything the Secretary of State can do that can take away from the local authorities the power to step in and say, "That house is unfit, and at the first opportunity it will be demolished." Is he going in any way to infringe that power of the local authorities? As in previous Acts we have had the definite commitment that an unfit house, from which a family is re-housed, must be demolished, or, at least, not used for human habitation again, we ought not to do anything to curb that housing activity of local authorities. To me, it is their main job, this provision of houses.
I do not want anything to be done to give the impression in Scotland that we in this House are not keen on this question of housing and of knocking out the unfit houses. Hon. Members opposite are so keen to please the landlords they are keeping in the unfit house provision, when, on the contrary, they should knock it out. They are prepared to do so in the towns, presumably but in the agricultural areas, they feel they have to be kinder to the landlords, and not so harsh to those people, and allow the occupation of unfit houses which ought to be prohibited.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think there is any doubt at all about what we intend in this Amendment. I think that after the arguments on Second Reading and during the Committee stage it must be obvious to the Government and all hon. Members opposite that we have no love for the tied cottage system at all. As regards the agricultural population, we have no desire to see the tied house problem perpetuated or aggravated by the use of public money.
It was the Advisory Committee's Report of 1937 that laid down that the definite aim of housing policy in Scotland should be to reduce the tied houses to the minimum. Following that Report we had the Housing Act of 1938, introduced by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who has spoken today—I will not say scathingly, for I 724 think he was just having a day out. He introduced that Act and put into legislative form the policy laid down by the Advisory Committee to limit the number of tied houses, so that the subsidy was paid for the creation of a tied house on condition that an unfit tied house would be demolished; and what we seek to do today is to limit subsidy in exactly the same way.
It is astonishing that there should be any such tied houses in Scotland, but it has not been denied from the other side, who seem to be much closer in touch with the landlords in Scotland. I think it is amazing that, after the 1938 Act, there should be such houses, and that after the legislation for the rural workers before the war and after there should be houses in Scotland so completely unfit for the agricultural population that they are unfit for human habitation.
Nowadays, we have local authorities building agricultural workers' houses. That was not so in 1938 and the years before that. We recognise this fact in the Amendment. If hon. Members opposite really have the true interests of the countryside at heart they will want to see new houses going up and these hovels left uninhabited.
As the Bill is at present worded not one of them will be closed, unless it is by the desire of the farmer or landowner. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman should know quite well the position in which the local authority is at the moment, and that one of the most difficult things they can undertake is to clear out places that have been condemned many a time. The licensing system is still carried on; unfit houses are still licensed.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That is because there are no new houses. When new houses are built it will be easier to close unfit houses. I wish local authorities to have and to exercise this power, but I think that the way to do it is to encourage the provision of new houses, and to have more new houses than old houses.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think that we shall get that under this Bill. What we shall get under this Clause is not a new tied house for an old tied house. We shall get another new tied house and the old tied house will continue. We shall get the kind of thing that has brought Scottish agricultural housing to the 725 despicable state it is in at present, and if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was true to the sentiments he expressed in 1938 he would be supporting us instead of making the kind of speech which, if I may say so with respect, did not do him a great deal of credit.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I was astonished at the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove's (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) speech. He was adopting the tactic that the best way to cover up something that is happening on one side is to create a diversion about something happening on the other side, because he created such a lot of caffaffle, if I may so describe it, over all the repartee that he was thrusting across the House that he completely forgot the point he was trying to discuss.
I do not think he has read the Amendment. He concentrated the whole of his speech on the first phrase of the Amendment and paid no attention to the second phrase. The Amendment is not concerned only with houses which are unfit, but includesor other premises occupied as a dwelling by a member of the agricultural population.That is a recognition of a position accepted and reported on by the advisory committee during his own tenure of office as Secretary of State for Scotland, who said there was no necessity to do any more improvement on existing houses, and suggested that where practicable farm servants should be housed off the farm.
At that time Mr. Wedderburn supported the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in the presentation of his Bill, and pointed out that in Clause 4 it was directed that local authorities should not have concern for replacements unless accommodation suitable to the requirements of the worker and his employer was not available in the locality, and it was not practicable for the local authority to provide such accommodation under a general housing scheme.
That is the position we are offering the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must agree that the present Government are reactionary, even in terms of the presentation of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's own Act, and in face of what was said by supporters from the Conservative side as far back as 1938. In other words, we propose to jump back 726 to a position which even the Conservatives of 1938 were not prepared to sustain in the House.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman also seemed to be a bit confused, because he suggested that there were not enough agricultural workers houses, and therefore it was necessary to have this scheme. He then went on to tell us of the agricultural workers houses that had been provided in Lanark which were surplus to demand and were not occupied by agricultural workers; that they could not find agricultural workers to occupy the houses, so that although the houses were provided for agricultural workers they had to be let to other people, and he argued that was clear evidence that the demand was not so great in Lanark since the agricultural workers did not occupy the houses.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I said they would not pay the rent. The right hon. Gentleman did not appreciate all I said.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman now tells us that the agricultural worker prefers the house he is in to the house provided by the local authority for which a higher rent is charged. It is curious that the farm workers' representatives deny that. I am not prepared to judge one against another, but certainly the farm workers' union of Scotland deny that and say that the farm worker is perfectly willing and desirous of paying the rent to get a decent house for his family.
But even assuming that the reflection passed on the farm worker by that suggestion—that he is not willing to have decent accommodation for his family because he will have to pay more rent; a charge which might be levied against more people than the farm workers in Scotland—the point is that this House is not legislating for people who have in mind the lowest standards for their families. This House is legislating for the families, even if the head of the family is not aware of what he ought to do.
Last week we discussed whether we ought to legislate for the habits of the past or for the habits of the future. We take the view that it is a public health matter, a public education matter, a question of raising the standard of people, and that as far as we can we should teach them better habits than they had in the 727 past, and induce them to take advantage of them.
Let me take another point at which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman scoffed. Is there anyone who wants a planned Scotland, with improved conditions, who does not agree to the proposition that little children should be as near their school as possible? All new housing schemes have been designed so that we do not ask these little tots to cross a main road to get to their school. The villages must be so designed that they are off the main road, so that children can get to the school without crossing a main road or passing through the traffic. I do hon. Gentlemen opposite more credit than they do themselves. I am sure that every one of them would subscribe to that.
One of the problems of farms on which shepherds are employed is to get shepherds to live way out in the country with their families where there is no possibility of a van coming to the door. I know of one farmer who had to provide his shepherd with a jeep to get down to the road, otherwise the shepherd would have left. There is a continual withdrawing of shepherds from certain parts, in the Highlands especially, because of the lack of social life. Nobody here can deny that.
Women will not be content to be away from running water, the chance of getting to the shops, or to lose the possibility of being within reach of what they regard as the amenities of life. Yet the right hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to support the reactionary point of view that because the father does not want to move a few miles the children and the wife must be banished out into the wilderness so that he can be near his work.
Nothing more reactionary has been said in this House for many a long day, and I am disappointed in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has a love of the country and knows from experience the problem of the shepherd far better than I do. I can only take it from the farmers and people I have met in the industry; he knows from his own practical experience that what I say is true
All we are suggesting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said so clearly, is that there is not likely to be an increase in the agricultural 728 population in Scotland. Mechanisation and the development of science on the farm will, if anything, reduce the number of people required to produce even more food. There is no need, therefore, to increase the number of agricultural houses in Scotland. What is necessary is to have better houses than the present ones.
We suggest that when this grant is taken under this Bill to build new houses it should be provided in order to replace existing houses or dwellings so that there will not be an increase in the number of tied houses, or a multiplication of that type of house. By securing that we shall carry out the recommendations of the advisory committee, and also the principles accepted by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself when he was Secretary of State for Scotland.
I am sure that the present Secretary of State does not want to be more reactionary than the Secretary of State of those days, as he seems at present to want to be.
I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) feels very chastened after listening to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has had to say. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling has, I think, repeatedly qualified to be associated with his hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel) as being one of the greatest experts in this House in erecting Aunt Sallies so that he can knock them down. Indeed, that was the practice to which the hon. Member for Ayrshire, Central devoted himself during his entire speech, and his right hon. Friend has seemingly been endeavouring to follow him in that exercise.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) made a very profound remark during the course of his speech when he said that he thought that the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove must have been asleep last week. With all deference, I think that many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House must have been asleep last week, because, at the very outset of this discussion, we had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) saying that 729 there had not been produced a single reason for the Government's action.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spent a considerable time, on 16th October, pointing out what the reasons were. They are all here. He said that the Government's object was to widen the scope so as to give assistance to all house building for the accommodation of members of the agricultural population. He went on to point out that he wanted a happy, healthy agricultural population, which was necessary for the production of food. I do not know how many other reasons the right hon. Gentleman wants produced. Those were the reasons given.
My right hon. Friend replied to the arguments which were put forward on that occasion and which have been repeated ad nauseam on this occasion. There has been a contention that certain hon. Members on this side of the House, myself included, were quite mistaken about the need for more men on the land, and, in fact, there had been a fall in the agricultural population. I agree there has been a fall in the agricultural population. It may be that at some future date there will be a further fall, but the fact remains that, in spite of mechanisation in order to extract every particle of food we can from the land, there are many farms in this country now employing more labour than before, and which require extra houses to be provided for the workers. There is no dubiety about that whatsoever.
We have had references made to a committee reporting as to what is good for the farm worker—that it is good for them to cycle miles on a wet morning to and from their work; that they ought to be thinking of their children. We have had this argument put forward by three or four hon. Members opposite. They say that to cycle three or four miles would be good for the workers. I took down the words myself, so that I might be able to repeat them. I think that it is time that we thought about what the agricultural worker wants to do, and not so much about what a committee and hon. Members opposite want him to do. Let the agricultural worker look after himself; he is quite capable of doing so. He wants to live as close to his work as he possibly can and have due consideration for his children at the same time.
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks with such authority and vehemence about what the agricultural workers wants, no doubt he will be able to supply quotations from the Scottish agricultural workers' organisation upon this subject.
The right hon. Gentleman would no doubt supply quotations to the other effect. I speak from my own experience which is wider than that of the right hon. Gentleman—a good deal wider on this matter—and I am telling the House what is my experience, which is the same as that of many of my hon. Friends.
