§ 3.43 P.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the shortage of cottage accommodation throughout the country, they will consider the desirability of amending the law so as to enable local authori- 751 ties to waive or rescind a demolition order made prior to the war, where a cottage subject thereto can be rendered habitable to their satisfaction at a reasonable cost, but its reconditioning or repair is not at present contemplated in face of the prospect of the enforcement of such an order; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, before proceeding to submit my Motion to your Lordships, I would venture to say that the rural problem in all its aspects—economic, domestic and social—is, at the present time, a very serious one, and, in my humble judgment, nothing but a combined or communal effort of all the interests genuinely concerned with rural welfare will effect real and lasting improvement and restore the feeling of confident security which has been notoriously absent from the British countryside for at least a generation. This leads me to say that so long as the Government provide the incentive to all the three classes of the agricultural community to pull their full weight in effecting a renaissance of rural Britain, I can promise, for my part, and I think I can promise also on behalf of those with whom I normally work in this House—leading members of the Central Landowners' Association, and the Royal Agricultural Society of England—that no hostile criticism will flow from our Benches and that we will endeavour to be, so far as we can, constructive in our criticism.
§ I would remind your Lordships that what I ask of the Government today is this: what is to be the fate of the large number of cottages in rural areas which, prior to the war, were condemned by the local housing authorities—that is the rural district councils—as being unfit for human habitation? Circumstances have very considerably changed since 1939, when the then Government issued their decree in regard to these condemned cottages. The shortage of cottages in the countryside has enormously increased, and is today a very serious factor in relation to the re-establishment of healthy conditions in rural England. If I may be a little more specific, I would remind your Lordships that in cases where demolition or clearance orders have been made under the Housing Acts and have become operative, the provisions of these orders cannot be waived or rescinded—however anxious the 752 local authorities who have made them may be to cancel or modify them—without statutory authority, which, of course, Parliament, in spite of changed conditions, has not yet given.
§ Prior to the outbreak of war the Council for the Preservation of Rural England—I happen, myself, to be President of the Gloucestershire branch—made repeated representations to the Ministry of Health regarding the difficulties and hardships resulting from the demolition procedure under the Housing Act of 1938. The Central Housing Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health appointed a special sub-committee to investigate the matter. Their report was published in 1939. The late Lord Crawford, well-known for his interest in art and particularly, perhaps, in buildings of historic interest or exceptional architectural beauty, was a member of that sub-committee. The Minister of Health accepted the recommendations of the report but did not consider himself justified in making provision for rescinding demolition orders in cases where satisfactory reconditioning has subsequently been found possible.
§ I may say, in passing, that the seriousness of the condition of many of these houses that were condemned as unfit for human occupation, on the representations of the surveyor or the engineer of the local rural district council, was actually unknown to the owners, and in many cases it was not known what would happen to these properties in the event of the owners not having the means to carry out as soon as possible, if not immediately, the necessary reconditioning. The Minister, as I say, accepted the recommendations of this report, but would not go so far as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England hoped that he would go. In spite of the acute shortage of houses created or intensified by the war, there has been no change in the situation, except that demolition has been suspended during the war because of the necessity of providing accommodation for evacuees and to meet other war-time requirements.
§ The Ministry of Health has taken the view, which most local authorities share, that it would be a retrograde step to encourage the indefinite perpetuation of houses found to be unfit for human habitation and incapable of being brought up to a proper standard at a reasonable cost.753
§ Owing to the acute housing shortage, which has become now even more acute by the return of many thousands of men of our Fighting Forces, it will be necessary to allow many condemned houses to remain occupied for a time. It will be the aim of the Government, we are told, to make that period as short as possible. This, however, only constitutes a temporary reprieve and in no way alters the legal status of those houses as condemned houses which must be pulled down as soon as the necessary replacement accommodation can be provided. My submission is that conditions are now, and will continue for a long time, to conic to be, very different from those prevailing prior to the outbreak of war, and if houses which have been condemned and are subject to an operative demolition order are found now on inspection by a competent authority—a competent health or sanitary authority—to be capable of being reconditioned, and 1:hc owners or the local authorities are pre-pat ed to see that this is done effectually powers should surely be given to the local authority for that purpose.
