§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Whatever may be the views of Members of the House on the terms of the various Clauses of this Bill, 4.0 p.m. the object of the Bill is one which, I think, will commend itself to Members of all parties. Its object is to secure that the slums of Scotland, which have long been a standing reproach, will be done away with, and that in place thereof there will be built houses of adequate accommodation in which healthy, happy lives can be lived, and, at the same time, provide a considerable amount of employment for a number of our unemployed workmen. Before proceeding to deal with the terms of the Bill itself, let me turn aside for a moment and look at the problem which the Bill sets out to solve. The starting point in the recent history of this subject is the year 1912. In that year, representations were made by the Scottish Miners' Federation as to the conditions prevailing in the mining areas in Scotland, and a Royal Commission was set up to inquire into the housing conditions of the working classes in Scotland, and to report what steps were necessary to improve these.
The Commission made a thorough investigation of the conditions in all parts of Scotland, and their report, issued in 1917, is a mine of information on the subject. It is no exaggeration to say that when the report was published it awakened the public conscience, and enabled the Scottish people to realise that a condition of affairs existed in their midst which they could not continue to tolerate. The report revealed for the first time in recent years a picture of the housing conditions in Scotland as a whole which showed, in a broad, general way, unsatisfactory sites of houses and villages, insufficient supplies of water, unsatisfactory provision for drainage, inadequate provision for the removal of 2392 refuse, widespread absence of decent sanitary conveniences, houses, in many of the mining areas badly constructed, incurably damp labourers' cottages on farms, whole townships unfit for human occupation in the crofting counties and the islands, primitive and casual provision for many of the seasonal workers. The Royal Commission did rot deal in broad generalities; they came down to actual figures of houses needed. The figures have been quoted over and over again, but they will bear repetition.
Briefly, the Commission recommended that there were required in Scotland no fewer than 121,430 houses to meet the needs of the people, based on the standard of housing in general acceptance in 1917. But the Commission were not satisfied with the standard of housing accepted at that time, and they were strengthened in that opinion by a reference to tile census figures, which showed that half the houses in Scotland were of one and two rooms only. Accordingly, the Commission recommended the raising of the standard, and to raise the standard of housing an additional 114,560 houses were required—a total of 235,990 houses, before Scotland could be regarded as adequately housed. Each Government since the issue of the Commission's report in 1917, has made its contribution to the solution of this problem, and altogether to 28th February last, the latest date for which returns are available, there has been provided under all forms of State assistance by local authorities and private enterprise a total of 107,451 houses.
As it is estimated that 10,000 houses are required annually in Scotland to meet the normal needs, and to provide for the new yearly demands, it will be realised that since 1919, when the first scheme of Government assistance was passed by Parliament, building operations have on average only just kept pace wish the normal needs of the Scottish people. Incidentally, it may be noted that of the 107,451 houses referred to as having been completed since 1919, no fewer than 42,413 have been completed by local authorities under the provisions of the Labour Government's Act of 1924. The next largest number, completed by local authorities under the Act of 1919, amount to 25,129, and the next in order is private enterprise with 17,724 houses under the 2393 Act of 1923. But all who have given consideration to the subject are convinced that however commendable the efforts of local authorities up-to-date have been, the houses that have been built have not succeeded to any extent in solving the problem of the slums or of the housing of the poorer section of the community. That section of the community comprises those whose economic position prevents them from paying the rent which has been charged for the greater number of houses which have already been built. Some steps, however, have been taken in this direction with the aid of the 50 per cent. grant made available under the 1923 Act, and 11,205 houses have been built at low rents specifically to take the place of houses that were occupied but were unfit for occupation.
This, however, is only a small contribution in relation to the magnitude of the problem which we are facing. In 1919, the local authorities in Scotland estimated that 34,755 houses were required to replace houses that should be closed, while 41,880 houses were required to relieve overcrowding. Recent available figures indicate that there are at least 13,000 houses occupied in Glasgow that should be closed; in Edinburgh, over 5,000; in Greenock, about 1,400; in Dundee, about 2,000; and in Aberdeen, about 1,500; besides a large number in other parts of the country for which I do not attempt to give figures. The problem is not only that of clearing away houses that have long since served their day and generation, but also of providing adequate accommodation for persons who are living in overcrowded conditions. The problem of overcrowding has been specially before the Government in the framing of the Bill, as will be explained later. Overcrowding is not confined to what are generally known and regarded as slum areas. It is just as common outside such areas, and in the interests of health, decency and morality, must be prevented, if that can possibly be accomplished. According to the latest census returns, more than 2,000,000 persons in Scotland, or over 43 per cent. of the population, were living more than two in one room.
As an endeavour to remedy this state of affairs, the Bill proposes that grants will be given, not only for the re-housing of persons displaced by the closing of 2394 uninhabitable houses, but also for those displaced by the operations of a local authority to abate overcrowding. The conditions of the slum areas in our large centres of population are prominently brought to our notice from time to time by the reports of the commissioners appointed by the Central Department to inquire into clearance schemes promoted by the local authorities. It may be permissible at this stage to quote a few descriptions to show the conditions in which many people are at present living, and which this Bill proposes to remedy. Here is what is stated in reports submitted by these commissioners in 1926 and 1927:Many tenants of the slum houses scheduled for closure have to burn gas all day, winter and summer. Damp was present everywhere and the walls and ceilings in a large number of houses were soaking; the street was visible through holes in the wall, and the houses were the happy hunting ground of all kinds of vermin.Another of these reports states:I found two-roomed houses, which were already too small for one family, accommodating a second family as lodgers. How is it possible for any sense of decency or morality, let alone comfort, to remain with the occupant?Such being the condition at present, how is it possible to abolish them? As has hitherto been the practice, the Government propose to work through the local authorities. The local authorities, as has already been shown, have to a certain extent been engaged in this work, but in recent years they have represented that, owing to the increasing financial burdens, further assistance from the State should be forthcoming. It is proposed in the terms of this Bill to furnish this financial assistance. Experience has shown, too, that certain improvements in the machinery for clearing slums are necessary, and this Bill embodies those improvements.
It should be explained that, under the present law, slum clearance in the larger areas is generally carried out by what are known as improvement schemes. These schemes, in addition to scheduling the ground necessary for clearance, are required to show the manner in which the local authority propose to develop or utilise the ground when cleared. This is not always practicable, but a decision in the English Courts has laid down that a scheme which does not show in detail 2395 the re-development proposals is not a competent one. If progress is to be made with schemes, it is essential that, when the local authority have cleared the properties in an area, they should be left free to develop the area as and how circumstances may show to them to be best. It is therefore necessary to separate the clearance procedure from the development procedure, and this constitutes the main difference between the procedure under the present Statute and that proposed under the Bill.
