§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a short and comparatively simple measure dealing with housing in Scotland. It applies to Scotland with the necessary adaptations Part I of the Ministry of Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I have taken the responsibility of entirely excising the corresponding provisions of Part II of that Bill. Accordingly, this Bill deals with housing and with housing alone. The provisions which the Bill contains have been so recently and so exhaustively discussed, both upon the Second Reading of my right hon. Friend's Bill and in Committee upstairs, that I hope that a brief explanation of the effect of those provisions will suffice. Clause 1 of the Bill confers powers on local authorities to hire compulsorily houses for a limited period, that period being from the date of the hiring to the date when the Rent Restriction Act expires, namely, 28th May, 1923. The rent which is to be paid for these houses which are compulsorily hired will be fixed by the official arbiter under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act of 1919, and it is provided that no allowance will be made in respect of the fact that hiring is compulsory. Of course, if the parties agree, good and well, but if there is a difference of opinion, then the official arbiter will settle the amount of the rent. The Bill as drawn does not insert any rateable value of the houses that may be taken. That is a question, no doubt, for discussion in Committee, but the Bill as drawn is perfectly general in regard to that matter. Moreover, the Bill excludes from the operation of the compulsory hiring powers, as the first proviso lays it down thatany house erected after or in the course of erection on the second day of April, 1919, or to any house acquired for the public service or for the purpose of the statutory duties or powers of a statutory undertaking and reasonably required for those purposes.That was a proviso inserted in Committee on the English Bill, and I hope it will commend itself to the House as a 1776 reasonable provision. The need of Clause 1 in Scotland, I am assured, is very great, and I hope that after reasonable discussion the House will confer on the Scottish Board of Health the powers asked for.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I have a certain number of facts and figures, but they deal with furnished houses, and the question will arise, no doubt, whether this Bill should or should not take in those houses. In regard to furnished houses, I can give my hon. Friend one example. I am told that in Largs, out of 2,000 houses in the burgh, there are 700 which are tenanted by non-residents. Of these 700, about 100 are sub-let, and therefore about 600 houses are standing empty for the greater part of the year in that burgh, while there arc many persons there who are at the same time, so I am informed, houseless. That is an illustration of the kind which my hon. Friend has invited me to give.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I said very distinctly that the Bill as drawn imposes no such limit. I am well aware that a limit was imposed in the English Bill upstairs, and I think it is a matter for discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee on this Bill whether or not that limit should be repeated here, but the Bill as drawn does not contain it, and I am prepared to justify the terms of the Bill, if necessary, so far as that matter is concerned. It is a difficult question, but it arises, I think, rather in Committee than on the Second Reading. Clause 2 of the Bill deals with the time during which the subsidy is payable to private builders. As the House is aware, the time at which the subsidy payable was originally timed to expire was 23rd December of this year. It is proposed to extend the time by twelve months, as is done in the English measure, and considering the scarcity of materials and labour and the other causes which have held back houses from being erected under the subsidy and otherwise, I hope the House will regard that as a reasonable provision. May I just add this, that the effect of that extension will not be to involve any increase at all upon the sum of £15,000,000 which was set aside 1777 under the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, for the purpose of the payment of the subsidy. The sum of £15,000,000 will cover the increased period, and not a single penny more will be required. There is a provision which the House will note attached to the Clause which requires Regulations made by the Board to be laid before both Houses so far as they relate to houses which are commenced after the 31st March, 1921. That provision, I think, was inserted in the English Bill upstairs, and I shall be surprised if the House of Commons, which is so jealous of its control over these matters, should object to a provision which is designed to ensure that control of Regulations shall be secured.
With regard to the facts relating to houses which have been erected under the subsidy in Scotland, preliminary certificates—that is certificates approving the plans of these houses—have been granted showing that 1,425 houses in Scotland may participate in the subsidy up to the 15th November. I have not got particulars up to the present moment. Of those houses, 49 have been completed and the subsidy has already been paid. With regard to the size of the houses, I am informed that 350 of these houses are three-roomed houses, 530 are four-roomed houses, and 545 include five or six rooms. Accordingly, the House will see that one has got rid of the very small building which is so often deprecated, and that, according to my information, the minimum size of these houses, which have been erected under strict Regulations of the Board of Health, is three rooms. Clause 3 amends Section 5 of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, which deals with the prohibition of what we have come to call luxury buildings, and the main object of this Clause is to improve the machinery for carrying that Section into effect. In the first place, power is given in the interests of expedition to local authorities to delegate their powers and their duties to committees, but that provision is safeguarded by this important proviso:Provided that any Order made under the aforesaid Section five of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, by such a Committee shall be forthwith submitted to the local authority and taken into consideration by the authority at their next meeting, 1778 and shall not continue in force unless confirmed by the authority.4.0 P.M.
The reason for that provision is that it has been found that considerable delay has ensued because you have had to wait for a meeting of the local authority in order to deal with the matter. It has been considered safe and justifiable that these powers shall be delegated by the local authority to a committee upon which its members will predominate, always subject- to this, that the Order shall be brought under review by the local authority itself at its next meeting, and shall cease to operate unless it be then confirmed. Power is also conferred by this Clause upon two local authorities to appoint a joint committee for the purposes of the Section. I am assured that is a desirable and proper power to confer, and, subject to the safeguards contained in the Bill, I hope that the House will agree with that view. Then, on the suggestion of the Joint Industrial Council, which, as the House knows, contains employers and employés, it is provided that buildings may be prohibited where bribes are being held out to workmen by offering them wages at a higher rate than the recognised rate in the district. We have had at least one such case in Scotland— I believe that there have been several in England—where men were bribed by being offered a higher rate of wages than could be paid under the housing scheme in the district, with the result that not only one but several housing schemes were held back. This Clause has been suggested by the Joint Industrial Council, and it is in the English Bill. The Clause goes on to pro vide for the reconstitution of the Appeal Tribunal which decides questions of luxury building. At the present moment it is a standing tribunal consisting of five members. I do not want to criticise it, but I feel bound to tell the House that I have had repeated and strong remonstrances from the Corporation of Glasgow with regard to the decisions of the existing tribunal. I am entitled to tell the House that in Scotland 16 out of 18 appeals which have been taken to that tribunal for the purpose of enabling luxury building, cinemas, or something of that sort, to proceed, have been sustained. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the precise circumstances—
§ Mr. MUNRO
The existing tribunal, certainly, will be abolished, but there is nothing to prevent the members of it, if the Board of Health think fit, being re-appointed under the provisions of this Bill. I think it right and fair to put the House in possession of these two facts: First, that remonstrances have been directed to me by the Corporation of Glasgow, and second that sixteen out of eighteen appeals have succeeded. The proposal now is that, instead of that tribunal of five, the chairman shall be appointed from a panel of chairmen to be set up by the Board of Health, and that the Board of Health shall also constitute a panel from which the ordinary members shall be selected.
§ Mr. MUNRO
Three in all. It is provided that they may sit in such divisions as may seem proper to the Board. The only other provision of that Clause to which I need refer is Sub-section (4), which provides for the intervention of the Board of Health, as distinguished from the local authority, in two sets of circumstances: First, where, by reason of the construction in the district of some other authority of buildings of less public importance than the provision of dwelling accommodation, the Board are satisfied that the provision of dwelling accommodation is likely to be hindered or is hindered. Where a building is going on in an adjacent local authority of a character which interferes with the housing scheme of the first authority, the Board of Health may intervene. Secondly, the Board may interfere and make an Order where the local authority in question is failing to do its duty under the section, or, in other words, failing to take appropriate steps to prevent luxury building. That is all I need say about Clause 3.
We now come to Clause 4, which gives power to a local authority to execute works which are necessary or which are incidental to the carrying out of a hous 1780 ing scheme which is beyond the confines of its own district. Several burgh authorities in Scotland are carrying out such schemes and buildings outside their own boundaries. Wishall, Motherwell, Airdrie, Glasgow, Queensferry, Lasswade and Prestonpans, I am informed, are all building outside the confines of their own particular districts. Difficulties have arisen in such cases with regard to the provision both of sewage and of water. At present, under the existing law, these cannot be provided by a local authority outside its own area, and yet the House will see that, assuming that these buildings are going on in the area of a small local authority outside the area of an adjoining large local authority, the small local authority may find great difficulty in financing the water and sewage arrangements which are necessary during the period when the houses are going up and are not subject to assessment. Accordingly, this Clause provides that the first authority which is really responsible for these buildings may enter into arrangements with the second local authority for the purpose of constructing sewage and water schemes under appropriate conditions, and power is taken, as the House will observe in paragraphs (b) and (c) of the first Sub-section, to borrow and to lend money in connection with that enterprise.
