Orders of the Day — Housing (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1949.
Lords Amendment: In page 7, line 12, at end insert:
(iii) (a) if in relation to any dwelling the Secretary of State (after consultation with the Agricultural Executive Committee and District Wages Committee having jurisdiction within the area in which such dwelling is situate) certifies that such dwelling is necessary for the proper and efficient carrying on of an agricultural holding, the provisions of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section twelve of this Act shall not apply with respect to such dwelling during such period as such certificate continues in force;
(b) any certificate granted by the Secretary of State as aforesaid may be revoked by him if he is of opinion that the dwelling to which it relates is no longer necessary for the proper and efficient carrying on of the said agricultural holding but before any such certificate is revoked the Secretary of State shall consider any representations made to him by the owner of the dwelling or by the tenant of the said holding;
(c) where any such certificate granted by the Secretary of State is revoked as aforesaid the owner of the dwelling to which the certificate related shall within a period of three months pay to the local authority the like amount as would become payable to them under subsection
(2) of section twelve of this Act in the event of a breach at the date of the revocation of the certificate of any of the conditions specified in subsection (1) of the said section and in the event of the owner failing to pay such amount as aforesaid the provisions of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section twelve of this Act shall extend and apply to the dwelling in like manner as they would have applied if in the absence of a certificate from the Secretary of State an improvement grant had been made in respect of the dwelling.
I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
This Bill was intended to benefit the occupiers of houses which might properly be modernised. The occupiers might be the owners themselves of the houses or they might be the tenants of the houses. The House has agreed that the improvement of tied houses will not be assisted under the provisions of the Bill. There are conditions about sale and rent which reduce to the minimum the possibility of private gain to the investor arising from the grants to be made under the provisions of the Bill. We are not dealing with the possibility of private gain to the investor from anything which he himself does, but we are reducing to the minimum the possibility of private gain to the investor arising from the grants made under the provisions of the Bill.
The observance of these conditions makes it possible to extend the benefits of the Bill to the owners of houses which are not occupied by the owners. There are tied houses in many industries and many services, but the House has agreed that agricultural houses should be included in this Bill in like manner as other houses. This Amendment, however, proposes that there should be an exemption from the provisions of the Bill at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the case of certain agricultural houses. I need hardly say that those who speak for the occupants of these houses are strongly opposed to this proposed exemption, and in the circumstances the proposed exemption can hardly be described as a compromise, as it has been described in another place. Can we really agree that the Secretary of State, whoever he should be, should determine which individual houses shall be exempt from the provisions of the Bill? That is what the Amendment proposes. I suggest that this is a dangerous precedent which this House would not lightly establish and is certainly one which we have no desire to establish at this time.
Even if the House should accept the proposal to grant what amounts to judicial powers to my right hon. Friend, a very cumbersome and costly procedure is proposed. It is suggested in this Amendment that in every case of an application being made to the Secretary of State for exemption from the provisions of the Bill, the Secretary of State should send out one of his representatives who would examine each individual case and then he would consult with the agricultural executive committee. No doubt the agricultural executive committee would send out someone to examine every individual case; then my right hon. Friend would have to consult the district wages committee and, no doubt, they would send out someone to examine every individual case. Then, after the Secretary of State had received and considered all those different reports, it is proposed that he should make his decision. That would inevitably take a considerable time and there would inevitably be accusations of delay.
I know that the National Farmers' Union have worked hard and have made a very sincere effort to overcome what is generally accepted as a problem of very real difficulty. I regret, however, for reasons some of which I have just given, that it is not possible for us to accept this Amendment which I believe is the result of their long consideration of ways and means of getting round the objections that have hitherto been stated against the admission of tied houses to the provisions of this Bill.
I might also say that I am not convinced that there will be serious trouble arising from the untying of houses consequent on their being improved with the assistance of grants made under the provisions of this Bill. We are constantly being told that there are such good relations in agriculture, that there is so little disputation as between master and man, and we are constantly being told that at present there are very few cases of the occupiers of tied houses being evicted by court order. When the farm worker goes out of a job he knows he is going out of a house, and that the house is required for his successor in the job on the farm. In almost every case he goes without entering into any dispute whatsoever with the farmer.
The passing of this Bill will not convert those very reasonable farm workers of Scotland into most unreasonable people who will, to the best of their ability, obstruct the farmer in finding successors to themselves in their work and in the occupation of their houses. I am sure that the apprehensions felt by some members of the National Farmers' Union are not wholly justified. In any case, we should try the provisions of this Bill as it stands and, if need be, we can amend the law dealing with tied houses in agriculture and in other industries and services in a tidier way than is here proposed. I hope it would be done in a way that might be agreed with those who represent the different interests who will be concerned when the houses which are tied are untied or about which the law might be altered in some way. These are matters which should not be dealt with hurriedly at this stage in a Bill of this kind. These are matters for more mature consideration. For those reasons, I must invite the House to disagree to this Amendment.
