§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, this is a Bill to provide for the more adequate housing of rural workers. As your Lordships are aware, various measures have been introduced by successive Parliaments to meet the shortage of housing all over the country, but statistics show that rural workers have, on the whole, profited less than their colleagues in the towns. The reasons for that, I think, are fairly obvious. Firstly, the cost of building in isolated country villages is much higher compared with the cost of building blocks of houses in towns and there is also a possibility of owners of houses in towns charging a rent which bears some economic relationship to the cost of the building, whereas, even with a subsidy, it is very difficult in an agricultural area to do this. Therefore, on statistical grounds alone, think it can be proved that rural areas do require a little extra attention. Apart from this, as has been admitted by Parliament, it is unreasonable and impracticable to expect a man to take £400 out of a gilt-edged investment earning £20 a year in order to invest it in a cottage from which he may expect in rural areas to get only £8 a year, exclusive of rates. Surely it is equally unreasonable to expect a man to invest £100 or £1,000 in improving rural cottages from which, as your Lordships are well aware, he can very often expect to obtain nothing at all.
It is in order to prevent many of these cottages falling into decay and becoming uninhabitable by reason of this very simple economic law and also in order to render habitable many cottages that are at present insanitary, at a time when habitable cottages are very necessary, that the Government have taken what seems to be a perfectly logical and economically justifiable course of extending to cottage improvements the same kind of facilities that have been already applied to cottage construction. I know that in normal times subsidies are undoubtedly wrong, but we all know that times are not normal. This scheme has the advantage of securing benefits to rural workers at a much cheaper proportionate rate to the public than under previous Housing Acts, and particularly the 1924 Act. I would point 1498 out that this Bill is designed to operate through private enterprise and has been, therefore, criticised in another place by some supporters of noble Lords opposite, who seem to have an idea that no owner of property will ever do anything unless he is compelled to do so by law. In regard to that may I observe that there are at present many sanitary authorities who could exercise their statutory powers of compelling landlords to effect certain improvements if they thought the landlords could reasonably be expected to meet the expenditure thereby entailed and this Bill will undoubtedly put sanitary authorities in a stronger position in this respect. The cases I am referring to are not so much those of repairs as drainage and other schemes which your Lordships know much better than I do.
The idea of this scheme is really quite simple. It is designed to enable local authorities to make grants to owners for the carrying out of certain improvements which will have to be previously specified and approved by them. The cost of half these grants is to be borne by the State. There are safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the whole of the benefits shall go, not to land owners but to agricultural labourers, and also that those improvements shall be substantial ones, and that in other ways abuses shall not arise. If your Lordships will turn to the Bill you will see that by Clause 1 local authorities may (and if so required by the Minister shall) submit to the Ministry of Health a kind of estimate setting out the sort of requirements their districts are likely to need. These estimates will form the basis of what I might describe as a prospectus to be circulated or published for the benefit and information of the owners. These schemes must indicate the type of case for which assistance will be given by specifying the value of the works after completion. Your Lordships will see from a later clause that no assistance can be given where the value of these houses after improvement exceeds £400. The schemes must also specify the nature of the works which local authorities wish to render eligible for assistance. The types of improvement contemplated under this Bill are the addition of a further bedroom, the conversion of two back to back cottages into one good cottage, the raising of the roof, the provision of damp courses or larder, or the conversion into 1499 a dwelling-house of a building which has not hitherto been used as such. Works of ordinary repair are expressly excluded except in so far as they are incidental to or connected with works falling within the scope of the scheme. The scheme must also lay down a time limit for carrying out the work after approval by the local authority.
