Clause 3. — (Meaning of "agricultural parish.")

Orders of the Day — Housing (Rural Authorities) Bill. – in the House of Commons on 14th July 1931.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Reverend Roderick Kedward Reverend Roderick Kedward , Ashford

I wish to raise a matter of vital and paramount importance on this Clause. I feel that the Minister should, at any rate, have given more consideration before putting into this Bill the definition of agricultural parish as it applies in the other Housing Acts. He knows exactly all the representations which have been made to him as to how unjust and unfair this definition is, cutting out as it does the confines of many rural parishes.

An HON. MEMBER:

Is this in order?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The last remark of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Ked-ward) shows clearly that he is going beyond the scope of the Clause. His argument is out of order, because it would widen the definition given in the Act of 1930.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

Surely the hon. Member is entitled to put this case to the Minister, because, if arguments are produced on this Clause, the mind of the Government might be changed, and the Minister could then take the necessary action to put the matter in order. The point is really germane to the definition of an agricultural parish. It was raised in 1924 when it was pointed out that there are a number of very small hamlets which, although in the definition as regards density of population, are cut out because big railway lines happen to run through them. Surely the hon. Member is entitled to put the case because, if his arguments carry weight with the Minister, then the Minister can recommend that alterations be made.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The hon. Member's argument must not exceed speaking against this Clause.

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I do not want to stop discussion, but I would remind you that an hon. Member on this side of the House who desired to raise this point was not allowed to do so. It has been said that the arguments of the hon. Member might cause the Minister to change his mind. Surely the Minister cannot change his mind on this Bill. That is more a matter for private discussion at Downing Street or Eccleston Square.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman's tit-bits of knowledge about Downing Street and Eccleston Square, I wish to put it to you that this is the time to raise this matter. It can only be ruled out on the ground that the King's recommendation does not carry it out, but the Minister could arrange for the 0alterations to be made.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I am afraid that the Minister could not do that in any statement that would not imply departing from the King's recommendation. Speaking against this Clause as it stands is in order, but attempting to argue in favour of the Amendment is out of order.

Photo of Reverend Roderick Kedward Reverend Roderick Kedward , Ashford

I am putting my argument against this definition of agricultural parishes as embodied in this Bill. I am sure that by the time we get these limiting definitions already in the Bill working, the only thing that can be truly said of this Measure is not that it will not apply to Northern Ireland but that, with all these restrictions, it will not apply to rural England, because this limiting Clause cuts out so many places. It is not as if these parishes through which the railway lines run have a fund of their own or keep these rates which are paid into the common fund. There are isolated districts in which the rateable value is not enough to outweigh that of the railways. They will be cut out of this Bill while other places more thickly populated will be able to come in. This is a real injustice to the most rural districts in England. Because it is so widespread, and all the facts are within the knowledge of the Minister, I do ask him to try and find some way between now and the Report stage to bring these most deserving cases within the scope of this Bill.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Nelson and Colne

This matter has been raised before, and the case I put to the Committee is this—that, however you define agricultural parish, you will be left with hard cases. I think it is common ground that, wherever you draw your line, there will be hard cases. The definition of an agricultural parish was widened in the 1924 Act, and now goes so far that it does actually include in some areas districts on the other side of the border line probably not entitled to be regarded as agricultural parishes at all. It is difficult—in fact, impossible—to begin altering the definition for the purpose of this Bill without at the same time creating a whole series of anomalies which would arouse a good deal of resentment. I submit that, out of 13,000 agricultural parishes, 9,000 odd are within the net. These others that are outside are really semi-industrial in character.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Nelson and Colne

I am telling the hon. Member that that is so and giving him a statement of fact. The hon. Member may be unfortunate in the choice of his constituency. [Interruption.] It may be that nearly all the hard cases are concentrated in the Division that he represents, but, taking the country as a whole, and closing one's eyes to particular cases, if there is any other definition that would be suitable, then it is quite true that we could not have amended the definition for the purpose of this Bill and have left it standing for the Act of 1924. It would be beyond the scope of this Bill to do it far both.

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I hope the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Kedward) will go back to his constituency and tell them what the effect of this Bill is and what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has in- spired the Government to do so far as these proposals are concerned, and that he will give an excellent account of the whole of the proceedings to-day, saying how well he has done and how the Minister of Health has helped him.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

The right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) himself may be entitled to make that speech, because in 1924 I remember having very helpful speeches from him and his hon. Friends on this point. Of all the anomalies, this is the one that is most general. If the Minister goes into it, he will find that some parishes are out because there is an institution of some kind in them—a school or a hospital, or, in one case I know of, a big water works in a purely rural area. In Warwickshire I know of a purely rural parish with only 180 people which will be cut out because two main line railways run through it. This is really one of the most general anomalies and cuts out the largest number of truly rural small parishes.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

This matter need not be left to depend on so great a Liberal as the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Kedward). The Minister can but use this part of Section 60 with any value, that is to say, Sub-section (3), that part of the Section which he is quoting, and which reads as follows: Any question whether a parish is or is not an agricultural parish within the meaning of this Section should be determined by the Minister, whose decision should be final. I am not a lawyer, and I should like to know whether that part of the Act enables the Minister to meet the very hard cases which have been brought forward. The Minister says: "No." That being the case, we are entirely bound by the Financial Resolution. It is a pity, when we are dealing with a Clause of this kind, that the Minister cannot use the opportunity, for which there is still lots of time, to do something which will help the most hardly-burdened and pressed parishes in the whole country. It is a pity that the Minister, who is always giving us such pious expressions of his wishes, when he has to make a complete job of work, should leave it about three parts undone.