The proposal of Part I of this Bill, which deals with the clearance or improvement of unhealthy arears, is that for what may be termed the black spots in the area of a local authority, the local authority must pass what Clause I terms a clearance Resolution. As soon as that Resolution has been passed, the local authority are required to proceed to clear the area in one of two ways. Either they may call upon the owners to demolish the unfit houses, or the local authority may purchase the houses and themselves demolish; or the owners may do some of the demoltion and the local authority the rest. In this way, the local authority will not require—as they do under the present Statute—to clear all the land in an area, but only such part as they consider necessary.
Where the local authority call on the owners to demolish, they do so, in terms of Clause 2, by means of a clearance order, which does not become effective until it has been confirmed by the Central Department. The owner has thus a right of appeal to the Department against the decision of a local authority condemning his property. Where the owner demolishes, the site remains his property for development in accordance with the local building regulations. Where the local authority, instead of calling on the owners to clear away buildings in an area, decide to purchase the unfit properties and demolish them, they will do so, failing agreement, by means of a compulsory purchase order, as provided for in Clause 8 of the Bill. This, like the clearance order, requires the confirmation of the Central Department; an owner will thus have a right of appeal against the decision of the local authority.
2396 The procedure in connection with these orders will follow that at present in operation for the compulsory acquisition of land under the Housing Acts—a procedure which has been found simple and inexpensive. In addition to the land included in a clearance area, a Local authority will be empowered in terms of Clause 3 to acquire additional ground for the purpose of securing an effective redevelopment of the area. When the local authority have acquired the land in or adjoining a clearance area, and have demolished the buildings thereon, they may proceed to consider the development thereof, and, in addition to using it for re-housing or as open spaces, may in terms of Clause 4, utilise it for any statutory purpose or may sell or otherwise dispose of it, subject to such conditions as they choose.
In addition to the black spots, there are areas which are not quite so bad. In these, while some of the houses should be demolished, others are capable of improvement, and in yet others there is overcrowding which should be abated. In such cases, the local authority may pass what is termed an improvement resolution, as provided for in Clause 5. As soon as this resolution has been passed, the local authority must then proceed, in terms of Clause 6, to secure the repair of such houses as can be repaired by calling on the owners to execute all the necessary repairs. Where demolition is necessary, they call on the owners to do so, or they may themselves purchase or demolish. They terry acquire land for opening out the area, and they must take all necessary steps to abate overcrowding, and, in particular, must make and enforce by-laws to this end. These actions of local authorities in connection with clearances an 3 improvements will necessitate the displacement of tenants for whom alternative accommodation will require to be available, and Clause 7 provides for the local authority being required by the Central Department to make the necessary re-housing provision before actually displacing tenants.
The Bill, in Clause 9, re-enacts the existing statutory provisions as to compensation. These have been in operation since 1919. Where it is necessary to acquire property which cannot be classed as unfit for habitation, tine market value 2397 will be paid, subject to the provisions of the Third Schedule of the Bill, under which regard will be had to the condition of the property and to the use to which it has been put. Provision is made in Clause 9, Sub-section (4) for compensation on a market value basis for a good house in an otherwise bad tenement which the local authority require the owners to demolish. So much for Part I of the Bill.
Part II deals with the repair, demolition, or closing of insanitary houses. It contains a number of alterations in the existing statutes dealing with these matters, but these alterations, though so important administratively, do not constitute any material amendment on the existing procedure. It is probably unnecessary, therefore, to enter into any detailed explanations of the Clauses of this part further than to say that they provide power to the local authority to call upon owners to carry out necessary repairs, and, in default of the owner, the local Authority may carry it out at his expense. There is also power to the local authority to call upon an owner to demolish houses unfit for habitation, and to do so in default of the owner, and at his expense; and there is the full right of appeal on the part of the owners to the sheriff.
In Part III of the Bill, Clause 18 requires the local authority to consider the housing needs of their district from time to time, and as occasion arises to submit proposals to the Department for the provision of new houses. In particular, every town council is required in 1930 to furnish the Department with a general statement of its housing proposals for the three years to 1933, and thereafter to furnish similar statements every five years. In this way, the local authorities will be under an obligation to keep the housing conditions in their areas constantly under review.
The financial proposals are contained in Clauses 19 to 21. Instead of the present percentage grant, the new grant to be given by the State will take the form of a fixed sum per person displaced, for whom re-housing has been provided consequent on the operations of the local authority under the, Bill for the closure and demolition of defective houses, and the abatement of overcrowding. The 2398 grant made will be a sum of £2 10s. per person payable for a period of 40 years, this sum to be increased, following the precedent of the Act of 1924, by 5s. in cases where houses are provided in rural areas as defined in that Act. The amount of the assistance to be granted by the Exchequer together with the contributions from local rates will enable a local authority to provide houses for the larger families at a rent suitable to their needs. The larger the number of apartments in a house the larger will be the grant. In this way definite encouragement will be given to local authorities to provide a larger house than the two-apartment house which many of them desire to provide in large numbers and which obviously is quite unsuited for family occupation. Within an aggregate rental to be determined in accordance with the provisions of Clause 20, a local authority will be able to differentiate in rents to individual tenants if the circumstances justify such a procedure.
To meet the demands of local authorities, the grant will be available where they provide accommodation for single persons in hostels. In addition to the grant per person referred to there will be an additional grant per person, subject to a maximum of 15s., to meet the expenses of local authorities who require to pay compensation for good property which at their request has to be demolished under a clearance order or a compulsory purchase order. The amount of the grant will, under the terms of Clause 21, be subject to review every three years. Clause 20 sets out the special conditions which must be complied with if the financial assistance is to be paid. These are similar to what are contained in the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924.
Part IV of the Bill contains various miscellaneous provisions, including machinery for securing possession of houses subject to demolition or closing orders. Several of them re-enact, with amendments, existing statutory provisions. Clause 27 enables local authorities to grant loans for the repair of houses. Clause 30 re-enacts the existing power of the Department to compel defaulting local authorities to do their duty. Clause 34 makes provision whereby rates will be levied, so far as slum clear- 2399 ance re-housing under the Bill is concerned, only on the rents charged by the local authority and not, as is sometimes done at present, on hypothetical rents fixed by an assessor as being the rents that might be obtained from a willing tenant.
Such is a brief, but I hope concise. general summary of the main structure of the Bill. As has been already said, it is designed to simplify procedure and to provide adequate financial assistance to local authorities. Schemes approved—and I should. be glad if I could get the attention of some of my Scottish colleagues to this—as from the passing of this Bill will be eligible for grant. Therefore, I would strongly appeal to my Scottish colleagues to allow this Bill to go through as quickly as possible, and I would also appeal to local authorities in Scotland to get their schemes ready without delay. To use again the words of the Royal Commission, the object of the Bill is, "To secure for every class of the community wholesome-conditions of living, a healthy family in a healthy home." The proposals put forward are animated by a desire to see the housing of the Scottish people made worthy of Scotland's great history as a nation.
