Orders of the Day — Housing (Rural Workers) Amendment Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 23rd May 1938.

Alert me about debates like this

As amended, considered.

NEW CLAUSE.—(Amendment as to power of local authorities to make grants or loans.)

Sub-section (2) of Section two of the principal Act shall have effect as if at the end thereof the following paragraph were added:—

(d) Unless the local authority are satisfied that the works proposed cannot be executed without such assistance.—[Mr. T. Johnston.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This new Clause raises a point of considerable substance which was not discussed during the Committee stage. I can explain precisely what lies behind it. Under the principal Act the local authority is forbidden to give assistance on certain specific grounds. One of these grounds is that the works to be undertaken must not exceed £50 in value, and another ground is that the works to be undertaken must not be less than £50 in value. There are also other inhibitions. The Act says, however, that the local authority may in any case refuse to give assistance under the Act for any ground which seems to them sufficient; that is to say, the local authority has the power to refuse to give assistance on any ground that it considers to be sufficient. We are informed that specific instructions are given to the local authority to take cognisance of the need of the applicant, and that the Act does not provide an inhibition specific and clear to prevent the local authority from providing public funds to persons who are in need of them.

Various opinions are held in the House as to the general value of the original Act. There are some hon. Members who believe that it is a thoroughly pernicious Measure, in so far as it provides funds to private persons from the public purse, to enable them to develop and enlarge their properties. There are other hon. Members who say that, as things are and with the difficulties that we find in many rural areas, it may be necessary to permit individuals here and there to get additions made to the value of their private property from public funds, provided that the workers in the rural areas receive some substantial sanitary improvements in their dwellings, and inasumch as in many rural areas, where there are shepherds' cottages and the like, it is impossible, as things are, for local authorities to provide new cottages at public expense, we are faced with the difficulty that we must either wink at or accept in some form the provision of public funds for the development of private property.

We struggled during the Committee stage to improve the Bill and to make it less obnoxious, to make it approximate more nearly to what might be a measure that would be introduced in an economic democracy. I see the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) in her place. During the Committee stage of the Bill she drew attention to the fact that when she was a member of the Advisory Committee on Housing she took the strongest objection to the provision of funds for proprietors who were in no need. I gave instances of the administration of the Act in Scotland, showing that some of the wealthiest citizens in Scotland had not scrupled to come forward and drain the local resources of very considerable sums of money. I gave one illustration referring to the late Sir John Ellerman, who was, I think, the wealthiest man in Scotland and who when he died left somewhere in the neighbourhood of £40,000,000. Before he died his estate manager had gone to the county council of Aberdeen and induced it under the Act to renovate and reconstruct some 16 cottages on the Ellerman property. In my view that was a very grave public scandal.

Photo of Mr John Wardlaw-Milne Mr John Wardlaw-Milne , Kidderminster

Was it a question of inducement or had he a right?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

That is the point we are discussing. I began by explaining that a local authority was compelled under Section 2 of the principal Act to refuse grants in certain circumstances, but that under Sub-section (3) of that Section it could in any case refuse to give assistance on any grounds that seemed good to them, but they were not compelled, or as they thought not permitted, to consider the needs of the applicant; and what we are trying to do by this new Clause is to give the local authority power, or to make it imperative on the local authority, to consider the means of an applicant before giving out public money. I have given the illustration of the Ellerman Estate. I am sure that no hon. Member defends that instance. There are other instances. There is the illustration of the county of Berwick, where two years ago the situation had developed to such an extent that 7d. in the £ of local rating in that county was ascribed to costs under the Act, while only id. in the £ was ascribed to costs arising out of all other Housing Acts for the provision of new dwellings. There, again, I am certain that hon. Members in all parts of the House would agree that the situation called for very serious examination.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the conditions in the county, and what followed as a result of the improvements?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Yes, I know. I went out of my way to say that there were several points of view held on this side of the House as to the relative advantages that may accrue in some districts to the poor, arising from the Act. I personally know in my own constituency poor people who have gained sanitary advantages arising from the Act.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

Advantages which they would not have had but for the Act.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I am going to try to argue that they would have had them. If the County Council of Berwick instead of handing out money to Usher's, the brewers, and to persons like a lady whose name I gave on the Second Reading of the Bill, a lady who applied for reconstruction of her property in Berwickshire, and then at the end of two years died and left L30o,000—if instead of spending money in Berwickshire in reconstructing properties of private persons who were in no need of subventions from the public purse, they had devoted their funds to taking over these properties that the proprietor could not maintain in decent sanitary conditions, I would have had no objection whatever to reconstructing the properties, for they would then be in public ownership. What I do object to is handing over public money to persons who do not need it, to enable them to do what they are under every moral obligation to do themselves now. I think that it is an outrage and a scandal —I put it as high as that—that the Ellerman trustees, with £40,000,000, should go to the public funds and get their cottages reconstructed at the public expense and add to the value of the Ellerman Estate thereby.

In one respect, though not in others, I welcome in this Debate the right hon. Gentleman who is the new Minister of Health. He at any rate has an adventurous mind and he has had considerable experience of the operation of the Act. He knows the burden that it has been to him. He knows that a Commission by a majority of Conservative Members declared that there has been a grave waste of public money in the operation of this Act in Scotland. I have here another Bill which has been introduced with the right hon. Gentleman's name on the back of it. I ventured to refer to it on Second Reading. It is the Herring Industry Bill. I want to refer to Clause 4 of that Bill, which provides that the Ministers may, with the approval of the Treasury, make arrangements for the payment during a particular period of grants to herring fishermen for the purpose of assisting in the provision of new motor boats which could not be provided without such assistance. In other words, the Government, in their own Measure, say that they are not going to give grants of public money to wealthy fishing companies, if such there be, or to corporations, which do not require them, and they say by inference that it would be a waste of public money to hand over such funds to persons who do not require them. This afternoon we are asking the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, even at this eleventh hour of the present Measure, to accept the point of view that we are putting forward. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor has already accepted some of our Amendments, and to that extent the Bill has been made a more workable one, and one which will be less resented in the local areas of this country. But, unless the Clause we are now moving is accepted, there will still continue to exist in the rural areas of England, Scotland and Wales this rankling sore that wealthy persons, many of them high dignitaries in the county councils, or with their factors and agents on those county councils, should be squeezing the public purse for money to develop their property when they do not need it.

Is the proposal that the local authorities shall be satisfied that the works proposed cannot be executed without the assistance which the local authorities are asked to give unreasonable? The local authority has to provide one-third of the cost, which the ratepayers have to pay. The national Treasury has to provide one-third, which the taxpayer has to pay. Is it unreasonable that the local authority, before it has to put its hand into the public purse to provide one-third of the cost of renovating and reconstructing these properties, shall at least be satisfied that there is no other way in which the property can be restored out of the private resources of the owners. I believe I am right in saying that the burghs in Scotland—I cannot speak for England—may adopt the Act; that it is at their own option; and that, if they decline specifically to adopt the Act, no grants will be given for rural workers' houses within their areas. If that be so, we are asking, not that the county council shall have power to adopt or not to adopt the Act, but that, when they are operating the Act, they shall be able to refuse grants to people like Sir John Ellerman, Ushers, and others of whom I could give any number of instances. since the Second Reading, I and many of my hon. Friends have been flooded with instances, sent to us by correspondents in all parts of the country, of the grave waste of public money that has gone on. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Government can see their way to accept this Clause, I sincerely believe it will make for the smoother working of the Measure, and it will certainly obviate a large number of grave public scandals.

4.21 p.m.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

The right hon. Gentleman has brought out a point of some interest, and has supported it by mentioning, as he did in Committee, the Ellerman case. But that, of course, was a completely exceptional case.

Photo of Mr Frederick Macquisten Mr Frederick Macquisten , Argyll

I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Ellerman trustees. Are not trustees in a fiduciary position, and is it not their duty, no matter how big the estate is, to get all the money they can? They may have been bound to apply.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

The right hon. Gentleman has also mentioned two cases from my own constituency, and, as he appears to be very well informed about the situation in Berwickshire—I think I have some idea of how he has obtained his information—I would like to say a word on that point. If he intends to give the impression, which his remarks certainly have given, that the conditions are exceptional in Berwickshire, or that there are more rich people who have been obtaining grants in Berwickshire than anywhere else, I can assure him that he is entirely wrong. Moreover, it is not enough to mention two cases and base a whole statement upon them. The right hon. Gentleman said that he and his friends have been receiving recently numbers of letters from all over the country; but have they investigated the truth of them? It is easy enough for anyone to point to a family who may, perhaps, live nn a large house, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the mere fact of living in a large house is often better evidence of poverty than of riches.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I would draw the hon. and gallant Gentleman's attention to the fact, though I suppose he is as well aware of it as I am, that I am speaking of the minutes of the public health committee of the county council of Berwickshire, which were adopted unanimously by the committee. So far as I am aware, there is not a solitary supporter of the Labour party on that committee, and they are unanimous on this matter.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

I was referring at that moment to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he and his friends had received a number of letters from all over the country. I would like to know whether those letters have been substantiated. As I say, it is easy enough to write such letters, but the truth is not always to be found in them. Again, it is not sufficient merely to say that certain people are brewers, for example—I am not even certain that that is true in the particular case the right hon. Gentleman mentioned—and point to that as evidence of riches. I quite see the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, but how does he propose, under the Clause he has moved, that the local authorities should ascertain the means of the persons concerned?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I have lifted the exact words from the Herring Industry Bill. How is it going to be ascertained there?

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

It does not give the means of ascertaining it at all. Apparently it is merely to be left to the local authority to say that they think that So-and-so is well off, and that is sufficient ground for refusing a grant. Is the object of this Measure to provide improved housing in the rural areas, or is it to discriminate in some way between proprietors who are supposed to possess money and others who are supposed not to possess money? I take it that the object is to improve housing conditions, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to extend his investigations, not only into the county of Berwick, but into other counties in the south of Scotland, and find out what has been done already. If he does that, I am sure he will not find, among those who are enjoying the benefits that have already arisen from the Act, any complaints on the score he has mentioned.

