§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, the noble Earl the Leader of the House has already explained to your Lordships why this Bill has been presented to you at such short notice. I can only repeat that I regret that circumstances have so brought that about. It is a Bill to provide for housing subsidies for the future. The present subsidies for new building expire at the end of this month, and we propose to continue them and make some alterations in them. As we have not had a housing debate for some time perhaps I had better begin by reminding your Lordships of what the subsidies are which are being paid for new building at the present time. They are, firstly, the slum clearance subsidy of £2 5s. payable to the local authority for every person displaced from an unhealthy building and rehoused; secondly, the discretionary subsidy up to £5 a year for each house constructed by a local authority in connection with the decrowding programme. Both these subsidies are increased, where it has become necessary, by reason of the expanse of land and buildings to carry out the housing schemes in blocks of fiats. Thirdly, there is the small subsidy for reconditioning granted in connection with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which is not affected by this Bill.
As to what has been done under those Acts your Lordships will remember that 1933 was the year when it was decided to launch the major attack upon the slums. A survey was made, and some 280,000 houses were ear-marked for demolition, and an undertaking was given that as far as possible that programme would be complete within five years. By the end of this year—that is the end of the five years to which I referred—that part of the programme will be practically com- 311 plete. We calculate that about 250,000 houses will have been demolished and upwards of a million people rehoused; but, as sometimes happens when we try to carry out a major long-term programme through the somewhat complicated machinery of local government, the problem has appeared larger than we imagined it would be. The local authorities have discovered more slums in the last few years, and, instead of the 280,000 houses, we find ourselves confronted with 400,000 houses that have to be demolished. This has added 120,000 houses to our slum clearance programme, and that additional programme will not be complete by the end of this year. That is the present situation in regard to the slums expressed in the simplest terms.
In regard to decrowding, your Lordships will remember that the Act was passed in 1935 and that various principles were laid down in it—firstly, that a survey should be made of all the overcrowded houses; secondly, that the local authorities should submit schemes for building to accommodate the population that was to be displaced, assisted by the subsidy as the Minister thought fit; and, thirdly, that a date should be fixed in each district after which overcrowding should be a penal offence. The present position in regard to decrowding is this. The survey has been completed, and it is estimated that about 200,000 new houses must be provided to accommodate the displaced population. The survey has taken some time and only about 17,000 houses have been built towards the programme. But in every case the appointed day after which overcrowding would be forbidden has been fixed.
Before coming to our new proposals I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to two points. Firstly, as compared with 1933 we are now dealing with a problem that is a measured problem. You can criticise the details of our proposals and the standards we have set up and you can say that the standards ought not to be final standards—indeed my right honourable friend has said so himself—but I think everyone must agree that we are right in trying to reduce the problem to concrete proportions. We now know where we stand and we know what progress we are making. Another advantage is that we can tell with some degree of accuracy what will be the probable 312 effect of an alteration in the subsidised It is very easy to say, of course we ought to be spending a more money on housing, but expenditure somewhere in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000,000 a year obvious even in the very important matter of housing there must be some limit. Subsidies are expedients designed to produce certain results, and the question must obviously be considered from time to time whether the total amount of money that is being spent on housing is being spent to the best advantage.
The second point to which I would invite attention is the effect of pooling of subsidies which was introduced under the Act of 1935. Your Lordships no doubt realise that rents now are not charged according to whether houses were built under the Act of 1919 or 1924 or under the Act of 1933 or 1935. It is quite true that local authorities receive subsidies on that basis, but having received them they are given very wide discretion as to how they, spend them, provided always that they fulfil the obligations laid on them by Parliament and carry out the schemes that have been entrusted to them. The vital factor which local authorities want to know before embarking on fresh building is not what precisely they are going to get under one subsidy or another but the total amount they will receive from the Government. The question that has to be solved is whether, having regard to present day problems, that total is being calculated in the most scientific way.