§ 5.15 p.m.
I am not pitting my experience against the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's. I am only asking him to give us a quotation and some corroboration from the Scottish agricultural workers' organisation. He knows very well that their opinion is exactly contrary to that which he has so vehemently offered.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to produce the authority on which that particular union speaks for all the farm workers in Scotland. I would like to know how many that union represents. I would prefer to rely on my own experience. I am putting forward my views to the House, and I have every right to rely on my own experience in a matter such as this.
We all recognise the great part which the trade unions play in this country. On this occasion, I am going to rely on my own experience, and I have given that to the House. I think that it would be a good thing if hon. Gentlemen opposite considered the views of those who work on the farms a little more than they do. There is no need to prolong this discussion. A full answer was given on this matter by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and nothing new has been produced in the course of the debate today. Therefore, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.731
I beg to move, in page 4, to leave out lines 10 to 13.
I have to move this Amendment because, owing to some unknown circumstances so far as I am concerned, words have crept into the Bill which were not intended, and it would almost appear as if my right hon. Friend had accepted an Amendment which was moved in this House, which, in fact, he did not accept.
On a point of order. My recollection is completely that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I should like your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, upon the usual procedure in such a case. If, as I think, the OFFICIAL REPORT is inaccurrate is not there a procedure laid down that this should be brought to the notice of the Chair at the earliest possible moment?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles Mac-Andrew)
I understand that in this case the OFFICIAL REPORT and the Votes and Proceedings differ. The OFFICIAL REPORT says one thing and the Votes and Proceedings say another. The OFFICIAL REPORT is not the one by which our proceedings are controlled.
I am not making a party point at all. I am putting this forward only for our information. If the OFFICIAL REPORT is accurate, which, I think, it is, how does it happen that the Bill is inaccurate and if the OFFICIAL REPORT is inaccurate—I think there is some confusion, when I say the OFFICIAL REPORT I mean the paper regarding the proceedings is, I think, accurate. The difficulty is that since presumably——
I thought that HANSARD was inaccurate, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said. I thought that the Votes and Proceedings were accurate, but I am told that I am wrong in thinking that. At any rate, there is a procedure laid down for bringing inaccuracies to the notice of the occupant of the Chair. I think it would be interesting to find out how it happened that despite this inaccuracy we had a Bill produced and offered to the House embodying it.
I think that what happened was that the Official Reporter knew what was intended and put that 732 in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The House is guided by the Votes and Proceedings, which are the official record. It very often happens that when the Chair says, "I think the 'Ayes' have it," no one takes any notice, and if he says the "Ayes" have it when it should be the "Noes," a mistake may arise. I think that is how this matter arose, although I was not in the Chair at the time.
I do not think we need concern ourselves with how the accident arose, but an accident there has been and something is in the Bill which the Government did not wish to be there and which, in accordance with the proceedings which took place in Committee, should not be there. It is for that purpose that I have moved this Amendment.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
I am a very disappointed man. On Thursday night I had on the Order Paper something like three Amendments and five new Clauses. Although the intention of three of them was accepted I went home a disappointed man because five, or at any rate half of them, were ruled out of order. But as is so often the case, the old saying:Sighing will endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning,was proved to be true, because when I came to the House in the morning I found that one of my small Amendments had been incorporated in the Bill.
At last, after years and years of trying, I thought I had played some small part in influencing the law of the land; but, alas, I now understand that this is all a mistake and that the acceptance of my modest little Amendment was due to some unknown circumstances, as my hon. and gallant Friend describes it, and my poor, little, humble child is to be strangled at birth. I regret and deplore that decision, but I cannot fight against it.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am sure that we shall all sympathise with the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), who has told us of his grievous disappointment. Perhaps I should say that we all sympathise with him except the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil). When I ventured to say something earlier, on a previous Amendment, that same right hon. Gentleman, with his usual acumen, seized the point that the Government must be got out of what 733 seemed to me to be a very considerable difficulty by this curious apport—if I may so call it—which appeared in the Bill by some magical means—and by which the contradiction between subsections (1) and (6) might have been removed.
Now an Amendment has been moved to bring the position back to its previous state. I think that there might be some contradiction between these two subsections and I wonder if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will go into the matter.
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will address himself to the confusion between subsections (1) and (6). As the occasion so rarely happens, however, I should like to assure him that the Opposition are very anxious to assist Her Majesty's Government in this Amendment.
I trust that the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) will not think me unsympathetic if I say that I hope he will in future address himself to a more just and wider argument in the hope that we can support him. His argument seemed very sectional and I should not like to sit down without sympathising with the hon. and gallant Gentleman upon this intractable Bevanism in his own camp.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
I beg to move, in page 4, line 13, at end, to insert:(7) Where a local authority refuse to give assistance under this section they shall, if the applicant so requests, notify him in writing of the grounds of their refusal.During the Committee stage last Thursday I said that I would give further consideration to Amendments in the names of the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley). I hope that this Amendment will help to ease my hon. Friend's grief to some degree, because I am going some considerable way to meet both those Amendments. I said that I would do so at the time, but that I did not want to put an unnecessary burden on local authorities. I did agree that there was a case here for an applicant to find out the reasons for the refusal of his application.
What I suggest—and I hope that it will be agreeable to both sides of the House—is that the local authority is 734 asked to notify in writing the grounds of the refusal if the applicant so requests. That will not necessitate them having to give the grounds in all cases. I hope that the hon. Member for Tradeston and my hon. Friend will agree that this suggestion goes most of the way to meet their Amendments.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends I thank the Secretary of State for the modification he now proposes. I think we should have welcomed his Amendment even more if the qualifying phrase,"… if the applicant so requests" had been deleted. Nevertheless, he has given us at least half a loaf which is better than no bread at all.
We cannot altogether quarrel with the view that some onus should be placed on the applicant if his application for help has been refused. It is not altogether a bad thing to expect that he will at least show enough interest in his own application to ask the local authority. "Why did you refuse it?" I agree that that is an argument and we do not want to enter into any such argument. I thank the Secretary of State for the fact that he has gone some way at least to meet the case which we put upon the Committee stage.
§ Major W. J. Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
I should like to say a word of welcome for the way in which the Secretary of State has met not only this side but the other side of the House. I think that the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) was going too far in complaining that we have been given only half a loaf. Surely to say that the reason must be given whenever it is asked for is not demanding anything very much from an aggrieved person, if he is merely left with the obligation of having to ask for it.
I do not think that the Secretary of State made quite enough of the importance of the concession which he has put into his own Bill. It seemed to me that subsection (6) had power to defeat the whole purpose of Clause 3. The subsection, left as it was, was going to allow a local authority not only to refuse a grant on any grounds but, what is quite a different thing, to refuse a grant on no grounds at all. All that this is doing is giving public opinion the full opportunity of making, itself felt, because if the local 735 authority's grounds are thought to be inadequate the owner or proprietor can ask for the reason and the reason will then be given to the world.
An example of an inadequate reason for refusal was mentioned previously in a most unsatisfactory case. A grant for improving two tied cottages was refused by a local authority, and when the proprietor asked why the grant was refused the reply of the county council was that the application was the subject of long and careful consideration by the appropriate committees of the county council, but no reason for refusal was minuted in the minutes of those meetings. That is government in camera, and it would have been a lamentable thing if we had left an opportunity for unsatisfactory hole-in-the-corner action like that to continue. But the Secretary of State has met the point put forward on both sides of the House, and for my part I should like to thank him very much.
§ Mr. Boothby
As one of the signatories to the series of Amendments of my hon. Friend for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) I want to add a few words. He has scored a spectacular triumph. I suggest now that he should wipe his tears away and reflect upon the fact that he has accomplished a considerable achievement. He has got the substance of what he asked for, and a great deal more than half a loaf.
There is a certain significance about the acceptance of this Amendment, because in these days we are all subject to government control—I use the word "government" in the widest sense of the term—throughout the day and night, and we are continuously being interfered with either by the central government or some aspect of local government. I think it is an extremely good idea to make governments in the widest sense of the term give an explanation for some of their decisions. If that can possibly be done without imposing too great a burden upon them I welcome it, and I think it should be possible in more cases for local or central governments to give reasons for actions which have been taken and which in so many cases have been bewildering.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) very 736 nearly made a case for my Amendment, because he finished up by saying that governments, national and local, should give reasons for decision that they take. That was the purpose of our Amendment moved during the Committee stage, but that Amendment has been modified by the Secretary of State by the Amendment we are discussing now.
If this Amendment is accepted in its present form—and I think it is certain to be now that we are all one large happy family—the local authority which refuses a grant under this Clause is not obliged to tell the person who made the application whether it has been accepted, rejected or even considered. It is only if an applicant learns by accident by having a word with one of the councillors in the bus queue or in some other way that the application has been refused——
§ Mr. Boothby
If my application is granted and I have not got the money I am bound to find out sooner or later that I have not got the money.
§ Mr. Fraser
But the problem is it might be later, not sooner. When a committee takes a decision we think it right that the applicant should be informed forthwith of the decision, and not only informed but the reasons given for the committee taking the decision if that decision were against the applicant. As it is under the Amendment, if an applicant learns, no matter how, that his application has been rejected and he requests the local authority to give him the reasons for that refusal, then the local authority is obliged now to give him the reasons.
§ Mr. Fraser
It would be a far better thing if he were given the reason when he is given the decision. If the clerk to the local authority writes to the farmer and tells him that the committee has rejected his application, the farmer then writes to the local authority clerk and asks why the committee rejected the application. The clerk has to write a second letter to tell the applicant why the application was rejected. That is two letters and two postage stamps.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes, exactly double twopence halfpenny, and it could all have been done for the first twopence halfpenny. That is why I personally regret 737 that the Secretary of State was so grudging, because he has been grudging. He has not met the Opposition at all on the Committee stage of this Bill. He would not concede that little Amendment to us which the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire told us was such a masterpiece of original thought on the part of his hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North and Mearns.
§ Mr. Fraser
His Amendment was put on the Order Paper three months after ours and proposes to do exactly the same thing. But the hon. Member, instead of supporting our Amendment, put down a similar Amendment three months later. That was the basis of the original Clause that was subscribed to by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire.
