From 25th NOVEMBER to 2nd DECEMBER, 1926.2491
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Cobb, Sir Cyril (Chairman)
*Advocate, The Lord (William Watson)
*Barr, Mr. (Motherwell)
Batey, Mr. (Spennymoor)
*Bourne, Captain (Oxford)
Brooke, Brigadier-General (Pontefract)
Cape, Mr. (Workington)
*Cautley, Sir Henry (East Grinstead)
*Chamberlain, Mr. Neville (Birmingham, Ladywood)
*Charteris, Brigadier-General (Dumfries)
Christie, Mr. (Norfolk, Southern)
*Crookshank, Colonel (Berwick and Haddington)
Davies, Mr. David (Montgomery)
*Davies, Major George (Yeovil)
*Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Edwards, Mr. Charles (Bedwelty)
*Elliot, Major (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
Evans, Captain Arthur (Cardiff, South)
*Fenby, Mr. (Bradford, East)
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel(St. Albans)
Greenwood, Mr. Arthur (Nelson and Colne)
Gunston, Captain (Thornbury)
Heneage, Lieut-Colonel (Parts of Lindsey, south)
Homan, Mr. (Ashton-under-Lyme)
Horlick, Lieut,-Colonel (Gloucester)
Hurd, Mr. (Devizes)
John, Mr. (Rhondda, West)
Lee, Mr. (Derbyshire, North-East)
*Kennedy, Mr. Thomas (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
Livingstone, Mr. MacKenzie (Western Isles)
*Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)
Macdonald, Captain Peter (Isle of Wight)
Newton, Sir Douglas (Cambridge)
Paling, Mr. (Doncaster)
Perkins, Colonel (Southampton)
Peto, Mr. Geoffrey (Frome)
Rhys, Mr. (Romford)
*Ruggles-Brise, Major (Maldon)
Rye, Mr. (Loughborough)
*Skelton, Mr. (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
Smithers, Mr. (Chislehurst)
Spencer, Mr. George. (Broxtowe)
Sprot, Sir Alexander (Lanark, North)
Styles, Captain (Sevenoaks)
Watson, Sir Francis (Pudsey and Otley)
*Wheatley, Mr. (Shettleston)
Whelter Major Sir Granville (Faversham)
Wilson, Mr. Murrough (Richmond, Yorks)
*Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, West)
Wragg, Mr. (Belper)
Young, Mr. Robert (Newton, Lancs)
*Added in respect of the Housing (Rural Workers) Bill.
SIR J. HORSBRUGH-PORTER, Committee Clerks.
MR. EDENBOROUGH, Committee Clerks.2492 2493 STANDING COMMITTEE D Thursday, 25th November, 1926.
[Sir CYRIL COBB in the Chair.]
Mr. WHEATLEY: I beg to move "That the Committee do adjourn until Tuesday next, at twelve noon." Will you allow me, Sir, before we proceed with the Amendment, to renew my protest, now that we have an Official Reporter present, against the action of the Government in proceeding with the consideration of this Bill in Committee this morning? It will be within the recollection of those present that I stated when we first met this morning that we had only had our official notices this morning. Since the Committee adjourned, I have been making inquiries as to why certain of my hon. Friends are absent from this meeting, and I learn that they did not know the meeting was being held. I submit that there is nothing in the state of Government business to justify such unseemly haste and this discourteous treatment of the Committee by the Minister of Health, and I want to enter against it in the most emphatic manner in which I can my protest and that of those for whom I speak, and again I will move, if you will accept my motion, that these proceedings be adjourned until Tuesday, 30th November. You, Sir, have already indicated that you have some difficulty in accepting a Motion of that kind, but since you made that statement I notice you have found facilities to enable the Government to adjourn the proceedings owing to the absence of an Official Reporter. I submit that the presence of the Members of the House of Commons who are entitled to be here and are expected to be here, is in a way just as essential as the attendance of the Official Reporter. 2494 As it is quite clear that some members of the Committee have not had ample notice, I think the same consideration should be shown to them as was shown in the other case. I hope, therefore, that you will see your way to accept the Motion that these proceedings be adjourned until next Tuesday at 12 o'clock.
Mr. BARR: May I say that I had not seen a notice of this meeting until I came to the House this morning.
Mr. T. KENNEDY: May I ask when the decision was taken to hasten on this Committee? Is the Minister aware that one Member has reported that he has not received the notification yet, and most of us did not get the notifications until last night? It means that a good many Members have not received notices up to the present moment. Does the right hon. Gentleman think it fair to hold the meeting in these circumstances?
The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain): The decision was taken as soon as we knew that the Committee would be free of the Coroner's Bill to take this business this morning, and I am informed that the information was sent out at once as soon as that decision was taken, which would be yesterday morning. I have already expressed my regret and my apologies to the Members of the Committee generally for the personal inconvenience which may have been caused to them by coming to this meeting at short notice. But I cannot accept seriously the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he and his friends have not had time to consider these Amendments. They have been on the Paper for a very long time, and he must have seen them and they are here now.