In Clause 2 the powers of the local authority to give assistance are defined As your Lordships see the grants may be made either in a lump sum or by contributions over a period, and loans may also be made. You will also see that the value of the cottage when completed may not exceed £400. There are also limitations in regard to the amount of the subsidy. Assistance cannot be given where the estimated cost of works is less than £50. The object of this is to assist in the carrying out of fairly substantial works which will ensure good re-conditioned cottages. It is not desired to fritter away the money in carrying out what might be described as small repairs or patches. There is a special provision in regard to cases in which it is desirable to make an improvement affecting more than one cottage where the cost will be less than £50 per cottage The type of case which is contemplated under this proviso relates to the water supply or better means of sanitation. The local authorities must be satisfied in any case that the reconstructed building will be a satisfactory house and they have full discretion to refuse assistance where they think fit.
As regards grants, your Lordships will see that they may not amount to more than two-thirds of the estimated cost as approved by the local authority and are subject to a maximum of £100 per house. Then there is the breach clause. These loans or grants are repayable with compound interest in the event of any breach of the conditions imposed by the Bill. The local authority may in certain circumstances, with the consent of the Minister, waive these conditions. In addition to grants, loans may be made, as I previously mentioned, up to 90 per cent of the value of the dwelling after completion of the work, and advances up to 50 per cent. of the value of the work done may be made during the progress of the work. Then follow certain details regarding the 1500 manner in which owners' applications are to be entertained and also the method whereby payments are to be made to them. I think that matter is fairly simple.
In Clause 3 the conditions are defined which are to be imposed on any house for which assistance is given by way of grants or loans. Your Lordships will see that assistance is to be given only for a period of 20 years. Paragraph (a) of subsection (1) contains a definition of the type of person who is to occupy these cottages during this period. The owner of the cottage is to be included as well as the rural worker tenant. There is an interesting proviso which enables an agricultural labourer who has risen in his employer's service to some other post to remain in occupation of a dwelling to which this Bill applies. In paragraph (b) of the same subsection there is a special provision regarding the rent. The rent is not to exceed the normal agricultural rent for the district subject to an extra allowance equal to 3 per cent, of the amount expended on the improvement by the owner out of his own pocket. If an owner takes money from investments bearing 5 per cent. and puts it into improvements on which he can only by law get 3 per cent it will be seen it can never be a particularly profitable transaction for him. There is a definition of what the normal agricultural rent is to be and how it is to be calculated.
In paragraph (c) there is an instruction that the owner is from time to time to give the local authority a certificate regarding the safeguards as to occupation and as to rent. He has to show that these conditions are being fulfilled. There is also a provision enabling the local authority to obtain an injunction regarding any breach of conditions in such matters. Special provision is made enabling the owner, with the consent of the Minister and the local authority, to repay to the local authority at any time during the twenty years the amount of the grant received with compound interest. Thereupon the house will be released from the conditions. That gives a certain elasticity to local authorities in the direction of allowing them to give permission to landlords to sell.
Clause 4 deals with Exchequer contributions to local authorities. These will 1501 be made by annual payments for twenty years equal to half of the estimated average loan charges falling to be borne by the local authority. Clause 5, which has given rise to a certain amount of controversy in another place, defines local authorities for the purposes of the scheme. It has been decided that the local authorities shall be the county councils and the county borough councils, although the Minister may, after consultation with the county council, agree to a district council becoming a local authority for the purposes of this scheme. This has been discussed at some length and as it is really a Committee point I need not dwell on it now. Clause 6 provides that a person who receives assistance under this Bill is not to be disqualified from being a member of a local authority or any committee thereof. It was thought fair to put this in as it is impossible for any owner to make any profit out of this Bill at least for a generation and even then his chances are very small. There is a further provision prohibiting a member of a local authority or of any committee thereof voting on any question in relation to any house in which he is personally beneficially interested. That is to say, he can vote on questions relating to other houses in his district but he cannot vote on questions relating to houses in which he is likely to be beneficially interested.