We want to get on with further consideration of the Bill, and there is no point in voting against this Amendment. We cannot do anything more with it. We wish the right hon. Gentleman had gone the whole hog and provided that the applicant, on receipt from the local authority in writing of a decision of that body to refuse his application, should be told also the reasons for that refusal. Giving effect to this provision as it now stands will inevitably lead to additional clerical work and to greater expenditure in postage money. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire, with his great knowledge of finance, has discovered that doubling the cost is just nothing, so we must leave it where it is now.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I am nearly always happy to accept the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), and in this case I am happy to achieve a harmonious end to these proceedings by joining hands metaphorically across the Floor of the House with the hon. Member for Trades-ton (Mr. Rankin) and to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for meeting us in the way he has.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
As the House is aware, we had a full debate on the Second Reading of this Bill on 3rd July, and we had a detailed examination of it in Committee last week. 738 Hon. Members cannot complain that they were rushed in putting their Amendments down for Committee stage as they had quite a long interval. There were criticisms, but there was no Division on the Second Reading. I think the House as a whole realised that a Bill of this nature dealing with this problem of housing subsidies had to be introduced. It was necessary to make fresh provision for the contributions by the Exchequer and by local authorities in respect of housing in Scotland.
The reasons for the introduction of the Bill are well known. I have, of course, re-read HANSARD of 3rd July, but I am sure the House will not wish me to traverse all the ground which I endeavoured to cover at that time. As a result of the very detailed discussion in Committee, hon. Members are well informed of the intentions of the Government and of the meaning of the Clauses of the Bill. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide additional subsidies for the building of houses by local authorities for the general population; and that is dealt with in Clause 1. I hope that, with the aid offered by the Bill, local authorities will be enabled to maintain and, indeed, to improve upon the present high rate of house building.
The second provision of the Bill is to give additional subsidies for the building by local authorities of houses for the agricultural population. I am now in touch with the Association of Couny Councils and the Convention of Royal Burghs about the method of operating this subsidy should this House and another place see fit to pass the Bill into law.
There are two further improvements to which I want to refer, and one deals with the provision of better housing for the agricultural population. In the first place, the Bill extends the scope of the grant payable for the replacement of unsatisfactory houses; and, in the second place, it also covers the building of new houses, whether as replacements or not. There has been some discussion this afternoon on the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), and while I do not wish to go over that ground again, it is a matter of importance, and I would suggest that the only difference between us is that we do not insist on it being a replacement.
739 Of course, that does not mean that we do not want to get rid of unfit houses as rapidly as possible. As my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said in an interruption, the more houses we can build the sooner we can get rid of unfit houses. The Government's view is, therefore, that grants shall be payable whether for the replacement of old houses or not. Of course, we are as anxious as are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to get rid of unfit houses.
The Bill also makes grants available for the improvement of houses occupied by agricultural workers under contract of service—that is to say, tied houses. I and most of my hon. Friends have always been anxious to see this provision replaced on the Statute Book so that these houses could be improved and brought up to modern standards. This involves the use of less scarce material than the building of new houses, and a great deal can be done in agricultural districts by this means; and, indeed, a great deal of progress was being made in this direction before the war. I know that the owners of many houses are awaiting assistance in order that they can proceed with this policy of modernisation. It is important, and I was very glad to find this opportunity of including the provision in the Bill.
I think we have improved the Bill by the acceptance of Amendments in Committee. As an example, we have agreed that at least four weeks' notice shall be given to a tenant in future, and that provision will apply both in the case of new houses and in the case of houses which have been improved with the aid of these grants. This provision gives a certain degree of security to the tenant, and I hope the House will agree that the alteration is in the general interest.
I am confident that the Bill as a whole will do a great deal to help to improve housing in agricultural and rural areas. There has been some discussion about whether there is a shortage of houses, in view of the reduction in the number of those employed in agriculture, but, with the Government's aim to step up agricultural production still further, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary said, it will be necessary in a number of cases to provide more housing 740 accommodation. There is, too, the question of dealing with the deterioration which is bound to take place in houses as the years go by. In my opinion, it is of the greatest importance that we should do everything we can to provide satisfactory housing in the agricultural districts as well as in other parts of the country.
We have had a fairly full discussion of the Bill, although I hope nobody will think I am accusing them of attempting to hold up the proceedings; I make no complaint about the full discussion. When I spoke on Second Reading I endeavoured to go through the Clauses, and I do not think the House will want to hear much from me today, particularly as it would be largely confined to repetition.
§ 5.47 p.m.
It is true, of course, that there has been a great deal of discussion. My regret is that Her Majesty's Government have seen fit to take so little notice of it. Three Amendments have been accepted—one of them might be considered to be substantial and the other two are important—but that is fairly small evidence of the willingness of the Government to produce a good Bill when we bear in mind the amount of discussion which we have had and the amount of detailed evidence which has been submitted about the weaknesses of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman said the Bill had two parts, one dealing with normal housing development and the other dealing with the provision of houses for the agricultural part of the population. Let me make this plain: no one can suggest that, in office or out of office, the party on this side of the House have been unaware of the necessity to provide houses of a good standard for the agricultural population; and that we have done.
The main discussion on the second part of the Bill has arisen because the Government, without satisfactory reason, have departed from the policy laid down by respective Governments and by every modern expert committee upon the subject of the provision of houses for the agricultural population. Neither as an employer nor as an employee can I pit my experience against that of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in relation to the desires of the agricultural population. If 741 he tells me that he knows them first hand, then, of course, I accept that, but I suspect that his experience must be that of an employer. Let me be quick to say that he has a distinguished record, both in naval service and local government, but it had not occurred to me that he bore any of the marks of a weather-beaten, lowly-paid agricultural worker.
Now let me put this on the record, and let the hon. and gallant Gentleman refute me if he wishes. A large section of the organised agricultural workers of Scotland have expressed themselves by speech, by resolution and by publication upon the subject of tied houses and they have opposed that conception. Moreover, they were not speaking as a voice apart. Some 35 years ago—and perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will note this, too, because he was rather offhand and sniffy about the expert committees—there was a Royal Commission upon housing in Scotland. They put themselves on record at that time on the subject of the tied house as follows:We cannot believe that public sentiment will permit of public funds being used to erect houses whose occupation shall be in the absolute control of the employer.It is a conception repugnant to modern times. Moreover, each expert committee that subsequently addressed itself to the same subject came to comparable conclusions. The Caithness Committee of 1936 said that it could not conclude that the agricultural worker would have an independence comparable to that of other workers in the country as long as he was committed to a tied house.
On the question of the improvement of houses, from time to time reservations have been offered. It was calculated by the committee of 1937 that the amount of work which could be done on houses justifying improvement was almost at an end. When we were in office we did not find ourselves far apart from that conclusion. My recollection is that when the enactment was allowed to lapse in 1949 there were only 3,000 applications approved and waiting to be dealt with and, of course, the enactment provided that these could be dealt with.
I was disappointed that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.Colonel Elliot) departed so much from the good sense which he has displayed repeatedly upon 742 this subject. We know that he came to the rescue of his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench—an admirable trait—but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman should be a little careful on these occasions. I have great respect for him, which probably arises from the fact that I opposed him almost 20 years ago, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman many years ago displayed himself as more familiar than the hon. and gallant Gentleman who was the expert opinion upon this subject and upon the very Amendment which we discussed this afternoon, namely, the application of public funds to the provision of new tied houses without the necessity for writing off the old houses which they are replacing.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was explicit, logical and most persuasive. Would he like me to refresh his memory? Would he? I should have great pleasure in doing so. He is keeping disappointingly silent. His words in 1937 were so much more impressive, so much more closely related to the fact than his words this afternoon. He used direct language about this business of either repairing these old houses, which he did not think in many cases were capable of adequate repair, or of the application of public funds to the provision of new tied cottages without writing off the old ones. He said:The new subsidy will be available for replacing unfit houses … It is true that under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act grants are made for reconditioning, but we all know of cases where houses, for reasons of construction or site, are unsuitable for reconditioning; indeed, the attention of the committee was drawn to such cases in evidence, and the committee reported on them.Further, there are cases where it is only by straining the terms of the previous Statute and incorporating some feature of the house that local authorities have been able to deem that such a house is not a new house, although it is a little like the famous jack-knife which lasted for ever, because, when the blade wore away, they replaced the blade, and, when the handle wore away, they replaced the handle.It is not worthy"—this is the language the Government should take note of—that we should be driven to subterfuges in this matter, and, therefore, we come out flatly and say that, where an existing house is unsuitable, it may be replaced by a different house on a different site, and a grant may be given for such a house."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1937; Vol. 328, cc. 1632 and 1633.]
Not a thing. My only grumble is that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not stand upon that argument today and say to the Government, "This is a foolish and improper and backward step you are taking" [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course, it is. It is a foolish backward and improper step because the need for it has not been displayed, because the opinion of the people concerned—not the employer, but the employee, the tenant—has been displayed to be against it, because every expert committee from 1917 onwards has said that it should not be so.
Yet the hon. and gallant Gentleman in an offhand, vigorous sentence says, in effect, "Bolony. What do I care for the organised agricultural workers? I, the Under-Secretary of State, know what should be done. What do I care about what went before or whose opinions are on record upon the subject?"
There were other features at that end of the Bill which we did not like either. One was the fact that the Minister has taken powers to compel local authorities in certain cases to make schemes and perhaps, though we do not yet know, to apply the funds of the ratepayers whether they wish to do so or not. There was also the fact that without attempting to lay down a standard the improvement grant is raised from £600 to £800.
On the more normal housing development side it is a shabby Bill, because the local authorities have not been able to agree that the basis of calculation was an accurate or a just one. I and many of my hon. Friends have referred to the disparity upon the basic figure. I have had more evidence offered to me over the weekend by quite reputable local authority officials—I do not say they are people who could not be wrong—inferring that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in the basis he has taken for his calculations.