Mr. WHEATLEY: We found them.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: The right hon. Gentleman has knowledge that people were, not here because they did not have notice of the meeting?
Mr. WHEATLEY: I have knowledge.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Then how is it those who gave you the knowledge are not here?
Mr. BARR: I should like to refer to one statement of the right hon. Gentle- 2495 man that we had time to consider these Amendments which have been long on the Paper. I happened to be one of those on the Coroner's Bill yesterday. It is one thing to have Amendments covering the Paper for a long time and another thing having time to give your attention to them. Personally I was giving my attention to the Coroner's Bill and to other Measures in which we were interested, and it was impossible, especially in the circumstances of yesterday, to think of a Committee meeting to-day for which no notice had been received by some of us. I may point out that the House rose very early last evening, and some Members who came in late did not receive notices at all and probably not until they came to business this morning. I therefore join with those who make this protest.
Mr. T. KENNEDY: May I say, renewing the protest I made at the early stage of the Committee sitting, that it is not the custom of those who are sitting on this side of the Committee to put up ob-struction in the way of the Government in the conduct of its business. But, as I said, I did not receive notice of this Committee sitting until last night at midnight more or less accidentally, and if others are in the same position, I cannot understand the unseemly haste the Minister of Health shows in forcing the Committee to sit to-day. It seems to be assumed by Government supporters on this Committee that the business is purely a Government concern. If the Government force it through in this way, no legitimate protest can be made by other interests here. I repeat that our responsibility for being here to-day to consider this Bill is a Government responsibility. They ought to have had a quorum yesterday to consider the Coroners Bill, but they failed in that respect. I submit that in this manner the Government are getting to-day—and the Minister of Health should know this—every facility for carrying their normal programme through the House, and there is not the slightest reason why this sitting should not be postponed to Tuesday next, in order to allow the Opposition time to arrange its legitimate and orderly opposition to this Bill. If the Minister of Health is satisfied that some expression of regret that this situation should have 2496 arisen is sufficient, I want to assure him that, if he proceeds, he will have some reason to regret it, because if he forces us into a position where we can offer no legitimate obstruction, he will not be saving time but doing something of an opposite character. I appeal to him to adjourn this meeting, by which he will not delay but expedite the proceedings of the Bill.
Mr. SKELTON: In one sentence, may I say I would be impressed by the observations that have come from the Labour party in this Committee had there been Amendments in their names immediately before us.
Mr. KENNEDY: We are interested in all of them.
Mr. SKELTON: As far as the Order Paper goes, in the first 10 lines of the Bill there is no Amendment by the Labour party.
Mr. PALING: May I point out that, while we agree with the first 10 lines of the Bill, it does not follow that we agree with the Amendments.
Mr. BARR: As I raised the point, may I say the strength of the Labour party here is sufficient for them to make their views clear.
Mr. PALING: That seems to me a curious argument. I should like to ask your advice, Mr. Chairman. In the case of a Member not receiving notice of this meeting through the ordinary channels up to this moment, could he raise any objection to this Committee going on to-day?
The CHAIRMAN: I am not aware of any such Rule.
Mr. MacKENZIE LIVINGSTONE: I feel I must repeat what I said earlier in the Debate before the Official Reporter arrived, that, in my opinion, it would be very ill-considered to proceed further with this meeting. I think it would not be quite fair.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I do not think it would be fair to those Members who have come here that we should send them home again without the opportunity of proceeding with the business. In these circumstances I hope we shall be allowed to proceed.2497
Mr. WHEATLEY: Did you, Sir, accept my Motion?
The CHAIRMAN: No.CLAUSE 1.