Certain criticisms have been levelled against this Bill on which I really need not touch at the present time except to say that it has been suggested that public funds are being utilised by this Bill to subsidise landlords. I must confess I have seen remarkably little reference to the extent to which rural landlords have subsidised the public during the past few years. All I can say in answer to that criticism is that this is a Bill to provide more adequate housing facilities for rural workers. I think the degree to which this object will be attained and the cheapness with which it will be attained do merit a certain priority of attention. I do not suggest that this is a very startling Bill, or one which will completely solve the housing problem in rural areas, but I submit the Bill can do nothing but good and that this good, for a whole generation at any rate, will be limited entirely to the benefit of the agricultural labourers, who I think are a most deserving class. I further submit 1502 that the safeguards against abuses are sufficient and that the results will be obtained with a minimum of cost to the public. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated upon their selection of a spokesman to present this Bill to your Lordships' House, not only because of the complete lucidity and capability with which the provisions of the Bill have been explained to us, but also because the noble Viscount, if he will allow me to say so, is one of those fortunate persons whose personality indicates transparent integrity and complete public spirit. If this Bill had been brought before your Lordships' House by some person who had been all his life acquainted with rural housing conditions and the mariner in which they might be best amended—such, for instance, as my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture—or if I had had to bring forward such a Bill, I could not have described it with quite so much undiluted enthusiasm and belief as so obviously inspired the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading.
We on this side of the House recognise that the Bill, in so far as it aims at providing proper and decent housing for the agricultural classes in this country, is long overdue and we are thoroughly in sympathy with it. We do not object to the general principle of the Bill, and, although part of this measure provides that assistance should be given by loans, I am not going to deal except very superficially with that, part of the question. But we do object, upon grounds which, if your Lordships will bear with me, I should like to go into rather closely, to the provision in regard to grants to be made under this Bill. Broadly speaking, I am going to indicate that the objections that we have to them are such as have been adumbrated by the noble Viscount. First of all he said that we might object as a general principle to the making of grants out of the public taxes to the owners of property in aid of their property. That is so; and we also feel, as was almost admitted by the 1503 noble Viscount, that the operation of this Bill will really benefit only agricultural landowners and agricultural labourers who occupy the cottages of those agricultural landowners.
This matter of rural housing is one in which I happen to have taken a great interest all my life. I have lived in various parts of the country and observed rural housing conditions in two or three Counties—in Wiltshire, Hampshire and, of recent years, in North Oxfordshire. I am going to speak of the actual concrete conditions in North Oxfordshire, with which I am extremely familiar. There we have a large number of cottages that were built some time in the eighteenth century. They were excellent cottages when they were built, but now they are falling into disrepair. In the district with which I am most familiar we have not many tied cottages belonging to agricultural landowners or farmers. Perhaps the majority of the cottages belong to small people, and it is especially these cottages, which are at present in great demand, that have become ruinous, out of repair and unfit for human habitation.
I see that one of the provisions of the Bill is that the grants are not to be made for repairs. I want a little interpretation on that point, because what is wrong with most of these cottages is, first of all, that the roof has begun to fall down. These are old stone-built cottages, generally with walls 21 inches thick and a gable about a pole wide, and they generally have four or five rooms. The roofs are stone-tiled all over North Oxfordshire—no doubt the noble Viscount is perfectly familiar with that region—originally built with heavy oak beams and oak laths and, if they were kept in repair, they would last for a great many years. Everyone is supposed, I think, to keep his own roof in repair, so that if the roof has fallen in owing to lack of repairs I want to know whether the provisions of a new roof will be sanctioned under the terms of the Bill.
In many cases, of course, no amount of repair will keep these roofs in order because, like the roof of Westminster Hall, after two hundred years the worms have eaten up the beams, the walls of the cottages have been thrust out, water has come in and ruined the floors, the windows have fallen into disrepair 1504 and the cottages are beginning to fall down. Long before they actually fall down they become unfit for human habitation. The great majority of that kind of cottage, which is really in great demand for the housing of the rural population, belong to the occupier, in many cases an old widowed woman, or to the descendants of people who have been better-to-do. In many cases they belong to small investors, and a number of cottages in my own and adjacent villages belong to the heirs of someone who owned a village shop or a small business in adjoining country towns, such as Witney. These people have bought cottages and times have become harder and they have not been able to keep them up.