One of the interesting facts which come out of the Committee proceedings is that, by tacit agreement—I do not want to put it higher than that—the right hon. Gentleman has not repudiated the figures which have been offered by my hon. Friends the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) and Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel), and my right hon. Friend the 744 Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) and myself as the basic average cost of a four-apartment house even when space design is reflected in terms of a saving of £135 or £150.
I must be careful to say that the Under-Secretary, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), did not use this figure but offered one to which, as he made it plain, he did not wish to be tied. It is fairly plain that when the provision of £200 is made for the site servicing the cost will work out at about £1,800. I am certain that the House will be greatly indebted if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give us the final cost of the experimental house at Paisley when he is in a position to do so.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
Could not the Under-Secretary have done so at an earlier stage?
I did not necessarily mean that it could be done today. I was not urging the Under-Secretary or the Secretary of State to put themselves out of order now. I was assuming that it was unfair to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the figure at the moment and I was merely asking that he would make it available at a later stage.
If the figure comes out, as we anticipate, at £1,800 it will show how much the local authorities are—I was going to say "being cheated," but that may be too strong an expression, although I think it is one which the local authorities would use—short of adequacy at the calculation of £1,635 per house.
There could scarcely be a worse time than this to thrust a burden upon Scottish local authorities who have large-scale housing demands facing them. The right hon. Gentleman has more than once drawn our attention to the programme which he hopes to complete this year. That ought not to surprise anyone. More than 12 months ago I tried to explain why the rate of completion this year could be high. I take it that it will work out at rather more than 27,000 houses for Scotland. I believe that next year will show a drop. The full effects of the Bill—the full effects of the increased interest charges—will not show until the completions of 1954. The Bill will then be shown to have been unfair and perhaps even disastrous.
745 We all know that the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to mislead anyone. That is not the kind of performance that he puts up. The strength of his performance is in his patent sincerity. Nevertheless, the Bill is not even designed to help local authorities build more houses. It is designed only to try to implement the undertaking which the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Housing and Local Government gave in February that the increased interest charges, produced by the explicit design of the Government, should not fall upon local authorities in their attempts to build houses for rent.
But whatever the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. and gallant Gentleman say, I cannot, respecting their intelligence, for a moment agree that they anticipate that, unless some substantial change takes place in the methods of calculating the cost of house building, these increases will meet all the increases which the local authorities are already meeting and which will be fully developed over the next 12 months. All of us with local government experience, not arguing a party case at all, mournfully but confidently anticipate that that will be the result.
If that is so, the Bill is fraudulent, for it does not try to do what its title suggests that it is meant to do. It is not a housing Bill; it is a bankers' Bill.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says "Nonsense," but it is a bankers' Bill. It is presumably introduced to relieve the local authorities of the increased interest charges, but I do not think it does that.
This is a matter of argument which we have been over. If the argument were confined to myself and to the hon. and gallant Gentleman I should hesitate to repeat it. But it is not between me and the hon. and gallant Gentleman; it is between hon. Gentlemen opposite and every town and county council in Scotland which has any experience of house building.
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman quote a single town or county councillor in Scotland with housing experience who has approved the figure of £1,635 and said that it provides a fair and adequate 746 basis on which to calculate the subsidy necessary to relieve local authorities of the additional interest charges? It cannot be done.
This is a bankers' Bill and not for a second a housing Bill. No local authority in Scotland will be enabled, by the Bill, more easily or more vigorously to attack the problem of dealing with the homeless, the overcrowded and the people living in unfit dwellings in all our big cities and many parts of our countryside. If the Government could really show us such an expectation, none of us would be critical in this fashion.
We shall not vote against the Bill at this stage any more than we could have voted against it on Second Reading, because we know that, inadequate as they are, these increases must be made available quickly to the local authorities of Scotland. But this will not be the last time that our voice will be heard on the matter, and the right hon. Gentleman has not received his last deputation on the subject. With regard to the inadequacies of the rate equalisation provisions in inflicting subsidies for which we have to accept some responsibility——
Let us be fair about this. I agree that we initiated the Act, and for a time there was reason to believe that it would operate fairly or that its unfairnesses could quickly be corrected, but that has disappeared. No matter who were the authors of the Act, let us be honest with ourselves and admit that both sides of the House will very soon have to address themselves to the problem or local government in Scotland will be greatly slowed down and greatly limited in its operation.
This is a shabby Bill, a mean Bill and a limited Bill. The only people who will congratulate the Government are the owners of tied houses who will have £200 more available for their improvement. If local authorities had been treated on a comparable scale it would have been a much better Bill.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby
One might have thought, listening to the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), that after a magnificent record on the part of the Labour Administration over a period of 747 years, when they built many thousands of houses, we now had a catastrophic slump with the present Administration, that the performance of the present Government in house construction in the cities and on the countryside was lamentably inferior to that of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, and that this Bill was only going to make bad worse.
The other deduction to be drawn from the right hon. Gentleman's speech—if he can spare himself from the internal dissensions of the Opposition for a second—was that the rate of Government expenditure in this country was really of no importance any longer, that it did not matter about putting any limit whatever on the subsidies to be paid; that everything was shabby and mean, that we should be more lavish and that this was a mean little Bill which would not help anyone.
No one can predict with any confidence events in the future, but whether this amount subsequently is found to be adequate or inadequate will depend on factors far outwith this particular Bill. It will in fact depend very largely on the movement of costs in this country over the next two or three years—whether they go up or down. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would dare to prophesy on that, but there is at least a justification for the assumption that they might go down—in fact, there have been some encouraging indications already.
§ Mr. Boothby
When it comes to production of houses, I think that hon. Members opposite had better at this moment keep as quiet as possible, because their record is nothing like ours.
Perhaps the hon. Member will admit that I pointed to the completion figures for this year. He said there were indications that production costs were going down. I intervened to say that there was evidence to show that gross production had come down—not a likelihood, but a certainty.
§ Mr. Boothby
How does the production compare with the right hon. Gentle- 748 man's own production? Silence. All I want to say——
§ Mr. Boothby
I do not want to give way, as I shall not make a long speech.
I want to congratulate the Secretary of State on implementing in this Bill one of the most specific—and, to my mind, most important—pledges that the party to which I belong gave at the General Election. No one of the Opposition can possibly say that this Bill has caught them by surprise or taken them unawares. We always said we would take action to restore grants for the re-conditioning of houses in rural Scotland if we were returned to power. We were returned to power, and now we are taking the necessary action.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not an employer of farm labour, nor have I served in the capacity of a farm labourer, but I have represented a large number of farm labourers in the county of Aberdeenshire for a very long time. I can report that in that county very few Acts have been more beneficial than the old Housing (Rural Workers). Act. It worked extremely well. We have, stone in that part of the world which is called granite. It lasts a long time and it seemed a pity to let all these granite cottages and houses in the countryside fall into disrepair when, with a little expenditure of money, they could be made serviceable and brought up-to-date. Some might have to be devoted to tenancies, but by no means all.
I think that one of the sharpest and most unnecessary blows which the party opposite delivered against rural housing generally, in the North of Scotland at any rate, was to allow the Housing (Rural Workers) Act to lapse. I am sure that all my colleagues representing rural constituencies in the North of Scotland will agree that that did a lot of damage, and to no purpose, to housing conditions generally. This Bill will be, and is in, fact being, welcomed by all in the North of Scotland, which is the only part of which I can speak.
It was suggested by hon. Members, opposite that it is not necessarily welcomed by local authorities and that they do not like this idea of re-conditioning houses in the rural areas. But they produce no evidence of that. I should like to have specific evidence, or some quota- 749 tion, which will indicate that any of the county councils in the North of Scotland are opposed to the Bill, or, indeed, do not welcome it most warmly.
The major part of the argument of hon. Members opposite was, of course, against the tied house. That is what they really cling to in their opposition to this Bill. Without being offensive, I think there was a lot of cant and humbug in their arguments. There is not anything like the case they have attempted to make against the so-called tied house as such. I know perfectly well that in some parts of northern Scotland the tied house will not only stay, but ought to stay. These tied houses ought to be re-conditioned.
We want every kind of house, tied, untied, half-tied, the settlement house and village community centres throughout the more remote areas still closer to the farms. Let me say to hon. Members opposite that, whatever the Farm Workers' Union may say, if they ask the average farm worker in my part of the country whether he would rather cycle to his amusement or to his work in the winter, he will give a straight answer. He will cycle to his amusement, but live near his work. That applies not only in Scotland but to a very large number of agricultural workers elsewhere.
The development and improvement of transport in the rural areas has transformed the whole problem of the tied house. It has made a tremendous difference to the problem of school children because in all those areas we have regular bus services, which are doing extremely good work. I am not saying that the tied house is the only house of value in the rural areas; far from it. What I am saying is that all this talk and cant from hon. Members opposite about the tied house is the result of puerile criticism. Many of the things they say bear no relation to the facts of the situation, or the desires and wishes of the rural population.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) made the extraordinary statement that we did not think it was necessary to increase the skilled agricultural population of this country. I do not know where he found evidence, or whether he can quote any specific statement by a member of Her Majesty's Government to the effect that we do not want more skilled workers on the land. If it was said, I venture respectfully to disagree. We want more skilled workers, 750 and unskilled as well—I use the word "skilled" because that was in the phrase used by the hon. Member. We want all the labour we can get and all the houses we can get.
I believe that if over the next 10 years we do not achieve something like a 25 per cent. increase in production in this country, we shall face a problem which we may not be able to solve. We want skilled labour and unskilled labour, and if we are to get either we want all the houses that we can possibly get in the rural areas. This Bill, I believe, makes a valuable contribution towards that end.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Like the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby), I hope that in the next few years we shall have a considerable increase in food production from the soil of Scotland, but let me say to him straight away that it surely is nonsense for him, or for anyone else, to suggest that the only way to get increased food production is to build more tied houses for agricultural workers.
Far almost seven years the party now in office have been moaning and groaning at the absence of the assistance once given to landlords and farmers under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. It was said to be a calamity for agriculture in Scotland that we did not have the helpful provisions of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act in the post-war period. But food production in Scotland has increased during these past three years, and today it is more than 40 per cent. about what it was in 1938, without additional tied houses.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the cant expressed on this side about the tied house. The difference between hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House and hon. Gentlemen on the Government side on this question is that we rest our case on the conclusions reached by every independent body which has ever examined this question, plus the strong advice we got from the only trade union in this country which has the right to speak for the agricultural workers. I should have thought that when a political body was guided in its policy on these matters by the conclusions of every independent committee or commission which has examined the matter, and when those conclusions are supported by organised farm workers, there could not be very much wrong with the policy.