As I reminded your Lordships, there is a very big subsidy for slum clearance and slum clearance is well under way. In fact, the programme is about two-thirds complete. There is a smaller subsidy for decrowding which local authorities may or may not get, and that programme has only just begun. Yet from the health point of view it is equally important that people should be removed from unhealthy, overcrowded conditions as from unhealthy buildings. The conclusion the Government have reached is that, having regard to all these different considerations, the total amount of Exchequer money that is now being paid out could be more scientifically allocated and that further simplicity could be introduced into the administration. What we propose to do accordingly is to bring down 313 slum clearance subsidy and to bring up the decrowding subsidy so that they both can be combined into one subsidy which will be available for both purposes as it suits the convenience of the local authority. The amount of subsidy we propose is £5 10s. for each house for forty years from the Government and £2 15s. for the rates. We calculate from the schemes before us that we shall be paying out slightly more money from the Exchequer than we are at present, but as I have already said we think that the division of the spoils, if I may use that expression, will be more appropriate to the needs of local authorities than at present.
It is true that those who have a great deal of decrowding to do in comparison with the amount of slum clearance will be better off than before and those in the reverse case rather worse off, but as I have said we can now make a forecast with considerable accuracy and we believe that every local authority will be able to provide new houses for either purpose to let at rents between 6s. and 7s. a week exclusive of rates. We have, of course, made most careful inquiries before reaching this decision. We have consulted the Rural District Councils' Association, the Urban District Councils' Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils' Association and the London County Council, and they all approve the new principle. It is quite true that they have contended that the Government should pay more and they themselves less, but that is perhaps a not unnatural line of argument when local authorities are trying to make a bargain with the Government.
In trying to be as simple as possible I have omitted one or two details of some importance, and I must now turn to them. Firstly, in deciding to unify the subsidies we had to decide whether it should be done on the per capita basis of the Act dealing with slum clearance or on the per house basis of the Act dealing with decrowding, and we have decided, with the approval of these representative organisations, to adopt the latter course. In saying that we believe that every local authority can with the help of this subsidy build houses and charge rents within the capacity to pay of those who are going to be rehoused, I should make an exception in regard to some of the very poorest urban and rural districts, par- 314 ticularly in some parts of Wales. In spite of the block grant formula we believe that some of these local authorities will still find it difficult to build houses and charge rents within the means of the occupiers without additional assistance. In Clause 1 (3) the Minister is given discretion to supplement the amount by an additional £1per house per annum.
Perhaps I ought to say a word about flats. On general grounds, as your Lordships are no doubt aware, we are not in favour of flats, but we are convinced that in some of the largest cities flats provide the only possible solution of the housing problem. Your Lordships will see from the Schedule that the proposed scales are somewhat more generous than before. The minimum is £11 compared with £6 under the 1935 Act, and as compared with slum clearance we are more generous in respect of sites costing more than £8,000 an acre. In every case we calculate that it will be possible to rehouse the population in these flats at rents of 7s. and 8s. a week, exclusive of rates.
Before turning to rural housing I think I ought to say something about the very important question of the rate of building in the future. Houses are now being constructed by local authorities at the rate of 7,000 a month. On that basis the entire rehousing programme ought to be completed in about five years. But I am conscious of the dangers of prophesying in these troublous times. It is true that prices are higher than they have been, although they are fairly steady now. They went up last May from an average of £370 per house, but they have since returned to £365 per house, and at that figure they have remained. This compares with the £340 average when the Labour Party originally introduced the 193o Act. The rise has been more than offset by the drop in interest rates, which are now about 1⅜ per cent. lower. To secure our primary object, the provision of low-rented houses, it is necessary to maintain a constant scrutiny of tender prices. My right honourable friend has not in the past hesitated to reject prices which he considered too high, and this policy will be continued. Then, as regards the date at which these changes will be brought into effect, your Lordships will see in Clause 10 that the present rates of subsidy will be available for houses constructed not later than the end of this year. That has been for the sake 315 of continuity, but as far as decrowding goes the proposed higher rates of subsidy will be available for houses started after the introduction of this Bill even if they are completed before December.