Clause 5 is really for the purpose of rectifying an omission in the Additional Powers Act, 1919, Section 7. It is not, however, a very important question so far as Scotland is concerned. Section 7 of that Act authorises the county council to lend money to a local authority within its own area for the purposes of housing, and it authorises the Board of Health to prescribe conditions with regard to the raising of the money by the county council for that purpose. It omitted, however, to authorise the Board to prescribe the conditions upon which the county council should lend the money to the local authority. The House will at once see that if a county council raised money, subject to certain conditions prescribed by the Board of Health, it might be very desirable that those same conditions should be imposed in the deed in virtue of which the money was lent by the county council to the local authority. At present, through inadvertence or otherwise, that power does not exist, and that casus improvidus is being remedied in 1781 Clause 5 of this Bill. It has little application to Scotland, because, so far as I know, there is no county council in Scotland which is at present lending money to a local authority within its area. Some such cases, however, might arise, and it is thought proper to take the same power as already exists in England with regard to this matter.
Clause 6 has for its object the enabling of a local authority, where it is selling houses, to accept payment for the houses by instalments or to leave a certain proportion of the price, as we say in Scotland, on bond, or, as would be said in England, on mortgage. That is the design of Clause 6. England has this power already, but there is no corresponding power in the Scottish statute. I think it is very likely that a local authority may desire to sell houses, let us say, to working people, and it might be a great convenience hat the local authority should be empowered, not to demand cash down in respect of the transaction, but to accept payment by instalments, or, if necessary, by a bond over the house which has been sold.
§ Mr. MUNRO
The rate of interest is not prescribed. That will be a matter for the local authority, having regard to the current rate of interest at the time. Lastly, Clause 7—Clause 8 is formal— provides that the rate of interest on advances under the Small Dwellinigs Act, 1899, and on expenses, which are recoverable in respect of repairs which have been executed by the local authority under the Act of 1909 in default of such repairs being executed by the person responsible for them, should more closely approximate to the rate of interest which is prevailing at the time. The rate of interest prescribed by the Act of 1899, and even by the Act of 1909, is really not appropriate to present-day conditions, and, accordingly, by this Clause the central authority may, with the approval of the Treasury—that is important—fix a rate of interest which corresponds with the rate generally obtaining in the country at the time.
Such is the measure which I have the honour to ask the House to read a Second time. I would remind my Scottish col- 1782 leagues and such English Members as are interested in this matter that the Bill is urgent, if only for the reason that the most important Clause is the Clause dealing with the subsidy, the right to which expires on 23rd December this year. Accordingly, the House will appreciate that it is of the first importance that the Bill should pass through all its stages before that date; otherwise, a hiatus of a very unfortunate character will occur, with consequences that I do not like to contemplate. I hope that it may be possible, although I regret that the Bill was not brought in earlier, for the Bill to reach the Statute Book before that date, and, inasmuch as the Clauses have been subjected to very full discussion both downstairs and upstairs on the other measure, that it may not be necessary to spend quite so much time over them as the House might otherwise spend.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I cannot congratulate my colleagues upon the fruit of the pure and absolute independence of Scotland which is represented by this Bill. We are told that Bills for Scotland ought to be drafted according to the characteristic needs of Scotland. There are peculiarities in Scotland that cannot be overlooked, and which make this House utterly unfitted to legislate for Scotland. What has my right hon. Friend done in order to realise the expression of this absolute independence? He has adopted, ipsissima verba, a Bill which is drafted by the Minister of Health in England. He has found that Bill so excellent that, even although in some respects he finds no cases to which, as he tells us, Clauses 5 and 6 are applicable in Scotland, though he thinks they may perhaps occur, he puts the Scottish Bill on exactly the same footing as the English Bill, and introduces two exactly identical Clauses. I am not going to confine myself only to finding fault. There is a certain merit in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has not attempted to emulate the all-omnivorous Act of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, whose Bill embraces almost every conceivable form of human life. In spite of the arguments my right hon. Friend has used, I would point out that objections which, to my mind, arose in the Bill of the Minister of Health, unfortunatley extend in a precisely similar manner to this Bill. It does not make a proposal to seize arbitrarily houses that you may find three months out of occupa- 1783 tion less objectionable because you now use it for Scotland. The absurd Error against all political economy is committed, the primary rights of property, upon which the benefit of all classes of the community depends, are interfered with just as much as they were when the English Bill was introduced. But I observe that my right hon. Friend, although he has adopted the Bill exactly in the words introduced by the Minister of Health, has carefully avoided introducing a certain precautionary proviso which was introduced in Committee upstairs. He has refused to put in certain Clauses which we were able to press upon the attention of the Minister in Committee upstairs, and which we were able to commend to his consideration and find him ready to adopt. My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland is anxious to adopt, not the example of his right hon. colleague of amending the Bill on advice upstairs, but nothing will please him but the original proposals of his right hon. Friend. I say that Clause 1 is a serious and a very pernicious interference with those principles of property, the destruction of which would be equally dangerous to the whole of the Community.
I am not, of course, going through the Bill in detail—not even the detail which the right hon. Gentleman himself has done. I come to Clause 3. I do not care what arguments may be used on the Labour Benches. I am convinced that these restrictions of labour, this telling labour it must follow a certain course, and must withhold its hand from another course, whatever advocacy it may have, is fundamentally wrong, and can never be made right. It is going back to the curbing legislation of the Middles Ages, which told in the long run against the labouring classes themselves. You are going back now, in the twentieth century, to a trend of legislation that is absolutely and entirely wrong. I have learned to expect from the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) careful arguments and consideration, and I really shall be surprised if the hon. Member, who is Versed in political economy, and who has studied these questions, is prepared to say that he prefers to have the workers curbed, and to be told that they shall employ labour in one way and not another. Take the cant phrase of "luxury building." Is it to the interest 1784 of every class of the community that the building of schools, libraries and picture galleries should all be stopped entirely? What would be the effect on the working men? Are there not immense numbers of working men, who, by this Clause 3, will be deprived of the only sort of employment they can get? What about the skilled carpenter, the skilled stonemason, and the various skilled mechanics employed in this higher class of work? They are all to be told that, unless they take part in the work of the humbler sort of housebuilding, they are not to be employed. I ask the hon. Member whether he thinks that this is expressing a really sound basis of political economy?
It is all very well to speak of these things as exceptional and temporary. We have a little experience now how these temporary and exceptional powers are apt to be abused, and to grow worse and worse as they continue, how tempting they are for those who have the administration, how easy they seem to be, and how they invest them with a little brief authority which every man likes to exercise and to continue to exercise, and is very loth to give up when he is asked to do so. Not only is this mischievous power permitted, but it is continued in several aggravated forms. Apparently, these orders, telling the workers they are to employ themselves in a particular way, are not to be exercised by the local authority in open meeting, but by a committee of the local authority. I can imagine how the little busybodies of a local authority, those who have any particular jealousies, will manage to be on this committee which is to sit in secret and issue its orders.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I have not overlooked that point in the least. I was going to point out how absolutely inefficient and useless is this proviso to which my right hon. Friend has referred. What did my right hon. Friend say? He said that the local authority might not meet for a month. If the order was not to come into operation until confirmed that would 1785 be a different thing, but it is not to continue unless confirmed. What is the use of telling me a month after the order has been going on that it will not go on any-longer if the local authority does not confirm the order? The mischief is done within the first day of the order. These workmen are dispersed, the contract is closed, the men take the whole of their tools to another place, or are left idle and useless. It is no use telling me a month hence there will be some power of reconsideration. The evil is done when this little committee, sitting in secret, has issued its order.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the tribunal. He does not, he says, want to blame it; he only wants to reconstitute it. I do not wonder. He has found that in Glasgow this tribunal exercised a little more common sense than those whose decisions they overturned. But my right hon. Friend desires to destroy any effective appeal against these restrictive provisions. Independence in a tribunal does not suit either the trade union or my right hon. Friend or the Minister of Health, in whose footsteps he follows so faithfully. The tribunal is to be transformed. "I am not finding fault with it," says my right hon. Friend; "I am not blaming it. I am only putting the coup de grâce to it by bringing it to an end. There are additional grievances in this mediaeval, reactionary proposal of Clause 3. The right hon. Gentleman did not acept the reconsidered view of the Committee upstairs with regard to Clause 1, but he has accepted a new Clause not in the Bill as it was first introduced by the Minister of Health but foisted upon us after severe resistance on our part in Committee. He has put in Sub-section (3), which is a most dangerous Subsection. Not only does it take power to close operations of a particular sort, and tells workmen that they may only carry out dull, uninteresting, plodding, ill-paid work, but it says a great deal more. Some employers might attract workpeople by various inducements. Perhaps they might be treated more kindly; certain provision might be made for sickness. Perhaps they might be treated as equals, instead of mere machines for making money. No employer is to employ a man under conditions in these respects better than any other. If he does he is to be reported to this little junta, or secret committee, and he will 1786 be told what they think on the matter, and how he is instantly to stop anything of the sort, any advantage, any extra kindness, or any extra remuneration. Really, does the right hon. Gentleman think that this sort of thing is likely to prove efficacious or likely to find a fitting part in our social system?