I think that in every quarter of the House the words which the Joint Under-Secretary has just spoken must have been heard with feelings of the very deepest regret. I regret exceedingly having had to listen to those words, and particularly to his concluding remarks, when he spoke of the Government perhaps finding a tidier way of dealing with this problem. He said the Government should not be hurried; that they should attend to this matter in a leisurely and orderly way. We have been waiting for four years for this orderly way and it is about time the Government began to hurry themselves in connection with the re-housing of such vast numbers of people in rural Scotland. In spite of that, in spite of the fact that we have been working overtime, if I may say so, during the last two nights, and also in spite of the warmth of the evening, I have to endeavour to do everything in my power to right what I think is a very grievous wrong, a wrong which is being committed against a very deserving section of the community.
It seems to me that in another place, the report of the proceedings in this House having been studied it became obvious that the Government were unwilling to help in improving this vast number—some 40,000 to 50,000—of rural cottages in Scotland. So, in another place, they came to the conclusion that the best way of dealing with the matter was to follow principles which are obviously acceptable to the Government and which, in fact, have been referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary in the course of his speech.
The Government surely accept that tied houses should be provided in cases where the work is of national importance and where it is obvious that those employed require to live close to their employment. They accept that in connection with forestry, in connection with railways, in connection with the National Health Services and in connection with other services as well. In another place they have followed that principle closely. No one for a moment would deny that the agricultural worker today is performing essential work for the country, work of great and ever greater importance to the nation. I am taking that as being altogether accepted; I take it that that condition has been proved.
Let us look at the other condition to see how that is to be satisfied. According to the Lords Amendment, that condition is to be satisfied by the calling in of the agricultural executive committee and district wages committee, who will certify that the cottage is necessary for the proper and efficient carrying on of the agricultural holding. That is the condition that is laid down, and I consider that that is satisfied by the proposals in the Lords Amendment. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the length of time that would be involved, the number of journeys that would have to be undertaken, and one thing and another. I think that that is carrying matters a little bit too far. After all, people in a county or a region know very well the conditions on most of the farms in that county or region, and therefore it does seem to me that that argument has no substance in it whatsoever. Then adequate safeguards are provided in paragraphs (b) and (c) of the Amendment.
What is the Government's case? They are in agreement that the service cottage is necessary. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government in another place made this defence on behalf of the Government. He said that this case had come up suddenly, and he had not been able to give it the attention which it demanded; and having said that, he then fell back, it seemed to me, on a stale brief that had been prepared for a completely different set of circumstances altogether. Surely tonight the Secretary of State is not going to base his case on the responsibility of someone else? The Under-Secretary has endeavoured to make that a defence, but I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman will not follow. It is not, after all, a very brave thing to do. It is rather dodging one's responsibility to turn the responsibility on to a trade union representing an eighth of the agricultural workers in Scotland and on to the National Farmers' Union. And that is what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is saying, if he follows the Under-Secretary, that because these two sets of persons cannot agree, then obviously he cannot do anything about it. I do not think that that is right. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman in his heart does not think it is right. I am putting a serious argument. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman in his heart thinks that is right, or that he is really doing his duty if he falls back on an argument of that kind.
After all, what is the right hon. Gentleman doing? He is really condemning some 50,000 families in Scotland to conditions which he believes are not those conditions in which a family today should live. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is causing 40,000 to 50,000 families to live in conditions of unhappiness and discomfort in which they need not necessarily live. I think that that is most deplorable. That argument really seems to be somewhat hypocritical, because it is agreed that the service cottage is necessary, and that, therefore, if a man does give up his job, the cottage must be cleared and made available to someone else. There is no doubt about that.
The only difference, then, between the procedure which the right hon. Gentleman suggests and the procedure which will apply to the tied cottage is this, that in the one case the man knows that if he wants to leave his job he must give up his cottage, and in the other, if the man gives up his job and not the cottage the Government would like the fanner to go to the court and get the man evicted from that cottage. I do not think that the latter alternative is a very happy one. The Under-Secretary tried, I thought, to make a little bit of fun of the good feeling that exists between the farmers and their workers in the present circumstances. Well, that is a fact; that feeling does exist, and today the men know perfectly well that if they give up their jobs they must give up their houses. If it is put the other way, they stay on in the hope that the court may find in their favour, whereas we know perfectly well that if the house is really necessary for the running of the farm an eviction order will probably follow.