Now I must turn to the new proposals for rural housing. Your Lordships will be aware that the obligation to construct houses to rehouse the population from rural slums and to provide for the de-crowding needs are just as great and rest just as much on the shoulders of the rural authorities as they do on those of urban authorities. A great deal of progress is being made under existing Acts. Unfortunately, however, this does not solve the whole question of rural housing. It is unnecessary to remind your Lordships that to build rural cottages costing between £350 and £400 is not an economic proposition when only about 3s. to 4s. can be obtained in rents for them. Indeed, the difference between charges for loans obtainable, for instance, from the Lands Improvement Company and the annual rent represents a loss of some £12 a year to the owner. As your Lordships are aware, the agricultural depression has not improved matters in this respect, and the result has been that very few new cottages have been built for rural workers. It is not possible to see exactly how far the absence of good modern housing has contributed to the drift away from the land, but I think it would be generally agreed that it does, in part, explain why agriculture and its associated industries fail to attract a large proportion of the younger men, and particularly of their wives, into those industries. Accordingly my right honourable friend submitted this problem to a Sub-committee on Rural Housing, presided over by my right reverend friend the Lord Bishop of Winchester. These proposals follow almost exactly the recommendations of that Sub-committee, and I do not think we could have paid him a greater compliment than that!
In brief, what we propose to do is to give the district councils assistance, not only to abolish unhealthy conditions in the countryside, but also to provide for the general needs of the agricultural population. Your Lordships will notice that under this Bill the slum clearance and de-crowding subsidies for rural areas will be amended to £10 from the Exchequer, £1 from the district council and £1 from the 316 county council, and in certain Exchequer contribution may £12 at the discretion of the Minister is proposed to make this same subsidy £10—available to provide for these general needs as well. Your Lordships will notice that the subsidies are intended for genuine agricultural workers and their dependants, and if, as sometimes happens, a rural worker leaves the land for some other profession, the local authority will be empowered to charge a higher rent. It is a statutory condition of the payment of the higher rate of subsidy from the Exchequer that the local authority should reserve for the agricultural population as many houses as they originally specify in their schemes. In certain circumstances this subsidy may be extended and paid to private owners. In the words of Clause 3:Where the council … are satisfied that in any particular case"—and I must emphasise in passing that that means that each case must be judged on its merits—housing accommodation required for members of the agricultural population of the district could be more conveniently provided by some person other than the council, they may, subject to any conditions imposed by the Minister, make arrangements for the provision of such accommodation by that person.Later on the clause empowers the authority to pay over the iI0 Exchequer subsidy to the person erecting the house, subject to certain specified conditions, and if those conditions are not observed they are required to withdraw the subsidy.
As this matter was the subject of a good deal of criticism in another place on the ground that it subsidised the tied cottage, perhaps I might draw attention to the fact that the reasons for recommending it are fully set out in the report of the Rural Housing Sub-Committee, and the Government endorse those reasons. They agree in general that rural houses ought to be built in villages, but they also think that cases may arise where it would be more convenient, as for stockmen and in other particular cases, to build isolated cottages. They think that in those cases the cottages might well be more conveniently built by the owners. They agree that in certain cases retired agricultural labourers may want to build their own cottages, and that they should be encouraged to do so. Might I perhaps be allowed to advance a further reason? District councils are custodians of the 317 [...] money, and they may quite properly require some evidence of necessary before they construct houses themselves. If this proposal which is under discussion is excluded, it occurs to me that the less humane owner might well see to it that that evidence of necessity was provided by throwing the widows and dependants, the less profitable of their tenants, on to the mercy of the district council as opportunity arose, and the more humane owner might hesitate to do that and thereby put himself under a disadvantage.
With this provision in the Bill, it seems to me that all owners are alike given the right to go and make a case to the district council. It is, of course, for the council to decide how to meet the situation, and indeed their option in the matter is strictly limited by the wording in the clause. But it does seem to me important that opportunities for consultation between the owners and the authorities should be established by the Bill. Whatever may be said about the agricultural owner, he is still the head of a very important unit in the rural economy of the country. He has had of recent years several obligations imposed on him by Parliament under the Public Health Act, the Town Planning Act, the Decrowding Act, and so forth, not to mention several new obligations imposed by legislation emanating from the Ministry of Agriculture. These obligations have not added to the landowner's income, and I venture to think that the Government's decision to encourage cooperation between him and the local authority on this very practical basis will do more for the housing of the agricultural worker than could be effected by any attempt to drive the owner and the rural district council into opposite camps.
