HL Deb 27 June 1949 vol 163 cc279-302

2.35 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, and perhaps it will be convenient if before I deal with what I would call the more important phases of this Bill, I deal with two of the clauses which were introduced in another place rather late in the day. I refer to Clauses 2 and 3, both of which deal with houses that have been condemned as unfit for human occupation. Your Lordships will remember that Clause 2 deals with the quashing of certain demolition orders. As the law now stands, there is no power to vary a demolition order when once it has been authorised. Many such orders were made immediately prior to the Second World War but were not executed. During the Second World War these houses were worked on by their owners; repairs were done and the houses were made fit for human occupation, and were, in fact, occupied. And these houses are now in occupation. The Government felt that they ought to be relieved from the execution of the orders, and this Bill enables such houses to remain until new demolition orders are issued. The Government wish to emphasise, however, that this applies only to demolition orders issued before January 1, 1946.

Clause 3 also deals with the question of demolition orders, but refers mainly to the preservation of houses which, though unfit for human occupation, are of some special architectural or historical interest or are thought to be of such interest that they ought to be dealt with by a closing order and not by a demolition order.

Having dealt with those two clauses, which were introduced at the end of discussions in another place, I come now to the Bill as a whole. The basis of this Bill, as your Lordships know, is the substantial progress made in house building since the war. It is not my intention to-day to weary your Lordships with a long list of statistics. I do not think any of your Lordships will question that there has been substantial progress in house building since the war, but I would not be surprised if some noble Lords on the Benches opposite were to tell us that the progress would have been even more satisfactory had it not been for the housing policy of the Labour Government. I feel certain there will be some noble Lord who will say that the housing policy of the Labour Government has hindered the progress that ought to have been made, but I should be very much surprised if any member of your Lordships' House denied that substantial progress has been made. On the basis to which I have referred, however, the Government view is that something ought to be done to release both labour and materials to deal with other aspects of the housing problem, without, so far as is possible, neglecting the primary issue of building new houses.

The Government realise that, while the building of new houses is still the primary need in some areas, in other areas the completion of new houses has meant that labour and materials can be released for dealing with the reconditioning of houses of a strong, sturdy character which are not by any means up to date. Clause 1 of the Bill deals with one of those questions, which, I think, has been mentioned in every housing debate in both Houses—namely, the definition which was put into the law in 1903 regarding, working-class houses. At the time of its insertion into legislation the definition was considered to be good, adequate and satisfactory, but there have been drastic changes during the last half century in every direction, and to-day it is felt that that definition is no longer applicable.

The intention in deleting from many places in housing legislation this reference to working-class houses is to bring about in the housing estates a greater mixing of the various sections of the community. Your Lordships know that the tendency to-day is to concentrate different sections of the community in housing estates in different parts of the countryside. It is not good for the health of the country (not only its physical health but also its mental health) to have various sections segregated, some here and some there. The intention of the removal of this phrase from legislation is to enable housing authorities to build to meet the tastes of all. I have always felt that the more the various sections mix—the manual labourer with the blackcoated worker, the industrial worker with the professional worker—the better they will understand each other. I feel that this would be a step towards removing many misunderstandings between them, and in some cases it would remove much suspicion. The removal of this phrase from housing legislation does help in that direction.

At the same time, we need to consider other aspects, one being the restoration of houses which have been, and still are, strong and sturdy houses, but which do not contain any of the modern appliances—those things which ease the burden of perhaps the most heavily burdened person in the community, the housewife. I myself know of houses which were built before the First World War which are still strong and sturdy houses, although they have no bath or modern convenience of any kind—none of those things which eases the work of the housewife. In this Bill there are provisions which will help in that direction. I noticed that the Report of the Royal Commission on Population which appeared only last week—a Report which I feel must be dealt with by Parliament at an early date—refers to this particular problem. Paragraph 576 states: Many of the existing houses are grossly defective in some of the elementary essentials for family life. According to a sample study made by the British Institute of Public Opinion (1944), 6 per cent. of the houses in Great Britain do not have water laid on inside the house. 40 per cent. have no indoor sanitation, 32 per cent. have no fixed bath (16 per cent. no bath at all), and 36 per cent. no piped hot water supply. These are figures for the country as a whole; if the rural areas were considered alone, the percentage of defects, e.g., houses with no inside water supply, would be much higher. We shall have to go on using many of these older, defective houses, probably at least 3 million of them, for a long period to come. I was pleased to see that in paragraph 583 the Commission recommend that the Government: should examine the practicability of a national effort to equip old houses that are suitable with indoor sanitation, hot water facilities, and a fixed bath. In the letting of houses so equipped with the aid of public funds, priority should be given to families with children. If it is found practicable to go further with a policy of reconditioning, the installation of modern kitchen units in older houses should be considered. Perhaps I ought to mention that there is a footnote to page 207 which states. Since this chapter was completed, the Minister of Health has introduced the Housing Bill, 1949, one of whose objects is the improvement of old houses. This is the Bill referred to. I am advised that nothing was known of this Report when this Bill was introduced. One is glad that such a Commission, which has gone so thoroughly into the questions before it, should be able to recommend a course of policy which is now being pursued by the Government.