I know what happened upstairs in the Committee, and what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the Joint Industrial Committee. Strangely enough, this body, consisting of employers and the Labour party, was precisely the alliance that we had in the Committee upstairs. I was desirous of opposing this Clause in the English Bill, and an hon. Member who is also a large employer of labour for once joined hands with the trade unionists, for he knew that the effect of the proposition would be that he would not be troubled with dangerous and disagreeable rivals. But I am not to be moved, either upstairs or here, by the association of employers and trade unionists, or by either of them alone, or by both in company, for it is an unholy alliance, and you may depend upon it that neither side in a compact of this kind is showing to the other the whole of his hand. The only people who are certain to be injured by such conduct is the ordinary poor working man, more than that, the consumer, and that body of men, the ordinary taxpayers, who are trying to get as good a market as they can, and who in these hard times very reasonably object to having their prices legally enlarged in geometrical progression. It is very convenient perhaps for the joint council of employers and trade unionists to do things for which somebody else has to pay.
There is another feature that aggravates the absurdity of this Clause. Hitherto the local authority has exercised power, very dangerous, I think, though it may sometimes be a useful power. Now it is to be handed over to a small committee of their number, whose decision they may at some remote and future date revise for any purpose whatever. Not only that. Supposing the local authority does not think that this restrictive power ought to be exercised. Suppose they are erecting small tenements, and that there is some form of what is called luxury building in a small way, and that it is likely to provide an abundance of well-paid employment to be open to the in-habitants of the district. If they come 1787 to a decision on this point to allow the luxury building they may be over-ruled. I suppose it will be the Minister of Health in England who has the power of veto. And who is to be this bureaucrat who is to exercise the authority in Scotland? I suppose it means my right hon. Friend below me (Mr. Munro). If he, then, or his subordinates, find that things are being a little more liberally treated, that labour is getting a little better conditions in the particular locality of an obstinate local authority, he may exercise these arbitrary powers; he may stop the thing, and force the local authority to do what they do not wish. I am not in the least more reconciled to the absurd, tyrannical, reactionary principles that are embodied in this Bill, or think they are one whit better because they are introduced by my right hon. Friend who is humbly following in the footsteps of the Minister of Health for England. I do not think he will find that these things are much appreciated in Scotland. My fellow-countrymen have, fortunately, a lingering love for commonsense and for political economy. I do not think they are going to say good-bye to it altogether, and allow the perpetual reign of D.O.R.A. and her prolific spawn. I protested against the principles of this Bill before. I protest against it again, and still more when it is slavishly following an example south of the Tweed. The only good thing that I see about the Bill is that instead of having twenty-five or thirty Clauses it has less than a dozen.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Hon. Members of the House always expect from the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down a speech of the kind he has just delivered —and a repetition of his iconoclastic views on subjects of this kind. I am sure he has our sympathy this afternoon in so far as the English language does not contain a sufficient variety of adjectives for him to express himself as freely as he would have desired. My right hon. Friend, in a speech of this kind, always leaves his colleagues from Scotland cold. We remember his old days at the Scottish Board of Education. We remember how his word was law. We remember how he appointed himself to deal with everything, and how he administered matters in a much more iconoclastic fashion than I am sure my right hon. Friend will 1788 administer this Bill. There are four good points in the Bill on which I wish to offer a few comments. First, we pro pose to take powers for the compulsory hiring of houses so as to provide more accommodation; secondly, we extend the period of the housing subsidy from twelve months to two years; thirdly, we take power to prohibit luxury buildings; and fourthly, we take power to provide facilities for one local authority to do the work of another. This is so far as I have been able to read the Bill. So far as these four things are concerned, I am perfectly certain that within certain limits, such powers which are to be taken can be taken to the advantage of housing in Scotland. All I propose to do is to offer a little criticism of the kind that I think can be elaborated in Committee upstairs.
Take the first point—the compulsory hiring of houses. I hope whatever my right hon. Friend does he will not take up the position that has been taken up in the English Bill, and that he will not limit the amount of rent at which a house can be taken compulsorily. So far as I can gather, the power of compulsory hiring of houses in England has been absolutely destroyed by the very low limit of rent which has been placed upon the type of houses that can be compulsorily taken over. I am not arguing the point whether it is right or wrong compulsorily to hire, but if you are going to do it, then if you limit the datum line similar to that in the English Bill, you simply cut off the supply of empty houses that would be or might be made available; and I would urge my right hon. Friend to resist any limit, and for this reason: he and I and other Scottish Members who are in sympathy with this matter know, for instance, of houses in the large —or some of the large—towns in Scotland where there are not tenement houses, and which houses could easily be converted into tenement houses.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. and learned Friend will probably speak for his own town, but, taking the part of Edinburgh that I represent, and which I may be presumed to speak of with some knowledge, if this limit of rent is made applicable, then the Section will not be of that service that it might otherwise be. On 1789 the second point, an example has been taken of the town of Largs, where there are 3,000 houses, and where, if this matter was dealt with on the lines suggested, there would be no necessity for building houses. There are people who reside in Glasgow—and this is true not only of the West of Scotland, but of the East of Scotland, and many towns on the coast near to both Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and so on—where the houses are rented or owned by the people who occupy them only at certain seasons, and if you Eire dealing with this question in its relation to that fact of the possibility of dwelling-houses for the people engaged in industry, it is no use suggesting to a man in Glasgow who has not a house that there is one in Largs. The same point has been raised in respect to Rosyth. During the War the railway company had to run special trains from Edinburgh to Queensferry day after day, month after month, and year after year, until the appropriate houses were completed at Rosyth. I am wondering how far my right hon Friend the Secretary for Scotland has taken these facts into his consideration when thinking of the number of houses statistically available for places like Largs, Dunoon, or on the East Coast, and in Fifeshire, houses which are not really available so far as industrial people are concerned?
§ Mr. MUNRO
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to correct him. I am not suggesting that the houses in Largs will be any use in connection with industrial works in Glasgow, but what I said was there was a demand for new houses in Largs to-day, and that if these houses were made available they would meet the local demand.
think that is a perfectly justifiable criticism and correction. There may be cases of that kind. There is always in Scottish towns of that kind a number of people who during the summer months reside in very curious surroundings in order to make a profit out of their own houses. But the point I was making against the right hon. Gentleman when he used the illustration of Largs was that it may be true that in towns like Largs there is a certain unsatisfied demand for houses, but there is nothing like the demand that would be represented by the number of houses which are unoccupied in the summer. I think all 1790 Scottish Members will be with the right hon. Gentleman in the proposal to enlarge the period during which the subsidy should be paid from twelve months to two years.