§ Major ELLIOT
I am sure we shall all sympathise with the desires which the Secretary of State has just expressed to the House, and we appreciate the lucid and succinct manner in which he has been able to discharge the task of moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope we, too, may be equally succinct, but the Bill will require close examination, because while every one of us agrees that its motives are excellent we must see whether its machinery is likely to carry out the objects it has in view. We approach this question with a totally different outlook from those of our colleagues south of the Border. In the case of Scotland it is not true that slum clearance schemes have suffered that entire collapse which apparently has been the case south of the Border.
We have succeeded in securing a regular amount of housing under slum clearance legislation, of which the local authorities in Scotland have taken advantage to an extent which equals the 2400 effort in the whole of England; on a population basis this indicates that they have done eight or 10 times as much as has been done south of the border. Some 10 per cent. of all the housing in Scotland has been housing directed to this aim, the clearance of the slums; and when we are asked not merely to pass a new Bill but to repeal an old Bill we must look this gift horse very closely in the mouth. Simple and unlettered folk. such as politicians, who go from either side of the House into the den of the Treasury to wrestle with beasts at Ephesus occasionally come back lacking some portion of their garb, and we must assist to hold up the hands of the Secretary of State and his colleagues in their appeal to the Treasury, something on which Scottish Members in all parts of the House can always unite.
The slum clearance proposals were authorised first under the Act of 1923, in the Bonar Law Government. Under them the grant was a percentage grant on a fifty-fifty basis. The kernel of this Bill is a block grant to be worked out on a formula. I hail with joy the accession of hon. Members opposite to the view that a block grant administered on a formula is so much superior to a grant on a percentage basis. I notice they have not gone all the way, because compensation is still left on the percentage basis; but the essential part of the Bill provides for a block grant per person dispossessed and rehoused. When the Bill gets into Committee we must investigate the proposals of the Government closely, because hon. Members have put questions asking the meaning of this proposal, and I do not go further than to say that, as I understand it from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and from the very lucid speech delivered by the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Health in England, in explaining the English Bill, the new grant is to be paid per scheme. It is to be reckoned per person, but it is to be paid per scheme.
That gets rid of many questions asked by the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) about the grants continuing from son to grandson of the original slum dweller, about the position of a person whose circumstances had changed, and whether a person with 11 children would take with him to the new 2401 house 11 quotas of money. I understand that none of those things hold true. As the hon. Lady said, taking a case in which 500 persons were displaced and 100 houses built, the new subsidy would be paid per scheme; and within that scheme it would be possible for the local authority to make rebates of rent or not, as it pleased. Therefore, this is strictly a grant made to a scheme, and the discretion as to differential rents remains entirely in the hands of the local authorities, but obviously any such differentiation cannot be made by the local authorities unless the finance of the scheme permits it, and that is a point of great importance to which we shall have to address ourselves. The proposals of the Bill are essentially financial, and the machinery Clauses, important as they Are, may reasonably be left to further discussion, and, more particularly, to the Committee stage. We have here a project to deal not merely with the housing situation in Scotland, but with unemployment in the building trade in Scotland, and the whole chance of this Bill affecting either of those things lies in its financial proposals and the extra assistance they will afford to the local authorities.
We intend to give the Government this Bill and the Financial Resolution without a Division. The Government have the responsibility, a grave and tremendous responsibility, for the housing of the people of Scotland. They have taken a considerable time to bring forward their proposals, and their responsibility is therefore all the greater. The present year is one of the weakest for housing in Scotland that there has been for long time. The year 1930 will see housing construction at one-half what it was in the year before, with corresponding unemployment in the building trades. What we are discussing now is not this year's housing programme in Scotland, which has already gone by the board, but next year's programme. This is the Government's Bill to deal with next year's housing programme, in order to bring it up to or to surpass the 20,000houses programmes of previous years.
§ Major ELLIOT
You must add in all the houses which were constructed, including the steel houses—the auxiliary programme as well as the other—and 2402 then you will find that on the average there were 20,000 a year. At any rate, nobody will deny that housing in Scotland for the present year has suffered very great trouble. We are discussing now not how this year's programme can be improved, but how next year's programme can be improved. No doubt, we shall be told that the trouble this year has arisen through the inadequate subsidy fixed by the late Government, but I am quite ready to argue that point when the occasion arises. We are not discussing now the question of who is to blame; we are discussing the proposals put forward by the Government to deal with the housing situation in Scotland. Of all the speeches which have been delivered in regard to these housing proposals, that which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health was the most illuminating, because she gave the various subsidies which it is proposed to give. The hon. Lady said in the Debate on the Second Reading of the Housing (No. 2) Bill:The capital value over 40 years of the Chamberlain subsidy is £70."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th April, 1930; col. 2063, Vol. 119.]I think we are agreed that the capital value of the Chamberlain subsidy is £70, and that the Wheatley subsidy was £124. The hon. Lady went on to say that the first Greenwood subsidy would be £195, counting five persons to a house. That subsidy works out at £39 per person; under this Bill the subsidy will work out at £43 per person. This has been arrived at upon a fifty-fifty basis, and the capitalised value is over £160. Therefore, we are dealing not with the Chamberlain subsidy of £70 or the Wheatley subsidy of £124. We are dealing with the £160 subsidy which was given under the first Chamberlain Act. It will be seen that for anything less than five persons the new subsidy shows very little advantage over the old one, the amount being £168 as compared with £160. That is a very small contribution in view of the strong language used by the Secretary of State for Scotland in bringing forward the present proposal.
I am afraid that these proposals will lead to an apprehension in the minds of local authorities that they will not be very much better off under the new pro- 2403 posal than they were under the old. An increase of £8, £10 or even £20 is, relatively speaking, a very small improvement as compared with the hopes held out on the introduction of the Bill. In the proposals which have been brought forward by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, the basis which has been taken for the calculation is five persons per house, but the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that his calculation is based on persons displaced and rehoused. Of course, if fewer people are displaced the grant will be correspondingly less. [Interruption.] Surely in the case of the persons displaced and rehoused the Government do not propose to let the new accommodation to somebody else.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Johnston)
The grant will be paid according to the number of persons rehoused.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Surely the hon. and gallant Member is stretching a point here. You cannot compel a dispossessed slum tenant to accept a house if he does not desire to have it.