§ In making this statement I have the support not only of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England but also other Rural District Councils' Association. I should like to mention the following fact out of my own experience. Only it July last in my own county (as in other counties) there was a conference of housing authorities held at the Shire Hall, Gloucester, to consider this urgent rural housing problem. That conference was a tended by representatives of the county conned and of all the rural district councils in the county. The terms of this Motion were received by them without any supporting comment. They unanimously passed a resolution in favour of this Motion and asked that they should be given a second chance, or in other words that they should be given by statutory authority the opportunity of revising their decision in regard to the condemnation of those houses which took place prior to the war, assuming reconditioning to have been effectively carried out, that sanitation and health had due consideration and that money was available to carry out the required alterations.
On December 12, 1944, when rural housing was under debate in another place, the then Parliamentary Secretary
to the Ministry of Health, Miss Horsbrugh, in the course of a long speech, said:
It has been suggested that a number of rural cottages in rural areas have been made subject to demolition or clearance orders but which could properly have been dealt with under the scheme for reconditioning. In some cases I believe that substantial works, alleged to have made the cottage fit for habitation, have been carried out since the order was made. There is no power under the present Housing Acts to rescind the order but the existence and the occupation of houses which had been condemned before the war have been preserved by Defence Regulations. These continue in existence and will no doubt. continune for some time. There is, therefore, no question of any likelihood of demolition in the near future, and in view of the shortage of houses there will be ample opportunity for considering those cases where it is suggested that, since the demolition order was made, such large-scale works of reconstruction have been carried out as to make the house now fit for habitation. A change in the legal status of the house could only he effected by legislation.
That is the change I am asking His Majesty's Government to make now.
While this possibility will be examined—and whether legislation will be possible or what form it will take I cannot say—I must point out that the position was examined before the war and was then found to be fraught with many difficulties. In any case, there is no prospect of immediate demolition of the cottages and there is time to go into the matter.
My comment on that is that there is no incentive whatever to an owner, or indeed a local authority, to carry out the necessary reconditioning of those cottages so long as the sword of Damocles hangs over their head and the cottages remain doomed to demolition.
§ I am bound to refer, of course, to another Act in this connexion—the Housing (Rural Workers) Act of 1936. Under that Act a Government grant of up to £100 is available—I think through the medium of the county councils—where reasonable reconditioning can be effected. I will comment on that presently because apparently that particular Act is not going to be re-enacted by the present Government. The difficulty is that no owner or local authority is going to spend £500 or more on reconditioning a cottage even if, as in the past, the owner does receive a grant from the county council under this Act, with the consciousness that an operative demolition order may in the early future become effective. Many leading architects have expressed the view that where there are four strong, damp-resisting outside walls and 755 a sound roof, in existing circumstances it is nothing short of a crime to demolish houses which can be made reasonably fit for human habitation, especially where the site is dry, sanitation and water supply are satisfactory, and there is a good garden. This applies particularly where two or more adjacent cottages under one roof can be thrown into one cottage or where the house has been condemned—and this is the case in a good many cases—owing to the ground floor being beneath the level of the outside ground and it is practicable to lower the latter by excavation.
§ I understand that the Government have decided not to re-enact the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. Mr. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health, speaking in another place on October 17, said in that connexion that the reason why the Government did not want at this stage to re-enact the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was that they wanted to know first of all how the demobilized building workers would dispose themselves over the countryside. He said he was not against the Act and that, later on, he hoped to give the House a better Act. He wanted, first of all, to canalize all the available rural labour to build new houses. Later on, when they could see how the problem developed, he hoped to come to Parliament to ask for An Act to enable cottages to be reconditioned, because, in any case, many of these cottages which were being reconditioned, ought to be preserved. I think I am entitled to ask whether this contemplated Bill will be retrospective, and will cover reconsideration of the case of the pre-war sentences of death on reconditionable cottages. The Minister went on to say that many of these cottages had 'great architectural value; it would be a -disaster if they fell into ruin. Their facades, their exteriors, were often quite charming, and ought to be preserved. The interiors, of course, would have to be brought up to date.
