Orders of the Day — Rural Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1947.

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Photo of Mr John Edwards Mr John Edwards , Blackburn 12:00 am, 25th March 1947

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to remember that, in these matters, we are not discussing compulsory powers. Here we are trying to arrange that the local authorities transfer families, particularly in the houses over which they have control; moving, for example, the widow or the aged couple from the three bedroom type of house into a smaller house, if one is available. We are not here concerned with the wider issues which the hon. Member raises.

I was asked why the temporary houses were not allocated to rural areas. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will accept this explanation, because I believe it to be completely valid. First of all, the type of house, the temporary house—not to be confused with the houses that I have mentioned—the type of temporary house was not so suitable for rural as for urban areas, particularly because it is small. Moreover, the temporary house needs more services, for instance gas, and or electricity, and in not every case were these services available in the country. The temporary houses were particularly suitable for blitzed areas where replacement of destroyed homes was very urgent. It was harder to secure speed and economy of construction in the rural districts than in the towns. Perhaps, I ought also to say that it is desirable that temporary houses, on the whole, should be built in sizable groups, and in the rural areas one does not often get the chance to put down a block of, say, fifty houses all at once.

Another point to which I must reply is one to which several Members have referred, the last Hobhouse Report. Members have asked particularly about the date of its publication. I will have a little to say about the Report in a moment; but on the specific point, I do want to say that there was no deliberate hold—up of publication. There is, as everybody knows, now a good deal of congestion in the printing of these things; it does take a long time to get reports printed; and it did happen to run into the fuel crisis at the beginning of the year. My right hon. Friend made a statement about the Report immediately it was published. I am sorry that I cannot today take the discussion of reconditioning any further than it was taken when my right hon. Friend announced his view of it at the time of its publication. I am sorry, but there is no option but for the House to accept this: the point of what my right hon. Friend said when the Report was published still stands. The Housing (Rural Workers) Acts expired in September, 1945 and were not renewed. The Minister at the time—the Government at the time—decided not to reintroduce reconditioning because of the necessity to devote all resources to new building.

I do not, at the moment, at any rate, take the view that one adds in any way to accommodation that is available if one diverts resources to reconditioning; nor do I accept the view that, even in the rural areas, there are unemployed resources which are not being used. I think that there are resources which are being used for repair work; and, possibly, it may be said that they could be used for reconditioning. I am not sure about that; but I do not accept the view that there are resources actually unemployed in the rural areas; and as long as there is a crying need for extra accommodation, then, I think, we must put that first. However, as far as reconditioning is concerned, I can only say—and what I say, I think, also goes for the Secretary of State—that we shall listen with care and attention to everything that is said during the course of this discussion, and that we hope that it will be possible for the Government to declare their intentions before the end of the Session.