§ Major ELLIOT
At any rate, the house is to be made available to him at such a rent as he is able to pay, and we all desire that the man should take it. Therefore, we have to consider the number of persons actually dispossessed and rehoused under the schemes of which we have experience at the present time. I have here some figures relating to the Glasgow Corporation scheme of 1929. The number of persons displaced under that Act is rather under four per house. Therefore, the calculation of £168 per house is fully borne out by the experience of the corporation dealing with what is admittedly exactly one of the areas that would be dealt with under the present Measure. The difference of £8 in favour of the new Government scheme is, I suggest, an inadequate fulfilment of the promises which the Secretary of State for Scotland has just held out to the House. I have here some figures relating to schemes which have been put into operation by the Corporation of Glasgow, and as far as I can make out—they are given 2404 with reserve and subject to further examination—they show that for the 1926–27 schemes the Government liability would be about £1,000, while for the 1928 scheme the Government's contribution would be less by about £65. In face of these facts, it is clear that the local authorities should look very closely into the provisions in this Bill dealing with the subsidy, and they should be compared with the provisions under which we have been previously working.
All that I wish to say in regard to the strong statements which have been made by the Secretary of State f Dr Scotland in introducing this Bill is that he is now assuming great responsibility for the programme of 1931, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have been able to give us a little more information on this subject than he has given us in his speech. The right hon. Gentleman said that schemes approved as from the passing of this Bill get grants. That is what the Bill is intended to do, and it will be impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that schemes introduced as from the introduction of this Bill will get grants. In the 1923 Act the provision was to apply after the introduction of the Act. I remember that I and my colleagues in the case of the city council of Glasgow were able to make those provisions retrospective and they went down to every scheme of every house which had been built, and which was being built. We made our 50-50 scheme retrospective at a time when the contribution to slum clearance schemes was not more than one-third by the Government and two-thirds by the local authority.
We are prepared to hack up the right hon. Gentleman in his desire to strengthen the terms of the Financial Resolution. No doubt the Secretary of State for Scotland is as anxious as I am in regard to this matter, but he can only co-operate in secret, and we are able to co-operate with him in the open. Let me suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should once more walk up the Treasury steps, and not return therefrom until he has got an assurance that the introduction, and not the passing of this Bill shall be the date from which the new grants will commence, because I think that should be made the starting point for the new grant. That would make sure that the local authorities 2405 would immediately take steps to put forward schemes which otherwise they might be tempted to hold back until the actual terms have been settled. We are interested in the new proposal for transforming the 50-50 grant into a lump sum per person. During the Committee stage of the Financial Resolution I intend to move an Amendment to leave out the words "persons of the working classes." While it may be reasonable to refer in the main Statute to persons of the working classes, when we come to cases of persons dispossessed it is quite another matter. I merely wish to indicate to the right hon. Gentleman that when we come to consider the Financial Resolution I shall move that Amendment.
With regard to the new system of finance which is proposed in this Bill, local authorities seem to think that it does not offer them very great advantages over the old system, and although the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health said that the kernel and heart of these Bills is the subsidy per person and the differential rents, the local authorities will be very little better off under the new proposals than under the old. I do not believe that the new rents will be lower than the old ones in the City of Glasgow where, under the rehousing scheme, the rent is 8s. 6d. per week inclusive of rates. The new proposals are not subject to any maximum. The new houses are slum clearance houses, and they are subject to the discretion of the local authority and the Minister. Consequently, the new system, although interesting, seems to me to be entirely inadequate in regard to its financial proposals. The machinery proposed seems, in some places, to simplify the procedure. Our criticisms will be of a friendly nature, and we shall bring forward our point of view without any undue emphasis. We congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on this, his first Housing Bill, but we wish we could get a little more milk for the bantling, 5.0 p.m. because otherwise we fear that not only will it not lead to a great increase in housing in Scotland, and particularly in the clearance of slum areas, but that it will not even bring up the level of housing in Scotland to the level at which it was when we left office last year.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Before I deal with the Bill, I should like to associate myself with the concluding part of the speech just delivered by my hon. and gallant Friend. We are strongly of opinion that the grants under this Bill should be made retrospective to the introduction of the Bill. We regard that as a very important and salient point, and we should like the Government to give it the most mature and immediate consideration. I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State on the manner in which he introduced the Bill. I thought that in the short space which he allowed himself he gave us an ample description of what the Bill contained. If he did not cover all the points, I trust that before I sit down I shall be able to call attention to those points which he omitted, and I have no doubt that at the end of the discussion we shall have a full reply from the Under-Secretary. The House will have noticed that on more than one occasion during his speech the Secretary of State paid a tribute to the Housing Commission. It was a somewhat belated tribute, because this Bill is based largely, in sentiment and in fact, upon the findings of that Commission. The Commission was presided over by a very distinguished Scottish Liberal, Sir Henry Ballantyne, and I think that the House owes to Sir Henry and to the Commission a very deep debt of gratitude.
Like many others in the House, I listened to the whole of the discussion on the housing question this week—I do not think I missed more than two or three speeches—and it is quite clear, as the House will have gathered from the speech of the Secretary of State, that this Scottish Bill makes housing legislation in Scotland march pari passu with English housing legislation. There is, so far as we can gather, very little distinction between the two Bills, but such distinction as there is I will deal with in a few moments. I do not think it would be improper if I drew attention to two speeches which were delivered in the course of that general discussion. My hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken drew particular attention to a speech by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, and I think he did not belittle the tribute which the hon. Lady deserved. I should like to draw attention to two other speeches by 2407 two housing experts, although, after the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), one is almost afraid to use the term "housing experts." I refer to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters).
Those speeches were delivered, as it were, from the back bench. They were not hostile speeches. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston was, in my judgment, not only a practical but a most courageous speech. He made it perfectly plain that the progress of housing in Scotland, particularly as it affected the slums, had been deplorably and depressingly slow. I will not quote the sentences from the report which the Secretary of State quoted, though I intended to do so, but they are a very severe condemnation of the policy of past Governments so far as housing conditions, particularly among the urban population, are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston made it very patent to the House that, although popularly this Bill is regarded as a Slum Clearance Bill, it says little or nothing about the building of new houses, and he went further. and said that the real solution, not only of the slum problem but of the problem of housing all over the country, whether in slum districts or not, was the immediate building of more houses at cheaper rents for the very poor of the community. These appeared to me to be very wise, just and fair criticisms.
That speech must be associated with the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrhyn and Falmouth. He, too, ventured to criticise the Bill upon these lines, but he was not content with criticism; he made one or two very admirable suggestions. They were made as applicable to the English situation, but in my judgment they are equally applicable to the Scottish situation. He said, firstly, that the housing problem could never be adequately discussed or considered unless you discussed and considered at the same time the control of prices. and, secondly, that you must introduce, into any Bill which was to deal adequately with the situation, a proposal for the co-ordination of the work of all 2408 the local authorities, while a[...] the same time getting rid of meticulous and detailed supervision of local authorities, which has been in the past one of the main causes, if not the main cause, of the inevitable delay in the building of houses. It is true that every local authority must have some control over the building of houses if there is to be any State or local rate expenditure; but, as the Minister of Health pointed out quite clearly, and this struck me very forcibly, the obstacles in the past to the proper fulfilment of the ambition of the various Statutes which have been passed in regard to housing, from 1919 onwards, by various well-intentioned Ministers, have always been, in the first place, the problem of the existing law, and, secondly, the problem of procedure under that law. On the whole, this Bill makes a bold attempt to get [...] of those obstacles. So far, so good.