I want to say a few words with regard to the prohibition of luxury buildings. I think a great deal more is being said about what are called luxury buildings than is actually necessary for the case. It is stated that houses are not being built because luxury buildings are going up. So far as I am able to use my powers of observation I do not see anything in Scottish towns that has been done recently to give evidence that dwelling-houses were being postponed owing to the putting up of any luxury buildings. Frequently as a matter of fact the men who put up dwelling-houses are the men who put up the luxury buildings in many parts of Glasgow, say, and of the large industrial towns, and it is often very much easier for the contractor to build a certain number of dwelling-houses at the same time as he is building a luxury building, so-called. Take one point in this connection. One of the great difficulties in house construction at present is getting plasterers. One of the great requisites in a luxury building, say, a cinema, is the plasterer. While some of the men are putting up dwelling-houses, other workmen can be kept employed on the other part of the job, and, as in the case of the plasterer, may be kept busy on what is called the luxury building. If my right hon. Friend is going to take up this power specified I maintain he should make his case out against luxury building. He should inform the House the number of luxury buildings that are being put up to the detriment of the erection of dwelling-houses.
It is easy to ascertain these figures, because the plans of both luxury building and dwelling-houses have to have local approval. Building cannot be started without that local approval. My hon. Friend has just mentioned 16 cases at Glasgow. If there are only 16 so-called luxury buildings being put up in a population of 1,750,000, equal to half the population of the whole of Scotland— then there would not appear to me to be much of which to complain. A great deal of the money put into these concerns is put in by the working classes, who will naturally reap the benefit, and be enabled to buy ther own houses, to rent 1791 better houses, or engage in other forms of increasing their own capital. While everyone will be willing to see my right hon. Friend be given drastic powers to prevent luxury building if he can prove his case, there would appear to be no need for this power if the building of dwelling-houses is not interfered with. I do not think the House would object to giving the local authority power to stop any luxury building if there was an absolutely unanswerable case in favour of dwelling-houses being put up in the immediate locality or in that district. But the case wants to be stronger than any facts have shown it to be up to the present.
The last criticism I want to make is on Clause 4. I suppose Clause 4 is rather comparable to that which we heard last week from the First Commissioner of Works, who has power in the building of houses to do the work for local authorities. Clause 4 seeks to give to one local authority power to do work for another local authority.
§ Mr. HOGGE
If you introduce this practice of one local authority doing work for another, and not only that but borrowing money for the work done for the second local authority, you are going to get a complication of accounts. I do not want the practice commenced in Scotland with one local authority acting as a contractor for another local authority. There was a case in this country in which the First Commissioner of Works was actually acting as contractor for local authorities, and he asked this House for a loan of £?00,000 for that purpose. I hope Clause 4 does not mean that any local authority will be able to act in the place of a con-tractor for another local authority If, as my right hon. Friend points out, local authority A is doing work in the area of local authority B because it happens 1792 to be A, one can see the reason for that, but I hope my right hon. Friend will not allow that to develop to such an extent that local authorities may enter into the same relations as existed in the English case.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
In common with all my Scottish colleagues, I listened with very great interest to the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik). Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I should be prepared to make this statement, rash as it may appear, that even if we read this Bill very strictly in the light of so-called laws of political economy, we could justify practically every point in it at the present time. The main criticism which I desire to direct against this Bill is confined to one or two plain and elementary points. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) that it would be singularly unfortunate if in the final Clause of this Bill we introduced in Scotland a limit of rateable value. The introduction of a very low limit of ratable value appears to me to rob the provision in the English Bill of all value as far as this particular Clause is concerned. The houses which are proposed to be taken for this purpose in a great emergency are in the main not houses of small rental at all. Houses of low, or comparatively low, rental are not available, but there are in many parts of England, and certainly in many parts of Scotland, houses of a larger size whose proprietors may have fallen on difficult times during the War which are now standing empty, and which on this proposal would be compulsorily acquired for the purpose of providing housing accommodation.
If we impose a low rateable value in Scotland, where our system is different to that in this country, we should simply exclude a considerable number of properties which would be of the highest value in giving the temporary accommodation so much required by those who desire houses at the present time. But even if that were not true the introduction of a limit of rateable value seems to me to ignore the central point that is at stake. After all, the consideration is not the annual value of the house, but the suitability of the house for the purpose 1793 to which we intend to devote it and the general circumstances regarding the house which make it ready and accessible for the purpose. I trust, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will stand firm against the mischievous English precedent, from which we continually suffer in Scotland, and refuse the introduction of any limit in the rateable value. The second point of criticism deals with a proposal, if I understand it correctly, to extend the power of the local authority to interfere with any exceptional rates of remuneration which are being offered in any district for the purpose of attracting labour away from the erection of house property and forming what was described in the introductory speech as a bribe. That is simply another variety of one of the great industrial evils experienced in Great Britain during the War, namely, the so-called jumping of the district rates, sometimes by the operatives and sometimes by the employers, for the purpose of obtaining an unfair advantage in some cases, or of overtaking certain work regarded as urgent in character. I am not opposed to any section of the people getting any advantage to which they are entitled, but if, in the building trade of Scotland, we allow the evil of bribes to any class, there cannot be the slightest doubt that we are introducing into the industrial structure something which will be disadvantageous to many trade unions, will penalise a good many employers, and will certainly react with very great force upon the consumers, whose interests it is primarily my right hon. Friend's intention to protect.
I have come to the conclusion that we have a great deal to gain by a standard rate, where it is generous and fair and liberally interpreted, and if once we embark on this principle in Scotland we are put into the sphere, approximately, of time and line contracts, and we all know what they cost this country during the War. Personally, I should very strongly support the proposal in the Bill, but the criticism I propose to offer is that if the bribe is to be dealt with in the case of workmen, why should you not look at the bribes which in some cases are offered to employers as well? There is not the slightest doubt that bribes, or fancy payments, or considerations of an exceptional kind, 1794 are regularly, or, at all events, frequently offered to employers in order to get them to undertake certain work. I have had statements on these lines made to me by Scottish builders of the very highest repute.
The third part, and, to my mind, perhaps the most important, deals with problems of so called luxury buildings. My right hon. Friend (Sir Henry Craik) suggested that if we interfered in any way with the erection of almost any building in Scotland at the present time we should penalise certain classes of operatives, and he gave by way of illustration the case of the carved stone workers, and the men who face stones, and there are other people of exceptional skill engaged upon what we should call the fancy or decorative parts of housebuilding. In reply to that criticism, with which, from the point of view of Scottish craftsmanship I have the greatest personal sympathy, I only wish that it had a real foundation in the facts of the Scottish building trade. It is a lamentable tragedy that over the whole of Scotland we are training hardly any apprentice masons at all. I question whether there are six or a dozen in the whole land. What is more important on the particular point we are discussing is that the hand-dressing of stone in Scotland, and the so-called hewing and facing, which engaged large numbers of men in the past in a fairly remunerative calling, has practically disappeared, in the main because of the introduction of machine-faced stones, and my right hon. Friend would be the last to suggest that we should turn aside or divert what is a pronounced economic tendency of a beneficial character in Scottish housing. [Interruption.] My right Hon. Friend opposite (Sir Henry Craik) suggests that it may be bad for the stone, but the fact we have to face is that this element has been introduced. I believe permanently, into Scottish housing, and there is not the slightest doubt that it has reduced very considerably, or it did reduce in pre-War times, the amount of time necessary to overtake numerous public and other contracts in which builders were engaged.
On the narrow question of luxury building, the criticism I desire to offer is mainly this: Are the proposals of the Bill adequate in existing conditions in Scotland? On this side of the House we have no desire to stop the erection of 1795 any kind of building for amusement, or anything else, if that building is required, and if, in our opinion, it is not going to interfere with the provision of property which is entitled to prior place because, of economic tendencies and the needs of the present time. To my mind the whole question is one of priority. There cannot be the slightest doubt from the point of view of material output, from the point of view of the employment of labour, and certainly from the point of view of the most urgent public needs, that dwelling-houses are entitled to priority. The mobility of labour has practically passed away in many of the industrial and mining parts of Scotland. You cannot move people because there are no houses. That has inflicted a very great injustice and a very large measure of loss upon Scotland at the present time, when we are struggling to reconstruct the industries we had before the War, and to build up new industries for the markets that undeniably are open to us in different parts of the world.