§ That, in effect, is the whole of the case I have to submit, to put it quite shortly, but I have just received a letter from one of the leading architects, certainly the leading authority on rural architecture in the country, a very eminent F.R.I.B.A., in which he emphasizes three points. The first is that decisions as to whether cottages should 756 be condemned, and as to whether cottages are capable of economic restoration, should not be left to the surveyors of rural district councils. These useful public servants, usually, have not the specialized knowledge and training required. He goes on to say that the acute housing shortage and the high cost of building make it all the more important to preserve and improve old cottages. Cottages which he would have condemned before the war as being too expensive to repair can now be reconditioned at a price which compares favourably with the cost of building new cottages. Unfortunately, the very people who have the necessary knowledge to deal with reconditioning—his kind, the domestic architects, who have specialized in restoration—have, in the past, been too busy with the better-paid work of making luxury houses for the well-to-do to bother with cottage restoration, with its poor financial reward. He said that, perhaps, now that luxury homes will be taboo for some years, the domestic specialist will take a hand in the all-important work of preserving old cottages.
§ I have no more to say in this connexion, except that I venture to hope that, with very strong pressure from both experts and housing authorities, the present Government will see their way to reconsidering this question and will, at an early date, either introduce a one-clause Bill restoring the discretion of local housing authorities in regard to demolition, or will introduce into the now promised Housing Bill a clause which would carry out this purpose. I beg to move.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, the Motion which my noble friend, has just moved is a very tempting one, on which hangs a much larger question, the drastic and terrible urgency of the problem of rural housing, but at this late hour it cannot be discussed. On the general subject of rural housing, I hope there may be a Motion in your Lordships' House on which the whole subject can be raised, and gone into thoroughly, in the near future. But, however modest my noble friend's Motion is, it is, at the same time, one of very widespread importance, for we cannot afford to overlook the slightest thing that can help the 757 rural housing position to-day. In the countryside, at this moment, we are faced with the problem of losing, probably, 100,000 and more workers in the course of the next year or eighteen months, who had previously worked on the land without occupying cottages. Therefore, even if there are only one or two cottages of the sort my noble friend has mentioned in every village, they, none the less, constitute ate an item which we cannot afford to overlook. I know that there may be a very reasonable argument in saying that even if we give a guarantee, or His Majesty's Government give a guarantee, that condemned cottages, put into good condition, should remain for twenty, fifteen or ten years, the problems of the shortage of labour to-day are such that the labour would be better occupied in building new cottages. I do not think that that necessarily holds. District councils, who, in the main, will be charged with building new houses under the present plan, and the local authorities, will naturally employ the larger builder. The small country builder will have some materials, probably, and will have some labour returning to him. The estate yard material and labour, where the land is owned by a landlord, can also supply the labour and material in a small way, to do these cottages piecemeal, and, therefore, I do not think there would be a clash between the urgent demand for labour to build new rural houses and the demand for reconditioning.
There is another point which I think is of very great importance. The more old houses that are done away with in the village, the more difficult it is to do needed repairs on non-condemned cottages existing in the village. I can give an example from memory of a village which consists of twenty-five old cottages, most of them perfectly habitable, with perhaps two condemned. Of the twenty-three that are not condemned, people, in future, will not live in these cottages unless they are enlarged or unless two small but reasonable cottages are made into one, or unless bathrooms, sanitation, and drains are put in chimneys are rebuilt. While that is going on, the inhabitants of these cottage is cannot occupy them. They must be moved, and there must be a reservoir of cottages in which to put people, temporarily while they are being given better houses. I think that is a most important 758 point, and one which is very often overlooked. There must be that reservoir, and if the condemned cottage did no more than remain in a habitable condition for people to occupy while their houses were put in order, that would be a valuable contribution to rural housing. I beg to support my noble friend's Motion.
§ 4.9 p.m.