With regard to these grants, I think the noble Viscount will see that, where £40 and £50 is needed to put a roof back into condition, none of these small people are going to spend £16 or £20 of their own money on it. They will not expend their own money at a return of only 3 per cent. Consequently this Bill does not help in that respect. They will not spend their own part of the money because they cannot do it. Many of these cottages are falling into ruin and are occupied by very poor people, some of whom are what are called bad tenants. In that case we have this vicious circle: The tenant says: "I will not pay my rent because you will not mend my house"; and the owner says: "I will not mend your house because you will not pay your rent"; and so the thing goes on from bad to worse. That is constantly happening. Then the local authority steps in and condemns these cottages. It has repeatedly condemned dozens of them, but the people go on living in them because the local authorities feel that they cannot turn these people out into the workhouse or elsewhere. Where are these people to go? They cannot pay a higher rent. Most of the cottages are rented at £4 a year, or 1s. 6d a week, and some at £5 a year, or 2s a week. Accordingly, in the four or five villages in my neighbourhood, you have families living year after year in cottages that were condemned a dozen years ago, because they have nowhere else to go.
If I were asked my own policy in regard to this, I should say that when the 1505 local authority has repeatedly condemned a house as unfit for habitation, then, if the owner does not put it in order, the house should be forfeited, taken possession of by the local authority and put into a condition of repair so long as the present inhabitants have the privileges of the Rent Restrictions Acts allowed to them, and pay the agricultural rent. When those tenants go out the local authority should be able to sell the cottages, as they perfectly well can, or let them at a proper economic rent. By that means, if the local authority were authorised to acquire these cottages, to condition them and carry them on, you could redress these conditions. But under the present Bill these small owners and owner-occupiers will not, so far as can judge from the part of the country that I know, be enabled to put their cottages into repair.
The only thing that could possibly result in their being put into repair would be for some small local builder to buy them, put them into repair and re-let them. But such a builder could not get a grant under this Bill because he could not re-let except at such a rent as is now being paid by the worker of the agricultural class, which, as I have told your Lordships, is £4 or£5 a year. Consequently the small local builder cannot take these cottages in hand under this Bill. I am not quite sure whether he will be able to take any of them over under the loan provisions of the Bill, because I do not know whether the provisions in regard to loans entail the same restriction to an agricultural rent as the provisions in regard to grants. So far as I can judge from the Bill they do not, but perhaps the noble Viscount will make that clear. Nobody who repairs a cottage with a grant under this Bill can let it at more than an agricultural rent of £4 a year, or £4 12s, a year if £20 had been spent upon it.
There is a very great demand in all the district round about Oxford, and I dare say round about other progressive towns, for cottages for workers, who, unfortunately, have to go in and out of the town for their work. We live fourteen miles from Oxford, and from the villages all round about scores of men go every day into Oxford on motor bicycles and in lorries to their work at the motor works there. They have to come out to these 1506 wretched cottages, for which they pay 17s. and 18s, a week rent. There is really a demand at economic rents for cottages, if those cottages can be properly conditioned. In some cases the small holders have succeeded in evicting the tenants on the pretence of wanting the cottages for members of their family. Then, the member of the family having said he did not want the cottage, the owner has reconditioned it and let it to town workers, who pay more than what is called an agricultural labourer's rent.
Apart from those provisions of the Bill which I do not think will operate at all in aid of the ordinary small householder or small house owner in that part of the country, the Bill can be used by agricultural landowners and farmers for the improvement of the cottages in which their agricultural labourers are living. That is a part of the Bill to which, for reasons which I will state, we object. If the benefits of the Bill are to be restricted to that, although we should all agree that it is a good thing that labourers' cottages should be improved, we do object that you are granting out of public funds a, subsidy and assistance to the owners of agricultural house property, to establish and perpetuate what we call the tied cottage system, under which the owner has cottages which he lets at less than an economic rent—1s. 6d. per week—and which he so lets not as an economic investment, but because he wants the labour of those agricultural labourers for carrying on the work of his estate.