I am glad, in a way, that the abolition of the old percentage contribution is to take effect. I believe that. that was a method of calculation which engendered delay and harassed and handicapped the various authorities. [Interruption.] If I remember aright, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), in one of the intervals in which he praised this Bill, made it perfectly plain that he, too, was very glad that the old percentage contribution was departing and that a substitute was to be put in its place. If we ire not any further to have this percentage contribution, let us examine what inducements are 'being introduced into This Bill to encourage local authorities to develop to the full the proposals of the Bill. As I understand it, this point might probably be discussed in a more appropriate way on the Financial Resolution, but I think it has a good deal of policy behind it. So far as I know, what will happen in Scotland when the percentage contribution is abolished has not been pointed out. I understand that there will be a grant of £2 10s. for each displaced person in urban districts, and of £2 15s. in rural districts. While in England the sum for each displaced person in an urban district is £2 5s., in Scotland it is £2 103, and while in a rural district in England the sum for each displaced person is £2 10s., in Scotland it will be £2 15s.
A point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, in a very 2409 delightful and charming speech which she delivered to the House the other day on the English Bill, that the present Government were not continuing the proportion as between rural and urban districts which the 1924 Act introduced. Under the Act of 1924, the amount of subsidy which was to be given for a rural house was £12, and for an urban house it was to be £9. I will not follow my hon. and gallant Friend into his more advanced mathematical calculations, but to a plain man it seems that, under this scheme, the relative proportions are not the same, and the average amount will not work out in the same proportion to any occupant of one of the new houses. I regret, therefore, that that proportion, as between urban and rural, has not been maintained. When we come to the question of rents, which is a necessary corollary of what I have been saying, I cannot but feel that under this Bill this question will form itself into a ticklish problem. There must be differentiation in rents; that is quite obvious. But I cannot help thinking that the Government have, on the whole, produced what I regard as a fairly satisfactory method of calculation. I think there is some sense behind it, and if it is well administered and worked out, I cannot see why it should not be a great success. I cannot associate myself with the interrogatory of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken as to what amount the Treasury will have to expend on the scheme. Obviously, that must depend on the success of the scheme.
§ Major ELLIOT
This is the amount per unit. It is true the number of units will depend on the success, but the amount is fixed when we pass the Resolution, and unless you deal with that now, you lose all chance of dealing with the Bill.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am sorry if I misunderstood what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, and, of course, I withdraw what I said. But people are apt to ask how much the Government are going to give under the scheme, and, obviously, no Government tan say how much the Treasury will have to pay ultimately. It all depends on the success of the scheme. If the local authorities go into the scheme whole-heartedly and make the best of it, then there is no 2410 doubt that the Treasury will be called upon, as well as the local rates, to supply a larger amount. Some of us think that the larger the amount for an objective of this kind the better.
May I ask my hon. Friend who is to reply a question with regard to the fixing of these rents? I have in my hand the OFFICIAL REPORT dealing with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. He said that local authorities would be instructed to take into consideration, when they fixed the rents, first of all the Exchequer grant and, secondly, £3 15s., which was the rate to be raised. I understood when I read the introduction to the Bill in this country that £3 15s., which is to be raised by the rates, means £4 10s. in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health went on to say that in areas which were, as he called them, agricultural or rural, there was to be a county rate raised of £1, and that that £1 was to go from the county to the parishes, as we have them in Scotland, or to rural district councils, as they are in England, in alleviation of the £4 10s. in Scotland for that particular parish or district.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am very glad to have that explanation. I hope the hon. Gentleman will regard what I have said as a legitimate mistake on my part. I had heard that poor agricultural parishes in England were to get £1 off, and I thought that the poor agricultural parishes in Scotland would get the same. May I deal with a problem which, so far, has not been dealt with? It is a problem of such wide importance, as far as Scotland is concerned, that I make no apology for dealing with it now. Under the Bill there is, first of all, to be a clearance area, and, secondly, there is to be an improvement area; but there has been no mention of a third area, such as was mentioned when discussing the English Bill. I refer to individual bad houses outside any of these areas. In Scotland the individual house is one of great importance. As the House will know, in Scotland there is the very difficult problem of isolated houses, and there are two forms of overcrowding—the overcrowding 2411 in a district where there are a number of houses grouped together, and, what is just as important, serious overcrowding in individual houses. It is with that I would like my hon. Friend to deal. We have at the present time the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which has been on the Statute Book two or three years. It is true it does not deal with the building of new houses; it deals almost entirely with reconditioning of existing houses. I put a question the other day to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what return he could give us with regard to the number of houses reconditioned under that Act, and I was very much astonished to find that, apart from a county or two, very few people indeed have taken advantage of that Act. I think there must be something wrong somewhere. Apart from my own constituency and one or two others, not more than 100 houses were reconditioned under that Act. It is clear that the progress has been very slow and dilatory, just as the hon. Member for Anglesey pointed out in her speech the other day.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I mean in one county. I think the number in my own county is higher. But the response to the suggestion under that Act has been very poor indeed; it has been a failure. In some parts it has worked well, but, speaking generally, for Scotland it has not worked well, and though the Act has been on the Statute Book for a few years, only about 1,900 houses have been reconditioned. Can anyone say that that is a satisfactory response to this Act?
§ Mr. SKELTON
If the right hon. Gentleman will read the figures more accurately, he will see, that whereas the Act began to work slowly, it is now working increasingly well, and there is acceleration.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am glad to hear that, for I have put questions with a view to stirring up the Government and the local authorities. But the fact remains that the latest figure shows that only 1,900 houses have been reconditioned under that Act. I am informed by an hon. Member behind me that in some counties instead of the numbers increasing, they are actually going back. The 2412 reason, I think, is obvious. The local authorities have not stirred themselves to take immediate and effective action.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman know of any case where local authorities have been dilatory in dealing with applications?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That is not the point at all. I am saying that for some reason or other—and I put it down to the local authorities as a body; I do not particularise any individual authority—local authorities as a body have been slow, ineffective and dilatory in regard to the reconditioning of houses. I am really sorry to see that in this Bill there is nothing to spur on the local authorities, either under the old Rural Workers' Act or under this Measure. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that Clause 30, which is the Clause dealing with default, merely re-enacts the old [...]. We all know that during the last year practically only 50 per cent. of the houses expected to be built have been built under the Scottish Act.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Yes, in the present year. It is all the same from the point of view of my argument. The point upon which I want to insist is that this Bill does not go far enough in compelling local authorities to take action. I am glad the medical officer of health does not have the invidious responsibility of condemning places and taking the entire responsibility. Under this Measure he can go to local authorities and make an official representation, and if that is not carried in to effect by the local authority there is an appeal to the Department. When the Department comes in under Clause 30, the wording is not compulsory. That is not enough. If the four electors come forward and say that a house ought to be condemned, that it is a danger to the community, that it is a danger to the inhabitants, and the medical officer of health supports them, it ought to be the duty of the Department to take immediate steps. All it is going to do is to ask the local authority for a local inquiry, and after it has reported to you, you can ask the local authorities to fulfil the suggestion made by the local inquiry and to effect a remedy. In default—and it is only then that you are really going to take action 2413 —you can take them by mandamus to the Court of Session and charge them with the expenses, or yourself build. In view of our experience in the past, that is going to take a long time. I will do my best in Committee to introduce something which will enable the voice of the community, through their representatives in the local authority, to be heard so that buildings of that kind, whether they are slums as a body or slums as individual houses, ought to be demolished, and knocked off the face of the earth.