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies to the case which has been put before your Lordships' House, I should like to support the Motion which the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, moved rather more fully than I feel is really necessary under present conditions. What the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, have said, really covers the ground thoroughly, but I should like to add my voice to the plea that this opportunity should not be lost by His Majesty's present advisers, and that the suggestion put forward by the noble Viscount, with regard to those cottages condemned before the war—that the demolition order should be capable of revision—should be considered. I do not think that it is the least necessary for me to enlarge, in your Lordships' House, on the appalling conditions that obtain in many villages with regard to the cottages and the accommodation available. If it were, one could go on for a very long time, both from one's personal experience and also from one's knowledge of other parts of the country. It is a matter of the most urgent importance that in the big scheme which His Majesty's Government have in regard to building, this small but yet not immaterial point, should not be lost sight of. I beg to support the noble Viscount's Motion.
§ 4.10 p.m.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain you, except for just a short moment, by adding to what the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has said on this matter. I should rather like to advocate that something be done on the lines suggested, on purely æsthetic grounds. The beauty of this country is made up of, and depends very largely on, its cottages and its small houses. If you pull them down in any large quantity, you are going to change very much the nature of the beauty of this country—beauty which has been painted by Gains-borough and other lovers of it. I do 759 suggest that it would be far more profitable and, I think, logical, to rescind an order and prevent the demolition of these cottages, provided they can be, and will be, brought up to date. It is not a very difficult matter to bring them up to date. There is a very good little book, published quite recently, probably by the architect referred to just now, in which he has shown, beyond any doubt at all, that it is easy to raise the ceiling of a cottage by excavation from a ground floor or by raising it from the upper floor. In other words, if you wish to increase the cubic capacity or the height of a cottage it is not at all a difficult matter, and I think a great deal more opportunity should be given to the landlords to enable them to put these cottages in order.
Another matter, even more urgent, is to encourage local authorities to bring their side of the problem up to date by bringing sewerage systems to hamlets. We, as landlords, on the whole do the best we can for these cottages, so as to preserve the amenities of the country, but we cannot do much in the matter of sewerage, drainage and so on. That is a matter for the local authorities. We can grapple with light, gas, water, and so on, but we cannot do much in this other regard. When you talk about modernizing cottages I think mostly you mean getting the sanitary arrangements up to date, and I do advocate that local authorities be given every encouragement in that direction. There is another little point I should like to mention. A lot of structures—some people call them rabbit hutches—were put up during the war as temporary structures. I do not think it is fair, if we can possibly avoid it, to ask people to go on living in them any longer than is absolutely necessary. The sooner objects of that sort are replaced the better. It is far more urgent, in my opinion, to encourage building alongside these rabbit hutches and to move the people into the new dwellings as soon as possible. Let us have something decent for people to live in. I warmly support this Motion.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, I should like to start off by thanking the noble Viscount opposite for his prefatory remarks. He said that he and his associates 760 in this House and the Central Landowners' Association would indulge only in constructive criticism of the Government's policy for the countryside, and that the tone of that criticism would not be hostile or destructive. I can assure him that the Government will always welcome that type of criticism, and that we appreciate the offer of a partnership, if I may so term it, which can only redound to the good of those who live on the land. I should like, if I might, before I proceed to the pith of the noble Viscount's questions, to reply to a question he raised in the course of his speech, although it does not arise directly out of the terms of his Motion. He was asking the Government about the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts which have now been allowed to lapse. Now the question of these Acts has been referred to the Rural Housing Advisory Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Health is awaiting the recommendations of his Committee before he decides about the form of future legislation.
I can assure the noble Viscount and those noble Lords who have supported him in the course of the debate, that His Majesty's Government do share to the full his dissatisfaction and their dissatisfaction with present housing conditions in rural areas, and his and their desire that we shall do everything possible to assist local housing authorities to discharge their responsibility for the provision of decent homes for the population of the country-side. I am sure that his intimate knowledge of life in the country and the sense of urgency he and others have communicated to the problem of rural housing, will have given useful guidance and a healthy stimulus to public opinion. But the question of how to legislate so as to give the local authorities the best instruments for their task is one, as I am sure he will agree, that needs most careful consideration. I am certain that the noble Viscount will not expect any decision from His Majesty's Government this afternoon about his proposed amendment of the housing code, as the specific alteration in the law he wants has been referred, with other suggestions for alteration, to the housing experts of the sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee. This sub-committee is now dealing with the matter without any unneces- 761 sary delay, and will consider, at a meeting to be held later in the month—I be live it is on the 22nd—the suggestion made by the noble Viscount this afternoon, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Health is anxious to awaits views before he arrives at a final decision and communicates that decision to Parliament.
