HC Deb 25 July 1919 vol 118 cc1728-31

(1) A local authority within the meaning o Part III. of the principal Act, or a county council, may promote the formation or extension of, or subject to the provisions of this Section, assist a public utility society whose objects include the erection, improvement, or management of houses for the working classes.

The following Amendments stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. JOHN TAYLOR: In the descriptive heading, after the word "Societies" ["public Utility Societies"], to insert the words or Building Societies registered under the Friendly Societies Act. and in Sub-section (1), after the word "society" ["assist a public utility society"], to insert the words or Building Societies registered under the Friendly Societies Act.


The first Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. J. Taylor) is not an Amendment to the enacting part of the Bill, but only to the descriptive part, which, if necessary, gets itself altered later on, according to what the House inserts in the enacting portion of the Bill. The second Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member appears to me to increase the charge, because these provisions relate to the provision of houses by public utility societies and housing trusts. If the hon. Gentleman brings in a number of building societies registered under the Friendly Societies Act, he opens a door which allows a number of other schemes to come in, the result of which will be to add to the public burden.



The Secretary for Scotland promised to meet me when I raised this question in Committee. I understood he was going to make provision whereby these friendly societies would be included. Instead of the words "Friendly Societies Act," I could have put in the words "the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, 1893." It is not going to add any charge on the Treasury over and above what they have at the present time, because these building societies, being registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, are in essence public utility societies. The reason why I pressed this Amendment was to a certain extent a sentimental one. These building societies for the last fifty years have borne the brunt of providing buildings in Scotland for the working classes, and they now consider that they should be included in the Bill, and not public utility societies, which are an unknown quantity in Scotland, Public utility societies are not known in Scotland, but the building societies are known, and they wish to be included in this Clause, so that they may carry on the work they have been doing. I understood that my right hon. Friend was going to introduce either these words or other words to meet the point I raised in Committee. Having been absent from the House on public business in Edinburgh, I was unable to see him, and I therefore put down these Amendments to meet the point I raised in Committee.


If the expression "public utility society" include a building society registered under the Friendly Societies Act, then there is no necessity for adding the words; but if it does not include such a building society, and that society is something beyond and beside a public utility society, then it does increase the charge to which the taxpayer may become liable. I shall be glad to hear what the Secretary for Scotland has to say on the matter.


On the point of Order, I do not venture to intrude. So far as I can see, if I may respectfully say so, the Amendment might increase the charge on the public funds. But I want, if I may, to put myself right with my hon. Friend who has given notice of the Amendment. I certainly did not undertake, speaking from memory, to put down an Amendment in these terms or terms anything like them. What I did undertake to do was to look into the matter before the Report stage. I have done so, and have considered the situation very carefully. If I may say a word on merits which may meet my hon. Friend and satisfy him, I would say this: These building societies which he has in mind, doing excellent work, no doubt, are quite different from public utility societies. The main point about public utility societies which entitles them to assistance from Government funds is that they are debarred by Statute from making anything more than 6 per cent. profit. That limitation does not apply to building societies such as my hon. Friend has in mind. When I refer to the Report of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, I find that what they recommended was not that building societies should receive assistance from the State, but that if they were not already in point of fact public utility societies they should become such in order that they might get the benefit of the Government subsidy. That is really the true remedy in the case my hon. Friend has in mind. It is because I have looked into the matter that I do not see how I could be justified in guaranteeing State assistance, even if it were in my power to do so, to a society which is absolutely unlimited regarding the amount of private, profit it may make. The remedy is that it should turn itself into a public utility society and so qualify for State assistance. That is the remedy suggested by the Royal Commission, and that remedy, I suggest to my hon. Friend, entirely meets his point. Therefore, if this Amendment were, strictly speaking, in order, which I venture to doubt, I hope he will find this explanation sufficient to justify him in withdrawing the Amendment.


It is quite clear, after what has fallen from the Secretary for Scotland, that these building societies are not included in public utility societies, and it will be an addition to the charge which may become payable. Therefore the Amendment cannot be moved, still less can the proposal to assist private persons.


This Amendment is put down in order to raise the whole issue of rural housing in Scotland. It was discussed at considerable length in Committee, and at the last meeting I moved the Adjournment for that purpose. I should like to read a few words from the speech of the Secretary for Scotland in which he replied to it, which shows that he intended to look into the matter again and ascertain whether it would not be possible to do something to strengthen the Bill. He said, If anything can be done to strengthen the Bill I will gladly take that course. From that we understood that before the Report stage came on again the Secretary for Scotland would look into the whole question and see whether it was possible to strengthen the Bill from the point of view of rural housing.


It will have to be strengthened somewhere else. It is clearly outside the scope of the House. The House cannot deal with these financial matters. They can be dealt with in Committee, but not when the House is sitting as a House.


Would it be possible to raise this point of rural housing on the Bill, because it is a most important aspect of it, which I know the House believes has not been fully dealt with in this Bill? If I can raise it on any other part of the Bill, I shall be very glad to be able to do so.


I hope the hon. Member may find an opportunity, but he certainly cannot raise it on a proposal to subsidise private persons out of the public purse. That disposes of all the Amendments on Clauses 15 and 16.