Mr. RHYS: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "accommodation" ["housing accommodation for agricultural workers"], to insert the words "in rural areas." I am fully conscious that the term "rural areas" is capable of very loose interpretation, and I put the Amendment down simply to draw attention to a difficulty which may arise in the wording of the Bill which says "persons whose economic condition is substantially the same as that of agricultural workers." I have in mind districts on the edge of London and other towns where there are market gardens and many of the workmen on them live in the towns. The wages paid to those men are comparatively high, indeed, as high as wages paid to certain workers in other industries. The workers in the other industries are in the same economic condition as the farm workers. Is the scope of this Bill to include the repairing of 2498 houses in the towns occupied not only by the agricultural worker but by the worker in any other industry whose wages are more or less the same or, indeed, of a man who may be unemployed and whose income is the unemployment insurance money? It seems to me that, unless the Minister is ready with some sort of definition of the scope of the Bill in regard to these areas a difficulty will undoubtedly arise. I have in my own constituency a large number of allotments owned by people who work in East and West Ham, Plaistow and other neighbourhoods of that kind. I do not know whether they will count as agricultural workers. Their houses are in the heart of the East End of London, and are the landlords of those houses to be allowed to take the benefits provided in this Bill? I am not saying they should not; I am only raising a, point to get the Minister to make clear what he means by "economic condition is substantially the same as that of such workers"— that is to say, the same as agricultural workers.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I think my hon. Friend agrees that the words which he proposes are not sufficiently clear to find a place in the Bill, but he has explained that he has put them down for the purpose of drawing from me some further explanation of the limitation which I contemplated in the operation of the Bill where the people concerned may be living in towns around the country districts. I do not think the case of the unemployed man would re-ally arise, because, after all, we must take it that unemployment is not his permanent position, but that he is a man who, as soon as he got in employment, would be receiving wages much above those of agricultural workers. I think obviously that man need not be taken account of. He would not come into it. But if my hon. Friend means certain areas where there are agricultural workers living—
Mr. RHYS: Not entirely that. There are a great many market gardeners who are agricultural labourers.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I still prefer my definition. They are not what most of us mean by agricultural labourers, and, if you measure it up, the remuneration they 2499 receive amounts to half as much again as that received by the rural labourer in the country districts. If my hon. Friend is going to suggest that this will set up a new standard of people who are really not agricultural at all, then I agree he is bringing forward something that requires attention. But I would point out to him that in considering this Bill we had this difficulty in mind and I came to the conclusion, which had occurred to me before, that it is not possible to define the action of the Bill by geographical considerations or by the general nature of the country, and the only way in which we can define it is by the nature of the person who is going to occupy the house, not by the nature of his occupation. That being so, it did not seem necessary to put in anything to distinguish between urban and rural areas. But I added in Clause 2 (3) these words: "The local authority may in any case refuse to give assistance under this Act on any grounds which seem to them sufficient." That means we leave to the direction and common sense of county councils or whatever local authority operates this Bill the task of keeping out people who are obviously not intended to be covered by the scope of the Bill. I think, perhaps, that might be backed up by something in the nature of a circular, which no doubt I shall have to issue to local authorities when the Bill becomes law, giving them some directions how to carry out the Bill and in that circular, I may put in something in the direction which my hon. Friend has in view. But seeing that the local authority will itself be called upon to make a substantial contribution towards the cost of the alterations to be made under the Bill, I think one may safely rely upon them to see that it does not cover sections of the community who ought not to come in under it.
Mr. WHEATLEY: I think the Committee has reason to be grateful to the hon. Member who put down this Amendment. It may be that he was performing in his view a very simple function, but I think the remarks that have fallen from the Minister of Health are sufficient to show us how little the Bill has been really considered by the Government, and if it has been considered 2500 by the Government, how ineffective their judgment has been, in enabling them to draft a Measure that can safely leave this House. I am sure the Committee must have been amazed by the ingenious statement of the Minister of Health that, though he could not make his Bill perfect, he intended to follow it up with a circular that would remove its imperfections. Surely it is a new way of legislating in this country, that you are to accept a statement from the Minister to the effect that he and his Department are quite incapable of drafting a. Bill which local authorities and other interested parties may be reasonably expected to understand on reading that Bill. He tells us that we are to accept his circular in lieu of the right drafting. I hope the Committee will do nothing of the kind but insist on the Government putting into this Bill before it leaves this room words that will make it perfectly clear what the intention of Parliament is. It is not correct to assume that this is a Bill merely for agricultural workers. The Minister of Health said something which seemed to differentiate between agricultural workers and agricultural labourers. May I remind him that this Bill is not entirely based on agricultural employment at all, that it is based on the economic conditions of the persons for whom housing accommodation is to be provided. The economic conditions of the agricultural labourer are taken as a standard, and any other worker or section of workers whose economic conditions are similar to those of the agricultural labourer may reasonably expect to have their claim under the Bill considered by a local authority. The right hon. gentleman said, quite clearly, that the unemployed man would be ruled out because his condition was a temporary one and when he found employment—if he did find it during the operation of this Bill—his income would be 50 per cent, higher than that of the agricultural labourer. How are we to know? We live in an age when the whole tendency of wages is to be reduced. If the present Government and their industrial representatives in the country have their way, before the five years in which this Bill is to operate have passed the agricultural labourer may be the aristocrat of the working classes. [HON. MEMBERS: "On 30s. a week?" and 2501 "Rubbish. He is that now!"] I am sure he does not mean that he hopes for the day when the agricultural labourer will have £2 or £3 a week. The idea has not entered the minds of anyone in the industry. What he means is that he hopes the time is near when we shall be so able to reduce productive costs in other industries in this country to such a desirable extent by reducing the wages of those engaged in those industries to what is now paid to the agricultural labourer. After all, there can be very sound reasons for reducing the wages to the agricultural level. If an agricultural labourer can live on 30s. a week, why not the engineer? That is an argument so frequently put forward by Members on the other side.
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: We are not so stupid.