There was a general comment in the Report which I liked very much and which I feel will appeal to your Lordships. It was to the effect that the natural desire of mothers to "share in the important social gain of leisure" is one of the factors that affect the population question. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that a generation or two ago far too many mothers went to premature graves because they had to work in inconvenient and inadequate houses and there bring up big families. I always have thought that my own mother died young because she, as a widow, tried to bring up six of us in a house which was about big enough for two or three. And in my opinion she was not the only mother who died before her time, because of houses which were inconvenient and inadequate for the rearing of big families. This Bill attempts to deal with that position, and I am satisfied that if we modernise our homes in the same way that we have modernised our offices and our industry we shall make a bigger contribution to human welfare than has resulted, perhaps, from the modernisation of industries and offices. Our mothers are entitled to be relieved of the arduous humdrum work which is imposed on so many of them through their having to live and bring up children in inconvenient and inadequate houses, as do so many millions of mothers in Britain today. But the Bill goes further than that to help them. Still dealing with the mothers, we all know that in these inadequate houses the feeding of a family is a very heavy task. This Bill will enable local authorities on their housing estates to provide meals and refreshments and in so doing to relieve some mothers of very arduous labour. And the Bill goes further still in this direction. It deals with laundry. For the big family, laundry is also very hard work, and this Bill provides not merely laundries—which are in fact provided already—but also the services of laundry.

There is another aspect to which I ought to refer, which does not so much affect the working mother, although it is none the less of importance. This Bill enables local authorities to sell furniture to those living on their housing estates. I feel that so far your Lordships will have been in agreement with me in what I have said, but here we may find some little difference of opinion. First of all, with regard to our attitude towards house owning. We have heard references to a "house-owning democracy," and there have been those who have suggested that the Labour Party are not very favourable to people owning their own houses. What basis there is for such an idea I have never known, but I notice that during debates in another place on this Bill there was a tendency to suggest that the Labour Party were averse to a house-owning democracy. All I know is that in legislation which was passed when I was out of the country the present Minister of Health raised the amount of money that could be loaned by local authorities for house-building purposes from £850 to £1,500. That resulted in the building of more houses to be owned, and what the Minister does in his Bill is to raise the maximum from £1,500 to £5,000. That should mean that people who desire houses up to the value of £5,000 will be able to take advantage of the loans made at a lower rate of interest by the local authorities.

I understand that certain building societies charge something in the region of 4 per cent. The provisions of this Bill would enable local authorities to charge somewhere about 3¼ per cent. I am not surprised that certain people feel that the person who can afford to build a house at a higher price than £1,500 should not need the help of the State or the local authority, that he ought to be able to fight his own battle with the build- ing society, and insist that they reduce the rate of interest. My personal attitude would be that I see no reason why the State, wherever it can, should not enable those who need and desire houses of a better quality to secure loans at the lowest possible rate of interest. Because a man happens to be a man of means, I do not see that that in itself should cause the State to say that he is not to be entitled to their help in obtaining a loan at a lower rate of interest. The Bill enables local authorities in future to help those who would build houses for themselves, or even for others, to borrow the money at a lower rate of interest than they have done hitherto.

I know that I am treading on delicate ground, but here I want to make perfectly plain, so that there will be no possibility of misunderstanding, which are the classes of person who can take advantage of this Bill. The Bill says that those who want the advantages which it gives must seek them for reconditioning houses which they own and occupy, or for houses protected by the Rent Restrictions Acts. No other type of house will enjoy the benefits of this Bill. I should also make a reference to a class of housing accommodation which is very important—namely, hostels. I do not like the word, neither does the Minister, nor any other person I have met, and if any of your Lordships can suggest a better word, I shall be quite willing to adopt it. We have failed to find one.


Before the noble Lord passes on, could he not develop the reasons for excluding from the benefits of this Bill houses which are not protected by the Rent Restrictions Acts?


I thought it would have been better to have dealt with that at a later stage in the proceedings. I had imagined that when we reached the Committee stage we should find an Amendment on the Order Paper about this matter, but, if it is desired, I can deal with it to-day, in a few sentences. The present Government are strongly opposed to what are known as "tied cottages"—though this is another term we do not like.


With regard to agricultural cottages only, or with regard to all tied cottages—mining, railway and so on?


I thank the noble Marquess for raising this point. I think I can say that we are against tied cottages in any industry. The Government do not like the idea that a workman should have his house involved in his employment, so that, if lie were to fall out with his employer, in addition to dismissing him from his employment this employer could take steps to have him evicted from his house.