4.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

It is quite commonplace in this country for people to say that there is a law for the rich and a law for the poor, and the attitude of the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) towards this proposed new Clause shows that his mind works in two or three different ways. Here he wants to defend the giving of public money to a person for the purpose of improving rural houses, even when that person is in a position to improve those houses without any assistance from outside sources.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

No; I would not say that. I would say that, if a person is immensely rich, it is obviously right and fit that he should do the thing himself, without taking any grant of money.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

If that is what the hon. and gallant Member means, I think he has been talking to the House without any purpose.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

The Clause would put it on the local authorities to ascertain.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I leave it to the House to judge, when they look at the OFFICIAL REPORT in the morning. If the hon. and gallant Member did not, in opposing this Clause, defend the giving of public money to people who do not need it for the purpose of improving rural housing, I do not understand what he said. He asked how the local authorities are to ascertain whether the applicant needs assistance or not. Has he had any experience of local authorities? If he has, he does not appear to have learned much, because, in the 10 years' experience that I had in the great city of Sheffield, the members of that authority, whatever their political opinions were, certainly inquired a good deal before they gave an applicant any money. I will tell the House why. It was a Poor Law authority.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

The hon. Member suggests that it should depend upon the financial position of the applicant, but the Clause does not say that. It says: Unless the local authority are satisfied that the works cannot be executed without such assistance. If the landlord were to say, "Unless you give me money I am not prepared to do the work," would not that be an answer to the point?

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

The hon. Member is merely quibbling. The point raised by the hon. and gallant Member opposite was as to how the local authorities were to ascertain whether the work can be done with or without this assistance. The point I am making is that local authorities generally take particular care, before they hand out public money to an applicant, to satisfy themselves that the applicant needs it. I was about to illustrate that point by saying that a local authority on which I spent 10 years, and which included members of all political parties, used to investigate the matter so thoroughly before they gave a few shillings a week that they had a case paper containing about 30 questions.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

Was that a rural authority?

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

It was even more progressive than a rural authority. If the hon. Gentleman cares to contrast the administration of some of the big boroughs with that of rural authorities, he will find that these come out far worse. We on this side of the House support the proposed new Clause on a broad general principle, namely, that we believe it is wrong to grant money for the purpose of improving rural housing when the owner of the property is in a position to do the improvement himself, and I think I am entitled to make this contrast. It appears to be the policy of the Government that the only people in the country who can get money without a means test are those who are well off. In an Act passed in the last Parliament, it was laid down that, before the unemployed man who was not paying contributions to unemployment insurance could get anything, he had to prove his need. The means test has done more damage in this country than many people appreciate. If you are going to say to the poorest of of the community, "You cannot have any assistance from public funds unless you prove your need, unless there is a most thorough inquiry as to how you stand," and if you are going to apply that to the very poorest—the old age pensioner and the unfortunate man who is out of work—if that is to be the Government's policy, it is nothing but a scandal that we should give to landowners—rich people—money from public funds to improve their property when they ought to do it themselves.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

Does the hon. Member suppose that nobody has improved his property without assistance?

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

What is the use of saying things like that? If everybody had improved his property in rural areas, there would have been no need for this Bill. We had a Minister of Health a few years ago who was frank enough to say that if a man sold bad fish he got no compensation, but was prosecuted; and that a man who let his property get into bad repair also was not entitled to compensation. It would be fairer to all concerned if the Government stopped handing out public money to people who do not need it, and accepted the principle of this Clause.

4.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Wardlaw-Milne Mr John Wardlaw-Milne , Kidderminster

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) will perhaps forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of the means test. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Clause did so in a most attractive way: in an extremely plausible way—I say that in a complimentary sense. At first sight, a proposal that public money should not be spent on assisting those who can afford to do without it, or whose duty it is to carry out reconditioning without assistance, is attractive to all of us; but, leaving aside the very important question raised by my hon. Friends as to how a local authority is to decide who is and who is not entitled to some form of subvention, look at the matter this way. The proposal is that we should refuse to give any assistance to an owner of property if he is in a position to deal with the property without assistance.

That means that you are making a complete differentiation between one class of property owner and another. You are saying to one class, "Because we think you have money you are not to get any support from a Bill which is of general application and applies to all of this kind of property; merely because we think you have a certain amount of capital or income and do not require this assistance." In that way, you are merely increasing taxation on these people. I have no interest whatever in supporting people who have a large amount of property and do not do their duty—quite the contrary; I should be delighted to see them being compelled to do their duty—but I do not see how the House of Commons can pass a Clause of this kind, which would be, in effect, merely imposing another tax on wealth. If you are going to do that, surely the proper place to do it is in the Finance Bill by extra Income Tax, Supertax, or whatever method the House of Commons may decide. But it is clearly impossible, in a Measure of this kind, to differentiate between one class of property owner and another. I do not think the House should be willing to adopt any proposal of that kind.

Further, there are the practical difficulties which have been mentioned. There is the difficulty as to how it is to be ascertained whether landowner A has more money than landowner B. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me said that he had a great deal of experience in municipal administration. I am sure he has; but some of us also have had similar experience, and I have never heard of a case in which members of a local administration were asked to decide, without any evidence, whether a certain person, resident in their district, for example, had over £500 a year or over £1,000 a year: whether he was wealthy or not. They may have a shrewd idea about the wealth of particular individuals, but that is different from having anything on which to base a decision of this kind. Who is to be considered wealthy and who is to be considered poor: at what point are you going to say, "This gentleman has so much money, he is not entitled to assistance"? Is he to be allowed to bring evidence to show that he is in need of such assistance?

However much I sympathise with the objects of this Clause—and to some extent I do sympathise with them—the principle contained in it is something quite different from anything which has appeared in any Measure which has been passed by the House of Commons. The Herring Industry Bill has been mentioned; what has been said to-day may make the Government reconsider what is in that Bill. But if it were decided to initiate a new principle of the kind suggested this afternoon, reconsideration would show that it is practically impossible unless you are going to indicate quite clearly at what point persons receiving assistance are entitled to it, and at what point they are above the line at which assistance should be given. The principle of the new Clause is wrong, I think, and its application impracticable in the form proposed.

4.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Campbell Stephen Mr Campbell Stephen , Glasgow Camlachie

I have listened to the Debate with the greatest interest and amusement. My hon. Friends in this part of the House, as is known, have played a fairly prominent part in the fight against the means test in connection with the treatment of the unemployed. Certainly, it cannot be questioned that we have opposed the principle of the means test in that direction. But the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) has accepted that principle in its application to the unemployed without any question. Yet when it is a question of wealthy landowners getting public grants for the reconditioning of their property, he takes an entirely different view, and waxes indignant against such a principle. It then appears to be something absolutely unthinkable, although it is the very principle that he and his colleagues have applied with regard to poor people. I hope the country will take note of the fact, which is made very plain, that the policy of the Government is: doles for the rich and the means test for the poor.

One of the considerations that should arise is as to whether the cost of administration of such a proposal would make it useless, or even harmful. In this case I do not see any difficulty of that kind. With regard to unemployment assistance, the cost of administration is probably greater than the saving that is effected by applying the means test, but in this case the very reverse is probable. There is no difficulty about it. If anybody ever gave away a case it was the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen). He said, Members had been getting letters from all over the country and what had they been doing to test the evidence submitted? The right hon. Gentleman gave an instance to the hon. and gallant Member of a person, in the county of the hon. and gallant Member himself, who got this dole in order to put his property in order, and two years afterwards died, leaving 300,000. If a person who was drawing unemployment assistance had died and left 300,000, they would have taken every penny out of the estate.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

Nobody is defending anything of that sort. What I said was that the right hon. Gentleman was making a case against the particular county which I represent, based on that particular instance.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

That is not so. I gave the sum total of what had occurred in Berwickshire, and referred to the minutes of the public health committee. It is true I gave one specific name. I could give others, but I do not want to go into the names: it is the principle that is wrong, and it is a principle that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own friends on the public health committee in Berwick have unanimously denounced.

Photo of Captain John McEwen Captain John McEwen , Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire

The statement that the right hon. Gentleman made was based on one instance only.

Hon. Members:

No.

Photo of Mr Campbell Stephen Mr Campbell Stephen , Glasgow Camlachie

The hon. and gallant Member may not be aware of what he is defending, but he is defending it. It is precisely to prevent that sort of thing that this Clause is being moved. If the hon. and gallant Member is not prepared to support this Clause or to put something else in its place, he is defending that principle of which we complain. It is no good the hon. and gallant Member shaking his head. Either you support this or put something else in its place, or you are supporting this kind of robbery of the public by the rich under the Bill —you are assisting in the robbery: you are an accessory before and after the fact. The hon. and gallant Member cannot get away from it. I intervene simply to point out how cruel and horrible it is that the people who have been responsible for all the injustice and hardship imposed on the poor by the means test are now allowing the robbery of the country in this way, and are so indignant at this proposal to prevent the 300,00o-pounders getting away with this money out of the public funds.

4.45 p.m.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

It is very fortunate that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) is not a member of the Sudeten Deutsch at the present moment, as he would be liable to obscure the issue. The one thing we want to avoid is the bringing of hot prejudice into these considerations. That was the point of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He definitely said that he did not want to introduce names because he wanted to deal with the principle, and, therefore, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) I want to bring the House back to the question of principle. It is from that point of view that we want to discuss this matter, and I am afraid that it has not been so discussed hitherto. The bringing in of the instance of the man with this enormous fortune and repeating it again and again was doing the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman wanted us to do. It confused the issue. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consider the principle.

Mr. Montaģue:

Does the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) remember the number of specific cases given by -Members of his own party on the question of the unemployment means test?

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster was himself not quite correct, because he was talking about this relief being given in respect of the repair of houses. This has nothing to do with the repair of houses. The repair of houses has been definitely excluded since the first of these Acts and has nothing to do with this Bill. It is a question of reconditioning.

