§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn"—[Mr. F. Hall.]1344
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I wish to raise a question of the greatest importance and urgency as affecting Scotland, and particularly Glasgow. In the last Parliament, of which I was a member, I raised on numerous occasions the question of the wholesale evictions which ware taking place in the city of Glasgow. So acute did the position become that the Labour party who was then in opposition decided to ask its Executive to approach the Secretary for Scotland on the matter. Last year we raised the question on several occasions, and on each occasion we were always assured of sympathetic consideration, but that ended it; nothing further was done. To-day we have in the City of Glasgow hundreds of people summoned to a Sheriff's Court and who are decreed to leave their houses. 700 notices of ejection have been made this week. I have heard speakers in the last Parliament, and I believe in this, denouncing the conditions in Russia, and denouncing the conditions in many other countries, but bad as the conditions are in other countries very few people in any country are constantly living under the dread of eviction. In Glasgow there are 700 people this week alone against whom a decree of eviction has been given. These people are summoned to a Sheriff's Court, and very little, if any, opportunity is given to them to defend themselves or to state their case. Automatically the decree is granted. I would say to the Scottish Secretary that last year we were assured of sympathetic consideration. It may be said that this Government have not bad much time to tackle the problem. That is all very well, provided that we are well fed and well housed. If this condition of things happened to Englishmen or Scotsmen in some of our Colonies or in any other country, we would send an Army or the Navy in order to defend their rights, but because it is in Glasgow nothing is done. We are told to wait, I do hope, now that we have another Government, that we are not going to hear the usual tale of sympathy for these people. They have been living on hope for the past two or three years. These men volunteered during the War to defend their homes, and now they are being evicted from the homes that they went to defend. I hope the new Scottish Secretary, who is a working man himself, and who knows 1345 something of the problems of the working classes, will not give us merely sympathy, but will say that it is a disgrace, a moral outrage, for any working man or his wife or family to be evicted from their home in a country where home ought to be sacred.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
I join with my colleague in asking the Scottish Secretary to give us a much more sympathetic reply than was given by the late Government. The whole of the circumstances in Glasgow stand out not only as unique in the history of this, or any other country that calls itself civilised, but they are really tragic to those people who are most intimately concerned. My own constituency is one that is almost identical with the constituency represented by my colleague who has spoken and my other colleague here. I want to say that if the Labour party, which took up this question last year with the Conservative Government, is going to give us the usual stereotyped replies from permanent officials, as has been the custom in the past, the people of Glasgow and their representatives in this House are not going to take it any longer from any kind of Government. We have to have a definite statement, and we are not merely to be told that the circumstances of the country are abnormal. This is not to be made the excuse for a small section of the community holding the power in their hands to render homeless thousands of men and women and little children. This power must be taken out of their hands as it was taken out of their hands during the War. We were in an abnormal period then, and the Government of the time took that power out of the hands of men who had been wielding it unscrupulously in the first few months of the War. Evictions are going on not only in Gorbals, but in Govan, in Bridgeton, in Camlachie, in Springburn, in Shettleston, the division represented by the Minister of Health. From houses in all these constituencies families are being evicted. There is another point that makes it even more difficult for these people. Decrees have been issued for them to pay arrears of rent under the retrospective Act passed by the late Government, the most outstanding example of class legislation this House has seen in past years. These people who are paying their arrears of 1346 rent do not have these arrears entered up in the proper manner. They are entered up as a sum total, including that particular months quota of rent. They are all slumped together. If the individual falls a month in arrear the factor immediately comes for a decree, not for the month they have been unable to pay, but for the whole of the arrears prior to the Act being passed. When decrees are being given in such cases, it is high time for men who represent these people in this House to tell our Government that we want definite statements as to the attitude that is to be adopted by the Government. We do not want to hear that they are considering this matter sympathetically, not that they will take it into consideration with officials when they retire from the Front Bench to-night, not that they are exploring every avenue to find a way out. We want to know what you are to do to prevent the people from being evicted. These people have waited too long, and there is not going to be, so far as we are concerned, one other family placed on the streets of Glasgow if we can prevent it.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I only want to add one word to what has been said in the attempt to persuade the Secretary for Scotland that this is a matter for very speedy and definite action. Apart from the actual ejection of the people from their homes on to the street, the terror that thousands of mothers are feeling in Glasgow because of the fear that they and their children will be removed on to the streets is, perhaps, a worse horror under our social system than the actual ejection. To-night we have just passed with complete unanimity the right of every individual to a minimum wage, but it was rightly said by several hon. Members who took part in the Debate that a minimum wage was a very difficult thing to assess, because it varied according to circumstances here and circumstances there. About 70 per cent. of the working-class population in Glasgow live in houses of one apartment or two apartments at the most. Surely at least we might recognise that as the irreducible minimum which cannot be taken away from them under any consideration. In these very miserable homes they cannot even feel secure under a Labour Government. Remember this, that while the Labour Government holds its position in 1347 England perhaps a little by the tolerance of its political opponents, that is not the case in the city of Glasgow. In the city of Glasgow there is Socialist Government as far as representation in this House is concerned. The citizens of Glasgow have declared in favour of Socialism by a majority of two to one, and they rightly expect from us that all single and dual apartment houses in these miserable streets shall be secured to them for months on end without this terrible fear of the law courts and the police and the indignity of eviction in the face of all their neighbours.
