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Farmworkers And Miners

Volume 443: debated on Thursday 30 October 1947

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1.

asked the Minister of Health if he will make a statement on the methods by which the decision to give the highest priority to houses for farmworkers will be implemented, and indicate the extent to which it will be necessary to expand the housing programmes of rural authorities.

20.

asked the Minister of Health what form of undertaking regarding priority for mineworkers and agricultural workers must be given by local authorities to secure approval of new housing contracts.

33.

asked the Minister of Health if he will advise Rural District Councils that farmworkers who have established the need for better accommodation should receive first consideration when the new houses to be erected in connection with the Government's new food drive, are available.

I am sending my hon. Friends copies of the circular already issued. No specific form of undertaking has been issued. Each case will be examined by my Department in the light of knowledge of the local circumstances.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have seen the circular to which he refers, and which will - undoubtedly achieve, in due course, the desired objective; but does not he think it possible for some immediate machinery to be set up to bring the farmworker and farmer into contact with the local authority so that immediate benefit may accrue from any houses that may now become available in the rural areas?

I believe that when the machinery now being set up is in full operation the farmworkers will be met, but I think it is necessary for this House to realise that ancillary industries in the rural areas are almost as important to farming as the farmworker himself.

Is the Minister aware that the terms of the circular, which most of us have probably seen, are still at variance with the promises held out by the Minister of Agriculture to the farming community, that priority of a high order will be given to the provision of houses for agricultural workers and miners?

I cannot accept that imputation, and I am quite certain that the National Farmers Union does not endorse it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the terms of the circular merely instruct local authorities to have regard to agricultural workers as well as other applicants? Anyone who thinks that those words are the equivalent, in the ordinary sense, of "high priority" should learn the English language.

The right hon. Gentleman, as usual, misinterprets the circular. We cannot accept that all questions of need should not be taken into account when selecting tenants. What we are saying is that special consideration should be given to the needs of the agricultural community.

Will my right hon. Friend assure that a measure of discretion shall still be left to local authorities to erect houses on a basis of need, and that the priority for agricultural workers and miners shall not be an absolute one?

Is it not a fact that this circular applies only to the allocation of tenancies and not to the building of houses, and is it not clear that it will throw into confusion the points scheme of rural districts and cause great disappointment in the countryside unless allied to a great expansion of rural building?

The hon. Gentleman had better arrange his differences with his right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson).

Was not the whole emphasis by the Minister of Agriculture on priority for rural workers' houses, and is it not a fact that what the Minister has said indicates quite clearly there is not to be a priority in houses but in selection?

Neither the Minister of Agriculture nor any Member of the Government has ever stated that there is absolute priority, but what has been stated is that conditions have been specially weighted in favour of the agricultural worker for whom there are special considerations. As the hon. Member knows very well, a mechanic in rural areas attending to rural machinery is doing agricultural work just as important as that of a field worker.

32.

asked the Minister of health whether he intends to introduce before Christmas a Bill making provision for the improvement and reconditioning of houses occupied by agricultural workers.

What has happened to the legislation that the right hon. Gentleman promised on 31st July? Has that shared in the basic cut?

There was no promise that that legislation would be introduced this Session.

In that case, what happens to the promises and hopes held out by the right hon. Gentleman's colleague the Minister of Agriculture, to the farmers about providing increased accommodation?

In future the right hon. Gentleman had better furnish himself with the exact words used by my right hon. Friend—

Do we understand from the answer that the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report have been shelved completely for this Session?

The House can understand from the Gracious Speech that no provision is made for legislation for the reconditioning of cottages, the view of the Government being that if there were legislation for reconditioning rural cot-ages, it would be at the expense of new accommodation in the rural areas. We are anxious to get new houses built.

Does the Minister realise that either through ignorance or prejudice, the provision of housing accommodation in the rural districts is being much impeded by his decision?

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that he will give immense pleasure in rural areas if he will concentrate labour and materials on the building of new houses rather than using it for patching up old houses, many of which are completely outworn and should be demolished?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the view just expressed is not the view of those occupying cottages which should be reconditioned?

It is however the view of the vast majority of agricultural workers that they would rather live in new houses than the miserable houses you built for them.

Is it not a fact that the very insanitary condition of these houses is due to neglect in the past on the part of the Tory landlords who owned them?

In answering questions, will the right hon. Gentleman remember that Ministers of the Crown owe a duty of courtesy to all Members of Parliament irrespective of party.