Mr. WHEATLEY: You are more stupid than you think. Whether founded on logic or not; the argument is frequently used and much more often felt than used, that the engineer's child requires no more sustenance than the child of the agricultural labourer, and that neither does the engineer's wife require any more comforts than the wife of a man employed in agricultural industry; and therefore it is a sheer bad industrial habit that has led us to pay one higher wages than are paid to those people who are agricultural labourers. It may not be very interesting for—[An HON. MEMBER: "Get to the Bill!"] I am dealing with the Bill. The Bill deals with economic conditions of persons who are employed as agricultural labourers and any one whose position is equally as bad as that of the agricultural labourer may claim whatever benefits accrue from this Bill. He may claim to be made the subject of the operations of this Bill. I think it is within public knowledge that the whole tendency at the moment is to bring down the wages of the working classes. Therefore, when you are basing your Bill on the standard of wages, you are surely reasonably entitled to consider what the probabilities are in the next few years with regard to the wages of all workers. You may have all sorts and conditions of people coming into this Bill and the Minister should say how he intends to limit its operation. Take the miners— 2502 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 with the members of their families—should they come within the four corners of this Bill? I have no doubt that there are other sections of the workers whose position is as precarious as that of the miners with regard to wages. Are they to come within the operation of this Bill? I think it is only reasonable that the Minister of Health should this morning make some more serious attempt to limit the operation of this Bill than merely to say "Do not trouble about the wording of the Bill and I will send out a circular to explain the legislative efforts of His Majesty's Government."
Mr. KENNEDY: The difficulty I am in is not exactly of the same character as that of my right hon. Friend, although I am in complete sympathy with all he has said. My difficulty is that the Minister of Health intends to limit the operations of this Bill in other directions. The Title of the Bill is Housing (Rural Workers) and it is also for persons in a similar economic status. What is to prevent the landlord, after his rural property has been reconstructed and possibly inhabited by an agricultural worker, proceeding to make the best use he can of this property, and cease using the property for the purpose for which the State subsidy was provided? What is to prevent him letting it to the highest bidder?
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Read the Bill.
Mr. KENNEDY: What provision is there in the Bill to prevent it? I have found nothing to prevent that sort of thing happening. So, in practice, this Bill may work out in the direction of giving to landlords a subsidy to put their property in a habitable condition and then resolving to use it as ordinary landlords use housing accommodation and let it to the highest bidder. The hesitation the Minister shows in the matter of refusing to define the operation of the Bill on a geographical basis and putting the onus on the local authority to decide to operate part of this Bill, shows very clearly that beyond making up their minds to give the landlords a subsidy the Government have not thought out the Measure at all, and it will be quite unworkable and impossible. I associate myself with the Amendment.2503
Mr. PALING: The Mover of the Amendment has not had a very favourable answer. I think the Minister himself does not know where the Bill begins or ends so far as the definition of rural areas is concerned. But the hon. Member did make a rather striking admission that interested us, which was that in the East End of London in its thickly populated industrial areas there might be people who in full work could be described as being substantially the same as agricultural workers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Because agricultural workers in that area are paid higher!"] I daresay they may be paid in industrial areas higher than in rural areas, but, that being so, Romford is not the only area. It is up to the Minister to give us a definition of how far this Clause is going to apply. For instance, I would like to put a case to him. In colliery districts when a colliery comes down, there is a shortage of housing accommodation, and the people in the larger houses in the district go away to a more salubrious neighbourhood. They do not stop there when a colliery begins to operate. There will be barns, stables and old cottages that have fallen into disrepair and are not inhabitable which are, perhaps, within two miles of the colliery, and these, under this Bill, could be made into houses. It may well be and it is so that the economic condition of a good many of those colliery workers to-day is substantially the same as that of the agricultural workers in the district. They receive from 30s. to £2 a week. In my own neighbourhood the colliery workers on the surface can only make an average of five shifts per week, at 8s. per day, over the year, in the best district in the county, and the wages of a good many surface colliery workers must be in the neighbourhood of 30s. to 35s. a week over the year. I would like to ask if they would be qualified under this Bill, and whether colliery owners who own property of the description I have tried to illustrate would he allowed to send in schemes; and, if so, would they be allowed to make these stables or old barns into houses? In such circumstances, where it could be proved that the industrial condition of the industrial workers was little better and perhaps 2504 worse than that of the agricultural labourer, would they be allowed to take advantage of this Bill?
Mr. R. YOUNG: I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to be frank with us in this matter. I assume that the Amendment put forward by my hon. Friend means that he wants to limit the operation of this Bill. If I interpret the Amendment aright, my hon. Friend wants to limit it to agricultural workers, whereas the Bill, as far as I understand it, will go beyond that, and it will be possible for colliery proprietors who own cottages on the outskirts of an agricultural area to take advantage of this Bill. As I understand it, it is not based on the agricultural worker, but on persons whose economic conditions are equal to those of an agricultural worker, and Clause 3 defines the kind of man. Therefore he must be frank and explain if this refers to such cottages as exist in my own constituency and whether the proprietors would be entitled to take advantage of this Bill.