Mr. Speaker:

We cannot have these continuous interruptions.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

I want to take the line of argument which, I think, is essential. That fact is clearly laid down. The duty of keeping houses in repair is laid down in the Public Health Act, 1875, and in the Act of 1881, and there is no compensation of any sort. Under the administration of that law, as hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken part in local government know well, over 500,000 houses a year have been repaired in England and Wales without cost to public funds because the duty has been thrown rightly upon the owners of houses, and that machinery has always worked. This Bill is a minor Measure to recondition according to improved modern standards, and to recondition houses which could not be reconditioned otherwise. The ostensible reason of this new Clause, which says nothing about the means test, is that the matter shall be taken in hand to see whether the services necessary can be provided otherwise. This reconditioning is for improving the standard of houses and for the better accommodation of the people, and includes putting in things like damp courses in rural areas where, in fact, they do not exist, and where, under the law, they need not exist, unfortunately. These things ought to be in all houses, but you cannot suddenly introduce them. People are still living in houses which are up to, say, the standard of 40 years ago, but which have no chance of being improved at the present moment.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

Why? Where are all these decent landlords? We have always been told, and I partially believe it, that the landowners of England particularly, were benevolent and progressively-minded gentlemen anxious to do everything for their labourers and tenants. The hon. Gentleman has said that for many years these things could not be done, and I ask why? Are the landowners of England different from what they have been represented as being?

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

No, Sir; the landlords, taken as a whole—there are black sheep in every fold—try to do their best. They love the country and the people who are on their estates. They are the proper landowners. The proper landowners have been much chastened in this House in many kinds of ways. Many of them have wished to do the best for their property, and they are doing so, but things have to be taken in a definite order of possibility. Some landlords cannot make both ends meet. They cling to their estates, but cannot afford to do more than is necessary under the law. Others cannot do everything they would wish to do, and that is the case with which we are dealing here. The landlord may have a moral duty, but he may not be able to fulfil it. The Bill provides certain aids either by loans or grants. The original Acts placed the obligation upon the local authority to grant or not to grant a loan. They are to do it in order only to improve housing which could not otherwise be improved. I should like the Minister to say whether it is necessary to have this extra power. The local authorities already have the power to grant or not to grant a loan, or to make a definite financial grant in certain conditions. It is left to them. What is the need, therefore, of this new Clause? I think that it is unnecessary.

Photo of Mr Campbell Stephen Mr Campbell Stephen , Glasgow Camlachie

Is it not necessary to do something to prevent owners from robbing the public purse to the extent they have done in the past?

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

If there has been robbery—I do not know of the particular case the hon. Member mentioned, though, no doubt, there have been cases—it is the duty of the local authority to stop it. If you put this extra duty on the local authorities you will interfere with their responsibility, and, therefore, undermine the authority of local government. I am so keen on the improvement of local government in rural areas that I want them to have the responsibility and to be responsible to their electorate. If local authorities have allowed this robbery, the electors should turn them out and put in other representatives. I believe the law is sufficient as it is, and that the new Clause is unnecessary.

4.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Dunn Mr Edward Dunn , Rother Valley

If my memory serves me correctly, the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) followed me in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I am fortunate in having the opportunity of following him in the Debate dealing with this Clause. The hon. Member described the Bill as a minor Measure, and therefore there is no need at all for the heat which appears to have been engendered in the discussion. We on this side of the House agree that it is a minor Measure, but we also believe that there are major principles involved in it which, to us, are important. The hon. Member for St. Albans said that the reason for the Measure was to give to the agricultural labourers of this country, houses brought up to modern standards. Last week we debated the question of standards and whether or not there should be a bath put in these houses. We on this side of the House pressed by means of an Amendment that, in the reconditioned and reconstructed houses, provision should be made for a bath, and the hon. Member for St. Albans went into the Division Lobby and denied the right of the agricultural labourers of this country to such a provision.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

May I make a personal explanation? The only reason why we did that was that you cannot specify which is the most important improvement in each case. We do not wish to refuse the possibility of improvement in one direction because it might not be possible to improve in all directions. It was not because we are opposed to bathrooms.

Photo of Mr Edward Dunn Mr Edward Dunn , Rother Valley

In cricket language, that is a "no ball," but I will call the attention of the hon. Member to another point. Some of us have learnt to respect and appreciate the great public services which the hon. Member for St. Albans has rendered to this country, but last week we pressed for proper provision for the sexes in these reconditioned houses, and said that the farm labourer had as much right as any other section of the community, urban or otherwise, to have such a provision made for him in his house. The hon. Member for St. Albans, as an ex-medical officer of health, went into the Division Lobby again to deny this right to agricultural labourers.

Some of the hon. Members opposite seem to question the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston), who put his case with very great moderation. They appeared to doubt the veracity of the statement of my right hon. Friend as to whether or not he had received letters from various parts with regard to this Bill. I believe that, although this is a minor Measure, the country is seriously disturbed over this business, not only individuals but local authorities, who take the view that it is entirely wrong in principle to provide that public money should be used in this fashion.

There is not one hon. Member on this side of the House who wishes to destroy a single cottage of an agricultural worker if it can be saved. There is great sentimental value attaching to many of these cottages in the rural parts of England, and there are many people who love to go to the rural parts to see the beautiful cottages. We do not want to destroy them if we can possibly avoid doing so, but we want the cottages to be brought up to a reasonable standard. We want them to be fitted with baths, and we want proper damp courses put into them. The Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Health exhibited a number of photographs which, I suppose, were of reconditioned agricultural cottages. We are violently opposed to using public money, whether it is a grant of £50 or a grant of £400, as specified under the major Act of 1926, in order to give gifts to private landowners. We say that it is wrong in principle to use public money, whether it be the money of the taxpayer or of the ratepayer, to assist private landowners in this way. Those are our fundamental objections to this Bill. The proposed new Clause would, at any rate, give us some measure of control.

When is this House going to awaken to the fact that already the agricultural industry has benefited handsomely at the hands of the Government? It has been stated from this side of the House, and has not been denied, that subsidies in one form or another to the agricultural industry have equalled the total wages bill of the agricultural labourers; it is a colossal figure, and now in this Measure we are asked to give grants of from £50 to £400 without any control over them.

Some doubt has been expressed with regard to the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling. I have been rather busy in regard to this matter and have ascertained the views of the local authorities in regard to it. It is said—I think the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. WardlawMilne) said it—that very few of these cottages have been improved and reconditioned. In one area, for which I have been supplied with particulars by the clerk of the local authority, 572 houses have been reconditioned and 107 of them were definitely of a bad type. The grants which have been made in 20 per cent. of these cases have been on the lines stated by the right hon. Member for West Stirling. No one will question the solid financial position of the coal industry at the present time, yet £1,400 has been spent on repairing property belonging to one colliery company, and in another case £500. Speaking from the standpoint of the West Riding County Council, there has been an expenditure by way of grants and loans of £11,313. As a ratepayer I take the view that that is entirely wrong to use either the taxpayers' or the ratepayers' money to subsidise people who do not want the money, or do not need it.

A question has been raised as to the impossibility of finding out whether these people need the money. The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) said that because a person lived in a large house, that did not necessarily prove that he was a wealthy person. On the other hand, the fact that a person lives in a small house does not always prove that he is poor. If it is a question of testing needs, there is surely plenty of machinery to discover whether the owner can afford to put these cottages into condition. If machinery is required, the new Minister of Health can take steps in that direction. If he will accept this new Clause—he will not accept the parentage of the Bill—we shall be gratified. If we are to find out whether or not these people have means, what is there wrong with the Board of Inland Revenue?

Photo of Mr Edward Dunn Mr Edward Dunn , Rother Valley

We can get some idea there whether or not these people need the money. If that test is not sufficient, I am sure that if the Minister of Health will consult the Minister of Labour he will find sufficient information. I agree with what the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said, that if a person goes before a public assistance committee, or if an unemployed man goes before the unemployment committee, a test of means is soon applied. They examine him as to his family, his father, his mother, his son, his daughter, in fact they nearly go back to the Ark to find out the amount of the household income. You can test the owners of these cottages in the same way. We believe that rich people should submit themselves to the means test in exactly the same way as do the poor people at the present time.

5.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn):

Perhaps it would be convenient if I now stated the Government view of this new Clause. In moving the Clause the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Johnston) explained that the wording had been taken verbatim from Clause 4 of the Herring Industry Bill, and he sought to draw an analogy between the two positions. If he were to pursue such an analogy it would be, not between the herring fishermen and the rich landowners, but between the herring fishermen and the farm servants who are occupying the houses. The herring subsidy is intended to benefit the fishermen, whereas the subsidies under this Bill are intended to benefit the occupants of the cottages. If a true analogy were to be drawn what would follow would be that we should have to have a means test for the farm servants, to see whether they could afford to pay an economic rent for a better house.

Photo of Mr George Griffiths Mr George Griffiths , Hemsworth

That is a red herring.

Mr. Wedderburn:

Perhaps the hon. Member did not hear me. The correct analogy would be, and the correct inference to be drawn from the simile would be, that the suggested means test ought to be applied not to the landowner but to the farm servant, to see whether he could afford to pay an economic rent.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

Whose property is the house when built?

Mr. Wedderburn:

The right hon. Gentleman said that the grants to be given under the Bill were to benefit the landowner, but the Bill is carefully drafted to ensure that no financial benefit can possibly accrue to the owner of a house that is reconditioned.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Does not the reconditioning increase the value of the property?

Mr. Wedderburn:

If he cannot let it for any more rent, how can it increase the value? He cannot sell it, unless subject to the conditions, and if the conditions under which the grant is given are brought to an end, then a repayment of the grant, with compound interest, has to be made. There are some Amendments down on the next Clause, which I cannot discuss now, dealing with that point.

Photo of Mr Edward Williams Mr Edward Williams , Ogmore

Is it not a fact that the length of life of the property is increased?

Mr. Wedderburn:

The conditions which are imposed are that the house must be let —in the majority of cases they are not ordinarily let, because they are generally rent free to the agricultural labourer—to a person who is either an agricultural labourer or in a similar economic condition, and that the rent shall not be increased by more than 4 per cent. of the proportion of the sum which has been spent by the owner on the improvements. That is to say, if the cost of reconditioning the house were £200 and a grant of £100 were received, the owner would have to spend £100, and he would not be allowed to increase the rent by more than £4 a year. If he borrowed the money he would have to pay that amount in interest, and, in addition, in Scotland at least, he would have to pay higher rates, so that he would get no financial benefit out of the grant. It is a complete fallacy to argue the case as if it were the. landowner who is getting the benefit. The entire benefit of these subsidies is directed to, and received by, the occupants of the houses.