We have heard a great deal about slums and improvements. The local authority may make up its mind to pass a clearance resolution dealing with a clearance area, or it may make up its mind to pass an improvement resolution dealing with an improvement area, but there is nothing in the Bill to compel it to provide alternative accommodation. That complaint was made in the discussion on the English Bill. Clause 7 does not cover the point. Before any of these Resolutions are passed, there ought to be alternative accommodation available for the people who are to be displaced. I hear it rumoured that the Bill may be taken in Committee upstairs before the House rises for Easter. I think I am voicing the sentiments of every Scottish Member when I say it would be foolishness to attempt to take it in the Scottish Standing Committee before the Easter vacation. I am anxious that it should go through expeditiously, but I think every democrat will agree that a Bill embodying proposals of this kind ought to be discussed as far as possible with local authorities and with the people in the constituencies. We are not all-powerful except by registration of votes. We want to get the clash of one opinion on another. We want to hear the views of the local authorities. My local authority will want to know how much they are to have to expend or to collect in rates, and they will want to know that in Glasgow, too. Hon. Members opposite would be the first, if any other Government were in power, especially as the vacation is so near at hand—
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I aim very glad to get so satisfactory an answer, and I will not take up any further time.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The problem of the slums has been before us for a long time, and any Bill to mitigate it would be one which almost everyone would agree to try to pass. I do not know much outside my native city, bat I know sufficient of that to know the barbarous conditions under which the great mass of our people have to live. Indeed—I do not claim this with any great pride—I represent possibly more slums than any other Member. I have hardly a real residential part in my Division. It is badly overcrowded, and consists of little else than slum dwellings. But the problem of slums leaves me quite cold. Last week, or the week before, I addressed a meeting in the heart of my Division, in the midst of the most thickly populated slum area—the Calton district. The meeting was packed, and hundreds, possibly thousands, had to he turned away hardly one person had a collar and tie. Very few of the women had even a hat. It was packed full of mankind and womankind, almost the poorest description of people, and not one of those persons, with the exception of a few living in a slum clearance area, was decently housed. Almost everyone was housed under conditions which are, to say the least, deplorable and shocking. Yet, possibly not one out of the thousands who attended and the thousands who were turned away was concerned with the problem of housing at all. The one problem with which every, one of them was concerned was the problem of food. They are clearing the people out of the slums, but, far from making the position happier, they are making it unhappier.
The great mass of these people have no income. Last year the Glasgow Corporation took thousands of people to the small debt court. The people who have been cleared out would have been happier in their slums. What does 'slum clearance mean? For these miserable shocking slums they pay a rent of 5s. a week. The new house is 8s. 6d. a week. It is good value for money, but it is 8s. 6d. as compared with 5s. They have an income of 30s. under the new Unemployment Insurance Act for two children and two adults and the extra 3s. 6d. has to be 2415 taken from food and the necessaries of life. I have a brother who is a doctor and his panel practice is in a slum district. He said to me, "The choice is shocking, but if I have to choose between food and a slum, I am having food." That is why your slum Bill leaves me cold. It only means an addition to the expenses, and depriving these people of the necessaries of life. Do not think I am condemning my colleagues for bringing in the Bill. I think they are right, but I want to put the problem as I see it. The miserable articles of furniture that they have fit the slums. They only need one bag of coal but, if you shift them into a good, light desirable house with the same income, in addition to the rent, they need at least three bags of coal. To try to mitigate the problem, the parish council last winter made them an allowance of 2s. for coal.
The Scottish system of housing is indefensible. There is a hole in the wall for a bed. Now a person who is shifted to a slum clearance house has to buy beds, and he cannot buy them. The present furniture fits the miserable slum, the one room, but you have given them two rooms. Last week I visited constituents drawing Poor Law relief and unemployment benefit. It was an awful experience to go to their houses; there were no articles of furniture. According to figures given in this House, the Glasgow Corporation have built only 3,958 slum-clearance houses, and 700 of the tenants have been put out for inability to pay rent. At least double that number left before they could be put out. The people who have removed from the slum dwellings into slum-clearance houses have had to come out of those houses because they could not keep them going. They had insufficient furniture. It is no good giving them a bath room unless they have the money with which to purchase coal to heat the water required. The problem is a rent problem; it is a, poverty problem. The late Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has told us that the proposal will make little or no difference. If it is going to make little or no difference, why support it?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not think that even that will account for the difference in rent, and enable these people to pay the rent. It is not merely rent, but the fact that you have extra on costs. You are to build three-roomed houses in place of the single apartment house and the cost of upkeep cannot be met. It is impossible to pay the rent out of the small incomes of the great mass of workers in my, or any other Glasgow, Division. That is your problem. This Bill, good as it may appear, does not deal with the fundamental question, which is one of poverty. Under this Bill the Government might have gone a little further. They might have tried to provide furniture for these people. I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is present. In his schemes contained in the Yellow Book he spoke about making roads and about incurring public expenditure in finding work on the roads. I have little or no patience with such a suggestion. What is more important is the provision of furniture for the people who cannot buy the furniture required for these new houses. It is more important to bring human happiness into the homes of the people. I suggest to the Under-Secretary for Scotland that it is a most miserable thing to do to put people from the slums into houses which they cannot afford to furnish because they have no incomes to enable them to do so.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The making of furniture would also provide men with work. The difference is that road-making does not provide the poor people with the same amount of human happiness as furniture does. The average person in the City of Glasgow receiving Poor Law relief and unemployment benefit does not want to be shifted into your slum clearance houses. He will drift back again because he cannot keep going. It is no use shifting the population unless you are going to tackle the problem of the poverty of the people. It is the only problem which I can see to-day. It was 2417 mentioned in the House last Tuesday that in regard to the 3,900 houses occupied by slum clearance tenants, those tenants were in debt to the extent of £3,500 for arrears of rent. On other corporation houses there is practically no deficit at all. What is the use of talking of shifting people from slum dwellings if after they have been shifted they eventually drift back again? What is the use of moving them from one dwelling to another? It is no use giving them a house unless you can provide them with some form of happiness by assisting them to pay the rent and to provide the furniture. I and my colleagues welcome the Bill and will do what we can to help to pass it, but I am under no illusion, representing the great mass of poor people, in saying that they have practically no hope unless this or some other Government can bring to them the means of obtaining an income sufficient to meet their bodily and mental requirements.