751 It is the party opposite who are the victims, the slaves, of their own past arguments on this matter. They are the slaves of the arguments which they have been using year after year. Of course, they promised at the last Election that they would do something like this if they were returned to power, but did they get a majority of the electors of Scotland to support them? Of course they did not.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is again quite wrong. I have the figures here. It was about 49 per cent.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I challenge the hon. Member on that. In fact, we got more votes than did the party opposite.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is much in your debt, Sir, because you have not allowed me to say anything further on that point. However, this afternoon when we were discussing this extension of the tied cottage principle, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking from the Government Front Bench, said that he was unconcerned with the views expressed by the Farm Workers' Union of Scotland. It is true that when he was challenged he said he was speaking for himself. But we have a right to know whether the views of the Farm Workers' Union of Scotland are to be taken into account by Her Majesty's advisers. We want to know whether the union is to be consulted in agricultural matters, as are the farmers, and as the farmers have a right to be.
When the Government consult the National Farmers' Union and the Farm Workers' Union, I should have thought they were obliged to take into account what was said by both organisations. But what did the Joint Under-Secretary of State say today? He said, "I have no interest in what the Farm Workers' Union says about it. They have no right to speak about the farm workers in this country. I will be guided by my own opinion." His master's voice. I trust 752 that the Farm Workers' Union will also be asking the Government, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman was really speaking for himself. No doubt they will get the answer that he was, but the action of the Government in bringing forward these provisions shows that they have small regard for the point of view of the farm workers in Scotland.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) talked a lot of nonsense about agricultural workers' houses in Lanark being occupied by town dwellers. I do not know whether he will be speaking again, but is there one single agricultural worker's house built in the borough of Lanark?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member has challenged me. I said within the sound of Lanark Bell. He knows Lanark as well as I do. The houses built by the county of Lanark are adjacent and contiguous to the borough of Lanark. They are not separated by the whole width of a street.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said a little while ago that these houses were down Beech Avenue. Now he says within the sound of the Bell. My home is within six miles of Lanark and it is within the sound of the Bell.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
But does the hon. Member deny what I have said? If he does I should like to hear him say so.
§ Mr. Fraser
I happen to know where most of the agricultural workers' houses are built in the Lanark area. I happen to know most of the sites of the houses built in the Lanark area. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the houses that were built in the Lanark area were so badly sited that they were not occupied by agricultural workers at all, but were occupied by town dwellers. That is what he said. It seems to me that it is a terriffic slander on the Lanark county planning authority and the housing committee—and, incidentally, on the agricultural executive committee, who were consulted about the siting of the houses—to say that they sited the houses so badly that they were not occupied by agricultural workers but, in the words of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, by town dwellers.
753 The right hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to say that, of course, the reason agricultural workers were not occupying those houses was that the rents were too high. What are the rents? They are £24 a year. But the Government say they should be £42. In justification of this Bill, the Government have said those rents ought not to be £24 but £42. That is what the Government have told them.
Let us come to the most important part of the Bill. Both the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire tried to slide off on the ground that it deals only with the tied cottage. It does not. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would like the House to forget that it deals with other houses besides. They have had representations from the local authorities in Scotland, as have we on this side of the House, and they know that this Bill has been vigorously opposed by all the local authorities in Scotland. We have a right to assume that these bodies speak for every local authority in Scotland.
We have had some criticism from hon. Members opposite of the amount of legislation passed through this House by the two Labour Governments between 1945 and 1951. I give it to them right away that a large amount of legislation was passed during that period, and also that much legislation affecting local authorities in Scotland was included in it. It has been my duty on many occasions to have discussions with the local authority associations in Scotland, and we have had differences of opinion, but, certainly since 1945, there has not been a Bill introduced into this House which has earned anything like the opposition from the local authority associations which this Bill has done.
The local authority associations are still making their representations against this Bill. The County Councils Association still wants to come to London this week to discuss the financial provisions of the Bill with hon. Gentlemen opposite, as well as with hon. Members on this side of the House. They say that these financial provisions just will not do. Have the Government ever given us any real documentary case or any real answer to the local authorities' questions on this matters? No, they have waffled all over the place, because they just have not a case at all.
754 Let us look at the case, such as it is. There is an assumed cost of £1,635 for the three-bedroomed house. The Exchequer subsidy is £42 5s., and the local authority statutory subsidy is £14 5s., a total of £56 10s. That means that the statutory subsidy over 60 years amounts to no less than £3,390 in respect of every house being built by a local authority. Of that £3,390, no less than £1,620 is additional owing to this Bill, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) said—and for no other reason—the Government of the day wanted to make a present to the moneylenders of this country.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock seemed to have no regard at all for national expenditure. He said that my right hon. Friend was suggesting that we should just shovel out money. The hon. Gentleman must be dafter than some of us previously thought he was.
§ Mr. Fraser
It must be so; he is dafter than we thought he was. My right hon. Friend had not been arguing that the Government should be more generous with public money. We have been arguing that they should be less generous to the bankers and the moneylenders. There was no justification that we could see for Riving tens of millions of additional money to the moneylenders of this country. These increased subsidies are wholly necessitated because of the increase in interest rates, and they are only intended to cover that increase in interest rates, with nothing allowed for the increase in building costs in recent years.
I said in the Committee stage that we should reduce the housing subsidies, that we should take £10 off every house; and we should be perfectly happy, and so would the local authorities themselves, to see the subsidies being slashed if we could reduce the interest rates payable on borrowed money from the present 4¼ per cent. to the previous 3 per cent.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) is in his place, and no doubt he is anxious to make a speech himself. If he does, perhaps he will give us the answer to the question put to him by the chairman at one of his meetings in Dumfries the 755 other week. I am sorry that I have not got my case properly documented, but, according to my copy of the "Dumfries Standard," the hon. Gentleman, together with the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. Spence) addressed a meeting in his constituency, and both hon. Members made speeches about the wonderful new world in which we have been living since the Tories came to power.
Then, question time came, and a most unusual thing happened. Apparently, the only person in the meeting who was willing to ask a question of these two hon. Gentlemen was, according to the Press report, the chairman, Baillie Moberley, who is, I believe a member of the Tory Party. I hope the hon. Gentleman will now give us an answer to that question, because, as a Tory, the Chairman was also concerned about local authority housing, and in fact called attention to the new Housing Bill.
The question was about the interest rates to be paid by the local authorities to the Public Works Loan Board in respect of the money they borrowed, and he said that this was a monstrous thing. Perhaps he did not use that exact term, but he said it was a bad thing, and he asked the hon. Gentleman and his colleague if they would give an undertaking that the Government would have second thoughts about it.
§ Mr. Fraser
I will get the newspaper. If the hon. Gentleman now says that he did not give the undertaking, that is a different matter, but he was asked the question by the chairman.
The local authority associations are making strong representations, and they have been telling us that a fair rent to be assumed at the present time is one of £33. The Government say that it should be at least £42. The Government have been saying that the subsidies provided by this Bill are based upon an estimated cost of £1,635 for a four-apartment house, but the Joint Under-Secretary, in seeking to justify the provisions of Clause 1 the other day, told us about his having had the privilege of opening a new house at Paisley, where.
756 he said, there was a saving, not of the £130 that we allowed for, but of £150. The house cost about £1,600, but what about the services? He said that the cost of the site and of providing the services was perhaps £200. That makes £1,800, and if he had gone on he would soon have got to the level of the local authority, which had put the figure at £1,910.
I have here the Annual Digest which is sent to hon. Members by the Scottish Special Housing Association, and I draw attention for the purposes of my argument, to a chart on page 27. They have assumed a rent of £32 16s., which is near enough to the £32 suggested by the local authorities for a four-apartment house, and now they have said that, with a rent of £32 16s. and rates of £11 6s. 10d., they would break even with the present subsidy if the house costs only £1,460. If it cost £1,600, the local authority would have a deficit of £6 9s. 7d. per house.
If it cost £1,800, which was the cost of the economy house opened by the Joint Under-Secretary of State the other week, the local authority would have a deficit of £15 14s. 9d., that is, at an assumed rate contribution of £11 6s. 10d. in respect of a house let at a rent of £32 16s. But if that house happened to be in Lanark county, where the rates are 25s. 9d. in the £, the total rates payable would not be £11 6s. 10d., but £20. Therefore, the local authority in Lanarkshire would be on the wrong side to the tune of £15 14s. 9d. plus £8 13s., making a total of £24 7s. 9d., in respect of a house costing £1,800.
That deficit has to be added to the local authority statutory rate contribution of £14 5s. Where is the ratio of three-to-one now? It has disappeared completely. I said during the Committee stage that under the provisions of Clause 1 the local authorities of Scotland will have to find an equal or a greater sum of money from the ratepayers than the Exchequer has to find from the taxpayers in order to subsidise local authority housing in Scotland.
All this talk about the three-to-one ratio has been just so much bluff. Nobody ever believed it, least of all the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who is said to be an expert in these matters. I do not pretend to be an expert, but I know full well that the local authorities have 757 had thrust upon them by this Bill a burden which they are going to find very hard to bear.
When we have discussed these matters with members of local authorities in Scotland, they have all said, irrespective of party, that the subsidies are hopelessly inadequate at the present interest rate and that the one remedy which they would prefer above all others—and it is not more generous subsidies—is a lowering of the interest rate on the money they get from the Public Works Loan Board. Therefore, the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who said during the Committee stage that they were going to trust the local authorities, could have paid but scant attention to all that has been said by the local authorities in recent weeks and months.
It may be, of course, that they are not masters in their own house. One remembers all the pious and hypocritical statements made before the last election by hon. Members opposite about giving local authorities in Scotland more power and Scotsmen more control over Scottish affairs, but if there was ever a matter before Parliament on which the vast majority of informed Scottish opinion was against the policy being pursued by a Government, it is the matter of this Bill. Members of local authorities, irrespective of party, are opposed to Clause 1 of this Bill and to the subsidy provisions.