I am not one of those who, for a moment, suppose that you can prohibit all tied cottages, but I am prepared to say this distinctly, that where you have the institution of the tied cottage it ought to be let at a fair economic rent, that the rent of the cottage should be provided for out of the agricultural wages of the labourer, and that the owner of those cottages should not be able to get what is really a subsidy out of public funds in aid of wages, in this indirect manner. He is enabled to repair his cottages and to continue to let them at 1s. 6d. per week because he is going to get a grant or subsidy out of public funds. We, as a Party, say that wherever property is not properly equipped for human habitation it is the duty of the owner to keep and maintain 1507 it in proper repair out of the proceeds of his estate, and not out of public funds, and that if the public has to intervene to put private property into repair, then the public should remain and continue to be the landlord, and let it at an economic rent. Those are my criticisms on that part of the Bill. I am sure that the noble Lord has followed them.
With regard to the safeguarding provisions of the Bill I do not think that much is to be said, except that anybody who has to administer the Bill will be appalled at the number of restrictions and safeguards which there are, and at the number of pettifogging charges which any transaction is likely to impose. The provision with regard to loans seems to me to be substantially fair and reasonable, but I rather want to know whether under the loans provision there is any limitation on the economic rent that may be charged. I see that the rate to be charged by the local authority is to be a prescribed rate, and I see that in the definition clause the expression "prescribed" means "prescribed by the Minister with the approval of the Treasury." Then I see, also, that the Treasury is going to bear one-half of the estimated average annual payments falling to be made by the local authority in respect of the charges on account of loans raised by the authority, and I suppose those charges include a sinking fund if the money is got from the Public Works Loans Commissioners, and the final expenses of the loan. That is to say, the Treasury is going to refund one-half of all those charges.
Now, when the local authority is making its loan to the undertaker of the repairs, I presume he is to have the benefit of the whole of that one-half reduction, so, assuming that the charges for these expenses are at a rate of six per cent, he would be paying, I suppose, on an average, three per cent. He still would be getting a certain amount of subsidy out of public funds, but I do not altogether object to that, so long as he is paying something, and public interest is maintained in the property by the form of mortgage. It would not be an absolute endowment, and I do not object to the State providing money for the repair at a low rate of interest. I should, however, like to have information from the noble 1508 Lord upon the point whether the rate to be charged to the undertaker is to be just one-half of the cost to the local authority. I have no desire to criticise the Bill in its main purposes, but I think that so far as the grants go it is quite inadequate for dealing with the situation, which can only be dealt with in the manner which, from time to time, has been advocated—namely, that when the local authorities deal with insanitary property they should take it over. Our objection to the Bill is that it is inadequate, and that where it is adequate it will allow the owners of tied cottages to repair their property out of public funds, and to do things which should be done out of the owner's private estate. We do not propose to oppose the Bill on its Second Reading, but when it goes into Committee we shall, I think, have some Amendments to move in respect of that portion of the Bill which deals with grants.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, so far as those who sit on this side are concerned we welcome this Bill in all respects but one, and that is that it does not, perhaps, go far enough. I am rather inclined to think that to some extent it is a shop window Bill, but, unlike noble Lords on the Labour Benches, we have no reason to complain of the Bill and have no reason for obstructing its passage through the House, all the more because, at this time of the Session, if any serious Amendments were made it might be very difficult to secure the passage of the Bill.
I notice that this Bill is not restricted entirely to agricultural labourers, and that it applies also to "persons whose economic condition is substantially the same as that of such workers." That provision is of great advantage, because under it would come cases like that of an agricultural labourer's widow, and other small occupiers of that kind. As regards Clause 2, I am rather sorry that the suggestion made in another place to increase the limit of value of houses to which the Bill applies from £400 to £500 was not accepted, because, certainly in a large part of the country, at present £400 is rather a small figure. Then again, I am a little doubtful whether it would not have been better, in the case of that provision which excludes works costing less than £50 from the benefits of the Bill, if an option had been left to the local authority, 1509 or possibly the Ministry. I think in a matter of this sort it would have been better to allow a little more freedom, both as regards the capital sum of £400 and the £50 minimum for repairs and alterations.