Photo of Mr Edward Dunn Mr Edward Dunn , Rother Valley

May I read one paragraph from a letter which I have received from the Clerk of the West Riding County Council? Instances have come to the notice of the West Riding Public Health and Housing Committee that attempts have been made by the owners of reconditioned houses to let them to tenants who are not agricultural workers or persons of similar economic condition, and the Committee are of opinion that all the houses in respect of which grant is made call for careful oversight.

Mr. Wedderburn:

That point is concerned with a possible breach of the conditions. I have not the English figures, but I understand that in Scotland in 44 cases out of some 30,000 the conditions have been departed from, and when we deal with the next Clause my right hon. Friend will have something to say on this question. Hon. Members opposite have put forward the further argument that if the owner of a house is not himself disposed to recondition it, he could be obliged to do so by a local authority. All that a local authority can compel an owner to do is to repair a house, which is an entirely different thing from enlarging a property or modernising a property which is of an old-fashioned type.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

A local authority can condemn a house, and there is all the difference between having a condemned house and a new house.

Mr. Wedderburn:

A local authority can condemn a house if the landowner does not do anything to put it right. In Scotland a local authority can execute the repairs itself and send the bill into the landlord, but that is a totally different thing from building extra accommodation or putting in modern conveniences.

Miss Lloyd Georģe:

Is it not a fact that a local authority has power to purchase a house compulsorily if the landlord will not carry out reconditioning?

Mr. Wedderburn:

In Scotland a local authority has power to carry out repairs and send the bill in to the landlord. It would not have power to purchase the house, and indeed would not want to do so. The right hon. Gentleman brought forward one or two examples which, I think, he also cited on the Second Reading, the principal one being that of the late Sir John Ellerman. Several hon. Members have suggested either that this is not a typical case or that owing to the fact that the Ellerman money was in trust it was unavoidable. But suppose a man of this kind, who has made, as the right hon. Member said, £40,000,000, buys an agricultural property in Aberdeen. I do not suppose that this agricultural property is likely to be more than .1 per cent. of his total fortune. Really it does not matter where the greater part of his fortune is derived, whether it comes from steel manufactures, or cotton, or whisky or beer. Suppose that this person who has made this vast sum of money out of steel or cotton, or whatever it may be, buys a piece of land. Many thousands of workmen are employed in these industries, infinitely more than the number of workmen who may be employed on his agricultural estate, which is only a minute fraction of his total wealth. What is the housing position of the industrial worker from whom he derives 99·9 per cent. of his total wealth?

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

Is not this an argument that wealth should be confiscated?

Mr. Wedderburn:

The industrial workers are provided with subsidised houses under the urban Housing Acts, which has the effect of subsidising their wages. If hon. Members opposite were logical they would say that if a man derives his immense fortune from cotton or steel he ought to pay for housing his employés and that the local authority ought not to get any subsidy for building houses from public funds, because it is in effect subsidising wages. Surely they would say that we are relieving the big manufacturing employer of the amount of wages which he would otherwise have to pay his employés in order to enable them to pay an economic rent for the improved type of house which the State has decided they shall occupy. Why should this very small number of workers who happen to live in the country be denied the same kind of advantages which we are giving to the workers employed by the wealthy industrial employer?

Photo of Mr Benjamin Gardner Mr Benjamin Gardner , West Ham Upton

Is the hon. Member laying it down that all the houses of working class people are subsidised?

Mr. Wedderburn:

No, Sir. Neither are all the houses in which rural workers live. There is an enormous number of unsatisfactory houses in Glasgow, and I am not sure that they are being got rid of as quickly as unsatisfactory houses in the country. Suppose that on examination it were found that in Camlachie there were hundreds employed by a wealthy shipowner who is a millionaire, and another hundred employed by an engineering firm which is having a great struggle to make ends meet. Suppose we said that the wealthy shipowner can afford to provide all the housing accommodation which his employés need, or to pay them sufficient wages to enable them to meet an economic rent without any assistance from the State, and that we thought therefore we should only give assistance to the employés working for the engineering firm whose means are more straitened; suppose we insisted that all the new houses of the Glasgow Corporation should be given only to the employés of the steel works and should not be given to the employés of the shipbuilding firms. That is an exact analogy to the argument of hon. Members opposite.

Let me go a little further. Why should you not make a distinction between one local authority and another. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to argue the case that, since London is relatively wealthy and Glasgow relatively impecunious, the affluence of London should be reduced by refusing a subsidy in order that a larger sum might be available for the greater needs of Glasgow.

Photo of Mr Edward Dunn Mr Edward Dunn , Rother Valley

Surely one is a public authority and the other a private individual.

Mr. Wedderburn:

The distinction which hon. Members opposite are making is not between a public authority and a private individual, but between one private individual and another. The whole principle on which we feel bound to resist the Clause is simply that the real distinction which is embodied in this Clause is not a distinction between opulence and poverty, but really a distinction between the benefits which are available to rural workers and those which are available to many other classes of workers.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Is the hon. Member aware that it has become the practice of large landowners in England, at any rate, to allow some of their cottages to fall into disrepair and then let other cottages to week-enders? Is it a condition to have these derelict cottages repaired that the landlord must make all his cottages available for his employés?

Mr. Wedderburn:

I spent a long time explaining this point. Perhaps the hon. Member was not present. You can force an owner to do repairs, but that is a totally different thing from enlarging a cottage. Under the Bill the person who did so would not be permitted to let it to week-enders. He has to let it to a rural person or to someone in a similar economic position.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

A landlord can then transfer some labourers into the house which has been subsidised leaving other houses on his estate available to be let at higher rents to week-enders. He can extend the housing facilities on his estate; he can satisfy all the conditions of the Bill by putting his employés into reconditioned houses, leaving available to himself other houses on his estate.

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

The hon. Member rose for the purpose of putting a question.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I am just about to come to my question. Is it not true that the conditions in the Bill do not prevent landlords from exploiting the Bill to improve the value of their premises and not to add to the facilities of housing in the country?

Mr. Wedderburn:

I took some trouble to explain that point at the beginning of my remarks.

5.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

I have listened to many arguments from the Government Front Bench, but I do not think I have ever heard a more curious argument than that which has been given by the Under-Secretary of State. In the first place, he told my right hon. Friend that the analogy of the Herring Bill was not a correct one, and that if he wanted to refer to the Herring Bill he should not refer to the owner of the fishing boat but to the fishermen who use it and whose wages were derived from the earnings of the boat.

Mr. Wedderburn:

The right hon. Gentleman referred to an analogy between the owner of the fishing boat and the rural worker. The true analogy is between the fisherman and the rural worker.

Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

And that is exactly why I thought the argument of the Under-Secretary so extraordinary. The Government in the Herring Bill are taking powers to provide funds with which to build new fishing vessels, and the suggestion of the Under-Secretary is that it is not the owner of the fishing boat who is going to benefit as a result of the grant.

Mr. Wedderburn:

The fisherman is the owner.

Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

We know something about the division of the spoils. If the argument of the Under-Secretary is strictly relevant, I do not see why the Government should not subsidise the development of coal mines because it is going to employ miners, or subsidise the development of a factory because it is going to employ textile operatives. I do not see the relevance of the Under-Secretary's argument. In this case, the Government are taking power to subsidise the production of a means whereby certain men may earn their livelihood, and I do not see how the hon. Gentleman can argue that this is not a clear parallel to the powers in the Herring Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that it will not be the landowner, but the tenant, who will get all the benefit. Why, the hon. Gentleman knows that at the end of 20 years, the landed property owner will be able to do what he likes with his house—[Interruption]. If the present owner is dead, his heirs and successors will take charge. The hon. Gentleman knows that at any time during those 20 years, if the owner of the subsidised property cares to exercise an option, the local authority will have the power to compel him to pay back some proportion of the advance made from the rates and from the Treasury, as is provided in Clause 3. The hon. Gentleman said that the landowner will derive no benefit. If there were no reconditioning of the property, with the assistance of the Treasury and grants from the rates, would not the property fairly quickly become useless as a rent asset or for any other purpose? In any case, the Under-Secretary knows that although there is a difference between repairs and reconditioning, local authorities have certain powers to abolish slums, and in many cases, before reconditioning, these reconditioned houses are slums. Therefore, we are putting money or values into the hands of certain people who can manage very well without being subsidised.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

These houses could not possibly be described as slums when they are in perfect repair, and have to be kept in repair.

Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

I have heard the hon. Gentleman say many times that he is an ex-medical officer of health. He knows that in his own area, or wherever he happened to officiate as medical officer of health, there were scores and hundreds of houses that ought to have been condemned long ago, which he himself did not condemn even when he might have done so or had the power to do so. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is scarcely any rural area in the country where, if a census were taken to-morrow, scores of houses would not be condemned as being totally unfit for habitation.

Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

The hon. Gentleman knows better than most hon. Members how rural authorities have defaulted in their housing obligations and in their responsibilities to the rural population. It is ridiculous to suggest that the houses that are reconditioned are not, in the nature of things, slum property according to the modern conception of housing requirements. The Under-Secretary went on to refer to the Ellerman case, and said that if such an individual made a pile of money out of steel, textiles, coal, shipping or anything else, and went into a rural area and bought up land, it would be merely a tithe of his total wealth that would be invested in land. Often a person who has made a large sum of money out of our general industries invests some portion of it in land, as an estate for his son and heir and those who follow him, because he knows that in this country land in private possession is the best gilt-edged security there can be. The birth of every child means an addition to the value of some land in some part of the country. But having made a large sum of money in industry, and having bought up land for the purpose, not of producing food or of adding to the economy of the nation, but of providing himself with social amenities, why should such a person be given a subsidy from the rates and the Treasury? The Under-Secretary argued that to grant a subsidy for the erection of houses to be occupied by miners, steel workers, or artisans of any description, is really indirectly to subsidise the wages of those employés. I am ready to admit that, but what a terrible economic position it is when wages are so low and wretched that the Government have to subsidise every employer in the country. I agree that there is something in the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I do not think that he dealt with that argument as fully as it ought to be dealt with.