It goes without saying that we on this side of the House are opposed to the subsidy provisions, and it is clear to everybody concerned why the vast majority of informed public opinion in Scotland is opposed to them. It is a shocking and disgusting thing that the Ministers concerned have sought to get away with the Bill on the strength of the hopelessly inadequate arguments they have throughout put forward on its behalf.
§ Mr. Fraser
My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock has made it quite clear why we shall not vote against it. The existing Exchequer subsidy for a four-apartment house is £23, whereas the new subsidy is £42 5s.
§ Mr. Fraser
It is the reason for it that is shabby. It does not meet the additional cost. The hon. Gentleman understands it all quite well, though he pretends not to.
If there is one question more than another that I want the Joint Under-Secretary to answer when he replies, it is the one I asked him to answer the other day. When he was replying to my question with his customary discourtesy and was saying that hon. Members on this side of the House, and myself in particular, were not interested in providing houses for agricultural workers in Scotland, I asked him to compare for us the number of houses built for agricultural workers in Scotland in the five years 1946–51 with any other five-year period for which records had been kept.
He did not tell me that he was going to answer that question, but if he answers any question at all, I hope it will be that one. I have not much hope at this stage that he will answer the larger question which has been put to him, to the Government and to Parliament as a whole by the local authorities in Scotland.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Major Anstruther-Gray
There was a time when I represented a Lanarkshire constituency, and in those days I should have felt under an obligation to follow closely the arguments of a neighbouring Member. But now I think it better to devote my few remarks to considering the effect of this Bill, to which we hope to give a Third Reading, upon my present constituents. I think it is just as well that I should do that because if I got on to an argument about the rate of interest paid to the Public Works Loan Board, I should soon get on to the Bank rate and then to the economic condition to which the country was brought by six years of incompetent Socialist administration. But let me return to the Bill itself.
What I like best about the Bill is that it allows me to fulfil an election pledge, and I feel that in so doing I am bringing a benefit to the agricultural community in my constituency. At the last Election, we on this side of the House said very freely that we would restore the grant for the re-conditioning of agricultural workers' houses. We are now doing that.
Of course, it may be said, that a couple of years ago the Labour Government introduced a grant for re-conditioning rural 759 workers' houses; but that grant was entirely vitiated by the condition attached to it that the houses must be untied. Those of us who have a practical knowledge of agricultural practice in Scotland are well aware that the need on Scottish farms is for houses reserved for the workers on the farms. Therefore, if the grant is coupled with the condition that the house must be untied, the whole value of it is destroyed.
I am glad that Her Majesty's present Government have introduced a good grant, not only for the building of new houses, but also for the re-conditioning of old ones, and I particularly welcome the fact that the Government are not afraid to encourage re-conditioning, because it seems to me that, with the present shortage of labour and materials, when there are a great many old cottages with first-rate foundations it is wasteful not to concentrate upon re-conditioning and making habitable houses that have that possibility.
I congratulate the Secretary of State upon his personal courage in giving a lead to England by increasing the grant for the re-conditioning of houses up to a total expenditure of £800 instead of £600. To lead the way for the Englishmen is always a good thing. In this case it is particularly so, because as long as the total amount of money to be spent remained at £600 in these days of high cost and strict local authority regulations about the standard of housing, it was a fact that a great many houses were not going to qualify.
It was patently obvious to people who had seen how prices had risen that sooner or later the Government would require to take a realistic view and allow a higher expenditure. When people are in that position they tend to hang on until the higher figure is fixed. Therefore, there was hesitation on the part of many farmers and owners of agricultural property in launching schemes because they did not know whether they would be able to carry them out in a satisfactory manner under the financial limitation.
Her Majesty's Government now have gone a long way to relieve that hesitation, and I think that the total figure allowed of £800 is very well chosen. It is not extravagant by any means, but I hope that the very fact that it is not a very large figure 760 will encourage tradesmen to be economical in the estimates which they present, because they know that if they estimate above that figure the chances are that the work will not be undertaken at all. Equally I hope that this figure will mean that the county council, while being strict about every real necessity, will allow some give and take when it is a question of getting the work done or not getting it done at all.
I should like to know the date on which this grant is to be payable and whether houses that were commenced during the last year are to qualify for the grant, or indeed whether houses that have been almost completed during the last few months will qualify. I hope that that is so, because surely if anyone deserves encouragement it is the people who were prepared to forge ahead, cost what it might, and do their best to bring cottages for the workers up to a worthy standard and so help the country's agricultural production.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) knows it, but this appeal to the provisions of the 1949 Act and extensions of it is all very nice but, as far as I can find out, very few local authorities in Scotland have been using that Act. I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that, as far as Ayrshire County Council or Ayr Town Council are concerned—and many other of the counties and burghs of Scotland—no effort has been made to put the 1949 Act into operation. It is one of the things to which I directed attention and on which I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland for a categorical answer. Will these local authorities now be able to appeal to this Act and apply the benefits of modernisation only to agricultural houses?
There has been a tendency in this debate to dismiss this Bill as a not very important one. I think that it is one of the most important Bills relating to Scotland that we are likely to have before us for some time. It is consequential legislation. It is consequential upon Tory practice and Tory prejudice—Tory practice as instanced by the raising of the interest rate. The subsidies under Clause 1 of this Bill are designed presumably to 761 meet the increases to local authorities as a result of that. As an attempt to deal with the financial difficulties of local authorities caused by that financial change, this provision is completely unreal.
Time and time again during discussions on this Bill we have asked the Joint Under-Secretary of State to justify his figures. We have asked him to justify that this was a true basis and true calculation leading to the subsidies that we have in this Bill. But the Joint Under-Secretary seems to carry round with him his own iron curtain of statistical obscurity, for never once did we have a satisfactory answer to our questions I can well remember the debate on that subject. I do not think it was any coincidence that we did not hear a single speech from hon. Members opposite on that point. To my mind they were shamed into silence by the sheer incompetence of their representatives on the Front Bench. This provision will in no way meet the difficulties of local authorities. As a matter of fact, the case for the inadequacy of the subsidy was proved by the Secretary of State himself. This is a question of Tory practice and the consequences of that practice being inadequately met and being proved inadequate by the pandering to Tory prejudice.
Under Clause 6 we have raised the amount which can be spent on modernisation from £600 to £800, and we were told that this would bring it into line with modern costs. Here we have the Government admitting that the cost of building and of improving which was formerly £600 now would be £800—an increase of 33⅓ per cent. There is no such figure allowed for in the calculations, even in the multiplicity of the Secretary of State's figures to justify his subsidy, which would admit of an allowance of 33⅓ per cent. for the rise in housing costs.
If the Secretary of State is going to hold by his argument that it is necessary to increase by 33⅓ per cent. the £600 to £800, then by that very fact he admits that the subsidy under Clause 1 and the calculations which he has presented to us are completely unreal. I am perfectly sure that if he plucks up enough courage to see them on that subject, the local authorities will press that point.
We have had quite a lot of argument about the tied house under Clause 3, 762 [An HON. MEMBER: "Tied house?"] We do not know the alcoholic tied house under the same terminology in Scotland. There is no question of arguing the principle of the tied house under Clause 3. It is purely a question whether or not public money should be used to perpetuate the tied cottage system. We have never denied the right of the farmer, if he wants it for his own convenience, to spend his own money in building a tied house.
The point is that here, for the first time, we have the Government going out of their way not only to make Government grants but to force local authorities to spend ratepayers' money in extending this tied cottage system. I am not going over every point raised by the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) about how much the Aberdeenshire workers love the tied houses. During a considerable part of the earlier stages of the war I was in Aberdeenshire and met quite a lot of farmers and inspected their houses as part of billeting arrangements. I made a considerable number of friends among agricultural workers and their wives.
I can assure the hon. Member that, from the point of view of the women and their participation in the social life of the community, it is no benefit to them to be separated from their nearest neighbours by many miles. It is no benefit to the children when they go to school in the winter months even where transport is provided. I would advise the hon. Member to consult some of the headmasters in his own area about this. Even the youngest children, five years of age, have to walk a considerable distance along the farm road up to the main road where the transport picks them up.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows his constituency well enough to appreciate that it would be far better in every way that the new houses for the agricultural workers should be built under Clause 2 so that they would be properly sited from the point of view of the social life and enable all the amenities to be available to the people.
We think that the tied house is fundamentally wrong, but in our debates here we have been prepared to go a certain part of the way with hon. Members opposite. We even said that it was necessary to permit the existence of tied 763 houses, but hon. Members opposite wanted everything. When it comes to a question affecting the ratepayer's money and of Treasury grants being paid out for the perpetuation and the extension of the system, we oppose it.
There is another question that I should like to put to the Secretary of State. We have had so many hesitant and confusing answers about this. There is the question of how much the grant is going to be under Clause 3. I can remember the Minister telling us that the Bill was quite definite that the maximum grant under Clause 3 was £300 and that there was no question of half the cost of the house being paid. I do not know if he still holds to that answer. The Clause says:Assistance under this section shall be given by way of payment on the completion of the house of a lump sum not exceeding either—He definitely said, in answer to a question, that the maximum amount would be £300. If half the cost of the house was more, then automatically the lower grant would be paid. Does he really mean that? He himself told us that it has been found necessary for the modernisation of a house to raise the limit to £800; 50 per cent. of that £800 is by way of a subsidy. In other words, £100 more is obtainable under this Bill to improve a house and modernise it, to put in a bathroom or whatever the Secretary of State specifies as modernization——
- (a) one half of the cost of the house; or
- (b) two hundred and forty pounds in the case of a house containing three apartments, or three hundred pounds in the case of a house containing more than three apartments."
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
The announcement of the revision of the figure is not under this Bill, which is all I said.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not think that invalidates my argument at all. Under Clause 6 of this Bill a modernisation grant of £800 will be permitted as a maximum; 50 per cent. of that £800— 764 that is, £400—will be payable, three-quarters by the Government and 25 per cent. by the local authority; in other words, a subsidy of £400 for modernising a house. But we have been told by the Secretary of State that if a new house containing more than four apartments is built, only £300 is payable. I wonder whether he still holds to that argument, or does Clause 3 really mean what I think it means, that landowners are to get 50 per cent. of the cost of the house if the Government think fit?