Mr. RHYS: I want to make two points. I cannot accept the opinion of the Minister that the labourers who work on market garden farms are not agricultural workers.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I did not say that.
Mr. RHYS: I thought you did. You could not take them as a standard, but I must stand up for their right to be classed as agricultural workers, though they are in a different category than that orginally stated. Then the Minister says that the Bill is to provide houses for persons whose economic condition is substantially the same as that of such workers. What does the word "substantially" mean? What makes the difference "substantially" between now and the Report stage? How can we define the Bill? I do not press the Amendment.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I want just to reply in two or three words to the observations made. I would suggest to my hon. Friend who has just spoken that it is not necessary to lay down with such precision the exact limits of the conditions which are to be applied substantially, and this is my answer to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. R. 2505 Young). What I have in mind is, that where conditions are such that the worker cannot pay an economic rent for his cottage, where he is on a par with the conditions that have prevailed for very many years in agricultural districts where the labourers never have paid an economic rent for their cottages—in such conditions you have the difficulty that the landlord, the owner, the man who provides the house, has never obtained an economic return upon the capital invested in the house, and can never expect to do so. Therefore, in these cases where no profit could possibly be made out of the house in question, I contemplate that this Bill should come into operation. I do not see that it matters very much what a man is employed at if those conditions exist. We want to benefit these people and to give them a better kind of housing accommodation than they have had. I am astonished at the hon. Member opposite who says he sees no reason why a landlord, having got one of these people earning low wages into his cottage, should not turn him out and put in somebody who can pay a higher rent. Clause 3 prevents that kind of thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] We can discuss that when we come to that Clause. That is a Clause which, on the face of it, appears to prohibit it, and it would be a breach of the conditions under which the assistance has been received. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) has already had his try in his Bill at defining by geographical area the operation of Government and local assistance. The result has been to define that the agricultural subsidy under the 1924 Act shall only be applicable to houses in agricultural parishes. That subsidy has been given in respect of a number of houses which are in agricultural parishes, but are not occupied by agricultural labourers, and it has prevented it being given in a number of cases where the houses are not in agricultural parishes, as defined, but are occupied by agricultural labourers. That shows how the thing works out when you attempt to define it, as was tried by the right hon. Gentleman. It is in the light of the experience we have had in the working of his Act that I decided it would be unsatisfactory to repeat it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.2506
Captain BOURNE: May I ask, if the Committee accepts this next Amendment, shall we prejudice the question of the local authority later on?
The CHAIRMAN: Not in the least.
Mr. LIVINGSTONE: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "workers" ["agricultural workers"] to insert the words "and small landholders." The purpose of this Amendment is to include the houses of the crofters of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: May I ask whether this Amendment is in order? Because the words in the first Sub-section of Clause 1 merely repeat the words in the Title of the Bill, which is "to promote the provision of housing accommodation for agricultural workers and for persons whose economic condition is substantially the same as that of such workers." Those words are repeated in the first Clause, and the Amendment, as I understand it, would extend the scope of the Bill. I submit, therefore, that it would not be in order.
Sir HENRY CAUTLEY: If the small landholder's economic position is substantially the same as that of such workers, surely he is included in the provisions of this Clause? If his economic condition is not substantially the same, he is outside it.
Mr. BARR: In regard to the point raised by the Minister, is it not the case that we take the Title of the Bill at the end, and are free to vote upon it then? That has been done in other Bills with which I have been concerned where we adjusted the Title to suit the Bill.
The CHAIRMAN: That would not do at all.
Mr. BARR: May I recall your mind to the fact that in the Scottish Bill that was done?
Mr. LIVINGSTONE: I hope to show that my Amendment is not only in order, but that it will carry out a definite promise given to me by the Minister last week. At the end of his speech downstairs, when he outlined the Bill, I put this question to him—I am reading from the Official Report— "Will this Measure apply to crofters' houses in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland? 2507 Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: There is no reason why it should not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1926; col. 1866, vol. 199.] Will the Minister tell me now how he intends to carry that very definite pledge into this Bill? If he will do so I will not press this Amendment, but I submit there is no other way of carrying out the Minister's pledge except by this Amendment. I ask your ruling on the point, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN: I should like to hear the Minister on that.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: If the hon. Member will refer to a later page, he will see an Amendment is to be moved by the Secretary of State for Scotland which will carry out what he describes as a pledge, which was not a pledge at all, but an expression of my personal opinion at the moment.