When I spoke on the Third Reading of this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman asked me why I made all the fuss about this matter, when seemingly it would be an unprofitable business for owners, who would not therefore do it, and said that I need not get excited about it. But on Second Reading I pointed out that if there was one class of persons who would probably benefit it would be this very class which is excluded from the benefits of the Bill, and which another place wishes us to put in, so that they may enjoy those benefits. I think the Under-Secretary rather missed the point, or at any rate he did not allude to it, that this is not so much only a question of owners as also a question for the tenant farmer. The tenant farmer would probably object very strongly if the owner were to enter into arrangements such as are suggested and see that a tenancy were granted. After all, it is the farmer who suffers if a man is not available to do a job, and no farmer, particularly where stock are concerned, can possibly afford to be without a man on the farm even for a few days.
I am appealing most seriously to the Secretary of State, even at this late moment. I think that a grievous wrong is being done. I think that great unhappiness, great discomfort, which could be relieved, is being allowed to continue, and that a very great burden is being imposed on the women, the mothers who are running these 50,000 homes. It really is no answer for the right hon. Gentleman to say to me "Let the owners do it." As I have pointed out to him on many previous occasions, the owners have not got the money to do it, and the right hon. Gentleman is as aware of that as I am. I appeal to the Secretary of State tonight to reconsider this matter in the interests of these farmers who are being made to suffer when they need not suffer. Let him consult the dictates of his own heart in this matter. If he does that, he will do the right thing and allow these people the benefits which they might enjoy under this Bill.
I was very disappointed to hear the Under-Secretary ask the House to disagree with the Lords in this Amendment. No doubt some of his reasons have a certain amount to be said for them, but I think that any gain the private owner will receive by the acceptance of this Amendment is a mere nothing in comparison with the gain that many farm workers will receive by having their houses reconditioned. I realise that the Scottish Farm Servants' Union is opposed to this Amendment, but let us not forget that only one in eight of Scottish farm servants is a member of the union. I think that we ought to think more of the people who are to live in these houses than of anyone else. Those are the people in whom I am interested.
I shall delay the proceedings for only a few minutes, but there is one point which I think we must not lose sight of. The other day in another place, when this Bill was having its Second Reading there, Lord Clydesmuir, a former Secretary of State for Scotland, raised a point about the Town and Country Planning Act. He said it might be that he would receive some reassurance from the Government that in no way would the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act affect those who wish to improve their property, but that as he saw it, there was a great risk that it might have the effect of slowing up improvements which would otherwise take place.
Later on in that Debate, Lord Morrison, replying for the Government, made it quite clear that any house which is to be reconditioned under this Bill will not be liable to a development charge. Lord Morrison said that dwellings improved under the Bill will be exempt from development charges, and that that purpose would be obtained by regulations made under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act. We want to keep in mind that these charges are very heavy, and that if this Amendment is accepted, there will be a considerable saving to whoever reconditions houses. All of us who are interested in the conditions under which people live will wish for a speed-up in reconditioning. The one thing on which I thought something might be said is expense, but that was never mentioned. This is something which can do nothing but good, and what the investor may make out of it is a mere bagatelle compared with the benefits which the people living in these houses will obtain.
I should like to have your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I should like to know whether this Amendment is strictly in Order. I should like the case to be argued on its merits instead of the Amendment being ruled out of Order, but at a time when we are being invited by Members opposite to watch national expenditure, I want to be sure that there is no transgression of the Financial Resolution, as in my view this involves an additional charge.
If it involves an additional charge, I have to draw the attention of the House to the fact that it raises a matter of Privilege. But that does not prevent us from discussing these matters. All I have to do is to say that it involves a matter of Privilege, but it is not ruled out on that account.
Perhaps I might let the House into a secret. It was a Member opposite who destroyed any possible hope of a compromise during the Committee stage on this question. It was the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley). I think that the House and the public ought to know that the National Farmers' Union had consultations and we were a fair way towards finding a compromise. I say without fear of contradiction that if Members opposite had left the sponsoring of their case to those who understand the countryside, a compromise might have been reached. It will be found that statements made on behalf of the United Kingdom Property Owners' Association by the hon. Member for West Aberdeen destroyed any possible hope of a compromise.
Since the hon. Gentleman has imputed to me something which did not happen at all, I am grateful to him for giving way. In the speech that I made on Second Reading I made no reference to the Association he has mentioned, and at no time had I had any contact with that Association. So far as I know, I had no literature from them, I was not intending to make their case and no one suggested to me that I was; I was not pleading anyone's case except, as I thought, that of agriculturists in Scotland.
You quoted from a document. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I am sorry, Sir; I would never credit you with saying any such thing. It was because the hon. Member opposite quoted from a document, and used figures to make his case about development charges, that any chance of a compromise was lost.
Does the hon. Member seriously suggest that the Government's policy on the reconstruction of cottages for 40,000 to 50,000 agricultural workers in Scotland is altered by what one back bencher says?