I would be prepared to put dwelling houses in the first category, and I should be prepared also to take strong steps, by perfectly fair means, to compel both builders and operatives to concentrate on that part of our business. Places of amusement can wait, and many other buildings of a character not urgently required can easily be postponed where it is shown that the material and the labour devoted to them could be used for dwelling houses in the locality. I should therefore establish a kind of priority, putting dwelling houses first, and then, in the second place, giving a preference to certain types of industrial property. Certain factory accommodation is being provided because of the influence of Excess Profits Duty and other taxation. It is not suggested by the owners of these buildings that they intend to use all that accommodation at an early date. For some time the accommodation will be more in the nature of a store. They have put it up partly because of that taxation, partly because of other conditions, and partly because they are satisfied that in the long run they will be able to find economic use for it. I know one case where thousands of bricks have been used in a building of that kind, and side by side with the very position on what that so-called fac- 1796 tory has been erected you have housing accommodation of the worst description and a housing scheme of the local authority being delayed because of difficulties affecting labour and materials which, so far, they have not been able to supply.
It is plain to every Scottish Member who looks at this impartially that dwelling houses must, for the most part, precede the factories. It is idle to erect factories if we have not accommodation for the workers who will be engaged in them, and my difficulty on this particular Clause is that I am not sure that it is going to give us the precise scheme of priority that we certainly require. I am very much afraid that what will happen will be that the tenders or the preparations for the erection of certain classes of property will be proceeded with, and then the cases will go to the tribunal. Even if we speed up the procedure, some time must necessarily be lost, and probably money unnecessarily expended, in getting these tenders or provisional contracts, only to find that they may be turned down because of the views of the tribunal. If we first of all set up a declared scheme of priority, issued either by the Board of Health or by any other authority responsible, and said that that would substantially show the lines on which we were proceeding, we might probably do something to divert both capital and labour to house property, and in the long run avoid some of the delay which is one of the dangers of the Clause as now framed. That is really all the criticism, and very largely it is Committee criticism, which I desire to offer, but reverting in a sentence or two to the argument which my right hon. Friend advanced, I should say the kind of interference on which the Secretary of Scotland is embarking at the present time can be justified economically, and I am quite convinced that it will be advantageous in the present industrial conditions of Scotland.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
This Bill is well meant, but I do not know that it is a very powerful contribution to a very vexed question. The last speaker said that the houses should precede the factories. I do not think he is right there. That is just what our British civilisation is largely suffering from. We have concentrated the industries, 1797 especially in Scotland, in our great towns, and we have there a density of population that is not at all to the public good. It does not do to have great masses of people on a small acreage, living in huge tenements one on top of the other. What we want to see is a spreading of the population; we want to see the population more like what it would have been had it not been for the short-sightedness of the railways in 1837, when they forbade road traction. I should have liked, therefore, to have seen some indication in this Bill of means of drawing the population from large centres and the spreading of factories and industries into the smaller places in Scotland to which might be drawn some of the population now in the larger places. It would be much better, both for the health of the people and for industry itself. It is an immense pity that some -provision of that kind could not be made. I am inclined to agree with the last speaker in his suggestion there should not be any limitation in the rental of the houses which may be acquired. I should like to know from the Secretary for Scotland, in regard to many houses of four or five stories, now almost uninhabitable under the present conditions of industry and domestic service, if the powers given in this Bill will cause the disappearance of the restrictive covenants in the title deeds of those houses. It is provided that regard should be had to the cost of putting the houses into a condition reasonably fit for human habitation, and that cost is to be taken into account in fixing the rent. I am afraid very little rent will be paid for any of these houses by the time they are fit for habitation if the local authority is to charge against the tenant the cost of making them reasonably fit.
There is one danger about this class of legislation which has already had a dire effect. There was a shortage of housing accommodation before legislation dealing with house property was brought in, and it will not do to absolutely frighten people from building. It has been the practice in the past to build houses for generations to come. I do not think that either the State or county councils or borough councils are the proper bodies to provide the population with houses, and I believe it will be found very undesirable to live in State-owned tenements in days to come. 1798 Provision is made for putting these houses into a condition reasonably fit for human habitation, and I notice that the Bill is only to last until the year 1923. But there is no corresponding provision for restoring the houses to their owners in the condition in which they were when they were taken over. In common fairness that ought to be done. If you are going to take these houses and fit them up as flats, to put in cooking ranges on every floor, and to provide sinks, and washing accommodation, you will be altering probably the whole character of the houses, and surely it is only proper that provision should be made, when the houses are finished with, that the owners should not be put to the cost of getting rid of all these fixtures and of restoring the houses to their former condition. I do not believe the owners of these big houses will be very much averse to the proposals of this Bill. Most of them probably will be glad to get rid of the tall ghastly tenements that their ancestors erected. The whole cause of the housing trouble in Great Britain has been the pernicious habit of one generation building for generations to come, instead of dealing merely with its own generation. No doubt the owners of the houses will be glad to have the buildings back, but they will not want the internal alterations and fittings which have altered practically the whole nature of the house, and therefore I suggest that when the buildings are returned to them they should be restored as far as possible to their former condition.
It is noteworthy that of all these new Acts of Parliament it is said at the beginning that they are to do very little and only to last a short time, yet in nearly all cases they falsify those promises. When Regulations have been made under D.O.R.A. there is always an excuse found for continuing them, and the reason for that is that a considerable number of bureaucrats are brought into being by them. As in the case of the Labour Exchanges, the Liquor Control Board, the Food Control, and other Ministries of that nature, these bureaucrats find innumerable excuses for continuing in being, and the result is that the body of the State is being consumed by officials. The curious thing was that when war stopped and the Armistice was signed the really competent men who, in pre-War days, were able to make a good living 1799 in their private businesses, immediately rushed back to those businesses and left the State with the duds. Apparently nothing but death will remove them. The worst of it is they are apt to reproduce their like.
I come now to Clause 31. Sub-section (3), and I must say I was very interested to hear both from the Labour benches and from the Secretary for Scotland that for a man to be offered a big wage is to offer him a bribe. That is terrible. I thought the chief aim of the whole Trade Union movement was to get higher wages. I consider it a most insulting phrase and a most improper one. After all, is ability never to get its chance, simply because it works with its hands? In the learned professions the man at the top of the tree, as the Secretary for Scotland well knows by personal experience, is always getting a bribe in the shape of bigger fees than other people, and he gets them because of his competence. Is he going to bar the labouring man and the ordinary worker from getting more pay? Is the worker to have no chance of receiving something extra because of his competence? Is the working man always to be tied down to one level? The suggestion of Sub-section (3) is that there is to be power to prohibit the construction of any works or buildings where it appears to the authority that the provision of dwelling accommodation for their district is being-delayed by a deficiency of labour due to the payment of remuneration in any form to persons employed on the construction of those works or buildings in excess of the remuneration commonly recognised by employers and trade societies in the districts. I do not think that is a fair Clause at all.
Take the case of the city of Glasgow. There is never a day but that I get letters from unfortunate people carrying on small businesses, stating that, owing to the lack of business premises, their own premises are being taken over their heads at a very much increased rent. A result of the payment of these increased rents is that rapidly more private buildings are being converted into business premises. Business premises are generally a costly class of building, and if you are going to make it impracticable to get on with the erection of them, by refusing to allow the class of labour em- 1800 ployed on them to get a higher rate of wage, you will be injuriously affecting a very large class of the community. Surely a man in the labour market is worthy of his hire—not of his neighbour's hire. He should be paid on his own merits, and one may depend upon it that if he is getting higher pay for the work he is doing, it is because that particular work in that particular community is the very work which that community most desires to have carried out. That is inevitable. What is the amount of labour employed on picture houses? One could easily make a sentimental grievance on that point. Personally, I hate these places, and should not object if they were all shut up. They are almost as bad for the eyesight as the printing to be found in the average schoolroom. In this connection, of course, you will have pedantic local tribunals, generally composed of people who have never been able to do business successfully on their own account, coming in and stopping business premises being put up. The demand for business premises is one of the most insistent demands to-day. It is just as urgent as the demand for housing, and I demur entirely to any power being given under this Bill which will tend to prevent the erection of business premises.
Again, in Clause 4 I find there is a tendency to centralise, and to set up a bureaucratic authority with power to interfere with the local authority. We have that in practice in every department of Scottish life. There is always a central authority. You may give the local authority a little power, but the real power is in the central authority, which can overrule and over-ride the local authority. We find, in Sub-section (4), that the Board has the power to spur the local authority on in the exercise of the powers committed to its discretion. The central body, however, is liable to be influenced by ill-informed gossip, or, perhaps, by the pedantic ideals of some official in the head Department. What is the good of giving a local authority discretionary power if you are going to give to other persons, whose discretion cannot be nearly so well informed, the power to interfere with them? It will be noticed, too, that the central authority is only to interfere in one direction. It is not to have any power to stop some local authority which has become unduly zealous, and is exercising its powers without any 1801 discretion at all. Why is it not taken both ways? You might have a snap election in some local authority, whereby a few hot-headed extremists might be put in who would take some extraordinary and extravagant action, but there is no provision for the central authority to interfere with them. If people want to be sensible, the central authority may come in and interfere, but if they take rash action the central authority will leave them alone. That Sub-section only adds to the power of the central bureaucracy, and I hope that it will be amended.
