HC Deb 25 July 1919 vol 118 cc1733-43

During the period of two years after the passing of this Act the money which may be advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners to any private person for the purpose of constructing houses for the working classes on heritable security on any land or dwellings solely may, if the Commissioners think fit, and if the houses are constructed in accordance with the plans and specifications approved by the Board, exceed the amount specified in Sub-section (2) of Section sixty-seven of the principal Act, but shall not exceed eighty per centum of the value of the estate or interest in such land or dwellings proposed to be burdened with the heritable security; and advances may be made by instalments from time to time as the building of the Houses on the land burdened with the heritable security progresses, so that the total of the advances do not at any time exceed the amount last-mentioned, and a heritable security may accordingly be made to secure advances so to be made from time to time provided that—

(a) the maximum period for the repayment of the loan shall be fifty years;

(b) the provisions of Section (3), paragraph (a) of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1909, shall apply to loans to private persons.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "two" ["during the period of two years"], and insert instead thereof the word "three."

In Committee the Secretary for Scotland agreed to an extension of time during which assistance would be given under the terms of the Bill to local authorities for housing from two years to three, and I suggest that in conformity with that arrangement the period for which assistance of another kind should be granted should be equally extended from two years to three. The whole object of the Bill is to provide houses as quickly as possible in Scotland, and if it has been decided, in order to encourage the building of houses, that it is necessary to give some certainty that assistance shall be continued for three years in one case it is equally desirable in the other case.


I beg to second the Amendment.


On the assumption, that this Amendment is in order—and I beg respectfully to doubt whether it does not fall in the same category as certain other Amendments which have been moved from the same quarter—it is a proposal which involves the extending of the period during which loan to private persona may be made on favourable terms from two years to three years, with the result, I apprehend, that more money will have to be found from public funds in order to meet the case for which the Amendment provides. It would be quite impossible for me to accept the Amendment inasmuch as it is an Amendment which finds no place in the corresponding English measure, and the Treasury would not, I think, be justified in granting different treatment an a vital matter of the sort of one side of the border which it does not accord on the other side of the border. Accordingly, from that point of view, be the Amendment in order or be it not, I cannot accept it, even if you hold, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Member is entitled to move it.

Sir. J. HOPE

I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: Leave out the word "the" ["with the plans"]. — Mr. Munro.]


I beg to move, to leave out the word "eighty" ["shall not exceed eighty"], and to insert instead thereof the word "seventy-five."

This Amendment and the one which follows refer to a matter which was discussed in the Scottish Grand Committee. When accepting Amendments which extended the limit of the amount which might be advanced and also the period for the repayment of the loan, I did so on the clear understanding that I should have to communicate with the Treasury and ascertain their view before the Report stage. Having done so, I am afraid that it would be impossible for me to accept the Amendments which were made in the Grand Committee on that tentative understanding and allow them to remain in the Bill. The terms which are in the Bill, assuming that the Amendments I am now moving are accepted, are precisely the same in Scotland as in England. Again, any differentiation in this matter of finance on the one side of the border from the other would, I think, be quite unjustified. I made it quite clear to the Committee, that my acceptance of the Amendments was entirely conditional, and the condition has not been satisfied.


It is regrettable that these Amendments have not been accepted by the Treasury, particularly that extending the period for borrowing in cases of this kind. The obligation is a very serious one at any time, and it is rendered very much more difficult now by the financial position of the country and particularly by the financial position of those who have to borrow the money. I think it is very unfortunate that the period of fifty years has not been accepted by the Treasury, and that it is to be reduced again to forty years, which I think will be the limit if these Amendments now proposed are carried. I suppose we must submit, and certainly I submit with very great regret. The argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman as to there being no differentiation in financial cosiderations between the two countries is an argument which is always used to suit the occasion, but it is not always acted upon. The Small Landowners Act in Scotland differs financially from the corresponding measure in England. It was not then felt that the financial considerations in each, case should be identical, and I do not see that it should be an argument in the present case.