Clause 2 is very long and complicated. It covers practically three pages of the Bill. I wish the Government had introduced the Bill in a less complicated form, because it will have to be administered by small local authorities. I imagine that as a rule county councils will not themselves operate it, but will take advantage of the provision which enables them to delegate the duties to the "county districts," as they are here described. I do not quite understand the meaning of the term "county districts"; I suppose it means a rural district council or urban district council, for I cannot imagine that the Government means to create some new kind of county district.
I observe that subsection (4) (c) refers to the compound interest payable on a grant in the event of a breach in the conditions under the Act. It practically means that any man who gets a small subsidy for putting his house into better condition—a subsidy which cannot exceed £100—will for twenty years be very restricted indeed in his use of that house. I am very doubtful whether on an ordinary estate a man would be ready to tie up himself and his successors foe twenty years, as regards the use of that particular house. It may be said that there are small people who would be willing to do that, but I think in the case of a small owner it is even more doubtful, because, if he dies it will probably be necessary to sell the house to provide for his widow and children. Of course, I shall be told by the noble Viscount: "Yes, but you can pay the money at compound interest for the term that you have it." That might be easy for some people to do, but it is very doubtful whether the ordinary landowner will wish to avail himself of this opportunity, in view of the restrictions in the Bill. In the case of the small man, he also will be under great restrictions, and will find it difficult to borrow money under this clause. I note that there is no definition of the percentage of the compound interest. The Bill in one place speaks of 3 per cent.; here it may be 1510 5 per cent., and if it is, there would be a very large sum to repay at compound interest. It would make people rather shy of making application for the subsidy.
As to the Government contribution towards expenses, it is not indicated what those expenses are likely to be, or what amount the Ministry is likely to give, but I hope that in all matters of that sort the Ministry will take a liberal view, and not put the local authorities to any expense in administering the Act. I am sure the noble Viscount is aware that, owing to present conditions, and especially as a result of the strike organised by the Labour Party, the rates in some places are simply enormous, and it is very desirable that the cost falling on the rates should be as small as possible. Owing to the restrictions in the. Bill we think that its provisions may not be availed of as much as they ought to be, but we will give all assistance in our power to pass it into law, and we shall not move any Amendments to the Bill.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord should say that the Party to which I belong desires to obstruct this Bill, and still more that he interpreted the speech of my noble friend Lord Olivier in the way that he did. I think these taunts flung by one political Party at onother are extremely futile and uninteresting. As I understand from the noble Lord, he himself regards this as a cumbrous Bill, which undoubtedly it is, and he hopes that some Amendments may be made in order to make certain points clearer and thus enable the Bill to come into more general operation. I have had a good deal of practical experience of these matters in my part of the country. I look at this Bill entirely from one point of view. Is it likely substantially to improve the housing conditions in the country districts, and particularly of the agricultural labourer? That is the foundation of all improvement in the position of the agricultural labourer. He wants better housing, and the question is: Will he get it under the terms of this Bill? If he can get it (I am only speaking for myself) I should willingly put on one side all minor points in order to support to the utmost of my power what I consider a great social improvement of that character.