I have a great objection to these tribunals. I do not see why we should not have the tribunal that we have at present. These panels of persons, very shortly after they are appointed, will be wanting salaries. It is simply another of those non-judicial bodies to which people are generally appointed because of the views they hold. I think that the body we have at present has been perfectly satisfactory, and the very fact that it has differed from the head bureaucracy is primâ facie evidence of its capacity to do its work. It was a local, well-informed body that knew the circumstances. What is the use of having a local tribunal if it is always going to agree with the central body? I think that the fewer we have of these little Star Chambers up and down the country the better. No one wishes to interfere with any attempt that shows a likelihood of dealing with a serious evil, and this measure may have the effect, in one or two places, of meeting the housing shortage; but I think that a Bill of a much simpler character, making use of the machinery already in the hands of the local authorities, and simply giving the power to take possession of houses fit for habitation without reconstruction, was really all that was necessary, and that the further Clauses incorporated in this Bill are adding needless expense to what is otherwise a well-meant effort.
§ Mr. RODGER
The Bill has not received a very warm reception on this side of the House, but I am content to leave that to the Minister in charge. It certainly does not appeal to the rights of property, but we recognise that we are under special conditions just now, and that some of those things which we regarded as rights might, for the time being, be set on one side. Having regard to the extreme urgency of the 1802 question, we do not want to be too careful about all the rights of property. I was told last week of a case in which 13 people were living in one apartment. That is a state of things which should not exist in any part of our land. During the War, men who should have been building houses were fighting to protect the rights of property, and, now that they have come home, we must forego some of our rights in order that they may get theirs.
It seems to me that Clause I ought almost to be made a little wider. It only deals with houses which can be used without reconstruction or alteration. I do not know where, in a big city like Glasgow, for instance, there are any houses that can be used without some kind of reconstruction to make them suitable for the purpose intended. I do not know exactly to what length it may be possible to go, but something must be done in order to render available any houses that can possibly be made use of. With regard to Clause 2, a year is too little, in my opinion, under present conditions, and I agree the period during which the subsidy is in force should be made a little longer. As to Clause 3, I, am not at all concerned about its operation. I do not think that luxury buildings will be interfered with unless they interfere with housing; but it is a good thing to have the power so that, if necessary, it can be exercised. No one wants to see luxury buildings put up when houses ought to be put up instead. When the urgent demand is satisfied, there will be plenty of time for luxury building.
The great trouble just now in Scotland is the want of building materials, particularly bricks and cement. In Lanarkshire bricks are being produced which are being sent across the Border. Something ought to be put into the Bill which would give to the locality the first call on locally manufactured bricks, so that they might be kept near at hand for the immediate work of building in the surrounding district. It costs a great deal to send bricks to the South and then to bring bricks back from the South, and a great saving might be effected, and the work would go forward more quickly if we could make use of the bricks produced in our own locality. Something, too, might be done in the way of using stone. A builder told me on Saturday that he was satisfied that very good cottages could be built of stone 1803 almost as cheaply as of brick. I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading, and that it will go through very quickly and help us in the great problems with which we are faced.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I welcome this Bill, more especially as I was a member of the Committee on the Bill of the Ministry of Health. I listened to the discussions on the English Bill, but we Scottish Members thought that we had no right to interfere then, as there were many English members who wished to speak, and we knew that we should have our opportunity when a complementary Bill for Scotland was brought forward. We welcome the fact that in Clause 1 there is no limit as to rental. Everyone who was in the Committee on the English Bill recognised that the rental limit of £35 for houses that were to be acquired made that Clause of the Bill inoperative, because there are no houses of that type standing empty, at any rate in London, at the present time. I hope that in the case of the present Bill there will be no limit, because it is the larger houses that are empty, and those are the houses that we must get if we are to meet the shortage.
I cannot understand what has been said by some hon. Members as to the large expenditure that will be required before such houses can be put into a fit state for habitation. We have to take into account the fact that there are sometimes 16 or 18 persons living in a house of two rooms and a kitchen. I do not see any reason why these large houses should not be apportioned out so that each family may have one or two rooms, and that could be done without any great reconstruction. I hear an hon. Member ask about cooking, but that question shows a lamentable ignorance of the facts in London to-day. I remember, as a young man, living in lodgings in London 40 years ago, and what was happening then is happening to-day. A house containing, perhaps, 10 rooms is let to one individual from top to bottom, and there is only one kitchen for the whole house. These rooms are let out, one, perhaps, to two young men, another to two young women, another to a family of one or two people, and so on; and the only place that they have for cooking is either the kitchen range on the ground floor or the bedroom fireplace. 1804 If that is allowed in London, as it is in thousands of cases, why cannot it be allowed in a large mansion, so as to give accommodation to our soldiers and sailors who have come home? This is only a temporary measure, and I am certain that the people who want houses—and, after all, they are the people to be considered —will be satisfied with that accommodation. Therefore I hope that the limit of £35 will not be introduced into this Scottish measure.
I welcome, also, the provision extending the time for the receipt of the subsidy. It has been asked why there have not been more houses erected with the subsidy in Scotland. One reason was that the subsidy, to begin with, was not sufficient, and, when the original Bill was before the Scottish Committee, many of us pressed upon the Secretary for Scotland that £150 was not a sufficient sum to induce people to go on with building. It was increased to £250, and the result was that a very much larger number of people took the subsidy and went on building houses. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Rodger) that the period of one year should be extended to two or even three years. I welcome also the extension of the power to prevent luxury building. Any Scottish Member who has gone down and addressed his constituents knows, especially if a cinema is being erected in his constituency, the great indignation that is aroused amongst the people, because no difficulty is placed in the way of that kind of building either in regard to materials or labour, while dwelling-houses cannot be got. It may not have been that the cinema prevented the erection of dwelling-houses, but still there was the fact that these buildings were being erected while no houses were being provided for the people. You could not get them to believe that the one had not some effect on the other. Therefore, I welcome the continuation of that Clause.
I also welcome the alteration in the constitution of the Appeal Tribunal, because, rightly or wrongly, the people of the right hon. Member for Springburn's City thought that the tribunals did not act fairly. In Glasgow they appealed against sixteen decisions, and fifteen were allowed. Perhaps after the change in the constitution the tribunals will do 1805 better for all. I welcome the change in the constitution, and I hope that the tribunals will pay more attention to local opinion than the last one did. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), who is recognised as an authority on education, but not on buildings and not on the powers of local authorities, deplored the fact that in this Bill a Committee is to consider and have the power to say whether luxury building should be allowed or not. If he knew as much about the constitution and working of local authorities as some of us do he would know that the Streets and Buildings Committee is the Committee that has to do with the erection of buildings under the Housing and Town Planning Act, and they are the parties most competent to deal with this question and to see that their schemes are not interfered with by luxury building. It is no new principle for a Committee of that kind, whose principal business is to deal with buildings, to be entrusted with this duty. Their minutes and their decisions come up for approval at meetings of the Town Council, and these meetings are not long delayed. There can only be a fortnight at the most between the decision of the Committee and the decision of the Town Council. Therefore there is not much weight to be placed upon the opinion of the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities in objecting to this Clause.
The Clause which deals with the limitation of wages and with any bribe that may be offered to workmen in the shape of larger pay over and above the trade union rates of wages is also a Clause to be welcomed. Anyone who has had anything to do with building during the War can well remember that over and over again men were taken from one job and one locality and transferred to another job in another locality and paid 1d., 2d., or 3d. an hour more to induce them to go to that work. It was easy to do that at that time, because the builder who was erecting buildings for the Government was not paid by contract prices, but' was paid 10 per cent. on his actual cost. Therefore, if he offered 3d. an hour more to his men, that was added to the cost of the building, and he got an increased profit. That is what is happening to-day. In connection with luxury buildings, cinemas, etc., there is no limit to the price that may be paid in the desire to get 1806 the buildings quickly. They are so anxious to get their building that they are willing to pay any prices to the builder, and the builder offers men engaged in the building of houses under the municipality in a city like Glasgow 1d., 2d., or 3d. an hour more to work at the building of cinemas, etc. You cannot blame the men for going. I am not blaming them for going; but it has a serious effect on the housing schemes. The housing schemes are held up. There is a limited number of men in Scotland, as well as in England, for building, and the housing schemes are held up by the transfer of men from house building to luxury building. Therefore I welcome this Clause, which prevents any employer offering more than the trade union rate of wages in his district with the object of taking men away from the building of houses Li order to erect luxury buildings.