I am sorry if I have provoked the wrath of the noble Lord, but I did not suggest anything of the kind. What I said, and repeat, was that from the conversations which the N.F.U. delegation had with the Labour group in the House, and with representatives of the Opposition, there was a possibility of a compromise which would have been generally acceptable. I say that the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) killed that possibility stone dead.
I have no wish to be spiteful, but I ask who created this problem? I am amazed that any rural workers' houses remained to be reconditioned after the plunge that was made into the available funds. It was millions of pounds. Had the money been used properly, the problem would not have arisen. Is there anything to compel an owner of a cottage to bring it up to a reasonable standard of comfort? Is there any provision in the Bill which will make that compulsory? Is there any standard in any Housing Act of what constitutes habitability? If I may say so without offence, the farming community are doing very well at the moment. There are Members opposite who are practical farmers, and who, out of their own pockets, look after the interests of their workers. They spent some time between the wars realising that the happy and contended farm servant was a valuable asset.
I am in some difficulty about the tied house. It is no use saying it is something we can forget; a way must be found of overcoming the difficulty. We threshed the question out in Standing Committee, and while I do not object to another place making Amendments, because that is what, presumably, it exists for, the fact remains that both sides would be well advised to let the Bill go through as it left Standing Committee. We should seek a way out of what is a real difficulty in the countryside. In my submission the difficulty will not be solved by the Bill we are discussing. While I agree that the other side of the House are quite right to make a protest on what they believe to be the proper attitude to be adopted here, it would be in the interests of the harmony of the farming community in Scotland to get this Bill converted into law at the earliest possible moment so that no time will be lost in the interim in finding a way out of what is a great difficulty.
There are many of us on this side of the House who find it very difficult to follow the motives of the Labour Government in this matter. There is a very great gulf separating those who believe in the necessity of the tied cottage in the equipment of the farm and those who hold the idea in abhorrence. During a lengthy discussion on this Bill, we have on many occasions been told that hon. Members opposite have fought against assistance for the owners of tied cottages for fear that those owners might make a personal profit out of it. The Secretary of State realises that all the tied and service cottages that might be improved if this Amendment is accepted would result in more owners being out of pocket on the transaction than making a personal profit. The latter would be less than 10 per cent. of those who spend money on these cottages.
It is only right that one should mention on this occasion that the owners of these service cottages in the first place are put to the expense of building them, because they wish to own these cottages so that they can house their workers. They are absolutely essential as part of the equipment of the farm. Hon. Members opposite realise that such houses are a necessity for farms situated some distance from villages, particularly if farming is to come up to the present standard which this country is desiring.
I can safely say that the attitude of hon. Members opposite is entirely a question of political prejudice. We can see the point of view of those who are opposed to the tied cottage system particularly in an area where there is a considerable shortage of houses. There is sympathy with the view that they wish to prevent an individual and his family from being evicted at short notice by the action of the farmer, but the danger of that occurring is relatively minute compared with the increasing unhappiness that is going to be caused to the occupiers of these tied cottages if they are compelled to live in them as they are without improvements which can be carried through under this Bill, and which can make them fit and worthy residences.
I regret that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland saw fit to ask the House to disagree with the Lords Amendment. A great deal of time this week has been taken up discussing Amendments from another place. There were many valuable Amendments on other matters which we on this side thought the Government would have been well advised to accept, but they were ruthlessly turned down. I appeal, not very confidently, to the Secretary of State, even now, to lend more sympathetic consideration to this Amendment, which admittedly raises a small point, but one which, so far as the housing of the community in Scotland is concerned, is a very big point. I am glad to see the Home Secretary looking at me with some small measure of approval in his face.
I should have thought the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) would have been more courteous than to make his speech and then immediately to leave the House. I should have expected better from an hon. Member of his long experience in the House. He has gone but that will not prevent me from making certain comments, and even strictures, on his speech. At once I pay tribute to what the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire said in the closing passages of his speech, when he seemed to show a greater realisation of the housing problem in rural Scotland than some of his associates on the benches behind the Government. That was only what I expected from an hon. Member who has had considerable experience in certain rural areas in Scotland, including two parishes in my own Division. The hon. Gentleman asked what had been done between the wars?
I must ask the hon. Member to keep to the point. We are discussing the Lords Amendment.
It is all very well for someone to put up a hare; but it is rather foolish to pursue it.
I only hope that when the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire reads this Debate, Sir, and your very reasonable restraints on myself, he will realise the folly of what he said.
We are discussing on this Lords Amendment whether or not there shall be forthcoming in future under this Bill, if amended, the same kind of assistance with regard to rural housing which we in our wisdom or folly, think should not have been discontinued by this Government. I am glad to note that in the speeches of the Joint Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire there is a realisation, behind all the political bias and determination to do everything they can against the landed interests, that they are doing something which is considerably prejudicial to the housing of rural workers in Scotland. That came out especially in the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire.