One point on another subject. There is a great and welcome enthusiasm, to-day, for the preservation of the amenities of the countryside. The Government share that enthusiasm, and they desire to express their gratitude to Lord Crawford and his Committee for the very practical help they are giving in the preparation of a book of model plans, which will soon be published by the Ministry. They think, however, that it is not a very simple matter to ensure the preservation of amenity by legislation alone, and they propose to exercise their interest by examining and approving all plans for the 318 erection of cottages under this part of the Bill.
That is all I have to say about this Bill. May I conclude with one observation on the general housing situation? Since the Armistice about three and a half million houses have been built, and of these about a million have been built by the local authorities. This pool of houses gives facilities to local authorities which they have never enjoyed before. In spite of that fact, there are, I know, still people living within a few miles of this House who are living under conditions which I can only describe as unspeakable. I know there is no cause for complacency, but I feel that what has been done is an encouragement not only to ourselves and to the country but to these unfortunate people in respect of their own future. It is, I think, a considerable achievement. In other circumstances I might be tempted to compare what has been done with what noble Lords prophesied would be done when former Government measures were being discussed, but as I hope to be in the novel and very fortunate position of anticipating some outside support for a Government Housing Bill I will not enter into fruitless discussions as to who should be entitled to the credit for anything which has been done. As, however, the policy has not been changed since his day, perhaps I might make some reservation in favour of Lord Kennet. But that is beside the point. The point is that we must consider the future and not the past. Let me conclude by thanking those noble Lords who are members of the Central Housing Advisory Committee for their constructive assistance, which I am sure they will continue to give so as to make future success assured. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Viscount Gage.)
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I hope you will allow me to offer a few observations on a Bill that is really of absolutely first rate importance so far as our national housing policy is concerned, although it is, of course, a Money Bill and cannot be modified in any respect by decisions taken in your Lordships' House. As the noble Viscount: has already pointed out, there are features of this Bill which will undoubtedly recommend themselves to all unbiased observers of the progress of this national housing policy that the Government have under- 319 taken, and the feature which I shall not dwell on, but which will no doubt be considered at some length by a subsequent speaker, and which appears to me to be the most helpful aspect of the Bill, is the manner in which it is proposed to deal with rural housing. There will undoubtedly under the operation of this Bill, if it be passed into law, be a considerable stimulus to rural authorities for the provision of cottages at really low rents, such as agricultural labourers earning anything between 30s. and 50s. a week will be able to afford. This is a very substantial step forward, which I am sure will be greeted with the utmost thankfulness by all those interested in the housing problem, and I cannot help feeling that one advantage which the discussion on the Second Reading in this House will enjoy is that it is possible for all those who contribute to the debate to deliver their contributions in a somewhat more impartial manner than is perhaps customary in another place. There are a number of your Lordships who have been following the housing legislation and housing problem in general for a considerable period of years, and they now have this opportunity of expressing their views on this Bill.
It is my particular business, I think, rather to criticise than to commend, because the praise that certain features of this Bill quite justly deserve has already been bestowed in part and will be bestowed in even more lavish measure, I anticipate, in the not very distant future. There are two features to which many people, I think, regardless of Party valuation, do take very strong objection. The first of these is the reduction of the housing subsidy in respect of slum clearance that will be brought about by the new method of allocating the Government subsidy to the local authorities. The new method, as the noble Viscount has pointed out, is to provide a certain sum, £5 10s., for every new house built, instead of providing a smaller sum, £2 5s., for every person that the local authority has to rehouse. Now, assuming that the average family consists of four persons, the local authority will be losing, by a very simple arithmetical calculation, about £3 10s. per family rehoused. That, I think, is going to affect the Government's housing programme very considerably.
320 As the noble Viscount has just said about one-third of the Government's housing programme in relation to slum clearance is as yet incomplete. I think he mentioned the figure of 120,000 houses which could not be demolished before the end of this year, and which would therefore entail the building of houses to accommodate the families displaced at the lower subsidy which the Government are now offering. Therefore it does make the situation, I think, from the point of view of slum clearance really very serious. The proportion of the Exchequer grant to the payment out of the rates made by local authorities would be reduced from about four to one to about two to one. The noble Viscount mentioned, I think, that in his view the fall in interest rates, which therefore make it easier and cheaper for local authorities to obtain the loans they require for building purposes than it was in the past, was a justification for this reduction in the Government grant; but I should like to remind the noble Viscount that building costs have increased by about 20 per cent. since 1935, and certainly so much as greatly to exceed any saving that local authorities may make on account of the cheaper rate at which they can obtain money.