Mr. LIVINGSTONE: I am glad to hear that. I have no desire, of course, to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman would not fulfil any pledge given by him, and if he does not regard his words as a promise, I should be glad if he would assure me and the Committee that his expression of opinion will be carried out.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: The hon. Member will see from the Amendment to which I have referred that it is so.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Sir H. CAUTLEY: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1) after the word "accommodation" ["improvement of such accommodation"] to insert the words "it shall be the duty of" The four Amendments to this Clause standing in the names of myself and my hon. Friends are intended to deal with the same point, i.e., instead of making the application of this Clause permissive, to make its operation compulsory as far as we can. We lay great stress on the benefits which will be conferred under this Bill on a deserving class of our population, and we wish to do all we can to facilitate its being put into operation, even to the extent of making it compulsory on the local authority, so far as we can, to apply it. If the Committee will look at the wording of Clause 1, they will see that "with a view to promoting the provision of housing accommodation for agricultural workers"— 2508 (including the other class of worker discussed in the last Amendment) and "the improvement of such accommodation, local authorities within the meaning of this Act may submit to the Minister of Health schemes with respect to the reconstruction and improvement of houses or buildings within their areas and may, in accordance with such schemes when approved by the Minister, give assistance in manner provided in this Act." The result of my Amendment will make it the duty of such local authorities as provided by this Bill to consider the needs of their area, with respect to such provision of housing accommodation, and as often as occasion arises to submit schemes with respect to that and to give assistance in accordance with such schemes when approved by the Minister. The Amendment directly lays an express duty on the local authorities. We put down this Amendment primarily with a view to making it clear that there was a duty on the local authority, so that we might lay a foundation for bringing into operation the intervention of the county council, if such local authorities as it was anticipated would administer this Bill failed in their duty. We have a later Amendment by which, instead of making the county council the authority to carry this Bill into operation, we make the urban and rural district authorities the local authority to carry out these provisions, just as in the Housing Act, 1925. I was going to submit to you, Sir, that it would be a convenient time now to discuss the question of who is to be the authority under this Measure and, if we decided that my subsequent Amendment should be accepted, to make this Bill symmetrical with the other Housing Bills under which, as the Committee is aware, the urban and district councils are the authority to carry out those Acts. I regard this Bill as complementary and, by filling up the lacunae in the housing scheme, to provide the next best thing to new houses—the bringing of old ones up to date. I submit this would have been a convenient time to decide that question. If not, I must leave it till later. One of my strongest points in. favour of the Amendment is that, before we can have a supervising authority stepping in, it is necessary to have clear words stating that it is the duty of the supervising authority, if the minor authority is in default, to step in and do 2509 the work. My scheme would have been perfect in that way by trusting to this power of the local authority. If the urban or rural district council for any reason, having this express duty put on them, do not perform it, the county council would step in and accomplish the work which the minor authority had neglected to do. I should like to go fully into that point if it would be in order. Having shown that first object, which I think is a very powerful argument, I would leave that point. My only further observation in respect of the Amendment is that, whoever is the local authority, it is desirable for Parliament to lay down in express terms the duty of carrying out this Bill, and I suggest the county council is the authority to carry out this Bill when it becomes an Act, it is important to have the wording I am suggesting now—laying the express duty on the county council—but there would be no power to compel the county council to carry out that duty except by letters and requests from the Minister of Health. It could not mandamus a county council to carry it into operation, though it would be useful as showing what Parliament did intend. These words would bring home to the minds of any county council, to whom the wording of the Statute applied, that it was their duty. Therefore, I should prefer my words rather than the purely permissive words of the Bill as it stands. A further observation I would make is this. The wording of my Amendment is taken exactly from the wording of the Housing Act, 1925, my words being identical with Section 60 of that Act, under which all the houses have been and are being built now by the urban and rural district authorities in the country. As a matter of fact, the later Amendments that I have down also come from this Act of 1925, and I am very anxious as far as I can to persuade the Committee to make this Bill complementary to the old Housing Acts, to be administered by the same body and carried out by the same people, who have the most intimate local knowledge of the requirements in their particular districts. I hold the view that the Housing Acts have worked well and have been very well administered by the urban and rural districts on the whole throughout the 2510 country, and I think that the housing trouble, so far as urban districts are concerned, have been overcome—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"]—not completely perhaps, but the back of the difficulty has been broken and it is on the way to be overcome. They have not altogether succeeded in our rural districts because of the great expense involved. Hence this Bill; and, if some of the rural authorities have been apathetic, my Amendment would put the screw on, placing the authority in the right hands, that of the county council.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: My hon. and learned Friend has suggested that this would be a convenient place in which to discuss the nature of the local authority which is to operate the Bill. I hope that we shall not discuss that question at this point, but that we shall wait until we reach the appropriate Clause. I do so because I think I can show my hon. and learned Friend that it is not necessary to settle that point in dealing with the Amendment he has moved. He based his argument, in the first place, upon the consideration that, if the county council were the body to operate under the Bill, there would be no means of compulsion on the county council if they did not carry it out.