Is it the intention of the Government to untie all houses in nationalised industry?


The noble Marquess knows that he is asking me to go far beyond the bounds of this Bill; and, if I did that, he might tell me later that I ought not to have done so. We are opposed to tied houses, and therefore we are not prepared to do anything in any piece of legislation which is likely to make tied houses more permanent than they have been. If the owner of a tied house feels that he would like his tenant to have these improvements and modernisation, it is up to him; but if he wants it to be paid for by public money, then he must free his tenant and give him protection under the Rent Restriction Acts.

But I was referring to the provision of hostels. I think your Lordships are well aware that there are many aged couples who have spent their lives in rather bigger houses than they need to-day and who would gladly leave these houses if they could find accommodation of a suitable kind at a reasonable rent. The provision of hostels is to enable that to be done. This provision affects another section which is equally important—the younger people. In every great city there are thousands of young men and women who have to be in the city for their work. They find it difficult to secure accommodation at a reasonable rent. The accommodation available is either too expensive or far too risky for them. The Bill encourages the building of hostels. That is already possible, and under the Bill there is financial encouragement to build hostels for aged couples who desire them and for young men and women who cannot find the accommodation they need and can pay for.

What I have said will probably cause uneasiness in certain quarters, especially among noble Lords opposite. I feel certain they will ask two questions. They may ask: How will the transference of labour and building materials from the building of new house to the work made possible under the Bill affect the building programme? Will it slow down the building of new houses? I agree that that is a primary need. There are still far too many people without houses, and nothing should be allowed to slow down the building of new houses. That is a very sound argument. Under the Bill it is for each local authority to decide whether their housing policy should be to continue to concentrate on building new houses or whether, in their area, they can now ease off a little and allow some labour and materials to be used for reconditioning houses built years age. I have sufficient confidence in the local authorities to believe that they are in a better position to judge local needs than we in this House are. And, after the last local elections, I should imagine that noble Lords opposite may think the same thing. That is the position. It is left to the local authorities to decide whether they will continue building new houses or transfer some labour to the reconditioning of older houses.

The second question I may be asked is whether the services for providing food and refreshment, for providing laundry and service, and for selling furniture, are to be self-supporting, or are they to be a charge on public funds? Let me say categorically that it is the intention of the Government that these should be self-supporting, and not a charge on public funds. There is the danger that someone will demand an annual balance sheet, and will want to know at the end of each year whether or not these services are paying concerns. I think that on consideration your Lordships will realise that it would need a slightly longer measuring period in some of these services than one year. It would not be easy to say what the appropriate period should be, but I would not suggest that it could be done on an annual balance sheet. But I repeat: it is the intention that these services, which the local authorities may provide only for those living on their housing estates, and for no one else, shall be self- supporting and shall not be a charge on public funds.

There are many other provisions of a minor kind in the Bill, but it is not for me to-day to go through all the clauses. I think I have said enough to justify asking your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. I am certain that when it is in operation this Bill will help to improve housing conditions in this country. I commend the Bill to your Lordships, and hope you will give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2*. —(Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor.)

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord who has just introduced this Bill that there is no intention whatever by those of us who sit on these Benches to oppose the general principles of this measure, nor, indeed, in any way to obstruct its passage. That position arises not only from our inherent good nature, but also because this Bill, in fact, re-enacts in some measure parts of previous Conservative Housing Acts which are worthy of the support of every noble Lord in this House. Further, those parts that are new, with one or two exceptions on which I shall touch, are what we have been urging upon the Government for the last three and a half years. Therefore, we certainly shall not obstruct them.

One thing we have been pressing the Government to do was to re-enact the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. Those Acts were of immense benefit in the countryside, but they were not included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act—I they were omitted from the first Act of that kind after this Government came into power—since when the steady progress that was being made under them in bringing up to date a large number of houses in the countryside has unfortunately been stopped by the action of the Minister of Health. We welcome the extension of the provisions of these Housing (Rural Workers) Acts to urban areas.

However, one thing we do not welcome and which we think is a step in quite the wrong direction, is that the occupier of a tied cottage in the countryside is not to get any benefit from this Bill. That will be the effect of excluding tied cottages from this measure. I notice that in the debate in another place the Minister of Health himself recognised the need for the tied cottage (I quote from Column 2140 of Hansard of March 16), when he said: Whatever may be the historical reasons for service cottages, and I am not proposing to argue their merits now, I am convinced that it has long been established that it is necessary in the countryside for certain agricultural workers to live near to their work; and that there has grown up in the countryside an institution called the service cottage which is part of the contract of service, for agricultural reasons with which we are all perfectly familiar. Anybody who has had experience in the countryside knows that it is essential in most cases for a man like a cowman, for instance, to live on the farm and near to his work. In cases where there is, perhaps, only one tied house on a farm, whether it be for the cowman or for the shepherd, it is absolutely essential for the proper carrying on of the work of the farm that it should be the cowman or the shepherd who lives in that house. In these days of difficulty in our food supplies we all realise how necessary it is that the farms should, if possible, carry on with 100 per cent. efficiency.