The hon. Gentleman wound up by putting forward the conclusion that if there are certain houses in certain parts of rural England that will bear reconditioning and will confer an indirect benefit upon the tenant, whether he be an agricultural labourer or his equivalent in industry, the ratepayers, and the Treasury ought to be called upon to make some provision for the reconditioning of that property, whether the owner of it be an impecunious owner-occupier or a millionaire who is more interested in industry than in agriculture. That is a carious argument to advance, and one which my hon. Friends on this side will not accept. In almost every case where a worker finds it necessary to seek assistance either from the State or from a local authority, he has to show cause why he needs assistance before it is forthcoming. The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) said that a large house is not necessarily an indication of great wealth. I agree, but prima facie it is proof that a man is not on the means test if he happens to live in a very large house. The hon. Member made very poor excuses in this matter, and gave no reasons for not making it a specific condition that persons of a certain affluence shall not be subsidised from the rates. The hon. Member said he was not sure about the letters which we receive, that he was not sure about the Usher case, or even the Ellerman case. What I suggest is that when an owner of property, personally or through his appointed agent, makes an application to a county council for a grant for the reconditioning of some of his property, he ought to show to the county council cause why he cannot recondition that property himself. Surely, that is a legitimate request.

Let us assume that a house is to be reconditioned at a cost of £150, and that the owner makes an application for £50 from the rates and for a further £50 from the Treasury. Is it too much to invite him to show cause why he is entitled to that social assistance? No workman in the country can get financial assistance without showing why he needs it. I do not think the administrative problem is a real one. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) submitted an extraordinary argument when he said that this new Clause is equivalent to imposing extra taxation upon the applicant for assistance. What the hon. Gentleman did not seem to appreciate is that if some extremely wealthy person applies for and receives financial assistance out of the rates for the purpose of reconditioning his property, the ordinary ratepayers have no voice in the matter, except through the councillors representing them in that area. If a grant is made from the rates and the Treasury to a very wealthy applicant, who has to pay the 50? The ratepayers. Therefore, it is they who are having taxation imposed upon them, and it does not matter whether the ratepayer is the recipient of public assistance, an old-age pensioner, or a victim of the means test, he or she must pay a proportion of the grant that is made to the wealthy owner of the property. The hon. Member for Kidderminster, who knows something about banking, seemed to me either to have got his arguments mixed up this afternoon, or not to have understood the problem before us. The hon. Member then put the question, "Who is a rich person, a man having £500 capital, or 5,000 capital; when is a person rich, and when is he poor?" We know when he becomes poor. The moment he seeks public assistance of any kind, the local authorities, acting on instructions from this House, tell him that he has to show cause why he should get assistance, before he is able to get anything. There is the dividing line.

This Bill will make grants to people who do not need them, are not entitled to them, and do not deserve them, without there being any test. I think the new Clause ought to receive support not only from this side of the House, but from all sides. It is a great concession if we allow these houses to be reconditioned at all. The agricultural labourer is just as entitled to a new, modern house as any other artisan or skilled worker. To recondition some of the terrible houses in the countryside will, of course, improve the situation for the agricultural labourers, but it will have no relation to the problem of providing new houses in the countryside. I suggest that the Under-Secretary has not made a case against the new Clause. We are willing to concede to local authorities the power to make these grants if certain well-defined conditions are fulfilled, but where the owner of the property is able to re- condition it without public assistance, where he has failed to recondition it, or has defaulted in his responsibility to his tenants or his employés, he ought not to be allowed to ask the State for a subsidy, but ought to be fined and punished for neglecting his duty to his property and his tenants.

5.44 P.m.

Photo of Major Sir Derrick Gunston Major Sir Derrick Gunston , Thornbury

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has used some arguments with which, on the face of them, I think all hon. Members will agree. Nobody wants to give public money where it is unnecessary to do so, or to give it to people who can afford to do the necessary repairs themselves; but I ask the hon. Member to consider the question rather from the tenant's point of view than the landlord's point of view. I ask him to consider whether, in passing this new Clause, there would not be a real danger of depriving many tenants of improved houses? Hon. Members must realise that it would be practically impossible for this House to lay down a condition to apply to all grants of subsidy. Are we to say that no landlord is to have a grant under this Measure, if his income is above a certain level? The new Clause does not say so. It leaves that to the local authorities. Local authorities in different parts of England would have different views as to whether a landlord could or could not afford to recondition houses, and you would have extraordinary anomalies arising in adjoining areas. I think it was the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) who suggested that the machinery of the Inland Revenue could be used in this connection, but I do not believe that the Inland Revenue is allowed to disclose, even to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the income of any private individual. It would be impossible to use the Inland Revenue machinery for the purpose of discovering what was the wealth of one landlord compared with another. But surely we ought to consider the tenants. May I call the attention of hon. Members opposite to the report on rural housing which says: Some witnesses have suggested that certain local authorities discriminated in their administration of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts against owners with means. Discrimination of this kind is, in our view, contrary to the intentions of the Acts and likely to result in depriving tenants of agricultural cottages of the benefits which the Acts were intended to afford them. Local authorities have, of course, complete discretion "— I think many hon. Members forget that, at the moment, local authorities have complete discretion and, according to the evidence, local authorities have refused in many cases to give grants owing to the individual wealth of the owner.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

From what document is the hon. and gallant Member quoting?

Photo of Major Sir Derrick Gunston Major Sir Derrick Gunston , Thornbury

I am quoting from the report of the sub-committee on rural housing of which the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) was a member. The report also says: Local authorities have, of course, complete discretion to decide whether they will grant any particular application, but a general discrimination against a whole class of persons is, in our view, strongly to be deprecated.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

No local authority has refused on the grounds of the means of the applicant.

Photo of Major Sir Derrick Gunston Major Sir Derrick Gunston , Thornbury

I, of course, will not contradict the right hon. Gentleman on that point, but the sub-committee on rural housing were under the impression that local authorities did refuse, having regard to means. If it is known that everybody's means are to be inquired into, the effect, rightly or wrongly, will be that fewer applications will be made and therefore fewer tenants will have their houses reconditioned and brought up to the standard which we all desire. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) told us that he had reluctantly agreed to the continuance of the Act in 1931, and that he was not going to vote against this Bill because in certain cases, in Scotland especially, to vote against it might mean depriving certain individuals of improved housing. According to the report of the committee the effect of a Clause like this would be to deprive many tenants of improved housing. Therefore I ask hon. Members opposite to forget about the landlords for a moment and to think of the tenants. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but surely if a tenant is to have a new room, or is to have water or electricity laid on to his house, he will benefit directly. May I remind hon. Members opposite that under this Measure the improvements which can be given to the tenant go far beyond anything which the landlord can be compelled to do under the present Acts. Surely it would be very unwise, if we want to see this Measure a success, to pass a Clause which while it may appeal to many hon. Members on the face of it, would have the effect of depriving tenants of those improvements. I appeal to hon. Members to withdraw this proposal which, in the long run, would have an effect precisely opposite to that which they intend.

5.50 p.m.

Miss Lloyd Georģe:

Some comment was made by the hon. and gallant Member upon the report of the rural housing subcommittee of which I was a member. It is perfectly true that they deplored the fact that any discrimination should be made between owners with means and owners without means. I did not share that view, and I share it still less after the Debate to-day and the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Some criticism was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health of the fact that I signed the report although I dissented on this point. May I say that this was not a suggestion, and was not a recommendation, but was purely a view expressed by the majority of the committee—a view which I did not share. It would be extremely difficult to come to any conclusion in any report of any kind, if members of a committee felt that they had to write minority reports every time they dissented from any view expressed by the majority of the committee. I am sure no one knows better than the Minister of Health or the Parliamentary Secretary, the difficulty of expressing differences of opinion when they occur in one's own Government on matters not of opinion, but of policy and even of principle.

Photo of Major Sir Derrick Gunston Major Sir Derrick Gunston , Thornbury

May I assure the hon. Lady that in quoting the report I did not want to make any suggestion of inconsistency against her because she was a member of the committee? As a member of the Liberal party she is probably well aware of the difficulty to which she has referred.

Miss Lloyd Georģe:

I appreciate the consideration which the hon. and gallant Member shows to me, and he himself, as a supporter of the National Government, is now no doubt in a position to realise the difficulty of reconciling different views. Much has been said this afternoon about landlords, good and bad. I do not wish to enter into that controversy, but it is certain that there are landlords even to-day who can afford to recondition their houses without any hardship. On the other hand, I do not dispute the fact that there are small landlords owning cottages in villages which represent a substantial part of their income, and there are also landowners who are no longer in a financial position to recondition their cottages. But I cannot see any justification for granting public funds to landlords who can recondition their houses. I think it is a principle of some importance.

An hon. Gentleman who spoke earlier gave some interesting figures about the effect on rates of this Bill and showed how these grants compared with the subsidies given for the building of houses. We all realise how greatly the rates burden has increased, particularly on some authorities, and I do not see how that is possible to defend these grants being given without any conditions whatever. It has been suggested that this proposal would create difficulties as to how to define the rich landlord and the poor landlord. It is true that there is difficulty, but, somehow or other, the difficulty seems to have been got over in the case of the unemployed. Somehow or other it is easy to define a means test in that case, and I agree that if the Minister has any difficulty on this point he might with advantage consult the Minister of Labour. I am certain that machinery could be set up to deal with this matter and, in any case, I think it perfectly reasonable that a landlord should show cause to the local authority why he cannot recondition the houses on his estate.

Photo of Sir Robert Smith Sir Robert Smith , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Central

Would the hon. Lady approve of the principle to which she has just referred being applied not only to grants to landlords but also to the payment of Members of Parliament?

Miss Lloyd George:

I see no reason why it should not be. I think it would be a perfectly reasonable thing. I do not see why we should be in a privileged position in that respect. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that the landowner got no advantage at all from this grant, because for 20 years he had not been able to raise the rent. But it is remarkable—and I am open to correction on this point by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), who was also a member of the committee—that the only two bodies which brought this matter up in evidence were the landowners' association and the land agents' association. If they thought that no benefits could he gained from the Bill they would not have thought it necessary to bring up the matter. The point has already been made that reconditioning will increase the landowners' capital assets. Of course it will. If you recondition a house in time, it will prevent that house from falling into serious disrepair. That is a simple proposition. If you leave the house for a certain number of years it will not only fall into greater disrepair, but, in the course of time, will become a slum house of very little value to the landlord.