I think it is disgraceful that we have reached the Third Reading before getting these points clear. It is demonstrative of the complete confusion which exists on the Conservative Front Bench. The new wind that has been sweeping through St. Andrew's House has not been so very effective so far.
I think the most significant phrase in this Bill is in Clause 3, whereby the Secretary of State takes power to compel a local authority against its will to draw up a scheme for assisting the extension of the tied house system. There is no such power in Clause 2. It shows the Conservative outlook on the housing problem. The sighs of hon. Members opposite when we were dealing with the financial provisions of the Bill prove the same thing. They are not concerned with the local authorities' difficulties. They do not want the local authorities to succeed in properly tackling the question of the siting of houses in rural communities. They want rural housing to be dealt with under Clause 3 and by the subsidising of tied cottages. The hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire said that we wanted all kinds of houses in Scotland. We want good houses in Scotland——
§ Mr. Ross
—and we want shut down as quickly as possible the agricultural slums that grew out of the tied cottage system. The hon. Member said how wrong it was that the working of the 1926 Act had been discontinued in 1945. But did he never read any of the reports relating to the working of that Act? Perhaps the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) could tell him some of the things that the Advisory Committee said about it. They said that only 50 per cent. of the money spent was spent wisely. They spoke of it being a grave waste of public money—this 765 was in 1937—and they advised the continuance of it for only two years more. It was continued until 1945, and then three years after that.
It is because of that that I am rather suspicious of Clause 6. Let hon. Members remember that local authorities have been castigated in the past for not carrying out their statutory obligations in dealing with the question of unfit houses. I am rather suspicious whether we are going to have perpetuated in this modernisation of tied cottages by Government subsidy a lower standard of housing for the agricultural workers than for anyone else in the community. We have had this in Scotland for so long under this type of Government and this type of Secretary of State.
We want to see removed as quickly as possible these housing blots in the agricultural areas. We think that the Clause 2 procedure is the proper way to do it, and we think that the application of Clause 3 and the subsidising of further tied cottages by Government and ratepayers' money is the wrong way. That is why we regret this Bill.
We have already said how unreal we think the subsidies are. But they are an improvement. Local authorities are finding it very difficult to envisage future building there is not a local authority which can look with ease at its future financial position, even under this Bill; but without this improvement it would be quite impossible for us to support this Bill, and we regret the Tory practice and the Tory prejudice which makes this necessary.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
We have traversed a great many of the arguments that have been advanced on various parts of the Bill, and I do not intend to traverse them all again, but there are one or two points with which I should like to deal. I should like to deal first with the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross)—the question of tied cottages. We on this side of the House regard the matter from a realistic point of view.
It is true, of course, that agricultural houses, under Clause 2, can be built and, no doubt, they will continue to be built. It is also true that there are a tremendous lot of houses that are well worth improving. We propose that those houses should 766 be improved. I am very glad that grants are now to be made to enable those houses to be improved, in fulfilment of our election pledge. From the purely financial point of view it is surely worth while. If we are to give a grant to build a new agricultural house under a county council scheme it is going to cost the Exchequer over £50 per house for 60 years. If, on the other hand, we are going to improve an existing house which is to last 30 years it is to cost the Exchequer £300 in all.
Turning to the building of new houses, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock says, "How immoral it is to build any more new tied houses in view of the fact that past committees have reported unfavourably towards them." What are we doing here? We are arranging for existing agricultural houses to be replaced, or new houses to be built. In several cases one has the quite ridiculous situation that the replacement of houses under the old Act meant that before a grant could be obtained the roof of the house had to be taken off and if one wanted to use the house for anything else the roof had to be put back on.
The right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), addressing the House on a previous stage, said that we did not need more agricultural houses. Even if that were true in the aggregate—and we say that we are going to have more people on the land—it would not follow that we should not have more agricultural houses on any one farm. On some farms it may be necessary to have more agricultural houses. We say, "Let us build the additional houses where they are required and give the grant for them." The Government are to be congratulated for having carried out these pledges within their first year of office.
I want to say a few words in regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser)—whom I am sorry not to see in his place. He said that by this Bill local authorities are having thrust upon them a burden which they are going to find it very hard to bear. What is the fact? It is that the last legislation giving grants for local authority houses was in 1946. Between that time and the time when the Labour Government went out of office building costs rose by 40 per cent. or so. Those costs were flung upon either the local 767 authority or the tenant. I admit that they were largely flung upon the local authority.
But what did the Opposition do about that when they were in office? They did absolutely nothing. Their criticism of this Bill throughout is directed against their own conduct. They say that at the very best the increases in the Exchequer grant only cover the increase in the borrowing rate for local authorities. If that is so it is very remarkable that there should be such an extraordinary disparity between the grants for Scotland under this Bill and the grants for England under the English Bill. The grant for Scotland, in respect of a three-apartment house, is £18 5s.; for a four-apartment house, £19 5s.; and for a five-apartment house, £21 5s. In the English Bill they are £10 4s.
Can it possibly be maintained that the extra cost of building in Scotland is twice as much as in England? That is what the Opposition argument implies. Of course that is not true, and we in Scotland are getting very fair treatment under this Bill. The Opposition know that we are getting, at the minimum, £16 more for an agricultural house than in England and yet even on the most unfavourable calculations to the Department that could not be justified on a comparison of costs of building in England and Scotland. The trouble has been that whereas in the past the Department were allowed to arrive at figures in the supposition that we would give them credit for doing it fairly, in this case they have been attacked by local authorities who naturally want more money if they can get it, so as to reduce the burden on the rates at the taxpayer's expense, and those local authorities have been fully backed up by the Opposition.
Surely we should take a more sensible and realistic view in cases like this, instead of taking the view of the right hon. Gentleman who first of all called it a shabby Bill; then said that the Scottish people and local authorities were being cheated, and finally that it was downright fraudulent? That is carrying exaggeration to extremities and defeating one's own case. We know that in this Bill we are carrying out a pledge; secondly, we are increasing the grants for the building of houses to cover the rise in 768 the Bank rate and, according to the figures of the Department, a good deal more.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The hon. Member shakes his head. Very well; let us look at the memorandum submitted to us by the Association of County Councils in Scotland, Association of Counties of Cities in Scotland and the Convention of Royal Burghs. They said:The proposed Exchequer contribution of £42 5s. represents an increase of £19 5s. per annum, but the increase in the Public Works Loan Board rate of interest from 3 per cent. to 4¼ per cent. represents an increase in debt charges of £19 6s. 9d. per annum.Even on their calculations the difference is only a matter of a few pence; so one can say that the Exchequer contribution covers the increase in interest rates.
We know what the benefits of the increase in these rates have been to the country as a whole. Tributes have been paid to our financial policy by O.E.E.C. and other bodies and by the Ambassador-at-Large of the United States. It is having its effect at the present time. It is of course reflected in interest rates, and it would be wrong that special interest rates should be made available to the local authorities; but in this Bill we are making arrangements to see that they are fully covered from that point of view—and according to the Department's figures there is something in hand.
The increase dates back from February, so that there can be no complaint, for that was the time when the interest rate was raised. This Bill is extremely generous and it carries out a pledge, and I should like once more to congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing it.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The speech to which we have just listened is a clear case of special pleading and it seems to indicate a guilty conscience—that something had to be defended and excused on the part of the Government. The hon. Gentleman was right about that; but his excuse and defence were not at all accurate.
He says that the Government have attempted to replace the loss to the local authorities of the increased interest charge made by the Public Works Loan Board. Nobody has quarrelled with that. He then says, "Let us build the houses where 769 they are required." Nobody has been challenging that. Under the Act of Parliament of the Labour Government, before any houses are built in an agricultural area, the executive council representing the farmers of the area are asked where they want the houses. Who are the best people to say where the houses are required? Is it hon. Members opposite, or is it the farmers in the area? If the farmers in the area do not know where they want the houses, nobody else is likely to know. We therefore provided for houses to be built where required at the cost of the authority.
The hon. Gentleman also criticised one of my hon. Friends for having said that the burden would be hard to bear. He either was not listening or he misunderstood what was said, because the complaint was not of the burden of housing under the Act of the Labour Government; it was a complaint about having to sacrifice the rates and to pay out local authority money to build houses which would become private property. That will indeed be a hard burden for most local authorities to bear and more than the average Scotsman will be able to swallow.
The hon. Member for Dumfries also seemed to think that the subsidy offered by the Government was too low. Is that his opinion? Does he think the subsidy offered is not large enough? He said that the subsidy of the Labour Government was too low—and it has remained unchanged by this Government. Does he suggest that the Government are carrying on something which was done by the Labour Government and which was bad? Does he mean that the Labour Government were mean and that this Government are equally mean; because if he condemns the Labour Government he is automatically condemning his right hon. Friend, for the subsidy has not been improved by a penny.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
The implication of all the arguments we have heard from the other side is that the subsidies should be increased in order to take the burden off the rates and the rents. If that is so now, it was equally so in 1951.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It was not equally so. There have been a lot of changes. In any event, that was not the argument of my hon. Friends. What my hon. Friends have complained about is that 770 they have never been given accurate figures to show how the amount is made up. There have been continual discussions on the basis of the local authorities' figures and on the basis of the Secretary of State's figures.
As I said the other day, it is desirable that we should be given some figures which both the local authorities and the Secretary of State accept as the facts of the situation. Such figures have never been presented, and I respectfully suggest that we have been placed in a position in which we can form no opinion about whether the subsidies are too low or too high until we get the facts of the case. If the hon. Member for Dumfries says local authorities should not have any more, I hope he will make that clear and not make the point in a negative way as if he were complaining about the Labour Party.
The hon. Gentleman sneered at us for doing our duty and putting the position of the council before the House, but he should keep in mind the fact that many of these are Conservative councils who have no interest in trying to bring discredit on the Government. If they are expressing this point of view, it is because they seriously believe it, and it is the duty of the Secretary of State and the Government Departments to make clear to local authorities where they stand.