Let us see what might happen if the cowman gave notice to the farmer and, even so, was entitled to stay on in the one tied cottage on the farm. He could hold the farmer up to ransom, because in these outlying districts it would be quite impossible to get another cowman unless he was provided with a place in which to live. Therefore, it is essential to keep a number of these service cottages. In the majority of cases it works with great fairness on both sides. I know workers on farms who have lived in the same cottages all their lives. They have done, and are doing, satisfactory work for their employer, and he certainly does not think of making a change or of turning them out of the home in which they have lived. If I may, I would like to repeat the question put to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, by my noble Leader. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, in answering the question whether these nationalised industries were going to give up their tied houses, said they were not going to do anything by legislation to encourage the tied cottage. It seems that there is a sort of Jekyll and Hyde business about this matter, because I gather that they are going to do everything by administration to keep them.

I would ask the noble Lord: Are the Railway Executive going to free the 50,000 tied houses for railway workers? Are the shunter and the signalman going to have to walk miles to get to their work? Let me bring it a little nearer home to the Minister of Health. Is the Minister of Health going to free the cottages that have come to him with the hospitals, in which the hospital caretaker lives near the hospital gates? Let the noble Lord answer that when he comes to reply. Now may I get a little nearer to agriculture. Are the Forestry Commission, who build their houses out of grants from the taxpayer, to be allowed to go on building houses for foresters? There are 1,300 of them at the present moment. The Forestry Commission are allowed to build them—and rightly—with all modern amenities for their own tied workers, the foresters. It is said that the houses would not cost a great deal more than if the local authorities were allowed to build them with all these amenities. Are the Government going to allow the Forestry Commission to spend the taxpayers' money on providing these improved cottages for foresters, and is it only upon the agricultural workers that they have a "down"? Are the Home Office going to continue to provide grants for policemen's houses? I would like to have answers to those questions from the noble Lord when he comes to reply.

I expect the answer will be that the administration is going on just as it has always done. If so, and if these other workers, like policemen and Forestry Commission workers, are still going to have houses provided for them in the right place to fit in with their work, why cannot this amenity be given to the agricultural workers as well? Taking away this grant is not "doing down" the landlord. With taxation as high as it is, the farmers and the landlords have not enough spare cash in these days to carry out many of the improvements that they would like to make and still let the cottage at a service rent. Therefore, the people who will be injuriously affected by the limitation in this Bill are the people we ought to be trying to encourage as much as anybody in this country at the present time—namely, the agricultural workers. I note in passing that the noble Lord said that he expected an Amendment on this matter and, therefore, he would not deal with it now. I do not know whether I had previously contemplated putting an Amendment down, but that seems to be an invitation that we should take into full account. In leaving that side of the subject, I say quite seriously that the omission is rather mean to these agricultural workers.

I am glad that this measure will enable local authorities to include on their housing lists others than those who were previously called members of the working classes. I agree with the noble Lord that the 1903 definition, which was no doubt the best that could be found then—indeed, it lasted quite a long time—is by now completely out-of-date. I am glad that these lists are now to include others than these I would describe as the weekly wage earner or manual class of worker. If I may, I will give your Lordships an instance. This is a local instance, and I happen to know it from my sister, who was chairman of the child welfare committee of the local council. Rather naturally, she wanted to find places in which the extra midwives could live. Previously it was not possible for a local council to include a midwife on the list for one of their locally-built houses. That was because of this definition, and I am glad that it has been removed, because everybody will realise that the midwife, and, indeed, the district nurse, must live right at hand for her work if she is to do it efficiently. Theo again, I happened to he doing some work in relation to the diocese of Salisbury, and we found that we could not have included in the local authority list a house for the curate. Surely, when one of the most important issues facing this country is whether we are to be swallowed up in a kind of Communistic lack of faith it is essential that we should encourage the teachers of religion and have them living in these new estates. I am glad to think that by the provisions of this Bill people such as curates and ministers of religion will be able to find a house in the middle of one of these big local government estates.