The point has also been raised that if we were to deny this grant to certain landlords, it would have the effect of preventing houses being reconditioned and, therefore, the tenant would suffer. That is an objection which must be examined, and I was rather interested in what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said on that point. I do not know whether the Minister proposes to say anything more upon it. I hope he does. The Under-Secretary said that in the matter of repairs a local authority could take over, as it were, do the repairs themselves and charge the cost up to the landlord, but in the case of reconditioning it was not so. I understood—and I think it will be found in the report, on page 12—that where owners are unwilling to undertake reconditioning: We suggest that the local authorities should consider the advisability of exercising their power to buy the cottages, if necessary by compulsion, and themselves carry out the reconditioning. I would very much like to know whether, in point of fact, that power does exist, because I was under the impression that it did.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was in error on that point. That power does exist, but whether it should be exercised or not is a question of finance, and I shall be prepared to answer that point. On the point of fact, I think my hon. Friend was in error and that the hon. Lady is right.

Miss Lloyd Georģe:

I am glad to know that, because I hope very much that this power will be exercised far more in the future than it has been in the past. I think that where you do get a defaulting landlord, you should exercise this, the one power which you have, of compulsory purchase of these cottages for their reconditioning, and I hope that that power will be used side by side with the other means test, which I still hope the Government will apply to wealthy landlords.

6.2 p.m.

Photo of Sir James Henderson-Stewart Sir James Henderson-Stewart , Fife Eastern

The House will have listened with pleasure to the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). I have been in this Chamber for over five and a half years, and although I have read her speeches, I had never before had the pleasure of hearing one of them, and to me it was a very special delight. The speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has been severely criticised, and I should like to examine it still further, because it seemed to me to be not only inaccurate, but the most unconvincing defence of this Bill and opposition to the new Clause that I have heard. I am one of those who, on the last occasion, on 16th May, voted against the Opposition proposal similar to the present one, but I must say that, having listened to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State this afternoon, I am left entirely confused and cannot possibly support the Government. The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State in, I thought an excess of zeal, made the extraordinary statement that owners gained no benefit whatever from this Bill. I support the principle of the Bill, I think it is right and proper, but it seems to me idle to deny that owners of cottages gain something by it.

In the county of Fife, part of which I represent, there has been a marked development of such cottages, to the great advantage of the people who live in them. But it is absurd to stand up in this House and to say that the owners of these houses get no advantages. I would never dream of supporting the Bill on those grounds. Of course, they get advantages. The owner's property is improved, and if it is an agricultural property, he can charge a higher rent for his whole farm on which these reconditioned cottages stand. I am not going to have it thought in the country that I support the Bill on the ground that it does not help the landlords, because that is not true.

My chief criticism of my hon. Friend is on his examination, false as I thought it was in almost every particular, of the analogy between this proposed new Clause and the Clause in the Herring Industry Bill. In my opinion the similarity between this new Clause and Clause 4 of the Herring Industry Bill is almost exact, and I would like to examine it point by point. Under the Herring Industry Bill, to which the House has given a Second Reading since last we discussed this Housing Bill—and therefore the position is very different from that which we experienced last week—something like this is proposed: A fisherman in my part of the country, which would probably mean a middle-aged or older man of 60 or 65, who does not go very much to sea now and is more or less retired, will get a sum of £1000, roughly one-third of the cost of a new boat, to encourage him to build that new boat. That is a grant for him. So far I contend that he is in exactly the same position as the landlord who will get a grant under this Bill. The second stage is that he looks for a skipper. If he is an old man, he does not go to sea himself, and he says to the skipper, "I would like you to get a crew together and take this ship out for the herring season." He gets a skipper, who may be his son, and very probably is, and that skipper is in almost the same position as the tenant of a farm whose cottage is reconditioned under this Bill. Thirdly, the skipper looks for a crew, and the crew naturally benefit by this new boat which is going to catch herring so much more cheaply and, therefore, render a greater return to the individual members of the crew.

The crew are the equivalent of the average farm workers, so that I see an analogy at each of the three stages—the landowner and the owner-fisherman, the farmer-tenant and the skipper of the vessel, and the farm servants and the crew of the fishing vessel. The hon. Member the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, on the last occasion opposed the Labour party's Motion with these words: A grant made under these Acts is completely different from the money granted after the means test mentioned by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown). It is not in any sense a dole to the landlord.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1938; cols. 120–1, Vol. 336.] He went on to say that it was not a dole to the landlords because it was an advantage to the tenant, and it was a special advantage to the farm worker who lived in the cottage reconditioned. If that be true, how can you possibly say there is any difference between the position of the owner of the reconditioned house and the owner of the new fishing boat?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Would my hon. Friend also agree, if none of the persons for whom this Bill is to be passed are to derive any advantage from it whatever, that the fisherman should be debarred from obtaining any profit out of that £1,000? That would be necessary to complete his analogy.

Photo of Sir James Henderson-Stewart Sir James Henderson-Stewart , Fife Eastern

I hardly think that is so. In fact, what will happen is that in the case of the Herring Industry Bill proposal all three people concerned, the owner of the boat, the skipper, and the crew, will benefit, in the same way as in this Housing Bill all three people, the landowner, the tenant-farmer, and the man who occupies the cottage, will benefit. I would put the matter this way: How is it possible for me after this Bill becomes law, and after the Herring Industry Bill as now framed becomes law, to go up to my fishermen and say to one of them, "Look here, you, who are going to apply for a grant for a boat and to get £1,000, are to be subjected to a means test, but your brother, who happens to own a couple of little cottages outside the village, will get a third of the cost of reconditioning them, and he will get no means test"? I simply cannot put that with fairness to my constituents, and I ask my right hon. Friend—I am a supporter of his, and I hope I shall continue to be so—to help me out of this difficulty in which he has placed me. You cannot regard this as logical, that in the one case you ask for an examination of means and in the other you do nothing of the kind. If it is right in one, it is right in the other.

Personally, I think it is wrong in practice to impose such a test of means. Much as I agree with the views expressed by the other side, especially those of the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey—I regard it as a shame and as something approaching a scandal that people with great means should go begging to the local authorities for grants —I do not think it is possible to work this proposed new Clause; but if you insist upon a means test for one Bill, I do not know how you can reject the suggestion for a similar test in this Bill. I shall oppose this now, but I give my right hon. Friend warning that I shall also oppose his Herring Industry Bill when the time comes.

6.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Every time the Government find it necessary to justify paying out subsidies from public funds to private persons, the argument becomes extraordinarily academic and philosophical. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) followed his hon. Friend and colleague into a discussion of what happens to this money when one person receives it and passes it on to another person. It reminded me of the old story that if a certain person had not bought a packet of cigarettes from a certain shop in Piccadilly, a fellow would not have broken his neck by treading on a banana skin in Buenos Aires. It is obvious that if a certain person receives £1 from the public Treasury, in expending that money he sets going a chain of circumstances in which an undefinable number of people will be affected. That is why it seemed to me that that discussion was highly academics, and academic because of the difficulty of trying to justify, on practical or ethical grounds, shovelling out public money to landlords because they have neglected their property.

The argument of the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was that it is the tenant who benefits by this legislation, and that therefore we ought not to do anything to make it difficult for the tenant to get that benefit. Here is a landlord who obviously— because we must speak now of the landlord who has means—has plenty of money to spend, but who neglects his property and does not keep it up to modern standards, and then, because we desire to benefit the tenant, we impose no penalties on the landlord but make him better off, so that the tenant will be a little better off. It is as if we saw a fellow in the street hammering another, and instead of preventing him doing it, we sent for large doses of iodine, so that the wound inflicted would not be poisoned. Why, if it is the tenant who wants the benefit, we do not give the direct benefit to the tenant, I cannot understand. Why must the first recipient of the money be the rich, in the expectation that some of it will slowly filter through to the poor? One would think we did not know where the poor were or how to get at them. One would imagine we did not know what rural housing problems were, or who were the tenants who needed houses. If hon. Members opposite were not engaged in the most nauseating cant and humbug, they would know very well how to deal with the rural housing problem. Let them build rural houses, not make the landlords the recipients of public funds on the hypocritical justification that by shovelling out public money to those persons certain desirable advantages will be given to their tenants.

The suggestion has been made by hon. Members opposite that if you carried this Clause, imposing a means test on the landlords, reconditioning would not take place. Then in what circumstances would reconditioning not take place if a means test were applied? If the means test were applied and it was discovered that the landlord had no means with which to recondition his houses, a grant would be given. Reconditioning would, therefore, take place. If the means test were applied and it was discovered that the landlord was able to provide the money, hon. Members argue that reconditioning would not take place. The argument from hon. Gentlemen opposite is this. It is a common desire in all parts of the House to get rural houses reconditioned. There is another way of doing it, but the Government are doing it by means of this Bill they are going to pump out public funds and to give subsidies in order to get the houses reconditioned.

We suggest that there should be a means test so that public money should not be given to landlords who do not need it. It should be applied to discover the landlords who cannot afford to do it. The houses would then be reconditioned and the problem of hon. Gentlemen would be solved. Then there comes a second category to whom the means test would be applied, that is, the land lord who has the money. Why do hon. Gentlemen suggest that the houses in that case would not be reconditioned because the landlord has the money? We ought to have an answer, and I will sit down at once if the Under-Secretary has a reply. There is obviously no reply. It seems to me that if ever there had been a case for this proposal hon. Members opposite have provided the reply to it. I gather that the Bill would apply on the initiative of the landlord and that if he knew he was to be subject to an investigation he would not make the application. Is not that the answer? Is it that the application of the means test would have an adverse effect upon the reconditioning of houses?