I welcome also Clause 6, which gives the local authorities power to sell the houses that they are erecting, and allows the buyers to pay for those houses by annual instalments. In this way a great number of working men will be able to acquire their own house, and will become their own landlord. It does not matter whether it is a municipality or private individual that is building the house, if the man is to go on paying rent all his life he is no nearer owning his own house than he was under the old system if facilities are not given to enable him to purchase his house by annual instalments. This Clause will give him an opportunity, if he has a little money over and above paying his rent, to acquire his house by annual instalments in ten or twenty years. I welcome the Bill, and I hope it will have a safe and quick passage through the House.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) levelled his criticism against this Bill because the Secretary for Scotland in framing it had taken an English model. I do not object to a Bill for Scotland being based on the model of a Bill for England if it is a good Bill and a good model. Having regard to the very learned criticisms of Ministers in this House from learned Members for Scottish Universities, they ought to be able to bring forward a Bill that can pass as a good model. The hon. Member for the Spring-burn Division (Mr. Macquisten) in discussing this question said that in housing 1807 legislation there should be a desire or an attempt to take the people from congested areas and to spread the housing more over the country than it is at the present time. I heartily agree with him, and I do not want to accuse him of inexperience, but he must have forgotten that even in the smallest village the shortage of houses and the overcrowding is as great as it is in the city of Glasgow which he represents.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The hon. Member shakes his head. I am not going to enter into an argument with him here, but if he cares to spend an afternoon with me any day I will show him houses in villages that are as overcrowded as the worst houses that exist in Glasgow. There is also criticism about the proposed power to take over unoccupied houses. When the English Bill was before Committee, we were told this was an attempt to violate the rights of property and to get possession of houses belonging to people who had probably two or three houses. I object to the broken-down derelict houses of the rich and well-to-do being handed over to the workers, just as I would refuse, or, at any rate, I would only do it after considerable objection, to wear the cast-off clothing of the rich and well-to-do. We want good houses, brand new houses, for the workers, under good conditions. In criticising this measure, hon. Members must not forget that we are dealing with a shortage of houses. Whatever the conditions may be, whatever the circumstances may be, there is a shortage of houses. I do not know whether I could pass an elementary examination in political economy, but I hope I do know a little about ordinary, common humanity. I know that there are empty houses, and that in my visitations to the working classes I find, as I did in one case, 16 sleeping in a two-apartment house, including a father and seven of a family, the father having served in the Great War, and one of the seven having just been discharged from a consumptive sanatorium. I also read in the newspaper to-day that a man who joined up in 1914, who was wounded five times and also gassed, died a week last Saturday and still remains unburied, that he left a widow and two children, and that for two or three days the body lay in the 1808 room in which the family were living. It may be said that this is sentiment. It is not sentiment, but hard fact. There are thousands of cases under similar conditions to-day. The hon. Member for Springburn referred to the great difficulty there would be in converting these large houses into proper dwellings for the classes who are not housed at the present time. Again, if he cares to take advantage of my offer, I could take him to hundreds of houses where they have only a single apartment, 12 feet by 10 feet, where there are two beds in the one room, where there is no washhouse, no sanitary arrangements of any kind, and this is within the shadow of a palace, within the shadow of a riding school that could give ample accommodation, and within sight of dog kennels that would be comparative palaces for the workers to live in. Then hon. Members come forward and argue for the rights of property. The rights of humanity come first.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
You and I differ. If I have to make my choice—I may be wrong—between having an empty house and a non-housed child, I will house that child even if it violates all the rules under the canopy of Heaven. The right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities referred to the unholy alliance between Capital and Labour upstairs on the English Bill. An employer of labour voted with the representatives of labour. I hope that on the Labour Benches we do not act upon the principle that no employer of labour has a heart for the better housing of the working classes. I would advise the learned Member to revise that opinion of his about the unholy alliance with his friends on the same Benches, who are continually telling us that the only thing to take the country out of the difficulty in which it is at present is by an alliance between the workers and the employers, and while, on the one hand, they say that such an alliance is admirable, yet when we act with the employer we are condemned for entering into an unholy alliance. It has been stated that this proposal to limit the work in connection with luxury building and prohibit bribes is preventing the workman from getting the fruits of his labour. I am sorry that in- 1809 dividuals who are trained in the examination of arguments should condescend to criticism of this kind.
It is not intended in any respect to prevent any man getting the advantage of his ability as a worker in the building trade. The purpose is to prevent an individual, who may be an employer of labour, for his own selfish interests and finds that it would be more to his advantage than housing, trying to bribe away men from what is considered essential work in connection with the housing of the people. So far as that is concerned, we should, at least, get the credit of being unselfish. We have always been blamed for the "ca-canny" policy, for being out to rob the State and the employer, by getting the highest wage possible for the least possible work. But here we have hon. Members acting on the very unselfish principle that housing is the first consideration, no matter what wage may be offered to the working man. We who come in contact with the worker who is interested in work of that kind are prepared to say to these individuals that the building of houses is the most essential consideration, and we will use our influence to prevent the building of houses being interfered with. I do not say that this is the last word in housing. It is a very small contribution, but we on the Labour Benches welcome it and hope sincerely that the Secretary for Scotland will have the Scottish tenacity to stick to the English model and not have the Bill to a large extent destroyed, as the other Bill was, upstairs in Committee.
§ Captain ELLIOT
The provisions of Clause 2, extending the length of time in which subsidised houses can be constructed, are essential in Scotland. We have suffered far more than England from the fact that advantage has not been taken of the offer of a subsidy to private builders. The Secretary of Scotland gave figures which show that there are 1,400 houses in Scotland qualified for the building subsidy, and I understand that the latest figures show that in England the number is some 25,000 houses. That is almost eighteen times as many houses have been built by private enterprise in England as in Scotland, and if this Clause was necessary in the case of England, it is much more necessary for Scotland. It is a strange thing that practically all the 1810 criticism of this afternoon has been given to the question of priority for the construction of houses and the slowing down of the construction of factories, cinemas, etc. I remember only a few days ago the Secretary for Scotland pointed out that he intended to press on, as far as possible, relief works and all sorts of schemes by the local authorities to prevent unemployment, and that within a few days of this promise to do everything possible to employ people we should be discussing how certain enterprises can be kept back seems to me to be very anomalous.
The essence of it is, as the hon. Member for North Lanarkshire has said, that we want to increase the supply of building materials in every possible way. If you put up a factory so much the better, or if you put up a cinema so much the better, but the important thing is that there should be a surplus of building materials and not a deficiency which makes it necessary to ration these things as if they were fine gold. If the attention of the people of Scotland were drawn to this extraordinary fact, that the Department of Building Materials under which we have to work in Scotland is a purely English Department which is run from Whitehall, and that the Secretary for Scotland himself has no control over this Department, then it might be more apparent why we are suffering so badly from a shortage of building materials in Scotland. My right hon. Friend might consider whether in Scotland, at any rate, the operation and influence of the Department could not be done away with and a free market left for building materials in Scotland; because it has been productive of a great deal of unnecessary transport of building materials to and fro in Scotland, and has not effected its main purpose of inducing a plentiful supply of building material. In my own constituency, far from producing a supply of building materials, the plant for the production of bricks has been enormously diminished. Great brick works with a capacity of 150,000 bricks a day have been torn down and scrapped within the last year or two. If the Department permits that sort of thing to go on it fails in its primary duty of providing more building material for housing in Scotland, and obviously we are not getting any benefit from it, and might as well give way and leave it 1811 to private enterprise to provide building schemes for housing in Scotland.