Clauses 18 and 19 would assist in dealing with the question of rural housing in Scotland, and would to some extent meet the demand of those interested in agriculture throughout Scotland. We have not been entirely satisfied, and now the right hon. Gentleman, comes to cut down even the concession we have got. I know that it is at the demand of the Treasury. It seems to me that if this Amendment is accepted Clause 18 becomes mere camouflage. The Secretary for Scotland has never clearly stated what will be the exact interest to be paid on these loans. The Amendment to which I attach most importance is that relating to the provisions in Section (3), paragraph (a) of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, which was to apply to loans to private persons, and which it is now proposed to omit. If that proviso is left out it means that these loans cannot be granted by the Public Works Loan Commissioners at the lowest rate of interest. Therefore, it seems to me that the whole Clause is valueless. We do not know what the actual rate is to be, but we know that if this Amendment is accepted it will not be the lowest rate of interest, and a very serious burden will be imposed on those-borrowings. The effect will be that it will not be worth anybody's while to borrow under the terms of this Bill. I cannot see why the Treasury should object to treating these loans at a cheap rate of interest. I hope the Secretary for Scotland will seriously consider retaining his own Amendments, or if he cannot do so now of getting them re-inserted in another place.

He has referred to the question of England, but I submit that according to the Housing Report the conditions of rural houses in Scotland are quite different from those in England. In many cases they are much worse. Houses in England for rural workers are mostly in villages, and it will be possible for the local authorities to build villages and reconstruct the houses in villages which are not in a satisfactory condition, but in Scotland the rural workers are at present provided with cottages scattered all over the country, and it will be very difficult for local authorities to build houses dotted about the country. The result will be that the local authorities will not be able to help rural housing as they can in England. Unless some encouragement is given under this Bill the whole thing will be of little or no advantage to the promotion and improvement of rural housing in Scotland. I hope the Secretary for Scotland will reconsider the meagre concession he made in Committee; otherwise the Bill will not commend itself to those interested in agriculture in Scotland, whether farmers or farm labourers.


I join with other hon. Members in expressing regret at the decision which the Secretary for Scotland has been compelled to take, because I gather that his own view was similar to ours that this was a desirable position to take up under the Bill. Let us make it clear that this is not an attempt on our part to get a grant out of the Treasury. It is only a desire to get the loan up to the extent of 80 per cent. instead of 75 per cent., to which it is now to be reduced. The safeguards were most ample, because the Local Government Board must first have satisfied themselves as to the value of the heritable security and the financial soundness of the person himself. If the Local Government Board satisfy themselves on those two points, surely, where there is so urgent a question as the provision of adequate housing, the matter is one in which the Treasury might give way. I have another reason in supporting this proposal, which I dare say will not commend itself to Labour Members. I am strongly in favour of the development of individual enterprises which are trying to solve the housing problem. The futility of depending solely on local authorities and public utility societies, hampered in many ways as many of them are, to solve this question will very soon be apparent. I think it right that we should encourage public-spirited men, whether landlords or otherwise, who want to take this matter up in a public-spirited way. Many landlords feel this question very deeply, and in a manner which I know is in full accord with a splendid public spirit, and I very much regret the decision of the Treasury, 'which is neither well founded in finance nor calculated to relieve the situation.


In my opinion, the Motion to which we are asked to agree is most retrograde. I realise fully from the remarks made by the Secretary for Scotland that in this particular matter he is under the thumb of the Treasury, and I do not think that he sympathises at all with the Amendment which he is moving. I cannot understand the attitude of the Treasury on this occasion. It is not a case of the expenditure of more money. It is merely a case of extending the term of the loan, increasing slightly the amount of the loan, and, further, providing that the rate at which loans should be made should be upon a minimum basis. The question of loans by local authorities to private persons affects the whole issue of rural housing in Scotland. I have on former occasions moved Amendments providing that Grants should be made to private persons, but that has been ruled out of order. Therefore, the next best thing is loans to private persons which they would be able to take up, which would be provided at such rates as to enable them to make use of them. How are we going to deal with this rural housing problem in Scotland unless the private person is able to step in and improve the houses or even to erect new houses upon his estate? It is not possible for the local authorities in Scotland to take this matter up and deal with it effectively. Scottish conditions differ very largely in respect of rural housing from those in England. In Scotland we have large scattered areas, where the people are bound to live more or less in solitary conditions. I know that some hon. Members on the Labour Benches would like to see village settlements—I agree with that entirely—and that all the farm servants should congregate in these settlements; but, with the paucity of population which exists in many of these scattered areas in Scotland, it is not possible to set up the village settlement as is possible in the same way south of the border. In these large areas with a scattered population it is necessary to provide for shepherds on the hillside and ploughmen and others who cannot and will not walk many miles to their work from these village settlements.


May I remind the hon. Member that the only point which is under discussion at present is as to whether the amount of the loan to be given should be 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. That has nothing to do with shepherds' cottages.