Sir H. CAUTLEY: Only the pressure you could put on.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: The only pressure was from the Minister of Health, which my hon. and learned Friend did not seem to think would be very effective. I would call his attention to the fact that the County Councils' Association have already passed a resolution recommending that county councils should submit schemes under the Bill, and I think, in view of that resolution, which, one may take it, expresses the general view of county councils, and of the pressure which can be put upon them by means of those circulars which excite so much apprehension in the minds of hon. Members opposite, there would be no difficulty in that respect if the authority is the county council.
Mr. LEE: I suppose, if the local authority is the county council, the carrying out of this Bill will be spread through the county?2511
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I do not wish to discuss that question now, but to show that this Amendment need not be discussed in the light of the authority that is to be. I accept the view entirely that it does not affect the question of authority.
Sir H. CAUTLEY: I should agree with the Minister if he would accept my Amendment.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I think my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment is based upon a misreading of what the schemes referred to in this Clause are intended to be. What we are contemplating is not that the local authority, whatever it may be, is going to submit a scheme to the Ministry showing what will be done to particular and individual houses in its area. That is not suggested at all. What we mean is, that the local authority will construct a sort of guide to the owners in the area, showing them the kind of things which will be conditional on their obtaining assistance. It would be a guide to them in making their applications. In the latter part of this Clause, various directions are specified in which the schemes are to give this sort of assistance and guidance to the owner. Therefore the carrying out of the Bill, as my hon. and learned Friend puts it, does not depend on the preparation and submission of these schemes, which are for the guidance of the owners in the neighbourhood, telling them the sort of things they are expected to do to their houses to entitle them to assistance. What I want to avoid is putting on any local authority, whatever the authority may turn out to be, a lot of work which will not produce any practical effect. I do not want them to draw up on paper a scheme that will not be worked. If you say it is the duty of every local authority to do that, you are imposing on certain authorities which will not have occasion to use the Bill, a duty which is not necessary. For instance, under the Bill, as it is drafted, say the local authority is the county council, or a county borough council. There must be a number of county boroughs in which this Bill would be inoperative. Why should it be their duty to prepare these paper schemes? It is a bad thing to put into an Act of Parliament something which will not work. Again, suppose another course 2512 were taken, and the authority were not confined to the county council and the county borough council, but all the district councils were made authorities. There must be many urban districts where there would be no application of the provisions of this Bill, and I should be sorry to impose by Statute the duty on every one of these authorities of preparing schemes for which there would be no practical use. Leave it, as is the case here, that they may do so, and we can discuss later on who the authority shall be.
Mr. SMITHERS: In the Minister's opinion, as the Bill stands at present, who will be the person or persons who initiate the demands for repairs and improvements?
Mr. WHEATLEY: I think the Minister's statement leaves us in the fog. It tells us that the duty of the local authority is not to initiate schemes, that the duty of the local authority is to have a look round their area and to see where the Bill could be applied to certain buildings, and where there is some necessity for its application, and he advises the owners of these buildings on the steps to be taken But the Clause that we are dealing with here says "local authorities within the meaning of this Act may submit to the Minister of Health (in this Act referred to as 'the Minister') schemes with respect to the reconstruction and improvement of houses." I am not surprised that one of the Minister's supporters should rise and ask who is to take the initiative here, because there is certainly nothing in the Bill which indicates the course to he adopted by the local authority contemplated by the Minister of Health when he made the statement to which we have just listened. I think the fears of his supporters that the local authorities will not do their duty under this Bill are founded on the indifference of local authorities with which they are acquainted in dealing with other Housing Acts. If we remember, however, that in this Bill the local authorities, composed in many cases of interested landlords, will have a personal stimulus to take proceedings under these provisions, it may to some extent remove our fears. There is all the difference in the world between property owners promoting the 2513 provisions of an Act, which, for the benefit of the workers, may impose some little rating or taxation burdens on them, and the same authorities promoting an Act where benefits for the landlords are to be obtained from the Government and from the ratepayers of the locality. I agree with the Minister that it would be very difficult and dangerous and useless to make the Clause compulsory. He has not forgotten that, in his speech on the Amendment which we have already disposed of, he had to confess that there was no limit to the operation of this Bill, and, there being no limit to the operation of the Bill—the limit not being a geographical one—the Bill may apply to any area in the country, and, if this Amendment were accepted, I should say that every local authority in the country, as the Bill stands now, would be under an obligation to submit schemes. The Minister realises that and realises, too, how badly the Bill has been drafted, and so he appeals to the Committee to save him from his friends and allow it to remain as it is.
Sir H. CAUTLEY: I read the Bill and was perfectly aware that this Clause dealt only with providing and submitting schemes. It is because, from my experience, I know that there will be county councils who will not want to take up this Bill that I disagree with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I regard this Bill as for the benefit of the occupiers, not necessarily for the benefit of the owner. He sets a little benefit—he gets his house improved—but he can only get an increased rent of 3 per cent, on the money he spends.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: Not that in many cases.