There is an extraordinary provision in Clause 3 to prohibit a working man receiving a higher wage than the ordinary remuneration of his district. It may be necessary, but I was surprised to hear it advocated from the Benches. It seems the strangest thing if, as we know, skilled labour for house building is short in Scotland, and that, as the hon. Member for Central Elinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) said, the supply of skilled stonemasons has almost disappeared, and we now have stone machinery, which is a very bad thing for stone, and leads to the decay of the stone afterwards when the rain or weather gets at it, so that it is not a good thing, that the small remnant of skilled men who still exist should be crushed out of existence altogether. It is a most fantastic suggestion. However, if Labour people agree to it, I certainly think that they will hear more of it from their own constituents. In this, as in many other things, they are not representing the will of the labouring class in Scotland. The hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson) referred to hovels which exist in the shadow of palaces. I take it that he was referring to Hamilton Palace, but the local council have frequently had under consideration the question of converting Hamilton Palace into dwellings for the working classes, and it is certain that this great palace will be torn down, because it would be more expensive to convert it into dwellings for the working classes than to build dwellings alongside of it. Therefore I think that it was disingenuous of the hon. Member to refer to these hovels existing under the shadow of a great palace, with the obvious inference that this palace might be held up as against the use of the working classes by some wealthy person who had not the true interests of the working classes at heart.
Our main need is building material, and in reference to that Sub-section which says that the local authorities shall have power to execute works which are incidental to the carrying out of schemes, I would like to know if it does include works for the production of materials with which houses may be constructed? I would also suggest that the subsidy houses should be pressed on by all pos- 1812 sible means, and that the subsidy might possibly be increased in the case of buildings made of stone, which will last longer than the brick houses which are generally constructed. I would also suggest that if possible the subsidy might be granted for the reconstruction of certain houses. I do not know whether these suggestions are practicable, but I make them with the sincere desire not to oppose, and not even to delay, any scheme which would remedy the desperate congestion and overcrowding which we deplore so deeply in Scotland.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland on exercising the national virtues of caution and prudence in allowing the unsophisticated English Minister of Health to try his hand on this sort of Bill before venturing on it himself, and to find out from his experience that he could not tread in the same direction in certain respects. I also notice that when what is conversationally called housing reform comes before the House nearly all the destructive criticism comes from his own side of the House. The hon. and learned Member for Springburn (Mr. Macquisten) in his interesting speech, was loud in his denunciations of bureaucracy. I am not surprised at that from him, but I am surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish University (Sir H. Craik) should share that denunciation of bureaucracy, because one of the most vivid pictures of local government in my mind is seeing the school boards and schoolmasters in Scotland wriggling under the iron hand of the most despotic bureaucracy in the United Kingdom, the Scottish Education Department. Never was it ruled with such a despotic hand as when my right hon. Friend was head of that Department. As I have said before, I am glad to acknowledge that it was a benevolent despotism and produced some excellent results. One result was that, while the influence of the right hon. Gentleman was devoted to Scottish education, there was reared a race which always sent a big Liberal majority to this House.
One of the fears expressed to-day was that some of the bigger houses would require so much reconstruction that the work would not pay. No local authority would take over such houses for this temporary purpose if it was necessary to spend a large amount of money for reconstruction. If local authorities want these 1813 houses they have power to buy them under the Act of last year. I wish to reinforce the argument as to the need for an extension of the time for payment of the subsidy. In some parts of the country it has taken a long time to make people understand that these subsidies exist. In the crofting areas of Scotland the subsidies will be a most valuable help. The people can do a great deal in helping to build houses themselves, but even when they do give substantial help they will want an expert mason and joiner for a while, and such men are scarce in the Highlands. It will, therefore, be a long time before some of these people will be able to start work. As to the Regulations, I would suggest that the conditions laid down for houses in the rural districts, and especially in the Highlands, need not be as exacting as those for the crowded cities. I hope there will be some relaxation of the rules without making them what I might call less hygienic. I will make a further suggestion with regard to the payment of the subsidy. Under the present system the money is not paid until a house is completed. In those cases where men build a house for themselves I think the Scottish Office, through the Board of Agriculture, might make some arrangement, under their loan system, to give a certain amount of money at the beginning of building operations, in order that smallholders, crofters, and fishermen can start building for themselves.
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Mr. C. D. Murray)
On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, I can thank hon. Members, and particularly Scottish Members, for their reception of the Bill and for their frank discussion of it. We have had a fair and full debate, and I hope the House may now be in a position to decide the question of giving the Bill a Second Reading. A reason for saying that is that, with the exception of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), each and all of the points of criticism have been frankly made as Committee points. Knowing, as hon. Members do, the Secretary for Scotland, I think his Scottish colleagues at least need no assurance that any suggestions made in Committee always will receive sympathetic consideration. There are only one 1814 or two inquiries with which I have to deal. As to the first Clause, in the Bill as drafted it is not proposed to follow the limitations which have been inserted in the English Bill. It may be that it will be found that the conditions in Scotland vary somewhat, and it may well be that if we find the conditions to be such as should enable local authorities to have access to buildings which are suitable, it would be unfortunate by a mere limit of a few pounds for a local authority to be denied access to such houses. Reference has been made to reconstruction. We must to some extent depend on the discretion of local authorities. It has been asked whether it would not be possible under Clause 2 to extend the time of the subsidy beyond the period proposed. To some that might offer an attraction, but' there is something to be said on the other side. Experience has taught us that there is sometimes a danger in unduly extending the period. While there is time remaining there is a tendency rather to delay putting forward plans, but as the period shortens there is increasing acceleration in the presentation of plans. Although the House may not be impressed with the figures, there are still 1,425 houses at risk, so to speak, in respect of the subsidy. In Committee it may be thought that the extension of the time provided is not ample. In any case it would involve Treasury warrant.
Something has been said on the difficult question relating to the provision of building material. I think it would have been unwise to have attempted to deal with that in a housing Bill, but I desire to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland is meeting the Scottish Members and the representative of local authorities next week, and the House will be glad to know that at present he is in conference with the Minister of Health on the subject. There is the further point with regard to the delegation of powers to a committee, under Clause 3. It is true that in order to avoid delay in decision it is proposed that a local authority should be entitled to delegate its powers in the first instance, though subject to confirmation, to a committee. The House may have not noticed the composition of that committee. It is a committee appointed upon the lines of committees under the Housing of the Working Classes Act, and it is not merely a local 1815 authority committee, but a committee strengthened by co-opted members who are specially qualified to deal with the subject. There has been little criticism upon the terms of Clause 4. The House has already put its imprimatur upon this provision, and it would be most unfortunate if there were not some controlling power in order to urge on work regarding which the House is unanimously of opinion we must take all steps in our power. By Clause 4 it is proposed to strengthen the machinery so that local authorities may get over difficulties with regard to water, and so on. It seems also most desirable that the local authorities should be armed with the necessary power to finance these schemes. Subject to these points, which are each and all Committee points, I hope the House will find itself in a position to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I understand from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said that we are to have another Bill, so that we are getting on. First of all we take people's houses away from them without proper compensation, and we limit the right of a workman to sell his labour at the best price, and now we are going to limit the right of the maker of bricks or cement to obtain the best price he can for those articles. It seems to me that we are going from bad to worse. Hardly a day passes without socialistic legislation of a kind which would not have been dreamt of three years ago, and the great supporters of the Government are the hon. Gentlemen who sit upon the Labour Benches. It is all very well to talk about the rights of humanity, and to say that there arc so many people in particular instances living in one room, but you are not going to remedy anything of that sort by this legislation, but you are going to make it worse. I earnestly hope when we have lost a considerable amount of money and stopped all private enterprise in almost everything, that in a few years we shall get a little common sense into the House of Commons, which, as far as I can see, is rapidly departing from it. It is absolutely absurd to suppose that this legislation is going to do any good of any sort or kind. Hon. Members talk about the shortage of houses being due to the fact that the men had gone to the War. It is due to nothing of the kind. It is 1816 due to the Prime Minister and his Budget of 1910. From that moment we had the beginning in a small degree of this socialistic legislation which has gone on. The hon. and learned Gentleman says it is not intended to limit the price at which a man may sell his labour for more than a short time. We know when that time is over, if it suits and if it looks as if it will gain a few votes, the Act will be extended. I never did like an autumn Session, and I am sorry we have been brought back after a tedious and prolonged session which did very little good and a great deal of harm to an autumn Session which has done no good but a great deal of harm.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.