May I be allowed to anticipate what one fears may be the injurious effects of this lower subsidy to local authorities on account of slum clearance? In the first place it may hold up the slum clearance programme and compel many families who are at present living in these deplorable conditions to continue there for a longer period of time. It may also have the effect of raising rates, because clearly the money has to be found somehow; and if the programme that local authorities have been carrying out is persisted in because of the determination of the authority in question to get rid of this evil, then it means an increase in the rates. In view of the fact that these slum areas are usually located in the poorest industrial towns, that increase in rates will mean a very heavy additional burden upon people who are at the moment bearing considerably more in the way of taxation than they can be reasonably supposed to be able to stand. It also means a strong temptation to local authorities to build smaller and cheaper houses. The effect of that would be to re-create overcrowded conditions which, though they 321 might not represent according to the letter of the law overcrowding, would in fact mean that too many people were living in too small a space.
As the noble Viscount, I am certain, would himself admit, the standard adopted by the Government for measuring overcrowding is very low, and therefore there is an enormous number of families at the moment who are living in conditions that are deplorable, but which cannot be remedied for the time being. One does not want families to be removed from slums and to find themselves living in conditions that are very little better, and in some ways even worse. Those are some of the consequences that may result from the diminution of the Government grant in respect of slum clearance. I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether in his reply he would point out how far the Government envisage consequences of this kind, and how far they think that those consequences can be avoided.
The second criticism that I have to make on the present measure was again, I think, anticipated by the noble Viscount. There are many people who object to any extension of the tied cottage system. We believe that it offers an opportunity for undue pressure to be brought by landlords on their tenants. Of course, such an opportunity would not be abused by a good and reasonable and helpful landlord. But there are good and bad landlords, just as there are good and bad politicians, and good and bad business men. We therefore view with very considerable anxiety any extension of the tied cottage system. I am aware that the justification for this proposal of the Government is that it was recommended by the Rural Housing Advisory Committee of which the right reverend Prelate (the Bishop of Winchester) was Chairman, and that their Report gave reasons which they considered to be adequate and convincing. I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on the success of his labours. Your Lordships are all aware of the endeavours that he has made over a number of years to improve housing conditions through national legislation, and we are all, I am sure, equally glad that his efforts should in this case have met with so considerable a degree of success. May I ask him when he deals with the 322 subject of rural housing, and in particular with the question fo the extension of the tied cottage system, whether he could answer what do appear to be very grave objections to this course.
I am aware that the argument runs that in a few rather exceptional cases, where shepherds or stockmen are living on isolated farms and cannot therefore be in a village, it may be exceedingly difficult for rural authorities to provide them with proper accommodation, and of course there is the question of higher building cost, owing to the distance over which building materials have to be carried. But if that is so, why should the landlord be in a more favourable position than the local authority? It would appear that if the landlord or farmer is impoverished it would be just as difficult for him to put up the cottage as it would be for the local authority to do so; whereas if he is a man of considerable means there seems to be no excuse whatever for the provision of a Government subsidy. Personally I must confess that for cases of this kind, where it may be more difficult for the rural authority to act, I should like to see an increased subsidy from the Exchequer in order to overcome that difficulty, rather than that the responsibility should be placed on the landlord—a responsibility which he may find it difficult to discharge, and which in any event would put the tenant in a position that might be exceedingly injurious to him in years to come.
This Bill, which is, I am sure the noble Viscount will agree, the most important measure in respect of housing that has been introduced by His Majesty's Government since the Act of 1935, is one which in certain respects one hopes will go some distance towards alleviating the distress of those who are living in overcrowded or slum conditions. There are, however, these two very serious objections to the Bill in its present form, and I should be very relieved, as I am sure all those who feel the weight of these objections would be relieved, to have some further reply on the part of the Government and, if I may venture to ask for it, a rather fuller account of the reasons for the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the part of the right reverend Prelate (the Lord Bishop of Winchester).