§ Mr. BUCHAN
I find myself this afternoon in the pleasant and unfamiliar position of being able to congratulate the Government, with reservations, on the step they have taken forward in housing reform. It is a question on which there has been a great deal of legislation in recent years. The Measure now before the House does two things: it amends a certain number of provisions in the previous legislation and it also adds one or two new provisions with which it hopes to expedite the success of one of the greatest problems which is now before the country. It is a step forward, not a very long step or a very bold step, emphatically a step and not a stride, but still, I think, it is a step in the right direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), in his most interesting speech, said one very true thing. He said that the Scottish slum problem was very old and long-descended. I doubt very much whether the world will ever be without a slum problem. Slums seem to be an endemic disease in all complex societies. Each generation does its best to meet the problem left by its predecessors, but it creates slums in turn and leaves them for its successors to deal with. The Scottish slum problem both in its historical antecedents and its contemporary 2418 problems seems to differ in many ways from the problem in England. I have always felt that a spectator coming to a Scottish slum must get a far greater impression of squalor and misery than he would get elsewhere. I have no doubt that housing conditions in East London, Middlesbrough and Manchester may be as bad as those in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, but they are not so spectacularly bad. I remember when I first came to England I visited certain areas in East London which I had been told were plague spots, but I found it very difficult to find the plague. They seemed to me desirable residential areas compared with what I remember of the Cowgate, the Cowcaddens and the Gorbals.
There are certain reasons for the special character of our Scottish slums which make it necessary to treat them as a separate problem from those of England, and one of these reasons lies in their history. The conditions of life in an older Scotland were, I am afraid, very favourable to slum-making. We were a very poor people. We did not enjoy a clement climate. We were for a very long time under a constant threat of invasion from the South and so were compelled to huddle close for security. In the idiomatic phrase of our native land, we crept together for economy, for warmth and for defence. The result was—and I can say this to what is practically a national gathering this afternoon—that we were not a very hygienic people. No doubt we were godly, but we did not pay very much attention to that quality which is supposed to come next to godliness. There is a proverb which, I am sure, my friends know well:The clartier the cosierwhich sheds a lurid light upon the habits of our forefathers. It is often forgotten that until the end of the 18th century the Scottish nobility and gentry in Edinburgh lived under slum conditions in horrid little flats without light or air, with a filthy common staircase, and in the streets heaps of offal and garbage, and pigs and hens running about among them. Sir Walter Scott was born in a slum which would have horrified any modern reformer. He had six brothers and sisters who died in infancy because 2419 of these slum conditions. Why, the first attempt at slum clearance in our history was the migration at the end of the 18th century from the Old Town to the New Town of Edinburgh. I am afraid that our historic antecedents have created a special tendency to slum-making north of the Border. The second reason for the special character of 6.0 p.m. the Scottish slums lies in the way the industrial revolution came to Scotland. Scotland got that revolution in almost as violent a form as she got the Reformation. In a decade or two a large part of the face of the country was changed. The balance between town and country was upset. The Scottish midlands became a hive of industry, villages grew into towns, towns grew into cities and cities into what William Cobbett called a "wen"—a vast shapeless conglomeration of humanity. Men and women were herded into insanitary new barracks, or into old overcrowded tenements in Glasgow and Edinburgh. There was very little foresight in the whole business, and for a long time the country was entirely unaware of the problem. John Bright in 1884 told the students of Glasgow University that a very large proportion of the people of Glasgow were at that time living in single rooms, without air and light, but he was not believed and there was almost a riot. Before the national conscience awoke to the problem, the problem had become almost insoluble. The result we know to-day. We have seen it only too clearly in unhealthy children and stunted men and women. As hon. Members know, the standard of height and physique of the Scottish soldier has had to be steadily lowered.
There is another special character of our Scottish slums, and that is that there is no slum clearance by natural causes, by dilapidation, by houses simply tumbling down. The old stone tenements in Glasgow and Edinburgh do not tumble down; they have an awful continuing power. They become yearly more filthy and more insanitary, but still they remain standing. Some of the new barracks, which are now slums, were built on old greens and closes behind tenements, back to back. The result is that slum clearance in Scotland must be a much more intricate 2420 and much more drastic thing than in most other parts of the Kingdom.
There is also a rural problem, but not so serious, and it is not so serious for the rather melancholy reason of the depopulation of a large part of our Scottish countryside. Fortunately, in most Scottish lowland rural areas overcrowding is a thing unknown to-day. Many of the old hovels, for various reasons, have disappeared. We do not find to-day in rural Scotland, as we still find in rural England, hovels 200 or 300 Years old still holding together. The old thatched but-and-ben has mostly gone. It was not an altogether unwholesome kind of dwelling. Although the peat reek was bad for the eyes, it had a wonderful, antiseptic quality. But you will find to-day in many Scottish burghs and country towns closes and vennels which are a very fair imitation of city slums, and which in the interests of health and decency must be cleared.
That is the Scottish housing problem which requires a more drastic treatment than, I think, any other slum problem in this country to-day. A great deal of very valuable work has already been done in the last 10 years. This Bill attempts to expedite that work, not a great deal, but a little. On the general question, we are, of course, entirely agreed. Proper housing must be the basis of all social reform. It is futile to give education to the children who come from squalid and overcrowded homes. The slum is a hopeless obstacle in the way of the wisest health policy. If it is the duty of the community to give to every citizen not merely a livelihood, but a worthy life, then it is the first duty of any civilised community to root out this canker from its midst.
When I come to the Bill, I find myself in general agreement with its provisions. I think the division of slum areas, into clearance areas and improvement areas, a reasonable one—that is, inhabited areas which must be drastically c[...]eared and inhabited areas which can be partially re-modelled and brought up to a proper standard. I think the provisions for compensation are fair. The man, who for a ruinous dwelling gets compensation for site value, gets all that, he deserves, and probably more than he deserves. 2421 There is no value to compensate for in the rickle of stones and timber which cumber his site, At the same time, the Bill provides reasonable compensation for the man who owns a habitable dwelling which is part of a tenement in a clearance area. I think the new provisions for Exchequer assistance are all to the good. The difficulty under the old system of the 50 per cent. grant for the estimated average annual loss has been that it was very hard to find out what exactly the loss was. The block grant system seems to me much fairer and more scientific. The grant does not inhere in the individual, but the individual is simply the basis for the formula. The grants all go to a central pool which is used at the discretion of the local authority. I think it right to give the local authorities a very large degree of discretion and to allow them to charge differential rents, and to use in calculating those differential rents, such factors as the number of children and the extreme poverty of the tenant. I only hope, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) has said, that there will be enough money for this purpose of rents.