The noble Viscount's proposal that a new power should be conferred upon local authorities to revoke or rescind a demolition order would, if adopted, have important and far-reaching consequences affecting our whole housing policy and programme for town and country alike. It is just possible that my noble friend has not himself foreseen all the consequences of such a change in the law, or the many difficulties to which it would inevitably give rise. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to some of the difficulties inherent in this proposed change so that the House may have a fair picture of the drawbacks as well as of the advantages of the scheme and thus he placed in a position to decide whether on balance it is as desirable as the noble Viscount ha; claimed.
This suggestion is not, of course, a new one; it has been made on several occasions between the wars but has been invariably rejected by the Government of the day. For example, the granting of a power to rescind demolition orders was considered by the Rural Housing Sub Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee in their Second Report published in 1937. The Sub-Committee then reported their view—and here, my Lords, I shall quote—There would be, it seems to us, the gravest objection to the reopening of the question after the period allowed for an appeal to the County Court has expired. In certain casts proposals may have had to be abandoned owing to the existence of the demolition order but the majority of the members of the Sub-Committee feel that the disadvantages likely to attend any alteration of the law relating to this matter far outweigh any advantage: which might be gained in the few instances in which this position may be expected to arise. Vie accordingly do not recommend any change in the present procedure other than that recommended in the following paragraph.The "following paragraph" deals with the temporary suspension of the execution of demolition orders on houses occupied by very old people, so that those old people may continue to live in their old home until the end of their days.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
1937. I can give the noble Viscount the month, but I should have to refer to the Report to do so.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
May I ask whether the noble Earl has taken cognizance of a subsequent Report of the same body dated 1939?
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
Yes, my Lords. I only give yon one example of the evidence which has led the Government to reject this proposal in the past. The main reason for this reluctance to change the law was the knowledge that unless a demolition order was made irrevocable the slum conditions that public authorities and all those concerned with the countryside have been trying to uproot would continue indefinitely, for if there were no limit to the number of appeals that the owner of a slum property could lodge against the decision of a local housing authority to demolish, such a person could put up a whole series of unsatisfactory proposals which would enable him, while they were being considered, to go on receiving rent from an investment which would otherwise have become a dead loss. Experience between the wars has shown convincingly that so long as a house unfit for human habitation is left standing it is extremely difficult, on account of its relative cheapness in relation to other accommodation, to stop tenants from going in even when there is no actual shortage of accommodation in the district.
The perpetuation of slum conditions would be the first and most unfortunate accompaniment of a general power conferred on local authorities to revoke any demolition order. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the speedy clearance of the slums has been a cardinal principle in the housing policy of every Government since the 1920s. I think the noble Viscount's intention—I hope he will correct me if I misinterpret him—was to limit the use of this new power to rural housing authorities, but the terms of his Motion, as it now stands, would extend its application to urban authorities as well. Another regrettable consequence of reconditioning cottages already scheduled as unfit for human habitation would be the 763 diversion of a considerable quantity of building labour and materials from the construction of houses. The policy of His Majesty's Government is to build new cottages in the villages with up-to-date conveniences and labour-saving devices and not to patch up insanitary hovels which would at best be wretched substitutes for modern buildings.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt. There is nothing that any decent agricultural landowner would deprecate more than encouraging slums in the rural areas. We have never for a moment suggested anything of the sort. As the matter appears now, according to the noble Earl, to be sub judice, I should not like anything that is now said by him to influence this judicial body from coming to a perfectly impartial decision, in regard to buildings which in the view not merely of the housing authorities but the Ministry of Health can be rendered perfectly fit and habitable for present-day workers in the countryside. One thing I deprecate more than anything else is this suggestion that we sympathize with the continuance of slums in the countryside.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am afraid the noble Viscount has misunderstood what I have said. I do not for a moment suggest that the noble Viscount, or any of his friends, is other than anxious to do away with these slum conditions. I did suggest that he might not have foreseen some of the legal consequences of the alteration in the law which he advocates. I am merely trying to describe its consequences in full because I think that without such a full description it is impossible for your Lordships to decide on the merits of the case. I do not think it can be fairly argued—it was not argued by the noble Viscount but it is an argument that has been used—that under existing law the owner of a slum property is not given a fair chance to do essential repairs at a reasonable cost. A local authority is required to give such a person notice that his property has been listed as unfit for human habitation, and to suggest an early meeting at which he can submit an offer to do the work necessary to put the property in good order or, alternatively, to agree to leave it vacant. If he fails to take advantage of that opportunity—he is given ample 764 time—and the local authority issues a demolition order in respect of his property, he still has twenty-one days in which to appeal to the County Court against the order. This procedure really does give any owner who is willing and able to do the necessary repairs a full opportunity of making his property habitable. If any public grounds for not carrying a demolition order into effect can be adduced by the owner of a dilapidated property, my right honourable friend the Minister of Health has shown that he is prepared to give them full consideration.