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I propose to confine my remarks to the provisions in the Bill relating to rural housing. I welcome the Bill as a whole, and I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for the full way in which he explained it when he moved the Second Reading. I welcome the provisions for the better housing of the agricultural labourer because I feel convinced that one of the reasons which have led to the deplorable migration from the country to the town has been the lack of sufficient houses. I need hardly remind this House how serious that migration has been. At the beginning of the last century there were rather more people living in the country than in the town. At the present time only 13 per cent. of the population of this land are living in country districts, and the number of those who are actually engaged in farming is a very small percentage compared to other countries. In France, I believe, 40 per cent. of the population are engaged in farming, while in England the figure is something like 7 per cent. at the present time.
I know, of course, that housing is not the only cause, and that agricultural depression is the root evil, but I am perfectly certain that the shortage of houses, and the unsatisfactory nature of so many of the houses, is one of the main reasons why the younger men will not to-day remain in the country. Some of the houses I have been into myself are, quite literally, worse than anything I have ever found in the poorest slums in London. These are exceptional cases, and of course the open country is all around them, which makes a real difference; but what has struck me so much when I have been into those houses is that I have been begged by the tenants not to make any complaint because they were so afraid that if the house were condemned by the local authority, and they were turned out, there would be no other place to which they could go in the neighbourhood. There has been abundant evidence—we heard it from witness after witness before the Committee to which reference has been made—that if every house which now exists in the country were occupied there still would be a very serious shortage.
Only last week I had a letter written to me by a lady who is interested in, and has remarkable acquaintance with, the shepherds of the Hampshire Downs. She 324 was not writing to me in connection with this debate, but in that letter she said:I know a number of shepherds round about, and it is very difficult for a man with a family to obtain a job in many cases owing to the two-bedroom type of house, as boys over ten must have a separate room. This is a quite definitely wrong state of things. I have personal knowledge of good jobs being refused, as the girls and boys cannot be packed into the two-bedroom cottage.I myself have known cases of young men who waited year after year wishing to marry and, being unable to find a cottage in the country, have migrated to the towns. It is a significant fact that the last census shows that out of every five men under the age of twenty-five who were employed in the country, by the time they had reached the age of forty, two had moved into the towns. That does show that one of the difficulties in the country at the present time is insufficient housing accommodation. Of course the root of the difficulty is that in present circumstances it is quite impossible for the agricultural labourer to pay an economic rent. As the noble Viscount has already pointed out, to build a three-bedroomed house in the country would cost something like £360. When you make some allowance for annual repairs, the economic rent for a house of that nature—exclusive of rates, of course—would be 6s. 7d. But the agricultural labourer can, at the most, pay only 3s. a week. You have therefore a gap between what he can pay and what is the economic rent. I welcome this Bill because it does bridge that gap. As The Times pointed out, the subsidy which is being granted for this purpose is enormous, but without this subsidy it would be quite impossible to build the houses which are so urgently required for those engaged in the farming districts of the countryside.
Now, if I may, I shall refer for a moment to the very important point raised by the noble Earl opposite. In another place, also, criticisms were passed in connection with this matter—namely, that private individuals should in certain circumstances have the subsidy. I can only say that, for myself, when we commenced to discuss the subject, I was against this proposal. My mind was not by any means definitely clear, but on the whole I was against it. As we had evidence, however, and as the matter was argued out, and as I made inquiries in a 325 number of country places which I know best, I became convinced that there are certain isolated cases where you would not have a house provided if it were left to the local authority to do it. That may be right or it may be wrong, but that was the conclusion which the majority of the Committee reached. We have expressed this in a paragraph in the Report which, if I may, I will read. It is a brief statement, but it states clearly what we felt:In a comparatively small number of cases, it may be necessary to build new houses on isolated farms for the accommodation of stockmen, etc. In 'view of their situation, such cottages will, we anticipate, only be suitable for the accommodation of the employees of the particular farm on which they are built. The local authority will not always be able conveniently to undertake the erection of houses in such a situation, and to meet this relatively small need, we suggest that a subsidy equal to the Exchequer subsidy which would be payable to the local authority should be made available to private enterprise …I would remind the House that this provision is very carefully guarded. The subsidy is payable subject to conditions imposed by the Minister, the houses are to be reserved to members of the agricultural population, the rent is to be a rent which can be paid by an agricultural labourer, and the house is to be suitable in respect of its size and construction. Every case is to be considered on its own merits, and the intention of the Bill is that there should not be a general whole—sale granting of the subsidy. Of course it is most dangerous for me or any one else to attempt to prophesy what legislation will lead to after the recent totally unexpected results.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