I know that there are a whole lot of legal devices to block the way of doing something definite in regard to this matter. I know that there are many arguments against the human and the kindly and the decent thing being done, but I have seen in this House, in the relatively short time I have been in it, that, when there was keen anxiety on the part of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench to get something done which they wanted, it was marvellous how very quickly they could get round all the legal difficulties and the legal quibbles that might arise; and I put it to the Secretary for Scotland that he ought now—not months hence—to make some arrangement by which not a single citizen of that great city, which has rendered as much service in the building up of this nation as any other part of the nation, shall be rendered homeless by the operation of an evil social system. I would not like to use any threats, but those of us who have been right up against this terror, who have seen the effect of it on delicate, kindly-nurtured, motherly women, and have seen them collapse in the Law Courts through sheer terror when the to them, awful decree was given, now say to the Secretary for Scotland that if he cannot devise some constitutional method of keeping them in their homes, we will devise some method of keeping them in their homes.
§ Mr. MAXTON
We will find a way of keeping them in their homes, and it will not be to the credit of the "powers that be" in Britain if those steps have to be taken.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
I come from a different part of Scotland from hon. Members who have spoken, but I want to join with them in pressing upon the Secretary for Scotland the necessity of some emergency Measure being brought in immediately to put an end to evictions. I wonder if it would be possible to describe to hon. Members the position that exists in those towns where there are actually more families than there are numbers of houses available, so that poor people who have been evicted because they cannot meet their rent have no opportunity of getting houses. I have belonged to a local authority for many years, and not only that local authority but the local authorities in almost every part of Scotland are very sympathetic to the tenants, and would be anxious to work with the Government if some emergency Measure could be passed. Members of local authorities have been approached by their own people, people whom they know personally, recognising their honesty and their thrifty habits, but because of unemployment or some other cause over which they have no control they are being threatened with ejectment. I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will be able to assure the House that some immediate legislation will be brought in to avoid evictions in Scotland.
The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Adamson)
So far as this question is concerned, my hon. Friends know they are pushing an open door. I am as much interested in this question as it is possible for anyone to be. This is a matter which is not confined to Glasgow alone. Those of us who represent other constituencies have had to deal with this very difficult question in our own way in our own part of the country. As the law stands at the moment, what my hon. Friends have described can take place. It is in the discretion of the Sheriffs in the cases they have in their minds and have put before the House to-night to see what is to be done, and so far as the Secretary for Scotland is concerned, or any other Member of the Government, until the law is changed they have no power to interfere with the discretion of the sheriffs in this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in the course of his remarks said that they would be met 1349 by the argument that we have only been a short time in office. We have only been five weeks in office.
I can assure my hon. Friends, in regard to the question they have raised, that I have not been idle. I have already taken steps to get information from Glasgow as to the actual position. Only the other day my hon. Friends formed part of a deputation that came to see me regarding this very matter.
If my hon. Friend thinks that either he or myself can turn the world upside down in two or three days, I fear he is making a great mistake. What either he or I can undertake is to do our best to remedy the grievances complained of at the earliest possible moment. I have taken steps already to get all the information I can regarding the actual position in Glasgow. My hon. Friends know that, as a single member of the Government, I cannot pledge the Government here as to what definite line will be taken. What I can do, and what I have already agreed to do, is to get all the information available for my colleagues in the Government as to the actual state of matters, and if I think it is necessary, when I get the position fully before me, to advise them as strongly as I can as to the steps which are necessary to overcome the difficulties. They cannot ask me to say more than that. I am as fully alive as they are to the urgency of the case, and whatever I can do as a single individual I am prepared to do.
§ Mr. MAXTON
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has considered the advisability of communicating with the Sheriffs of Scotland, reminding them that they have a discretion in this matter, and that, while waiting for the necessary statutory changes which my right hon. Friend is trying to get, the Sheriffs might exercise that discretion with a maximum of sympathy and generosity? I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he has communicated with the Sheriffs in any way, 1350 as several of his predecessors in office did during the War period, and at other times?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Instead of waiting until legislation has been passed through all its stages, is it not possible for the Government to pass an Order in Council prohibiting evictions in Scotland and all over the country?
I cannot tell the exact number of evictions that have taken place within recent months. The figures which I have beside me do not relate to recent months, but apply to last year. With regard to the question put by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), the law, which gives the Sheriffs the discretionary power, is continually before the Sheriffs. They are administering a law passed by this House, which puts that discretion in their hands. I do not think I can go further.
As I am advised, that has been done under certain special circumstances, and I am advised that I cannot issue an Order in Council.
§ It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.