I submit to your ruling, but if the amount is reduced it makes it all the harder for private proprietors to deal with this question of houses upon their estates. I regard this as a most retrograde proposal. I am not prepared to accept this Amendment, not because I believe that the Secretary for Scotland does not sympathise with the retention of the Sub-sections involved, but I suggest that we should divide against the Amendment in order to indicate to the Treasury that what they propose to do will affect the utility of the Bill from the point of view of rural housing in Scotland.


I also am extremely sorry that the Secretary for Scotland has felt compelled to reduce the amount from 80 per cent. to 75 per cent. I took an active part in this matter in the Committee upstairs. The suggestion there was that the amount should be 90 per cent., though 80 per cent. was proposed, and the Secretary for Scotland offered to consider the question of 80 per cent. with the conditions which he attached. I advised my friends to accept that offer, rather than press for 85 per cent., in the hope that it would go through. I share with them their fears with regard to rural housing, that with this limitation of the amount to be advanced for the purpose of improving or erecting houses on the estates to 75 per cent., and with the reduction of the period of repayment from fifty to forty years and the other limitations in financing a very hard blow is struck at rural housing. I quite agree with all that has been said as to the appalling conditions of housing in Scotland. I do not know how long we are going to be trailed at the tail of England in this matter, and why we should not strike out here against the Treasury conditions. We can urge that the special conditions in Scotland, as revealed by the Reports of the Housing Commission, represent a condition much worse than anything in England, and therefore better provision should be made in granting advances to private persons for the improvement of houses in Scotland, and that there should be a differentiation between the rates in Scotland and in England. The heavens would not fall if this extra concession were made to Scotland. The Treasury would recover from the blow; I am sure it would not paralyse the Treasury. There is perfect security here. Perhaps the Secretary for Scotland will give us some assurance that he will reconsider this matter. If he is going to press his Amendment, I would invite hon. Members to go into the Division Lobby against it, and so stiffen the back of the Secretary for Scotland to make a stronger plea with the Treasury and to urge the Treasury to give greater facilities for Scotland under the special conditions in which we are placed. Hopes were dashed in one respect in that advances could not be made to private persons. In Committee upstairs I thought that that was a dangerous course to follow, but I was hoping that under this provision for the extension of the period of repayment of loan and for the advance of the amount to 80 per cent. a way would be paved for a great reform in rural housing in Scotland.


By leave of the House I would add a few sentences in reply to the points raised. I would invite the House to exercise a sense of proportion in this matter. One would have thought, from the speeches delivered in some quarters, that the Government had decided that there could be no loans to private owners, and that the whole system which the Bill provided in that particular was to be destroyed. Really, all that we are discussing is the terms upon which these loans are to be granted. I quite agree with what my right hon. Friend opposite said, that the assistance of public-spirited private persons would be welcomed in the matter of housing in Scotland, as well as the exertions of local authorities, but I, for one, absolutely re-fuse to believe that the public-spirited person in Scotland would decline to go in for a housing scheme merely because the limitation is 75 per cent. instead of 80 per cent., and the period of repayment forty years instead of fifty years. I venture to suggest that the importance of these limitations has been considerably exaggerated from the practical point- of view. I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that the public-spirited person would not be deterred from the enterprise by the change I am seeking to make in the Bill. It is quite obvious that I am suffering for the precipitancy, the unwarranted precipitancy, which I displayed in Committee in accepting this Amendment instead of resisting it, but my hon. Friends will bear me out that that acceptance was provisional and conditional upon consulta- tion with the Treasury. I think the House is inclined to take too mean a view of the value of this Clause, even after acceptance of my Amendment. My hon. and gallant Friend described it as camouflage. I cannot agree with him when I remember that there is a similar Clause in the Bill for England. Surely hon. Members will agree that a Clause which is regarded as entirely satisfactory in England cannot reasonably or accurately be described as unsatisfactory in Scotland. The Clause for England is satisfactory so far as I have read the Debates of the Committee.


Would the right hon. Gentleman state what is the exact rate on loans for forty years?


That is an impossible question for me to answer. That must be fixed by the Public Works Loan Commissioners. It always has been, and, I presume, always will be in the future. My hon. and gallant Friend will probably agree that that must be so.


Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind the essential difference between the conditions in England and in Scotland. In the former case, where village communities prevail, the local authority will, no doubt, deal with the provision, of houses. In Scotland, where there are very few communities of that kind, housing must be the concern of private persons, and, therefore, there should be more generous treatment provided


I agree that that distinction does apply to certain parts of England and to certain parts of Scotland, but hon. Members will agree with me that the conditions in the North of England approximate to, if they are not identical with, those in rural Scotland, and I am informed—I do not speak from personal knowledge—that the conditions in Central

England, in the Midlands, are not dissimilar to those in the rural districts of Scotland. I do not want to be driven into arguing the larger question, but to confine myself to the simple question raised in the Amendment. It has been said that the conditions in Scotland are worse than those in England. They are in many places. Where they are, Scotland will get so much more subsidy from the State than England gets. With regard to the suggestion that I should reconsider this matter in conjunction with the Treasury, I should be deluding the House if I held out any hope that any different result would be achieved by any number of conferences on this matter. I am afraid that certain hon. Members think that because a certain concession was obtained by conference with the Treasury, that experience may now be repeated. I can assure them that that would not be so. Accordingly, the Clause being in the same terms, once my Amendment is approved, as the Clause in the English Bill, however much my hon. Friends might prefer to have easier terms. I would earnestly ask them to accept the situation which exists. Under those circumstances I would ask hon. Members, having regard to the fact that this is a mere question of terms and not a question of withdrawing a principle, not to press the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, to leave out the words provided that—

  1. (a) the maximum period for the repayment of the loan shall be fifty years;
  2. (b) the provisions of Section (3). paragraph (a) of the Housing, Town Planning, etc., Act, 1909, shall apply to loans to private persons."

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill.

The House divided: Ayes, 12; Noes, 129.

Division No. 80.] AYES. [1.50 p.m.
Buchanan, Lieut. Colonel A. L. H. M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.) Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish University) McMicking, Major Gilbert Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)
Gardiner, J. (Perth) Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)
Harmsworth, Sir R. L. (Caithness-shire) Murray, William (Dumfries) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir J.
Johnstone, J. Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar) Hope and Mr. G. Murray,
Adair, Rear Admiral Baldwin, Stanley Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. N. (Gorbals) Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Beck, Arthur Cecil Bridgeman, William Clive
Allen, Col. William James Betterton, H. B. Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)
Amery, Lieut-Colonel L. C. M. S. Blair, Major Reginald Burdon, Colonel Rowland
Cautley, Henry Strother Hinds, John Parker, James
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin) Hirst, G. H. Parry, Major Thomas Henry
Chadwick, R. Burton Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G. Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike
Coats, sir Stuart Hodge, Rt. Hon. John Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton[...]
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hogge, J. M. Pratt, John William
Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K. Hood, Joseph Raeburn, Sir William
Colfox, Major W. P. Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Rankin, Capt. James S.
Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.) Hughes, Spencer Leigh Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)
Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, mid,) Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster) Rose, Frank H.
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirk'dy) Jesson, C. Rowlands, James
Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe) Jodrell, N. P. Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)
Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln) Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen) Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) Kellaway, Frederick George Sexton, James
Dockrell, Sir M. Kenworthy, Lieut-Commander Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)
Doyle, N. Grattan King, Commander Douglas Shaw, Tom (Preston)
Edge, Captain William Law, A. J. (Rochdale) Simm, Colonel M. T.
Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath) Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales) Sitch, C. H.
Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark) Lindsay, William Arthur Stanier, Captain Sir Beville
Eyres-Monsell, Com. Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Stanley, Colonel Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Falcon, Captain M. Lorden, John William Sturrock, J. Leng-
FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A. Loseby, Captain C. E. Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)
Forestier-Walker, L. Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.) Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts)
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John M'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey) Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Denb.)
Goff, Sir R. Park Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Stirling) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Mackinder, Halford J. Tryon, Major George Clement
Graham, W. (Edinburgh) Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian) Walker, Colonel William Hall
Green, J. F. (Leicester) Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Wallace, J.
Greenwood, Col. Sir Hamar Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Ward, Colonel L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Greig, Colonel James William Magnus, Sir Philip Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)
Grundy, T. W. Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.) Wardle, George J.
Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W. E. (B. St. E.) Mitchell, William Lane- Whitla, Sir William
Hacking, Captain D. H. Molson, Major John Elsdale Wilson, Colonel Leslie (Reading)
Hailwood, A. Morison, T. B. (Inverness) Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Hallas, E, Munre, Rt. Hon. Robert Wood, Major Mackenzie (Aberdeen, C.)
Hamilton, Major C. G. C. (Altrincham) Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen) Yeo, Sir Alfred William
Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds.) Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.) Younger, Sir George
Henderson, Major V. L. Murray, John (Leeds, W.)
Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.) Nelson, R. F. W. R. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord E.
Hills, Major J. W. (Durham) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William Talbot and Captain F. Guest.

Question put, and agreed to.