In regard to the provisions of reconditioning and conversion, I would say to the noble Lord that we welcome them and think they are long overdue. The Committee on Conversion of Existing Houses was set up by Mr. Willink in January, 1945, when he was Minister of Health. The Committee was presided over by Mr. Silkin, the present Minister of Town and Country Planning., and reported in August, 1945. In the Autumn of 1945 the present Minister of Health promised to do something about it and to bring in legislation to enable the recommendations of Mr. Silkin's Committee to be carried out. There are a lot of us—and I am one—who hold that 1946 would have been a better time to do some of this conversion than 1949, and I will tell the noble Lord why. It is because we were then suffering to a much larger degree than we are now from a shortage of building materials. I believe that at the present moment it is only timber which is short, although perhaps if you want to use an undue amount of steel in the house that may also he short. But in those early days of 1946 there were many other materials which were short. Now to convert and alter a house takes less materials than to build a new one, and there were at that time a considerable number of small builders who could not obtain the materials, or indeed the contracts, to build the council housing estates. These builders could have been used, with the men they had, to do some of this conversion work. The noble Lord said that this part of the Bill was only permissive, and of course that is true. For myself, I am glad that this permission to give licences to do this work is in future to be given to the local authorities.

In discussing this Bill, we ought to realise that unfortunately it will not of itself do anything to increase the number of new homes, unless it is possible, by the conversion of an existing house, to get more homes than by building a new house. I would refer your Lordships to the Memorandum which was printed with the Bill when it was introduced in another place. On page 6, it says: The general effect of the provisions of the Bill will not be to alter the volume of housing work which is controlled by other factors outside the scope of the Bill, but to alter the distribution of building resources for housing work. The noble Lord who introduced this measure said he did not expect that anybody in this House would say that we had not made substantial progress with the provision of new houses. The rate of progress is quite substantial, but it is nowhere near the figure which we were achieving in pre-war days. And I do not think anybody will say that we have gone along fast enough yet, especially when one realises the huge size of the list of applications for houses that is now in the hands of almost every local authority.

The noble Lord said he did not know why many people thought that the Government, and presumably the Minister of Health in particular, were against a property-owning democracy. In the first place the acts of the Minister of Health since he assumed that office have been such as to encourage local authorities to build houses, rather than to encourage the people who are to live in the houses to build them. Moreover, apart from these acts, when the Minister was addressing architects some time ago, he used these words: It is essential that owner occupation or private ownership of small dwellings should become the exception. We are living in a society which is exceedingly mobile. Well, my Lords, I think we had some justification for thinking that he was not as fully persuaded of the benefits of a property-owning democracy as the noble Lord who represents him so ably in this House would have us believe. This Bill in itself will not bring us any more houses. I hope it will not be long before this Government can ensure that as many houses are built in a year in this country as were being built in the years immediately before the war. They will have to go at least one-third higher than their present figure before they can equal the record created in what many people in the country will persist in calling the years of "Tory misrule." But at any rate the Government of that time were building far more houses than are now being built.

Another problem which this Bill does not tackle is the extremely high rent that now has to be charged for many of these municipally-owned houses. They are running up and up, and it is quite common now to find that a rent of something like 25s. a week has to be paid for one of these houses. I would like to see the Government institute an investigation to see how the costs of building these houses could be reduced. If we could get the bricklayers to lay a few more bricks per day, obviously that would help it would help also if the builders had not to keep such a large extra staff to deal with the forms and licences which they have to fill in. I should like to see it laid down as a principle "one house, or one batch of houses, one form"—not about seven forms. This could cover planning permission from the local planning authority and building permission from the local council; and once the builder had that one form agreed to he could get on automatically with the obtaining of the timber and other materials. I am sure that that would help builders immensely.

I should now like to make a comment on the new powers, referred to by the noble Lord, which are to he given to local authorities to provide restaurants and laundries, and to sell furniture. It has always been understood that under powers provided by a Conservative Government, local authorities were authorised to provide, but not to sell direct to the tenant, furniture for a house that they were letting furnished.


To hire it.


With regard to these restaurants, the noble Lord said they are not to have any subsidy from the taxpayer, and that they must be on a self-paying basis. The noble Lord thought it would take much longer than a year to achieve that position. Some of us went into this matter when the noble Lord was Governor of Newfoundland, when the Civic Restaurants Act was passing through this House in 1947. In that Act it is laid down that every civic restaurant authority should use their best endeavours: … to ensure that their income under this Act is sufficient to defray their expenditure thereunder and if the account kept by any such authority under the last foregoing subsection shows a deficit in respect of each of three consecutive financial years, the said powers shall cease to be exercisable by that authority at the expiration of six months from the end of the last of those years. There were two provisos. The first was that … if the Minister of Food considers that a civic restaurant authority whose account shows such a deficit as aforesaid will, within a reasonable period, be able to defray their expenditure under this Act out of their income thereunder, he may, subject to such conditions us he thinks fit, postpone or exclude the operation of this subsection as respects that deficit.… It is also provided that the Minister may allow a restaurant to continue—and, similarly, if it has been closed, may allow it to reopen—if he is satisfied that such a change of circumstances has occurred as to make it unlikely that it will again incur a loss.