Sir H. CAUTLEY: It is really a benefit for the occupiers. I want, as I stated, to make the Bill work, and I know there will be this apathy on the part of the ratepayers to pay even the amount which will be necessary under this Bill in some of the poorer local districts. If there is anything in the Minister's point about the larger bodies like the borough councils or county boroughs, I shall be quite willing for my Amendment to be qualified by words similar to those—which I should leave to the Minister to draft—"unless accepted by the Minister of Health"—where a county council would pass a reso- 2514 lution that there were no such houses coming within the scope of this Measure, and did not propose to draft schemes. I do not regard his answer as a real answer to what I said. I ask Members of the Committee here who know our rural districts, how will this Bill operate if it is left like this? What persons will know what assistance they can get, and for what repairs or alterations? The Bill is not to apply to ordinary repairs but to structural improvements and matters of that kind. That is the sole object of the scheme, that the localities (whether county or district authorities be the final authority) may know what improvements can be done to their houses, what steps shall be taken to get them carried out, what applications made and to what authority. I do press on the Minister to reconsider this point. I am very much afraid that we shall find half the county councils are taking very little action indeed to put this Bill into operation, and the only way to do so is by having these schemes.
Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON: I am not clear whether, in considering this Amendment, we are or are not deciding on the principle of who is to be the authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] If not, we are wasting our time. If we are, there is much that many of us would like to say. I will confine myself on this occasion to saying that I cannot help disagreeing with what has fallen from the lips of my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down, because I realise that there are small rural district councils—I could give instances of them—which have never built a cottage yet, and I know that, where those cases exist, county councils are loath to put into operation their default powers. The major authority never likes to proceed by way of default. It is better to keep the housing in the hands of the larger authority, which has proper staff and reasonable rateable value. In some districts the rates bring in only £33. How can a body with an assessable value of that type do useful constructive work? As I understand we shall have another opportunity of discussing this principle, I will say no more.
Colonel CROOKSHANK: While agreeing with the Minister's statement as regards the disadvantages of imposing a duty on the authority, I hope he will insert words to make this 2515 Measure a little more coercive. I understand that a repairs order can be issued by the local authority in case dwellings are not in good condition, but if not bad enough would come under this Bill and we might take advantage of the conditions and try to ensure uniformity in areas, and with more power might arrive at that result more satisfactorily. As everyone knows, in a county there is a great deal of variety, not only in the nature but in the condition of these dwellings, and where a landlord has means outside his own property he has usually done much to improve his cottages. But there is much variety of opinion as to what constitutes a suitable cottage for a particular class of worker. I have made suggestions which others in my constituency said were not practicable, until I explained the way I should carry them out, while schemes may be brought forward which are impracticable. Some power might be given to the housing authority to make a rough survey or to see that certain buildings which are known not to be in good condition are put forward to the owner concerned to be dealt with under this Bill. So I hope that something of that sort may be inserted, because we have to consider the case from the point of view of those who are not so fortunately situated as the owners of big estates, but who would like to do something for their employees.
Mr. RYE: There is a good deal to be said in favour of the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend, because, as I understand the matter now, before anyone can apply for the benefits under this Bill a scheme must, in the first instance, be brought forward by the local authority and must be approved by the Minister. If there is no compulsion on the local authority to put forward any scheme, then those who own 2516 cottages and those who desire to occupy them will be prejudiced inasmuch as some authorities may bring forward a scheme and have it approved while others may neglect to do so. For that reason I think it should be made obligatory on the councils to at least put forward schemes. As I read the Bill in the first instance, I was under the impression that, once an Act of Parliament, it would be open to any owner to come forward and apply for the benefit and assistance contemplated, but now I understand that is not so. The condition precedent is the approval of a scheme, and the scheme must necessarily be brought forward in the first instance. If it is to be left to the local authority to prepare schemes if they think fit, certain persons in other localities will be prejudiced if no schemes are put forward for approval. Though I can see difficulties in making this compulsory, on the other hand I see great disadvantages if we leave it as it is in the Bill at the present time, and I suggest to the Committee that, although it is somewhat drastic to put this compulsion on the local authority, it would be in the interests of those who are to inhabit these cottages.
Mr. WHEATLEY: Am I in order at this stage in moving that we adjourn for lunch? This is a very important point, and nothing would be lost by giving the Minister time to- consider the views expressed by his friends on what they regard as a matter of prime importance.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN: I have no objection to an adjournment now. We cannot finish the consideration of this particular point and we are trespassing on Members' time.
Committee adjourned at One p.m. until Eleven o'Clock on Tuesday (30th November).2517
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Cobb, Sir Cyril (Chairman)
Cautley, Sir Henry
Chamberlain, Mr. Neville
Davies, Major George
Kennedy, Mr. Thomas
Livingstone, Mr. MacKenzie
Macdonald, Captain Peter
Newton, Sir Douglas
Peto, Mr. Geoffrey
Watson, Sir Francis
Wheler, Major Sir Granville
Young, Mr. Robert2518