In my opinion, the Bill is one of a series of mistakes. The first mistake, of course, was when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to deal with the financial position of the country, raised the Bank rate to deter the use of capital; and the mistake made on that occasion was that it was thought necessary immediately to raise the rate of interest charged by the Public Works Loan Board. The fact that it was a mistake was admitted when the Bank rate was raised a second time, because on this occasion the Public Works Loan Board's rate of interest was not raised at all.
The increase in the rate of interest on the first occasion brought repercussions which, instead of encouraging houses to be built, would have brought house building to an end. The Government found it necessary to raise the subsidies to compensate local authorities fully for the increase in the interest rate 771 charged by the Public Works Loan Board. That is the origin of the Bill and that is the origin of the mistakes which have been made. We do not object to the balancing of the losses of local authorities by this method; in fact, we shall vote for the Bill on that account alone.
But once the Bill was accepted for that purpose, it was used as a Trojan horse in order to introduce many other things for which there is no need and on which there has been no agreement. The Bill, therefore, makes no contribution towards assisting local authorities to build houses. The position is put back to where it was before the change in the Bank rate, and it would have been better had the conditions which made the Bill necessary never arisen at all.
The question arises: are these subsidies enough? As I have said, we have not been given clear figures. In the middle of the debate we had an indication of what the Government think because, following a curious interruption of the business by a little comedy play by two hon. Members opposite, who pretended to put innocent questions about raising the limit of the amount to be spent on repairs and improvements, the Government indicated that it is now necessary to raise the amount which can be spent on repairs from £600 to £800.
That is a rise of 33⅓ per cent. I should like the Secretary of State, or whoever is to reply to the debate, to tell us what reply he will make to local authorities on this point. If the Government think it necessary to agree to a 33⅓ per cent. rise in the amount spent on improvements—a 33⅓ per cent. rise since we left office—what arguments are to be advanced to the local authorities to show why their subsidies should not be increased? It will be interesting to hear the reply.
The main part of the debate has turned on the question of tied houses, and I have already said a good deal about that. We have been challenged on what the farm workers themselves want, and to my surprise the Under-Secretary of State has set himself up as the expert spokesman for the farm workers. I beg leave to doubt it. The right hon. and gallant Member for 772 Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) also disputed the suggestion that it was better to have the houses near the schools, for the benefit of the children and the mothers, than for the children and the mothers to do the travelling in order that the man could be near his work.
It is interesting to read the farm workers' view. The report on rural housing said that tied houses are scattered over the farms, which makes for loneliness and a lack of social life. No hon. Member opposite can deny that that is a great handicap in getting farm workers. The report also says that the children often have bad roads and long distances to travel to school—and that is also a handicap in getting shepherds or farm workers. It says that all health or social services are made more costly because the people are further away from the doctors and further away from the treatment, and that the services are less efficient because of the widely scattered houses; and worst of all is the necessity for the farm worker to move his home every time he changes his employer.
The farm workers admit that there is a need for tied houses, and we are not discussing whether there should be tied houses. Their point of view is this: any farmer's convenience can be met by having one tied house on each farm, and there is nothing to prevent any landowner or any farmer from having a tied house on his farm if he is willing to pay for it. If he wants more and is willing to pay for them, nobody proposes to stop him from having them. But the point is that it is not the duty of the State to provide public money for the increase in the number of those tied houses until the conditions of the occupancy are such that farm workers are freely prepared to accept them.
We were given the reason of economy. But surely there is no economy in having the children brought to school. The right hon. Gentleman told us that they would be brought by motor car. It is obviously some while since the Secretary of State went there, because I guarantee that he never goes to the northern counties without being told what the cost of taking the children to school is. Indeed, that was one of the first economies the educational authorities made—cutting down the 773 cost of taking the children to school. So there will be much more walking now than there was.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) nearly shed tears over a man who had to walk to work in winter. We are to feel sorry for him, but not, it seems, for his children, and his wife who has to get from the farm to wherever she wants to do her purchasing or carry on her social life.
The Bill is such that the local authorities say, "Thank you for nothing." In other words, it is no contribution to any improvement in housing in Scotland; it is no contribution to the building of more houses. It is a medium for turning back the clock—for a return to conditions that, as we have seen, Conservatives in 1938 repudiated. I think that is tragic. It is because of a foolish pledge that was made.
I have never known a Government who got themselves into so much trouble in trying to carry out so many foolish pledges made before an Election. The Prime Minister has said that the Government are not bound by any such pledges. Now he seems to regard as his main duty that of carrying out the most foolish pledges ever made by a Government party—denationalisation of transport, denationalisation of the steel industry, and this one, which will destroy a great deal of the economy of the country.
We cannot pass this Bill with enthusiasm, but we do not want to withhold the subsidies from the councils, so we accept the Bill in its present form, although we wish there had been no need for it, and no interference with the rate of interest of the Public Works Loan Board, considering the progress that was being made. The enthusiasm of this Government for tied houses—public houses and tied cottages in the rural areas—is one of the deplorable aspects of our modern public life.
§ 7.32 p.m.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) started by saying that the Government had accepted only three Amendments put forward by the Opposition, and he went on to say that that was not indicative of the willingness of the Government to produce a good Bill. I would say to him that it all depends upon 774 what he and I may think is a good Bill. The fact of the matter is, of course, that all the Amendments which were put forward by the Opposition—or many of them—were wrecking Amendments and were against the declared policy of the Government, and it was perfectly obvious from the very start that they could not be accepted. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) complained that the Government had never presented the figures on which they arrived at the basis of the subsidy. He is wholly mistaken.
When there is disagreement one cannot get agreed figures. It takes two sides to agree.
I pointed out to the House on Second Reading exactly how the figures were arrived at, and I told the House all that had been fully explained to the local authorities. There is no question of there being any error whatsoever in the figures on which the Government calculated the subsidy. There may be a difference of opinion between the Government and the local authorities as to whether they are the figures that should have been adopted. That is quite clear. The local authorities say that a different set of figures should have been adopted, but we take the figures, as I have explained to the House time and time again, for the last six months of last year and for the first month of this year and base our subsidy on the calculations on those figures.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I do not want to interrupt, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman must agree that local authorities have been quoted in regard to the cost of building houses in certain areas. When asked about this, there was great difficulty in his saying, for instance, about a particular house in Paisley, whether the cost included certain things or not. I simply suggested that these sums ought to be facts about which there could be no disagreement.
The right hon. Gentleman should know that the information available to the Scottish Office is very full information, and the whole of the tenders was taken, and there is no dubiety about that at all. I think that where hon. Gentlemen are led astray is that they will quote the figure of £1,635. 775 That is not, of course, the figure. The figure of £1,765 is not greatly different from the £1,900 of the local authorities.
The right hon. Member for Greenock asked me to refute if I could that the union that represented the agricultural workers had expressed its view on the tied house. I would not think of refuting that for one moment. It has indeed expressed its opposition to the tied house, but I cannot agree with it that the tied house is repugnant to the nation, because there are thousands and thousands of them, and more of them going up every day, not only in agricultural areas but in many other places.
Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to the position of the 1937 Committee which said that work under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act had really come to an end, but I would say to him that there has been a great change in the financial situation since then. It may not have been then worth while to spend £300 or £400 in re-conditioning an old cottage in 1937, and it may be well worth while re-conditioning it now, for then one could produce a good cottage for £500, and it would have been ridiculous to have spent an equal sum on re-conditioning it. That is very much changed now that the cost is so high.
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman said I made a point to which I certainly did not draw attention, but I think he would also agree that this Committee drew attention to the fact that in its opinion many of the houses were incapable of being brought to what they considered to be a reasonable standard.
There may be a difference of opinion about that. Many of the houses deemed to be incapable of that standard are, with the spending of sufficient money, which it is economical to do, at the present time, becoming very good houses. I cannot agree that there was any question of cheating, such as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with the increase in the rate of interest. Let me take the remarks of the right hon. Member for East Stirling with those of the right hon. Member for Greenock on this question of interest rates, and let me say that the Chancellor 776 of the Exchequer said, when he announced the increase in the interest rate in November, that he would enter into negotiations which would compensate the local authorities, so far as housing was concerned, in respect of the increase in that rate. We have to consider the situation by and large, the great improvement that has taken place in the financial position of the country as well as what hon. Gentlemen opposite consider to be the unfortunate result of the increase on the housing of the local authorities.
It was also said that there could not be a worse time to throw a further burden on the local authorities. I think the right hon. Gentleman may apply that equally well to the taxpayers as to the ratepayers. The present time would be a very bad time to throw a very much heavier burden on the taxpayers. I should have thought myself, though hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to think so, that my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Boothby) answered practically the whole of their criticisms, and to such effect that they did not like it very much.
However, I turn to some of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). Let me assure him of this at once. He asked me whether the views of the Farm Servants' Union had been taken into account by my right hon. Friend. My reply to that is simply this. My right hon. Friend takes into consideration the views of all representative bodies whatsoever. When I was talking as I was at that particular stage, I was expressing my views as to my experience, and I think I had the right to lay them before hon. Gentlemen.
The hon. Member said that the Bill has been opposed by the local authority associations. So far as I know, only Clause 1 has been opposed. The local authority associations are perfectly right in pressing the Government for every penny they can get, but they have got it and I do not think they can expect any more at the present time. I was sorry the hon. Gentleman accused me of discourtesy, and that being so I do not think there is any need for me to answer the questions he put to me at that stage.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) asked me, as I understood his question, from what date the 777 increased limit of £800 will operate. The date which appears in the Order laid on the Table of the House is that all applications approved after 1st November will be entitled to the upper limit of £800.
The right hon. Member for East Stirling considers the Bill a mistake. I do not. I, with my right hon. and hon. Friends, hope that it will result in an improvement in our housing programme, and also in a great improvement in the housing of the agricultural workers of this country.
I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to Clause 3 (2). I ask him to read that carefully, because it says:on the completion of the house of a lump sum not exceeding either—In other words, it cannot go above the limit of either the £240 or the £300 which appear in the Clause.
- (a) one half of the cost of the house; or
- (b) two hundred and forty pounds in the case of a house containing three apartments, or three hundred pounds in the case of a house containing more than three apartments."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.