I should have thought that it would he right to put something of that sort in this measure, because, although nobody minds a restaurant being provided, many people feel it would be wrong that one section of a community should be able to have their laundry done more cheaply at the expense of other ratepayers who do not enjoy these facilities. I suppose, that is why the noble Lord said that the intention was that this measure should be self-supporting. At a later stage I shall suggest that with regard to these facilities, what was agreed with regard to restaurant facilities before this Bill was framed should be incorporated in this Act and, secondly, that the same kind of provision should be made in regard to laundries, There seems to me no reason whatever why the local authorities should go into the furniture trade. I do not suppose that many of them want to. There is no monopoly in furniture. All the shops that sell furniture are trying to compete with each other in providing either the type or the cheaper sort of furniture that somebody else wishes to provide. In the case of most of them, it is possible to come to quite reasonable terms for paying for furniture under the hire purchase system. I do not understand why this provision is included in this measure.

As I said at the beginning, we on this side of the House do not intend to divide against this measure to-day. We welcome a large number of the provisions in it. We recognise a number of them as being the work of our own hands of earlier years, and, with one or two exceptions, those that are not are matters for which we have been pressing over the last three and a half years. Even at this late hour in the life of this Government, we are glad to see, that they have seen fit, as a kind of deathbed repentance, to bring in the provisions for which we have for so long been asking.

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to embark upon the issue of disputed paternity in regard to this legislation which my noble friend raised at the beginning of his speech. I am content to say that, so far as we are concerned, in general terms we accept this Bill and shall equally do nothing to baulk its progress through the House. But there are one or two points, and one or two only, to which I should like briefly to refer. In the first place, as regards the clause in the Bill which abolishes the term "working-class dwelling," it would be a relief to everybody if we were satisfied that never again in industrial towns should we see rows of back-to-back houses erected, or the approaches to London defiled by some of the architectural monstrosities that at present greet our view. It would be all to the good that uniformity of that kind should be broken up and that there should be a greater variety, not only from the aesthetic but also from the social point of view. But I suggest that it should be a disciplined variety and that some control should continue to be exercised over the type of buildings which are erected, in order to produce not only a socially satisfactory unit but also one which is equally attractive from the picturesque point of view.

The noble Lord spoke with great feeling, which we can all understand, on the advantages of that clause of the Bill which gives power to increase the facilities in old houses for those responsible for the administration of the home. We should all welcome those powers. There are few people in any class of life to-day who do not realise the burden that rests upon the housewife, and anything that can be done to minimise her labours would surely have the approval of us all. I confess that few things in my life have made me more angry than to hear people say, as I have heard it said in the now reasonably remote past: "It is no good putting a bathroom in a house like that. They will only keep the coals in it." I always thought that that was both a senseless and an unworthy observation and that it reflected discredit only upon those who uttered it. I rejoice that under this Bill there will be greater opportunities to provide the normal amenities of life to those who are most urgently in need of them. Whether the Minister of Health, as a result of his Blackpool speech, will insist upon the inclusion of a "blood" bathroom in each of these houses, I leave to the imagination of the House.

The question of tied cottages is one of very real difficulty. I do not like the system in principle, but I ask myself, what is the solution until there are sufficient agricultural houses to enable those buildings to be released from that restriction? I observe that in the passage in the speech which my noble friend, Lord Llewellin, read, the Minister went on to say: On this side of the House we hold that it is repugnant that possession of a man's home should be bound up with his contract of employment. I agree that the occupation of a man's house should be based upon contract and not in any degree upon caprice. But, at the same time, until ample housing is provided for all, we have to face the situation that it is a hardship upon a man doing his best to contribute to the output of British agriculture—and, goodness knows, the need to contribute to the output is great enough—to find himself in the position of having a man occupying his cottage who is not doing his work and of whom he wishes to be rid.

If he is anxious to adopt the advantages of this Bill, he has to free that cottage. If he frees it, the man who is occupying it can continue to reside there indefinitely, and there may be nowhere else at all for his successor (who may be urgently required to carry out the work on the farm or market garden or wherever it may be) to live within accessible distance of his work. That is why, although in principle I never like the tied cottage, the service tenancy, at the same time it would, I suggest, be more advantageous if this clause were deferred until such time as greater accommodation were available. I am bound to say that greater accommodation would now be available if this Government had not insisted on refusing to extend the provisions of those Acts which enabled agricultural housing to proceed.

