Of course they did. The figures are always up in March. The right hon. Gentleman should listen. What we believe is that there have been very many more licences going, as I said on the previous occasion, on the fringes of the deep rural areas, which will work to the disadvantage of agricultural housing.
I submit to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that this is a very serious matter. There is no single question facing this country which is more serious than that of domestic food production. I would challenge them to deny that there have been far more houses built in the last five years in the deep rural areas of Great Britain than in the previous 50 years. That can only be done by denying the right of the urban authorities on the rural fringe to grant too many licences and thereby absorb too much building labour and materials.
Therefore it would have been interesting to see the distribution of licences at this time, because we are anxious to find out whether the operation of the system will have the consequences we fear. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would vary this principle at once. The one in five ratio, as I said before, was regarded by some local authorities as far too generous.
Many local authorities granted no licences at all. I think that for a long time the great local authority of Bristol granted no licences. Nor did many of the other blitzed areas, because they considered such was the housing need of local populations that emphasis ought to be placed on houses to rent.
That is the reason why I deplore this encouragement to local authorities to sell their houses, not because I do not believe a person ought to own the house in which he lives. I believe that is desirable—[Laughter.]—certainly, I said so last time. I see no reason why a man should not own his own home—and I see no reason why he should own someone else's home. Indeed, as has been said today, in the course of five years we encouraged local authorities to lend money, and we operated the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act more effectively than the party opposite.
The reason why we considered it undesirable that local authorities should sell houses to the tenants was because we did not want local authorities to reduce the pool of rentable accommodation, which is an essential condition in this crisis. It has always been considered by every student of this subject that at a time of economic crisis the mobility of the labour force depends directly upon the availability of rentable accommodation. Nothing immobilises a labour force more than inability to sell a house, or to be compelled to make a forced sale of a house in certain circumstances. So we consider that the housing policy of the Government is not directed to helping to solve the economic problems of the country, but only to satisfying the doctrinaire private enterprise theory of the party opposite.
I have one thing more to say. It seems a deplorable thing that we should once more consolidate the tied cottage. The landlords of this country and many of the farmers have had a very good deal at the hands of the State. The housing provisions for re-conditioning are very generous. Most farmers today could recondition their cottages and wipe off the capital cost in about 10 years. Very few other people have that advantage. I was talking to some farmers the other day and they were shocked by this further provision. They asked what was wrong with the existing provisions. They could re-condition a cottage and all they had to do was to create a tenancy.
Surely there is nothing wrong with freeing agricultural workers. Why does the right hon. Gentleman want to give this additional subsidy and annoy the psychology of the agricultural worker? [Laughter.] The hon. Member laughs, but he has been speaking in this House for agricultural interests all through the bad agricultural years, when his party was in power.
It seems to me to be an affront to the psychology of the agricultural worker to give the owner of his tied cottage State money with which to re-condition the cottage and still keep it tied, when the worker could have the money, could be freed, and we could make a tenant of him and give him the benefit of the Rent Restriction Acts.
I consider that the public relations of the right hon. Gentleman are excellent. He speaks very well. He makes his crusading speeches about housing in the country, hoping all the time, that like the bemused audience in the theatre, they will be looking at his mouth and not watching his hands.