I hope that even at this late hour, those responsible for administering the affairs of the Department of Health for Scotland, under whose purview this question especially comes, will realise that from blind prejudice they are doing something inimical to full production in Scotland, and indeed, to the whole fostering of efficient agriculture in Scotland. We are agreed that there is no dubiety about the need for that. It was never more urgent than it is today. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to ask us about the sins of omission in the past; but they cannot shelter behind that. If they are really desirous of doing something to better the housing of agricultural workers in Scotland they can do nothing better than accept this very reasonable Lords Amendment.
The question of the tied house applies to England, Wales and Scotland. His Majesty's Ministers have shown that they are resolutely opposed to the tied house merely because they have some preconceived ideas and will do nothing for the tied house whatever. It is not for me to speak of the position in England and Wales. But I do know something about the position in Scotland, and I support what has been said by the noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott). For agriculture in Scotland it is necessary to have the tied house. It is essential to have the houses within reasonable distance of where the agricultural worker is needed for his work.
I see that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is looking somewhat white about the gills. His answer was completely ineffective. I do not say that with any desire to be discourteous. But, having given away his case, the hon. Gentleman went on to say that he could not ask the House to agree to the Lords Amendment. I am very sorry, because I really do think that the Government would be doing a very good thing indeed for Scotland if they were charitable enough to believe that those responsible for holding the tied houses in Scotland were not at all desirous of continuing to house the workers in bad conditions. The idea of the Government seems to be that the landowning class, who might have done more in the past—I am much more open-minded than hon. Gentlemen opposite—desired to continue the same kind of conditions. But they are far from wanting to do that. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that by attempting to deal a blow at them he is merely dealing a blow at the agricultural workers, whose votes he is vainly attempting to solicit ready for the next General Election.
Even at this eleventh hour I venture to hope that those responsible for administering the affairs of the Scottish Health Department will reconsider their decision, and see the wisdom and knowledge which lies behind the various reasons for this Amendment. Failing that, I, for one, shall have great pleasure in going into the Lobby in favour of agreeing with the Lords in this matter.
I hope the House will stand solidly behind the Secretary of State for Scotland in resisting this Amendment. I listened carefully to what the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) had to say when he pictured the unhappiness of the rural population of Scotland staying in old and decrepit property; but I think that the Secretary of State for Scotland was not responsible for that. Various Governments must have been responsible, from what I know of the cottages in my own wide constituency, some of which are hundreds of years old. I know, also, that the man who owns the cottage owns the man inside the cottage. Coming as I do from a constituency which has a very large proportion of mining activity in it, I shall never agree to the handing over of the rural population to the tender mercies of employers such as we have experienced in the past in the mining industry.
The noble Lord the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott) need not tell us that there is no chance of the agricultural worker being evicted. Only last week, Edinburgh newspapers published photographs of an agricultural worker and his family, five of them, one of whom was deaf and dumb, standing out in the rain with all their domestic goods until some people came along and helped them to squat in an old Army hut. I understand that the education committee is telling them to get out of the hut because it is wanted for other purposes.
It is no use hon. Members opposite interrupting and trying to say differently. I have been too long at the game to be put off. In 1927 I went to the Sheriff's Court in Edinburgh and defended three cases against eviction. This was a ruling case which protected the miners of Mid and East Lothian. In Stirlingshire, Ayrshire, Dumbartonshire, Fifeshire, and West Lothian, our people were being turned out into the street. We are not going to allow that treatment to be meted out to our agricultural workers.
The hon. Member is referring to court cases. Can he say whether the case of which he spoke was a court case, because he will realise that in a court action, a grant can be had.
Who knows the procedure better? So long as there are sheriffs in Edinburgh, I know our people will get a fair deal. I have no intention of binding our people to the cottages. They are separate entities, and so long as there is a Labour Government at Westminster, we are going to see that the agricultural population gets the same opportunity as the rest of the workers in Scotland.
I cannot help feeling that the hon. Member has not read the Lords Amendment because, before any grant can be given, the Secretary of State for Scotland, after hearing the views of, and consulting with, among others, the district wages committees concerned, has to certify that it is necessary for the worker to be near his home. That seems to be a satisfactory safeguard against the kind of eviction which we wish to avoid.
I am certain, although I do not wish to detain the House for more than a very short time, that hon. Members would wish me to say something in my own defence after the attack that was made upon me by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay). I do not know whether I ought not to be flattered at the power that he seems to attribute to me. I want to assure him that I was not speaking from any brief when I spoke in Committee upstairs. All I was doing was to develop, in part of the speech I made, the argument that the agricultural industry in Scotland was not able to bear unaided the cost of reconditioning all the agricultural cottar houses in Scotland that are in need of reconditioning at the present time. In the course of making that case, I quoted from a survey which was made some years ago by the Scottish Land and Property Federation by means of a questionnaire sent out to the different counties in Scotland. That was all I quoted, and that was the only thing which could lead the hon. Member to think that I was speaking on behalf of that body.