May I ask the right reverend Prelate whether his Committee considered that the difficulty for the local authority would be obviated if a higher subsidy in respect of these isolated cottages were obtainable from the State? I wonder whether that solution was considered by his Committee. I hope he will forgive me for interrupting.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
I can assure the noble Earl that we did consider the whole question very carefully, and I am quite sure that members on the Committee would not have left unnoticed the point which he has just raised. If I might venture to prophesy, I think we shall probably find that this particular clause is used only 326 in a comparatively small number of cases and used where houses would not otherwise be built. There is just one other observation I should like to make. I was very glad that the noble Viscount referred to the nature of the cottages which are going to be built. I know that the Minister is concerned about the picturesque cottages which are sometimes perhaps rather hastily demolished, but, great as is the loss to the beauties of a village through the destruction of picturesque cottages, I think sometimes that there is an even greater loss in the Hideous new buildings which are sometimes erected either in the middle of a very attractive old village or on its immediate outskirts. I can think of several cases where the whole beauty and attractiveness of a village has been hopelessly impaired by the examples of bleak ugliness which have been put up as new houses.
I think the Minister will see as far as he can—I am not sure what his powers are in this matter—that the designing of these buildings is not left solely to builders and surveyors, but that an architect is called in, and that the architect shall advise not only about the cottage buildings and their conveniences but also about the material which is to be used and about the position in which the houses are to be put. I recognise most fully that the first and most 'Important consideration is the building of good and healthy houses which can be let at a low rent, but there is nothing irreconcilable with that in seeing that the houses which are built are in harmony with beauty and the picturesqueness which we have inherited in so many of our ancient villages.
My Lords, in the absence of several noble Lords who usually address you on this kind of subject I would like to offer a few remarks, particularly on the rural housing provisions of this Bill. I should like to begin by adding the thanks of those of us who live in the country to the thanks that have already been expressed to the right reverend Prelate's Committee and, I may add, to the Government for bringing in this Bill. I say this although I always regret the State stepping in to do what it seems to me it is more natural and proper that private persons should do for themselves. Admittedly, though 327 less so where the Rural Housing Acts have been actively applied, conditions of housing in the countryside—and I might almost say particularly so in the case of the houses occupied by agricultural workers—leave much to be desired. That is not of course a general and complete statement, but that there are very many cases such as the right reverend Prelate mentioned I must endorse, and particularly is this so in view of what is quite clearly a rapidly rising housing standard, in itself a very commendable thing. We are no longer content with the same conditions of room space, lighting and so on as we accepted some years ago, and it is very desirable that the standard should be lifted.
Although I do not think it could have been brought within the four corners of this Bill, I shall be glad if the fact that local authorities have to build rural cottages in greater numbers were to lead to an extension of main water supplies and healthy water supplies to the rural population. I am not sure that that it not one of the most important points to which we ought to look forward. I feel also that, possibly with the help of the local authorities, electrical supplies may be obtained at a more reasonable rate and a great deal more quickly than we are getting them at present. At the same time, this Bill seems to me a wholehearted attempt to bring to the countryside some of the many advantages obtainable under recent legislation in the towns. It will to some extent relieve the loss of capital from the countryside which has been going on for years, and which has been, in fact, statistically shown within the last month to run into several hundreds of millions of pounds. Only to a small extent, but to a small extent, it will relieve of some of their burdens the persons now responsible for making the countryside live, and this is bare justice, for it is the State in the main, through the Death Duties, which has taken the capital out of the countryside, and it is the rest of the population who, to some extent at any rate, have failed to recognise the long torture of the agricultural depression.