Photo of Major Sir Derrick Gunston Major Sir Derrick Gunston , Thornbury

At the present time there are very few applicants for grants. Therefore, financially, there is not much in it for the landlord. We want to encourage the landlords, small or large, to apply, and if restrictions are imposed which will have the effect of depriving tenants of improved houses, the tenants will lose more than the landlords.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that the landlords, in order to do their duty to the tenants, have to be bribed. His answer cannot apply to the poor landlord who will get the subsidy under a means test. It can apply only to the well-to-do landlord who will not do his duty unless he is bribed. This is the story we have heard about landlords for the last 20 years or more. A case has been made out in the House, but has not been proved, that land in this country is suffering from deterioration because of the incapacity of the landlords to provide the necessary capital. The fact is that the landlords have become irresponsible people who now look upon their farms as something that the State should keep up; they must be left in the full enjoyment of their revenues and rents and if anything happens the State must step in and put things right. Never in my experience in the House have I heard such a thin Debate from the Government benches. I have never heard such a mean case put up, and hon. Gentlemen had better think again. The country will not stand for this modern buccaneering on the part of the landlords.

The Under-Secretary said that one of the safeguards in the Bill is that the land- lord will not get any direct financial benefit from the reconditioning of a house because he must put in one of his tenants or a person of similar social status. I know one or two large estates owned by individuals who are now living on the results of their grandfathers' and great-grandfathers' prowess. They have a large number of houses on their estates and these are let by stewards. The landlord leaves the steward a free hand to let the houses to whom he likes. The steward lets the houses at much larger rents than he pays to the landlord because the steward becomes, with the knowledge of the landlord, a mere factor collecting the rents. On such an estate there are houses in a number of different categories—big and medium sized houses, rustic cottages and derelict buildings. Some of the good cottages with aesthetic attractions are let at high rents to people who normally live in the cities. Other houses on the estate are let to the tenants of the estate. Some of these houses under this Bill will be reconditioned, although the landlord would have available for the rural workers all the houses he needed if he had not let many of them at high rents to well-to-do people. He will have some of these houses reconditioned. It is true that he will not be able to let them to weekenders, but he can shift his labourers from the other houses to the reconditioned houses and then let the empty houses to the week-enders.

It is the big landlord, not the small one, who can benefit most from this Bill. To assume that houses on these estates are used exclusively for the tenants of the estate or for rural workers is a falsification of the countryside. They are being let to all sorts of people, and the mere safeguard that the tenant or some person of similar social status shall get the houses is no safeguard against the landlord benefiting by it because it will release other houses of the estate which he can let at higher rents to well-to-do people. The only advantage there will be is that the comparatively well-to-do people will be living in insanitary houses of the aesthetic type while the agricultural workers will be living n reconditioned and modernised houses.I The suggestion has been made that the landlord will get no direct benefit from the reconditioning of the houses. The point has been dealt with by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). It obviously adds to the capital value of the estate; farms can be let at far higher rents, and the landlords will benefit in that way. If you want to aim a blow at the good landlord this is the sort of legislation that ought to be passed.

Think of the position in the countryside where a good landlord, with perhaps limited means at his disposal, has kept his buildings in good repair out of his own revenue with no assistance from the State. Living next to him is another landlord with less sense of responsibility. It often happens in this country that the landlord with the greatest sense of responsibility is the landlord of the small farm, to which he has to give personal supervision in order to keep it in good condition; whereas the richer landlord is an absentee who sublets the work to other officials and merely wants his revenue and grudges every pound of capital expenditure because it decreases his income. We see, therefore, the large landlord, irresponsible and leaving his cottages to fall into disrepair, living alongside a small and good landlord who has kept his property up. The good landlord gets no benefit under the Bill. It is the negligent landlord who gets the benefit. As if this were not enough, the good landlord is made to pay higher rates for the reconditioning of the houses of the bad landlord. This is the weirdest legislation I have ever seen. Hon. Members opposite have tried to represent themselves as the natural custodians of agricultural interests. It is no wonder that the countryside is in such a deplorable condition.

6.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Withers Mr John Withers , Cambridge University

I have listened with very great interest to all this Debate, and with particular interest to the right hon. Member who proposed the new Clause, who, I think, spoke with the greatest moderation and good sense, but there was one argument which I did not follow. It was the argument that because a man like Ellerman dies leaving, say, £10,000,000, therefore a cottage which was his—because he is dead, remember—must necessarily not come within the ambit of this Bill. That view is entirely wrong, in my estimation, because such a man—call him Ellerman if you like—may have left that cottage to a friend, perhaps to his gardener or to some dependant. Although the cottage did at one time belong to Ellerman, who left £40,000,000, it may now belong to a person who really cannot afford to expend money upon reconditioning it. Therefore, it should be clearly understood that the cottage ought to be considered in the light of the circumstances of the present owner and occupier and not in relation to any past owner. I am strongly in favour of not paying public money to landlords who can afford to recondition these cottages themselves, and therefore I feel there is a great deal to be said for this new Clause. I notice that the onus of showing that he has not got the money is to be placed on the landlord, because the Clause says: Unless the local authority are satisfied that the works proposed cannot be executed without such assistance. It is clear, therefore that the onus probandi is now being shifted on to the shoulders of the landlord himself, and if he asks for assistance he must be prepared, and no doubt would be, to make out his case. Every good landlord would be prepared to do so. My own view of landlords is that they are not persons such as hon. Members opposite represent them to be. I have seen a very great many landlords in my time, and 99 out of Zoo are good landlords and not bad landlords. I think this Clause is on the right lines, and that landlords ought to be prepared to show that they cannot do the reconditioning themselves. In listening to the Debate I have felt that no valid answer has been forthcoming to the arguments put up in favour of the Clause, and, therefore, I shall vote for it.

6.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Tomlinson Mr George Tomlinson , Farnworth

I wish to call attention to one class of case which has not been mentioned throughout the Debate. To this particular class, to my mind one of the most deserving, the means test is applied. During the Second Reading of the Bill the Minister in charge was asked by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) whether the Bill would apply to a smallholder, a man who was farming a few acres and whose house had fallen into disrepair or was in such a state that it needed reconditioning. The answer was, "Yes, providing the smallholder is in the same economic position as the agricultural labourer who would normally live in a cottage of this type." That means that if a smallholder applies for a grant in order to recondition his cottage he is to be subject to a means test, and if it is to be applied to him then why not to these other people? Something has been said about the difficulty of differentiating between individuals. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) suggested that 99 per cent. of landlords were good landlords. If there is anything like that percentage of good landlords this particular Clause will not cause any difficulty.

I have seen a means test applied to quite a number of different people, not always working-class people. It was this Government which sent out to local authorities from the Board of Education Circular No. 1421. Under that Circular local authorities had to apply a means test to persons whose incomes went up to £800 a year, and who were able to benefit even when receiving £800 a year. Nobody will say that they are poor people. That is a means test which I think could be applied to the poor landlords of whom we have heard this afternoon. If landlords are good landlords there is nothing to worry about in including this Clause in the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland suggested that the source of the income was what should determine whether or not a means test should be applied. That is a very strange argument coming from a representative of this Government. I have had scores of cases to deal with in my present constituency and in other constituencies in which old age pensioners have been involved, and there was then no question of the source of income, if the applicant had got £26 a year—and that at 70 years of age. It did not matter then what was the source of the income, the only question was whether it was coming into the home. We had not to go into the question whether it was from profits on beer or tobacco or anything else; all we had to do was to take the amount of it into consideration. Therefore, the only question here should be whether the individual has got the money; if he has not then he will not come under the Clause and there is nothing to worry about. The source of his income does not matter.

I must express my amazement at the fact that twice within a week I have heard it suggested from the Government benches that money can be spent upon property and yet the individual who owns the property will not be benefited. That is the strangest logic and the strangest economic proposition which I have ever heard, and little did I ever think that I should have to come to the House of Commons to hear it. What would be the position of this property if it were not put into repair? A school child knows that it would become an uneconomic unit, and that the only way in which it can be made an economic unit is by the expenditure of money upon it. Yet when the State and the local authorities have spent their money upon it—contributing two-thirds of the cost of the reconditioning—we are told that the individual who owns it and who has made a contribution of only one-third has not benefited. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) suggested that there was no need to introduce "hot prejudice" into this Debate. It seems to me that prejudice is always permissible if it does not come from this side, and I would point out that the only two Members on the Government benches who have attempted to examine the proposals in the new Clause from a logical point of view have decided that they will vote for it.

6.40 p.m.

Captain Heilģers:

On the Committee stage of this Bill last Monday I supported an Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who proposed to leave the question of the repayment of grants to the discretion of the local authorities. I did so because I thought it would be for the benefit of the agricultural workers, and I received the thanks of the right hon. Gentleman. To-day I oppose this new Clause for the same reason, namely, that to pass it would, in my opinion, be against the interests of the agricultural workers. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said that when Members on this side spoke on this subject they became extraordinarily academical, philosophical, and that it was rarely possible for us to justify our attitude on practical grounds.

I was a member of the Rural Housing Committee of the West Suffolk County Council which was formed to work the Act of 1926. I was on that committee for a number of years. Several rich landlords were also members of that committee, and they, to their credit, refused to approve of any applications made under the Act, because they believed, as hon. Members opposite have said, that it was not right to subsidise their fellow landlords. I say quite frankly that I voted against them—not in my own interests, because I have never applied—but I was beaten, because there was a majority of landlords against me. In the neighbouring county of East Suffolk that line was not taken. In East Suffolk from 300 to 400 houses were reconditioned and it was held up as one of the "star" counties. The result of the rich landlords in West Suffolk taking the line I have described was that no houses were reconditioned—at least in eight or nine years only three houses were reconditioned, as against 300 or 400 in East Suffolk.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

If a Clause such as the one we are proposing had been in existence those poorer landlords would have been able to get a subsidy.

Photo of Major Frank Heilgers Major Frank Heilgers , Bury St Edmunds

I do not agree, because the position was that the landlords on the county council were not willing to consider it in any case whatever. I think that hon. Members opposite are looking at this matter from the wrong point of view. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said "Build houses.' ' I can only say that more houses are being built in the rural areas in my constituency than was ever the case before, but all the same it would be the greatest possible mistake to allow existing cottages to tumble down. I suggest that if there is to be a means test in these cases it will lead to a waste of time in going into the assets of the landlords who apply for the subsidy. It will result in great and unnecessary delay. I suggest further, as I think has been pointed out before, that it would be quite impossible, because all the personal finances of the landlord would have to be revealed to a committee, and that is not permitted even by the Inland Revenue authorities. I want to see the agricultural workers get good houses. I have had the experience, as I have said, of seeing that where a bar was put up on a county council no houses were reconditioned, and I say to the party opposite, "Do forget your prejudices and give the agricultural workers a chance."