As regards the provision of services, I can see no particular objection to the restaurants. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said, the statutory facilities already exist. I have a rather sympathetic inclination towards the provision of laundries, but I confess I am a great deal more doubtful of the justification of the proposal in the Bill in regard to furniture. I always hesitate to extend any very glowing welcome to an expansion of State or municipal trading, and, as at present advised; I find it difficult to see where the advantage comes. After all, at the present moment the furniture trade on the retail side is extremely competitive. It is subject to a strict price control, and I cannot at present see the necessity for introducing even this permissive power. If it is introduced it will have to justify itself on the grounds both of efficiency and of economy, and I very much doubt whether it is in a position to do either. My Lords, with those very limited criticisms of the Bill, I can only say that we shall give due consideration to such Amendments as may be put down and assist in the ultimate passage of the Bill into law in the hope that, even if it does not produce more houses it may at least produce a better type of accommodation. That, in itself, is an end which we all earnestly desire.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, having had the privilege of serving continuously for twenty-seven years on the Housing Committee of the London County Council, and having subsequently been responsible for a large agricultural estate, I should like to say a few words on this Bill, more particularly with regard to the question of the tied house. It has been stated that the Government are anxious—and rightly so—to promote the development of agriculture. But it is no use offering agricultural workers accommodation which is distant from the scene of their work or refusing to allow owners of agricultural estates to bring their workers' cottages up-to-date by the provision of bathrooms and so on. I cannot understand why opportunity was not taken in this Bill of giving the advantages contained in the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, both of England and Scotland, and also of encouraging, owners to bring up-to-date what we call in Scotland "cottar houses," that is, agricultural workers' houses. It is no use asking a man to be an efficient cattleman if he has to live in a group of agricultural houses a mile and a half from his farm. He must be very near, in case any of his livestock suddenly becomes ill or requires attention. Nor, when an agricultural worker desires pro- motion, should he be debarred from it because he is tied to the house in which he is. Agricultural workers must have every possible facility for learning their trade, and for getting promotion when they become expert in whatever side of the industry they are engaged. For that reason, houses must be provided for each section of the work on the farm.

The agricultural worker has not become aware of any indignity in being in a house which is tied to his profession. Of course, the same may he said of other occupations. For example, what is the disadvantage in a nurse in a rural area having a house tied to her profession? It is almost essential because, unless the nurse's house is suitably situated, she cannot be so efficient in serving the district in which she is obliged to work. Somehow or other, I think the Government have an idea that it is infra dig., so to speak, to live in a tied house. The same might apply to any industry. It might be said that it was infra dig. for a solicitor to have his office in an area where solicitors generally or to have his office among, those of other solicitors. I cannot see the objection. If a man is efficient in his trade or profession why should he not have a house suitable to his trade or occupation? In fact, if anything, it rather adds to the value of the profession to recognise that he should he properly accommodated. Perhaps those who do not like the idea of tied houses object to the word "tied." If only they could get out of that idea! The people who live in tied houses have not the same objection—for the simple reason that their house is generally very conveniently situated for the job they have on hand.

As I said at the beginning, agriculture is an absolute necessity to-day. It is no use saying "Produce more and more" if you do not provide all the facilities for that production. You must have people ready to learn to be able to carry on agriculture properly. Therefore I hope that noble Lords opposite, and their supporters in another place, will try to remember that they must be practical in these days, especially when there is a shortage of houses all over the country. It would surely help if owners of houses were allowed to bring their property up-to-date, instead of haying to wait for new houses to be built and for their houses to be declared unfit for human occupation. It is very important to do with the least labour and materials the things which are necessary. Obviously, a new house costs far more than repairing an old house, and most houses are improvable if there is the will to plan and carry out the plan efficiently.

Generally speaking, this Bill is on the right lines. It is no use decrying past legislation; we are a progressive country in a progressive world, and what was satisfactory in 1903 is not necessarily satisfactory in 1933, 1943, or 1953. We progress, and consequently legislation which was quite good at the time it was introduced becomes out-of-date. It is no disgrace to the Party which happened to be responsible for these old Acts, to say that the Acts are now out-of-date. The noble Lord who has just spoken referred to the fact of their being out-of-date. But everything becomes out-of-date if you wait long enough. The great point is to allow things to progress until experience shows that a change is necessary; but you must not wait too long. I do not want it to be thought that because past Housing Acts have been passed by such-and-such a Party therefore that Party were wrong at the time. Not at all; we simply had not the progress, the materials, or the ideas which we now have. Experience is a tremendous asset in any country, and anybody who acts on experience usually acts rightly. Therefore, so far as this Bill brings things up-to-date, the Government are acting quite rightly, and I and those with whom I act will do all we can to make this a successful Act.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, in replying to the various points raised during the debate, I should like in the first place to thank the three noble Lords for their warm and kindly welcome to the Bill. I do not object in the least to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, associating with his friendly welcome to the Bill a statement to the effect that in this measure there are provisions of which his Party thought years ago. He is perfectly entitled to make such a comment. Indeed, I remember that in the days when Mr. Neville Chamberlain was Minister of Health he made reference to certain matters which are now, twenty-five years later, provisions of this Bill.