What I have said about want of capital applies just as much to the small farmer and even more to the larger landowner, provided of course he is owner as 328 well as occupier. Many a good farmer there has been who has been faced with the loss of a worker whom he would like to employ simply because the worker and his wife have agreed that the cottage that the farmer could afford to give them was unsuitable and inadequate for their quite proper standards. In such a case what is the poor farmer to do? He has not got the capital to build a cottage, the existing cottage is possibly irreparable, at any rate within his means, and he has to face the loss of a good worker. As the right reverend Prelate has said, as much perhaps as most things that has meant the drift of the rural workers into the towns. So that, the Bill is very welcome to landowners and I am sure it will be very welcome indeed to the farm workers.
There are one or two points on which at a later stage I shall have a few Amendments of a small nature to bring forward, but before I sit down I would like to deal with the favourite argument that comes from the opposite Benches as to the tied cottage. I am going to admit straight away that where all the cottages are in one farmer's hands then certain opportunities of tyranny do occur, and if I had been listened to before the Agricultural Unemployment Insurance Act was brought in, as I ought to have been, some of the spare money accruing under that Act would have been used by associations of farm workers to build their own cottages and to keep a pool of cottages to which a worker could go rather than be tyrannised over by his farmer. But having admitted that it is possible, and that such tyranny occasionally occurs, once you have obtained a pool of cottages available for agricultural workers, which you should do under this Bill, that opportunity of tyranny would be gone. I am sure the noble Earl opposite will realise the force of that argument.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I should agree, naturally, if there was a sufficient supply of cottages, but I have no doubt the noble Lord will agree that at the present moment there is not.
That is true in certain cases, but under this Bill that particular difficulty of the tied cottage should be removed, not only in respect of the cottages built under Clause 3 by the 329 private landowner but in respect of all farm cottages. The noble Earl went a step further, and there I could not follow him at all. He asked why should the private landowner who contributes to the solution of the housing problem by building the most difficult and the most expensive cottage, the isolated cottage, who contributes just as much and in fact more to the solution of the housing problem, receive the subsidy in the same way as the local authority receives it. Surely the answer is obvious. He receives the subsidy because he is doing the same service to the community as the local authority, although as a matter of fact by the terms of the Bill he does not receive such a large subsidy.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
May I point out that my argument was a little more developed than that? My point was that a private landlord may be a man of very considerable means. You have to take that into' account. The reason, presumably, for the State helping rural authorities is that they are very poor. In fact, that is the raison d'être of the subsidy. There is no means test in this Bill and a rich landlord may get as much as a tenant farmer with practically nothing who may be losing on his farm.
If that was the noble Earl's point I cannot follow him. After all, even though a landlord may be rich he is entitled to fair play. I may point out that the more house property a private landowner owns the more he will be undercut by the local authority, subsidised to this tremendous extent, for what should be a good modern cottage at a wholly uneconomic rent. The landlord will in any case suffer in respect of some of his property very considerably owing to that one cause. Why he should not be treated in a democratic country on all fours with other members of the community I fail to understand. I do not want to detain your Lordships longer. The Bill has received on the whole a very warm welcome, and I am particularly pleased to think that it will help the agricultural community.
My Lords, I have only very few remarks to make because I think the reception of the Bill has been on the whole very favourable. The noble Earl opposite made some remarks about the reduction of the slum clearance subsidy and the effect it would have on building by local authorities. I have sheets of statistics on this point, but I think I had better not inflict them on your Lordships. The upshot of my information is that, the Government having consulted various representative organisations, every one of them except the Association of Municipal Corporations agreed that the subsidy of £8 5s. made up of contributions from the Government and local authorities was sufficient for the purpose. The Association of Municipal Corporations asked for another fifteen shillings. That is not a very much larger sum. The whole position is governed, as I think I said, by the fact that we believe that every local authority in the country will be able to construct houses for every purpose and let them at rents of between 6s. and 7s. a week, or flats at rents of between 7s. and 8s., exclusive of rates. As we have always worked on the basis of 10s. inclusive of rates as the most suitable rent, I think that point is covered.
The question of tied houses has been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, and I do not think I need add anything. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the question of amenities, and asked what was being done to ensure that cottages come up to a certain standard of architectural merit. A deputation is discussing that question with my right honourable friend this afternoon and I would point out that we have machinery in the Town Planning Act which ought to be used very extensively in this connection. I think I need say nothing more except to express appreciation of the right reverend Prelate's most valuable support.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at twenty-three minutes before seven o'clock.