I am not concerned about defending myself. I am concerned about defending this Amendment, which I think is a very good one, and I want to examine the three reasons given by the Government for rejecting the Amendment. They are not, it appears, disputing the fact that some tied cottages are necessary in Scotland. No responsible spokesman of the Government, and no Government spokesmen at all in either place, has suggested that some agricultural cottages are not necessary. Neither, indeed, could they, because we all know how necessary it is for the shepherds, and the herdsmen to live near the cattle, near the farm stables and near the byres which contain the beasts they have to tend. Particularly is that necessary in Scotland where we do not all live in villages and where the houses are spread about the glens and people have to go a long way to get to their work.
Nor, indeed, could the Secretary of State or the Government dispute the evidence which was offered by the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, which pointed to the need in certain circumstances for tied houses on the farms of Scotland; nor the more recently issued Report of the Phillips Committee on Milk Services, which came to the same conclusion. Nor, I believe, would they want to dispute the recommendation made by the Scottish Women's Rural Institute which is not a political body, but is representative of a vast number of women from all classes of society in all parts of rural Scotland. The members of that body have agreed, and by a great majority, to a resolution which has been forwarded to the Government pleading that something in the way of reconditioning may be allowed for rural cottages in Scotland.
The second thing that the Government say against accepting this Amendment, as I understand it, is that they do not like its form, and that they would rather have more time to think about it, and would like to see how the Act works. Let us have time, said the Under-Secretary, to try out the Act. After all, he has had four years to see—or very nearly four years.
I said "Let us see how the Bill works," and the hon. Gentleman suggests that I have had four years to see it. Of course, we have not had one minute. The Bill is not yet an Act. Let us have the Bill.
Let me say in simple language what I wanted to say. Nearly four years ago, about November, 1945, the Government withdrew the Housing (Rural Workers) (Scotland) Act. When that was done, the Government spokesman, who, I think, was then the Lord Privy Seal, promised us that shortly we would have something better. We have been waiting nearly four years for that—and have got this Bill. We have looked forward to this Bill for a long time, and find that it contains no provisions which can be remotely considered to be in replacement of the Housing (Rural Workers) (Scotland) Act. No grants are given except under the condition that a house must be untied. This Amendment says that a grant may be given only that where the Secretary of State certifies, after taking the advice of the district wages committee and the agricultural executive committee, that a particular house is necessary for the working of the holding.
May I pass to the third reason advanced by the Government against accepting this Amendment? I think it is the most extraordinary reason that could be given. Ever since this Bill was introduced, there has been a kind of suggestion that here was a great cleavage of opinion. It is suggested by Government spokesmen that there is a deadlock between the National Farmers' Union and the Farm Servants' Union in Scotland. Because of that deadlock—that is the term which has been used over and over again—the Government cannot put into this Bill provisions about reconditioning.
I must not quote what the Government spokesman said in another place, but I think I can paraphrase it by saying that it was suggested that the Secretary of State could not see his way clear to making any kind of grant out of public funds to farm servants who, through their own union, had indicated that they did not want that grant. It was suggested that the grant could not be made to farm workers because the union to which they belong—which consists of about only one-eighth of the farm workers in Scotland who are eligible to join—has said that for some reason it does not want cottages to be reconditioned with the aid of Government grants. The right hon. Gentleman feels, therefore, that his hands are tied. That is the negation of statecraft. The right hon. Gentleman has to see what is best for Scotland and make up his own mind without consulting sectional interests. If he finds that sectional interests express strong views, no one will deny his right, indeed his duty, to attempt to reconcile and prevent conflict.
I challenge the Secretary of State to go to any rural part of Scotland—and I have gone to a good many in the last two months—and suggest that there is not the greatest disappointment, and the greatest disgust, at the Government's attitude. Farmers and farm workers realise that they are to be the sufferers. I am not going to pursue this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like it, and I am not surprised that they do not like it. I do not think they will like it when the country has to make its decision during the next six or nine months and they find that throughout the rural areas there is the greatest dissatisfaction with the Government's attitude on this matter.
I am not fighting for any sectional interests—although perhaps I ought to have declared an interest, because I suppose if grants were available I might be able to take advantage of them, and do some reconditioning which I would have liked to do long ago. I have not at any stage fought, nor will I ever fight, for any sectional interest, but I believe that the great sufferers under this legislation will be the key farm workers like the grieve, the stockman, the cattleman, the herdsman, and the shepherd, because in a great many cases they will have to go on living in unimproved cottages which otherwise might be improved. That is why I so deeply regret the attitude of the Government on this matter.