The main question raised during the debate this afternoon related to the tied cottage, and I do not think I can do better than follow the example set by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, both of whom went to fairly good authority in dealing with this question. The service cottage—you will notice that the Minister does not refer to it except as a "service cottage"—was the subject of remarks made by Mr. Bevan quite apart from the two quotations which have already been put before your Lordships' House. I do not think that I can do better than read his words to your Lordships. They appear in column 2140 of Hansard for March 16. He said: We do not think it is a good thing that when a man loses his job he should at the same time lose his home. In the hands of unscrupulous and cruel people it can become the cause of grievous mischief and pain and intimidation, and we wish to end that mischief as quickly as possible… In view of our attitude towards the service cottage, the tied cottage, we cannot agree that labour and materials should be diverted from the provision of additional accommodation and used on a tied cottage. We therefore say to the landlord that if he wishes to have a service cottage made the subject of a grant, he must effect a tenancy. It is therefore in the hands of the landlord as to whether he gets a grant for his service cottage or not. I do not decide it; he decides it. I wish to make that quite clear so that there can be no misunderstanding about it. If it is said that the Bill denies to the occupant of a service cottage the benefit of a grant to help to bring the cottage up to modern standards, I say that is not the case. All that the landlord needs to do is to lose his right to summary ejectment—a right he ought never to have possessed—and he can have a grant to recondition the cottage; and the tenant will have the benefit of the Rent Restrictions Acts. I do not think that there is anything I can add to that. Those are the words of the Minister speaking in his responsible capacity on behalf of their Government. That is their attitude, whether noble Lords opposite approve of it or not—


May I ask whether labour and materials are, or are not, still going to be devoted to build cottages for foresters, policemen and railway workers?


That is a question which the Minister himself was not asked and so, of course, did not answer. It would be difficult for me to answer for him. I know of no change in policy in regard to this or any other policy except the one emphasised in this Bill regarding the service cottage. That is the only change I know of in the Minister's policy and in the policy of the Government. Whether there will be changes of policy in regard to other matters, time will show.


My Lords, I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord has said. We are all against summary ejectment of a man from his home. In the case of my own family, my grandfather untied all his agricultural cottages for that reason. But the situation is very different now. There is much greater protection for the tenant than there used to be. What we are asking is this: If it is right that there should be tied cottages in another industry, on what ground is the agricultural industry penalised? The cruelty would apply surely just the same if a man losing his job on the railway were ejected from a railway cottage; or a man losing a job in a mine were ejected from a mining cottage. It is a great hardship in any case. But we feel that there is something—I do not say this in any offensive sense—hypocritical in applying this merely to the agricultural cottage. I realise that the noble Lord is not in a position to answer the question which we have raised to-day, but I think it is a question which he might do well to pass on to his colleagues, because it does appear to us that there is an unfair exception made against this industry and that that exception is going to interfere with the provision of better housing for agricultural labourers.


I understand from Lord Llewellin that it is likely that this matter will be raised at a later stage. I do not think anything can be done about it now. I will certainly accept the suggestion made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, on this point, and bring these questions to notice in the proper quarters. Frankly, I do not see that there is much hope at the present time of doing what noble Lords would seem to wish.

I am not sure whether it will be possible to include in this Bill the reference which has been made to civic resturants. Lord Llewellin seemed to think that that matter could be examined later. I am satis- fied that a twelve-months' balance sheet would not be proper in this case. As to the question of buying furniture, I do not think I can do better on that issue than read what I am advised. This is certainly a matter that needs to be dealt with. As Lord Llewellin has said, local authorities could hire furniture before this, but this Bill gives power to sell. Here is what I am advised. This Bill: enables a local authority to sell furniture on such terms as they think fit (whether by direct sale or on hire purchase) to persons for whom they have provided housing accommodation or for whom a housing association have provided accommodation under arrangements with the authority. The clause further provides that local authorities shall be deemed always to have had this power. This is to regularise the position that a small number of local authorities already have arrangements to sell furniture to needy tenants at cost plus a small charge for administration. Arrangements of this kind were encouraged in a circular issued in 1938 but the Department were subsequently advised that, while local authorities have power under Section 72 (2) of the Housing Act, 1936 to provide furniture for their houses, it is not competent to them to sell it to tenants. So policy for which my noble friends were responsible in 1938 is being carried out. Regarding the question as to the attitude of the Government and the Labour Party in general on what was termed a "property-owning democracy," I cannot do better than again quote the words of the Minister. They are reported in column 2136 of Hansard for March 16. Speaking for the Labour Party, he said: We on this side of the House have never been hostile to people owning their own houses if they wish to do so. Indeed, in evidence of that, we have even enabled private enterprise to build many more houses for private ownership than they were able to do in the same period after the First World War. As I have said before, and I wish to remind the House of it, our activities have been beneficial as much to private enterprise and private house ownership as to public house ownership. I do not think that there is anything I can add to that. The Minister makes the position perfectly clear. I think I have covered most of the points mentioned by noble Lords, and I hope that the House will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2*, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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