6.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Perhaps it would be courteous, after a Debate which has lasted for some time and in which various expressions of opinion have been made, that I should say a few words.

Hon. Members:

You will start another discussion.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

If it were suggested that the discussion would start again I would immediately resume my seat, but out of courtesy to the House of Commons upon the Report stage, I think it desirable that a word or two should be said. There has been a certain amount of difficulty because Members of the House have been divided against themselves. I do not wish to make too much of the point but hon. Gentlemen opposite are divided against themselves on this matter. In 1931 they introduced a similar Bill, but they did not bring forward any of the Amendments which they are now supporting. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), who signed the report without making a reservation on this point, has explained that she did not agree with it. I do not wish to stress that point too far, because she has a right to make a reservation now. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) is going to divide against himself on 16th May, on the question of the means test and defending this Bill against the provision of a means test.

Photo of Sir James Henderson-Stewart Sir James Henderson-Stewart , Fife Eastern

I said that it must not be supposed to-night that I would vote against the Labour Amendment, but I am not able to vote either way at this present moment.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

It is a matter of the balance of forces. He is so strongly drawn in opposite directions that he is entirely unable to make up his mind.

Mr. W. Joseph Stewart:

He does not want to hurt your feelings.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

There are, as I have indicated, more views than one on this point. I come back to the point which was repeated from the other side, but not perhaps so as to carry complete conviction, that what we are fundamentally concerned with is the interest of the tenant. It is said on the opposite side that if you spend money on a property, that property is thereby improved in value. Nobody can avoid that conclusion. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and indeed the hon. Member for East Fife will agree that if you put a sufficient rate upon an improved property you can absorb the improved value altogether. In a succeeding group of Amendments I am accepting a number which will have the effect of enforcing that servitude upon property to a very much greater extent. It will be impossible for a person who has once accepted the position to free himself.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the point which I put to him about the landlord using some of that property to let to well-to-do people?

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I am not clear how that affects the matter. If the hon. Member would try to draft an Amendment to that effect, he would appreciate the difficulty. If he will try to do so and let me see the Amendment I shall be very glad to discuss it with him. The fundamental point is that it should not be within the power of a very wealthy individual to derive advantage from an Act Mach as this, and we go a very long way to meet the point by imposing a servitude by which a person accepting benefits under the Bill will be unable to liberate himself without the consent of the local authority—further, without the consent of the Minister or, indeed, of this House, because everything done by the Minister is open to criticism in this House. Hon. Members opposite did not divide against the Bill on Second Reading and I hope they will not do so on Third Reading, when we shall debate the general merits of the Bill, and I shall be ready to bring forward arguments with

regard to Berwickshire and the position of local rating.

Various reasons have been advanced from the other side why the Bill should not be passed, but I hope to be able to deal with them and to convince hon. Members upon this issue. We hope to canalise the benefit by means of legislative provision and to attach it to the tenant. We are accepting later on an Amendment which will enforce that principle. One comes down to the question of whether we can allow a private individual to be the channel through which the State operates in the case of houses, but it is a position which all parties in this House have accepted.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

We are not accepting it perforce. The hon. Member knew the late John Wheatley as well as any of us, and will agree that he did not accept any of his Bill perforce. He will agree that all parties in the House have from time to time accepted the principle that a private individual can be utilised as a channel, if proper safeguards can be found, by which he can assist in the improvement of housing in this country. Now that we have had a long and thoroughly interesting argument I hope that the House will find itself ready to come to a decision on the proposed new Clause.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 132; Noes, 221.

Division No. 215.]AYES.[6.53 p.m.
Adams, D. (Consett)Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Henderson, T. (Tradeston)
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)Day, H.Hills, A. (Pontefract)
Adamson, W. M.Dobbie, W.Holdsworth, H.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)Hopkin, D,
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.
Banfield, J. W.Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)
Barnes, A. J.Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)
Barr, J.Frankel, D.Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)
Bellenger F. J.Gallacher, W.Kelly, W. T.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.Gardner, B. W.Kirby, B. V.
Benson, G.Garro Jones, G. M.Kirkwood, D.
Bevan, A.George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.
Broad, F. A.George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)Lawson, J. J.
Bromfield, W.Gibson, R. (Greenock)Leach, W.
Brown, C. (Mansfield)Green, W. H. (Deptford)Lee, F.
Burke, W. A.Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.Leonard, W.
Charleton, H. C.Granted, D. R.Leslie, J. R.
Chater, D.Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)Logan, D. G.
Cluse, W. S.Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)Lunn, W.
Clynes, Rt. Hun. J. R.Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)Macdonald, G. (Ince)
Cocks, F. S.Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)McEntee, V. La T.
Cava, W. G.Hall, d. H. (Whitechapel)McGhee, H. G.
Crisps, Hon. Sir StaffordHarris, Sir P. A.MacLaren, A.
Daggar, G.Hayday, A.Maclean, N.
Dalton, H.Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)Marshall, F.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)Henderson, J. (Ardwick)Maxton, J.
Messer, F.Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)Tomlinson, G.
Milner, Major J.Seely, Sir H. M.Viant, S. P.
Montague, F.Sexton, T. M.Walkden, A. G.
Morrison, G. A. (Seettish Univ's.)Shinwell, E.Walker, J.
Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)Silkin, L.Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)Silverman, S. S.Welsh, J. C.
Muff, G.Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)Westwood, J.
Noel-Baker, P. J.Smith, E. (Stoke)Whiteley, W, (Blaydon)
Oliver, G. H.Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)Wilkinson, Ellen
Paling, W.Smith, T. (Normanton)Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)
Pearson, A.Sorensen, R. W.Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.Stephen, C.Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Price, M. P.Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Pritt, D. N.Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Richards, R. (Wrexham)Summerskill, EdithWithers, Sir J. J.
Ritson, J.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Woods, G, S. (Finsbury)
Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)Thorne, W.
Robinson, W. A. (SI. Helens)Thurtle, E.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Rothschild, J. A. deTinker, J. d.Mr. John and Mr. Grove.s
NOES.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.Edmondson, Major Sir J.Magnay, T.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.Maitland, A.
Albery, Sir IrvingEllis, Sir G.Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)Elmley, ViscountManningham-Buller, Sir M.
Aske, Sir R. W.Emrys-Evans, P. V.Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)Entwistle, Sir C. F.Markham, S. F.
Baxter, A. BeverleyErrington, E.Maxwell, Hon. S. A.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.Erskine-Hill, A. G.Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)
Beit, Sir A. L.Findlay, Sir E.Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)
Birchall, Sir J. D.Fleming, E. L.Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Bird, Sir R. B.Fox, Sir G. W. G.Moreing, A. C.
Blair, Sir R.Fremantle, Sir F. E.Morgan, R. H.
Boothby, R. J. G.Gluckstein, L. H.Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Bower, Comdr. R. T.Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.Munro, P.
Braithwaite, Major A. N.Gower, Sir R. V.Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Brass, Sir W.Grant-Ferris, R.O'Connor, Sir Terence J.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G.Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)Gridley, Sir A. B.Palmer, G. E. H.
Bull, B. B.Grimston, R. V.Patrick, C. M.
Butcher, H. W.Gritten, W. G. HowardPeake, O.
Butler, R. A.Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.Perkins, W. R. D.
Campbell, Sir E. T.Hambro, A. V.Peters, Dr. S. J.
Cary, R. A.Hannah, I. C.Petherick, M.
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)Haslam, Sir d. (Bolton)Pilkington, R.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.Procter, Major H. A.
Channon, H.Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.Ramsbotham, H.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)Hepburn, P. G. T. BuchanRathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)Hepworth, J.Rawson, Sir Cooper
Chorlton, A. E. L.Holmes, J. S.Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Clarke, Frank (Dartford)Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)Hopkinson, A.Remer, J. R.
Clarry, Sir ReginaldHorsbrugh, FlorenceRickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)
Colfox, Major W. P.Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Repner, Colonel L.
Conant, Captain R. J. E.Hume, Sir G. H.Roes, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)Hunter, T.Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)Hutchinson, Q. C.Rowlands, G.
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)Joel, D. J. B.Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Courtauld, Major J. S.Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)Rugglas-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Cranborne, ViscountKeeling, E. H.Russell, Sir Alexander
Craven-Ellis, W.Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Crooke, Sir J. S.Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)Salmon, Sir I.
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.Kimball, L.Salt, E. W
Croom-Johnson, R. P.Lamb, Sir J. Q.Samuel, M. R. A.
Cross, R. H.Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.Sandeman, Sir N. S.
Crossley, A. C.Leech, Sir J. W.Scott, Lord William
Crowder, J. F. E.Leighton, Major B. E. P.Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Culverwell, C. T.Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'ft)
Davidson, ViscountessLevy, T.Smiles, Lieut. Colonel Sir W. D.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)Lewis, O.Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Davison, Sir W. H.Liddall, W. S.Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Dawson, Sir P.Lipson, D. L.Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)
De la Bère, R.Lloyd, G. W.Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Denman, Hon. R. D.Loftus, P. C.Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Denville, AlfredMcCorquodale, M. S.Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)
Doland, G. F.Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.
Dower, Major A. V. G.McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)McKie, J. H.Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Dugdale, Captain T. L.Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Eastwood, J. F.Macquisten, F. A.Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Tasker, Sir R. I.Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Tate, Mavis C.Wardlaw-Milne, Sir d. S.Win, A. R.
Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)Warrender, Sir V.Wolmer, Rt. Hon, Viscount
Thomas, J. P. L.Waterhouse, Captain C.Womersley, Sir W. J.
Thomson, Sir J. D. W.Watt, Major G. S. HarvieWood, Hon. C. I. C.
Titchfield, Marquess ofWayland, Sir W. AWragg, H.
Touche, G. C.Wedderburn, H. J. S.Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C
Tree, A. R. L. F.Wells, S. R.Young, A. S, L, (Partick)
Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Turton, R. H.Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Wallace, Capt. Rt. Han. EuanWilliams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)Lieut.-Colonel Kerr and Major Herbert.
Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)