1511 At the present time I am directly connected with something like ninety cottages, which, of course, are a source of considerable loss every year. That is an experience familiar to everybody who takes the slightest trouble to bring his cottage property up to a decent and respectable level. Lord Olivier has referred to the cases of cottages held as a local investment by small investors. That is a very important factor in many parts of the country. Where I live there are a great many commons, and the squatters on the commons certainly constructed the most terrible hovels in the old days, but they are there in freehold possession. How can that be dealt with under the terms of the Bill as it stands? I agree with Lord Olivier that if you were to put into operation the principle that in sanitary dwellings are not to be allowed to continue, and that the owners of insanitary dwellings should have no advantage from them, that would be right. But I have looked at this Bill very carefully, and I cannot see any possibility, within its provisions, of the poor investor, the small man, being induced to make any improvement at all. In fact, he cannot do it. We often discuss the question of subsidies. I will not go into that, but evils of this sort must be put right by public money because there is no other money to which recourse can be had. That is one point in which this Bill, I think, is insufficient. It will leave untouched what is the greatest abuse in the country as I know it—the condition of cottages held by poor investors who under present conditions are unable to spend any money either in improving or keeping those cottages in repair.
The other point has regard to the grants to landowners. My view is that a landowner has a social duty to do what he can to keep his rural cottages in repair. No one can approach this question for a moment as though it was an economic proposition. It is impossible to do so. It is not the difference between 3 per cent and 5 per cent or whatever it is. There is no percentage at all. If you are to give these cottagers the convenience which I think ought to be given to enable them to live under decent conditions there is no return at all. I cannot imagine anyone with property in the country coming to any other conclusion 1512 —whether he does so or not is another matter—than that it is a social duty and not an economic matter at all. It lies with him to keep the cottages in proper order and to make such improvements as are necessary to bring them up to modern requirements. In some cases the 3 per cent. or 5 per cent. may make some difference, though I doubt it very much indeed.
One other point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Olivier struck me very much because there is rather a difference between the system in this country and that in some foreign countries. My noble friend mentioned the case, I think, of labourers who lived fourteen miles from Oxford and went to work at Morris's motor works. I do not care what the name is, let us call it, by any name. I think we shall have to face the fact in this country that in the circumstances there will have to be an obligation on people who employ labour to provide adequate, up-to-date and decent accommodation for their working people. I know it is done to some extent already. There is no use in blaming people because you never get any result from that. But where is the obligation, apart from that referred to by the noble Lord? The primary obligation is upon the employer, and as a matter of justice and equity it should be placed upon him in the first instance.
I wish to repudiate entirely the sort of criticism which the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, has applied particularly to the part of the country to which I belong. We simply want a great social evil of this kind rectified and we do not think that this Bill will do much. So far as it does anything I shall certainly heartily support it; but I think the question will have to be dealt with from a wider and more public point of view, particularly now that large works are being erected in country districts. Those who erect such works must take it as part of the cost of production, so to say, and of the position which they hold to provide decent, up-to-date, wholesome accommodation for the working people they employ. We shall certainly do what we can on this side to further this Bill. Any Amendments we may think necessary will be entirely in that direction and I hope the noble Viscount will regard from that point of view any suggestions we may make.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I should like to add a few words to this very interesting debate. I listened with the greatest attention to the speech of the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill and I should like to add my congratulation's to those already offered on the way in which he performed his task. I was very pleased to hear from the Labour Benches that they blessed the Bill to a certain extent, for the reason that they hoped it would be of some use in the open villages where cottages are owned by small shop-keepers who are sometimes in indigent circumstances. I think the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, will agree with me that the houses in those villages are worse than in villages owned by the ordinary agricultural landlord.
May I say a word for the agricultural landlord especially as the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, spoke of the landlord's social obligations? I honestly think that the great landlords of England have acted very well and very nobly and that they recognise their obligations. I was Chairman of the Royal Commission on Land in Wales. We sat for three years, we slept in eighty different towns in the Principality and we held a very large number of meetings. I can say with perfect truth as Chairman of that Commission that in no case did we find any serious cause for complaint on the big estates in the Principality. All the landlords did their duty nobly and well. There was a great deal to be found fault with and some terrible instances that I need not allude to now, but all those cases were not on the big estates but on the small estates.