A wide discussion has taken place far beyond the bounds of the Amendment. Indeed, it has ranged into the pros and cons of the tied cottage, but there is nothing—
On a point of Order. Is it right for the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on the Chair in that way?
I quite realise that the Debate was getting out of Order, and I endeavoured to stop it. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will remember that I said that a hare was started, and it was foolish to pursue it.
I said that, in order to indicate that I did not intend to cover many points raised which do not affect the merits or demerits of the Amendment. May I take the heat out of the matter, and return to the merits of the Amendment by saying that the State grants under this Bill apply to all houses for the community whether they are occupied by farm workers or anyone else. This Bill makes no distinction in regard to any workers. It covers every type of house in the community. I am asked to agree that public money should go to repair certain types of farm workers' cottages known as service cottages or tied cottages.
When we come to that question, we come into a realm where there is a considerable amount of heat, and perhaps some prejudice on both sides. I have had the opportunity of trying to reconcile the various points of view on this matter, and no one has done more in that direction. So far I have had no positive result from those efforts. I notice that every hon. Gentleman opposite is convinced in his own mind that this Amendment is for the benefit of the farm workers. My difficulty is that the farm workers' representatives do not believe that. Therefore, I am in a rather difficult position. Hon. Gentleman opposite say that they are fighting for the farm workers, while the farm workers' representatives are fighting to refuse their assistance, which makes the situation Gilbertian.
I should like to ask the Secretary of State a question germane to this point. Is he satisfied that he is getting sufficient people from outside the ranks of the agricultural workers coming in? I believe that the position of these tied cottages is preventing that.
No doubt we can discuss that in the agriculture Debate. The point is that the farm workers, through their accredited representatives, refuse to accept the benefits under the conditions we are advised by the other House to place upon them. It is alleged, in argument against that, that the Farm Workers' Union represents only one in eight of the workers. But the farmers' union advise me that they accept the Farm Workers' Union as representing the farm workers.
The benefits of this Bill are there for the taking, on the same terms as any other citizen, by the farmers and owners of farm cottages. They argue that they do not want to accept them on these conditions, because they want to retain the conditions of the service cottage. They have put their case to me and to hon. Members opposite, and nobody can doubt that there is a problem here which requires some solution. There is no possibility in my mind of abolishing what is called the tied cottage in any reasonable length of time. I am anxious that the farmworkers should have the benefit of this Bill, and if there is a method by which that can be achieved I should be most ready to give it consideration.
The farmers themselves, in some cases, have raised considerable obstacles to that being done, because they have put forward as their reason for wanting to retain the tied cottage that they can evict a person in it without any formality whatever. I am satisfied that this House would never pass a measure which gives such an unrestricted opportunity to a farmer to turn people out. The farmer can get possession of his cottage by going through certain formalities, although that means a little delay. The farmers' union tell me that in only a small percentage of cases do farmers ever ask their tenants to leave.
This problem, therefore, is about an infinitesimal number of people who can be evicted. The great number of farmers and farm workers in Scotland get on perfectly well together, and there is no bitterness between them. They work on reasonable terms, and there will be no difficulty about putting their cottages on tenancy conditions and bringing them under these conditions to receive the grants. Therefore, while there is a problem, it is not nearly of the dimensions suggested by hon. Members opposite.
I am glad to say, on behalf of both the farmers and landlords in Scotland, that the conditions that have been described are nowhere near the truth. A large number of these houses, maybe more than half, were repaired under various measures before the war. A large number of them are new houses built by farmers who wanted to see that their farm servants got good conditions. This idea of 50,000 farmworkers living in such misery that they do not even want their cottages repaired sufficiently to ask the union to arrange for it is fantastic.
We have got to come down to the fact that the problem is a small one, and is largely restricted to the point that a few farmers may want to throw their people out without any terms or conditions. The House will never agree to that, and therefore the farmers must find some way of getting their tied cottages put on reasonable terms which this House will accept, and which do not result in conditions of life which the farm servants will not tolerate. When they do that, and get the farm servants to agree that those conditions are reasonable, those factors will count in our approach to the question.
Though I am rejecting this Amendment tonight, I did examine it with great care to see if it met the conditions I laid down. I am sorry to say I am not satisfied that the Amendment is the solution to the problem. I am quite willing to examine it further. This is not the last housing Bill we shall pass, and most housing Acts require some adjustment or little alteration to put them into working order. There will be opportunities in due course to deal with this question, if it can be solved. No one has done more to bring the parties concerned together and to get rid of prejudice.
There is no possibility of anyone making any profit out of this Bill. It is designed to see that no one does make a profit out of it and ensures that all the benefit goes to those who occupy the houses that are improved. The only advantage that the person who improves a cottage gets is the residual value when the house becomes decontrolled. On the grounds of impracticability and because this is no solution which meets the present position, I ask the House to follow the advice given by the Joint Under-Secretary.