I hope that what I say now will appeal particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, who has made such an eloquent plea for the preservation of the amenities of the countryside. My right honourable friend the Minister of Health has had his attention directed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to the risk of the demolition of old houses of historical or architectural interest. It has now been arranged with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning that if a demolition order has been made but not yet carried into effect on such a building, when the Minister of Town and Country Planning takes the view that it is one which he would otherwise have listed under the recent Town and Country Planning Act of 1944, a very special procedure shall be followed in the hope of saving it from destruction. If the owner or anyone else is prepared to do whatever may he necessary to make the house fit for habitation or to use it for some purpose other than working-class housing, the Minister of Health will approach the local housing authority concerned and suggest to them that they should not enforce the order. I hope this will be good news to those of your Lordships who support the Council for the Preservation of Rural England or the Georgian Group of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. I hope that such noble Lords and those who sympathize with them will be gratified that this action has been taken.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I can assure your Lordships that we are as anxious as anyone to do whatever we can to save what remains of our architectural heritage, It is, of course, as several noble Lords have pointed out, unfortunately true that, 765 under present conditions, many unfit houses will have to go on being occupied for a considerable time, both in cases where demolition orders had already been made before the war and in other cases where cottages have reached an advanced state of dilapidation since war broke out. But it is one thing to recognize and admit this unfortunate fact and quite another to amend the permanent law housing in a way which will perpetuate housing standards that neither the public nor the Government can accept. While it is not possible for the Government to give a final decision until the view of the Central Housing Advisory Committee has been expressed—and the matter, as I pointed out to the noble Viscount, is being dealt with by them without delay—I would say new that far stronger reasons than any which have so far been adduced would be needed to justify so drastic a change as the noble Viscount contemplates in his Motion.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I cannot pretend to be either enthusiastic or convinced as a result of listening to the noble Earl. I do not know whether I must understand from him, as I thought that I did, that this matter is under re-consideration by a new body set up by the Ministry of Health; hut, if it is, and if the whole problem is now being considered, I venture to hope that some evidence will be admissible by that Committee to emphasize the arguments which I have attempted to present this afternoon, especially bearing in mind that the whole of the conditions have altered since that period before the war when the Report, part of which the noble Earl read, was drawn up, and bearing in mind also that documents of a much more promising character and at a later date—1939—including very particularly the Report of the Demolition Procedure Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Housing Committee, have been promulgated since.
766 My main point, which I want to leave in the minds of the noble Earl and other members of the Government, is this: what incentive have owners of these reconditionable properties to-day to do anything to render them fit for human habitation? As I have pointed out, the Rural District Councils' Association and, in the county which I know best, all the rural district councils as housing authorities, have asked that this decision should be reconsidered. Surely there should be a more favourable response to an appeal such as that. In asking leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers I do so because, apparently, the matter is still sub judice, and a different decision may still be come to. I will complete my appeal by saying that I believe that leading architects strongly support the view that some of these buildings, which were hastily doomed before the war, should now be reconditioned, not in the interests of the landowners—I do not believe that they will derive any financial advantage whatever from such a scheme—but in the interests of the rural workers, whom they want to see provided with homes, and who include a large number of men now demobilized, who want to find homes in the country but cannot do so, though there are buildings which could be made perfectly fit for them. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.