Landlords have some little difficulty in these matters and I should like to mention one case. When the Housing Bill was before the House an. Amendment was moved from these Benches to enable tenants for life to grant, in the same way as if they held the fee simple, ten acres of land in every village to the local authority for the purpose of building cottages, in the same way as in urban districts where two acres were allowed for the purpose. I have property in twenty different parishes and I wrote to all the different local authorities and told them I was perfectly ready to hand over ten acres under the Act as agreed. It was taken up, I think, in every case; but in one case in the north of Buckinghamshire 1514 where the cottages are very old, some of them being over 300 years old, about sixteen houses were built on the land in question. And what was the rent of them? Eleven shilling a week. What agricultural labourer could pay such a rent? The result was that all those houses were taken by men working elsewhere in the same way as those referred to by the noble Lord as working in the motor industry in Oxford. The men for whom the land was given and the cottages built remained in the old cottages or cabins for which a rent of 9d., 1s., or 1s. 6d. a week was charged. There is the great difficulty.
Another great difficulty is one that people who live in towns do not altogether understand. I refer to the sort of affection that people in villages have for the cottager in which they were born and bred. I will give your Lordships an instance. Noble Lords may remember in the time of the great Queen Victoria a principal page of the backstairs named Waite, who was an esquire by law. Mr. Waite was a son of an old woodman in a village in the north of the County of Bucks and he went into service as a footman. He remained in Royal service for between thirty and forty years and was the finest specimen of an Englishman in demeanour and appearance it is possible to conceive. When Queen Victoria died he came home and said: "I shall want to go back to the cottage in which I was bred and born and where I wish to die." It was a family house. He went back there and died in the cottage in which he was born and he is buried in the old churchyard of the village he loved so well. The feeling of affection for their cottages is very great and any eviction of a man from his cottage is as much to him as it would be to many of your Lordships to be turned out of one of your own houses.
I dare say the Bill is not a perfect one. I hate the idea of a subsidy, but a subsidy in this case, as was said from the Labour Benches, is really in the interests not of the big landlords like the Duke of Bedford, or the Duke of Buccleuch, or the Duke Northumberland, but is in the interests of the small owners whom it will help to put their cottages in the open villages into a better state of repair until the millennium comes which was foreshadowed by my noble friend Lord 1515 Olivier. Until that time comes we must be content with what we can get. Therefore I most heartily support the Bill.
My Lords, I do not think I need reply at any length to the criticisms of the Bill. Two speakers complained that the Bill does not go far enough in helping landlords and two speakers complained that it goes too far. I may take it, therefore, that on the whole it is satisfactory and will do what it sets out to do. I think I may answer the criticisms of the noble Lords, Lord Olivier and Lord Parmoor, by saying at once that this Bill does not, as I stated originally, solve the whole problem in rural districts but simply sets out to help to solve it and I submit it does that. The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, asked several questions. He asked under what category repairs to roofs came. Your Lordships will see by reference to the Bill that the county council is the local authority and is given a wide discretion in these matters. It can suit the conditions to the particular problem which confronts it in the area which it administers. In regard to tied cottages and small owners I am sure we should be very pleased to go very much further if it were possible at the present time. I will not specify how we should deal with the problem of small cottages owned by people who are too poor to carry out improvements even with assistance that could be obtained under this Bill. I would point out to the noble Lord that the Exchequer is extremely poor at the present time, largely owing to the industrial unrest which has prevailed during this year and the Treasury really cannot afford to do anything beyond provide the cheapest form of subsidy.
The point made about the loan is really a Committee point. As the noble Lord is going to raise it in Committee, I will deal with it then and I hope satisfactorily answer his questions. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, state that he supported the Bill. I must point out in answer to the the criticism he made about the valuation, that the £400 valuation is made on a rental basis and not on a possible selling basis. I do not think there was any further Second Reading criticism with which I need deal at the present time. I was very pleased to hear Lord Parmoor promise his support to the Bill 1516 and state that it should be regarded from the aspect primarily of how far it is going to house rural workers. I think that is the main principle to be borne in mind.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.