We are very disappointed at the response of the Secretary of State. He did not apply himself at all to the Amendment before the House. He said that it is a question of a small number of far- mers who wish to have the right to throw their workers out without any terms at all. That is not what the Amendment suggests, nor is it remotely connected with it. This Amendment is hedged about with every kind of safeguard to ensure that that does not happen. The right hon. Gentleman asked that the olive branch should be held out. Here is the olive branch, after long and careful consideration which went on up to such time that we only had this Amendment before us this morning after the Bill has been reviewed for a considerable number of months both in this House and in another place.
The only argument the right hon. Gentleman has made is that there is some objection on the part of the Farm Servants' Union. But 35,462 houses have already been improved under the Housing (Rural Workers') Act, which, in its turn, was objected to by the Farm Servants' Union. If previous Secretaries of State had listened to these objections, 35,462 houses which have been improved and lived in by agricultural workers would not have been improved.
Some of these houses are part of the 50,000 cottages mentioned, and some are
ready for further improvements, because housing standards are rising all the time. Baths and other amenities which have been introduced are desired by the agricultural workers as much as by anyone else. The Secretary of State is not justified in refusing to accept what is admittedly a compromise Amendment. The only objections to it are that it is hedged around with too many safeguards, but it is only hedged around with safeguards because of the care that has been taken to safeguard the position.
Here is a practical solution, a compromise solution to a question which has been admitted on all sides still to exist, and is likely to exist for a very long time; and all the Secretary of State says is that on some other Bill, or on some other occasion, this problem might be solved, even on the lines of this Amendment, and that perhaps this is the way to do it—but not now. We say: Do it now. It ought to be done now; it could be done now; it should be done now. We shall vote for it being done now.
|Division No. 246.]||AYES||[11.12 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir R.||Daggar, G.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Houghton, Douglas|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hoy, J.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Hubbard, T.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Deer, G.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Delargy, H. J.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Balfour, A.||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Janner, B.|
|Barton, C.||Evans, A. (Islington, W.)||Jeger, G. (Winchester)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)|
|Berry, H.||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Jones, Jack (Bolton)|
|Beswick, F.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Keenan, W.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Ewart, R.||Kenyon, C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Fernyhough, E.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Field, Capt. W. J.||Kinley, J.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Format, J. C.||Lavers, S.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Lee, F. (Hulme)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Gibson, C. W.||Longden, F.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gilzean, A.||Lyne, A. W.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McAdam, W.|
|Burden, T. W.||Gooch, E. G.||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Burke, W. A.||Grey, C. F.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Callaghan, James||Grierson, E.||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||McLeavy, F.|
|Champion, A. J.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||MacPherson, M. (Stirling)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Coldrick, W.||Guy, W. H.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Collindridge, F.||Hairs, John E. (Wycombe)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Collins, V. J.||Hale, Leslie||Mathers, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Hardy, E. A.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Cook, T. F.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Middleton, Mrs. L.|
|Cooper, G.||Herbison, Miss M.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)||Hobson, C. R.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Cove, W. G.||Holman, P.||Monslow, W.|
|Moody, A. S.||Segal, Dr. S.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Morley, R.||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Sharp, Granville||Warbey, W. N.|
|Moyle, A.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Neal, H. (Claycross)||Shurmer, P.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Weitzman, D.|
|Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Simmons, C. J.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|O'Brien, T.||Skeffington, A. M.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Orbach, M.||Skinnard, F. W.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh)|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Smith, C. (Colchester)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Pannell, T. C.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)||Wigg, George|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Snow, J. W.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Parker, J.||Sorensen, R. W.||Wilkes, L.|
|Parkin, B. T.||Steele, T.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Pearson, A.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Stokes, R. R.||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Popplewell, E.||Stross, Dr. B.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Porter, E. (Warrington)||Stubbs, A. E.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Porter, G. (Leeds)||Swingler, S.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Proctor, W. T.||Sylvester, G. O.||Willis, E.|
|Pryde, D. J.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Randall, H. E.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Richards, R.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Yates, V. F.|
|Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Titterington, M. F.|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Vernon, Major W. F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Royle, C.||Viant, S. P.||Mr. Hannan and Mr. Wilkins.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Manningham-Buller, R. E.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Gage, C.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Maude, J. C.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Neven-Spence, Sir B.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Odey, G. W.|
|Boothby, R.||Harden, J. R. E.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Bowen, R.||Haughton, S. G. (Antrim)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hurd, A.||Roberts, H. (Handsworth)|
|Challen, C.||Hutchison, Col, J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Channon, H.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Lipson, D. L.||Turton, R. H.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Wheatley, Col. M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||McFarlane, C. S.||York, C.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Drewe, C.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Ht. Hon. Walter||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Major Conant and Mr. Digby.|