Lastly, it seems to me that the local authorities are the proper bodies to administer this reform, and not any Government Department. They are the only people who have the requisite local knowledge and who are close up against the facts. There are various provisions in the Bill for compelling authorities to do their duty when they are negligent. One often finds those provisions in Bills of this kind, and I am not sure that they are very important, or very often put into force. The real compelling power is public opinion. I believe that in Scotland public opinion on this question is awake, and that no local authority will be allowed to regard slums like some society for the preservation of ancient monuments. In this matter I should like most respectfully to congratulate the Government on their change of mind. The De-rating Act of last year very largely increased the powers and added to the duties of Scottish county councils and town councils. When that Bill was debated in this House, hon. Members opposite declared that we were most grievously and unfairly adding to the already heavy burdens of these local 2422 bodies. I am glad to find that our critics have changed their minds and that today they are prepared to add still further burdens to bodies whom last year they regarded with angry compassion.
The slum question is somewhat like the question of the rationalisation of industry, of which we hear so much today. Rationalisation is right and necessary, but it inevitably involves in its first stage a certain increase in unemployment. Slum clearance is right and necessary, but at the beginning it inevitably involves a certain housing shortage. Therefore, just as any scheme of rationalisation of industry must be accompanied by some emergency measure to provide for the employment of the dispossessed, so any scheme of slum clearance must be accompanied by a scheme for providing houses for the displaced. Construction and destruction must go together in this as in all public policies, and indeed in all forms of human life. It is because I think that the Bill faces this dual problem, too modestly perhaps, too tentatively, but still honestly, that I hope it will speedily be passed into law, and that, when it has become the law of the land, it will be administered with vigour and purpose.
§ Mr. MARCUS
I desire, in the first place, to congratulate the authors of this Bill on introducing what I regard as the most important Measure in Scottish domestic politics since this Government took office. The Bill constitutes the first frontal attack on the slum problem in Scotland. It is a complete departure from the old bureaucratic tradition. What I like about it most is, that it generously gives to the local authorities more power than they have enjoyed previously, and reduces the power of the central authority in London. That tendency is highly desirable if we are to grapple with the problem in the most practical way. One thing that impresses me most profoundly is the remarkable change of opinion in this country and in this House regarding the slum problem. Several years ago, it was the custom on the part of Members of the Conservative party to talk about anti-waste in connection with the financial requirements to deal with the housing problem. We were told that it was dangerous to spend too much money; but in the anti-waste campaign of a few years ago it was completely overlooked that a policy of that 2423 kind would ultimately lead to colossal extravagance in a real sense. It involved enormous expenditure on public health, arid in an effort to remove the disease which slum dwelling houses, have created in this country, and it was, above all else, an effort at the wrong end. We of the Labour movement for many years now have challenged any such conception of public finance in relation to this problem.
Where do we stand to-day? This Bill recognises that we have to deal not merely with the question of absolute demolition, but with partial demolition. It was one of the weaknesses of past legislation, which this Bill seeks to remove, that if an area or a tenement was not uniformly bad enough, nothing could be done in existing legislation to deal with it. Partial demolition, once this Bill becomes law, will be attended to, and I have no doubt that in practice it will lead to a more rapid solution of the problem. One of the most important aspects of this Bill is the introduction of the principle of differential rents. It is a principle which has not been introduced into our legislation in years past, and it recognises, what we have always argued should be recognised in connection with houses, that men whose weekly wage is limited are incapable of paying excessive rents for their houses. It is useless to build houses for the working classes unless the rents of these houses are in consonance with the economic position of the prospective occupants. We have built 1,500,000 houses in the past few years, and it has been almost a calamity to have to acknowledge that the rents for the majority of these houses were outside the reach of vast masses of the working people of the country.
A rent of 12s. 6d. per week is beyond the pocket of the average working-man to-day and the tendency should be, as it appears to be, to get down towards a rent of 7s. sd. per week which will enable the working classes to enter these houses without any financial hardship. That will have to be done; and the principle of differential rents enables local authorities to make concessions to the lowest paid section of the working classes. These concessions will be made if this Bill becomes law. The result will be that you will have not merely a section of the 2424 working classes entering these houses but a contented section. You will not have a sullen and discontented people, at times often an angry people, who feel that entering into a new house is not a help but a hindrance and even a hardship.
This problem, although we are now inclined to look upon it as one in which more power should be given to local authorities, is, after all, a national problem. The nation should he responsible for the burdens which erroneously and unfairly rest on the shoulders of the working classes, and on this question of rent it is difficult to express adequately how much one appreciates the concession which this Bill seeks to give to the working classes who will leave the slum areas and enter the new houses. I should like to make a reference to one aspect of the Bill which, in my judgment, has not been adequately dealt with. I refer to the question of the Rent Restriction Acts. I have had a fair amount of experience in the Edinburgh Courts in connection with my professional work with the ejectment of tenants. I have spent a good deal of my time during the past five or six years in defending tenants in the Edinburgh Sheriff Court who were in many cases ejected, not through any fault of their own but because they were unemployed.
My view is that if it is equitable, as the House appears to believe, to make concessions to the lower paid workers in this country in relation to houses under this Bill, it is much more equitable to make concessions to the occupants of these houses who will, through no fault of their own, become unemployed in the years to come, and there should be in this Bill some kind of protection which will enable the new tenants of these houses to feel that if the day should come when they lose their work, through no fault of their own, they are entitled to fall back on the principle embodied in the term differential rent, namely, to make people pay according to their ability and to give to people according to their need. The conception of giving according to the need is bound up with this Bill, and it is difficult to understand how one can come to the conclusion that a person who is unemployed is less in need than a person who is working. I hope some efforts will be made to incorporate a Clause which will bring the houses within the 2425 protection of the Rent Restriction Acts. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) wants to know when the Rent Restriction Acts will be repealed or amended. Anyone who utters an opinion of that kind is totally out of touch with the hardships to which the working classes are exposed to-day.
It would be a calamity if we committed the profound error of attempting to interfere with the protective powers of the Rent Restriction Acts. It would not do. It would lead to social chaos. They have prevented social chaos in years past. I look upon them as Statutes which should be made applicable in relation to the present Bill. There is no reason why the principle of differential rents should not be carried to its logical conclusion, and I intend to press at the proper time for a Clause of that kind. Closely connected with the question of differential rents is the question of differential rates. The principle of differential rent will lead to concessions in the way of rates, but I hope it will not stop there. There is no reason why we should not penetrate the present rating system in Scotland which is worn out and almost overthrown by spreading over a much wider field the principle of differential rates. We recognise the principle of ability to pay as far as rates are concerned. The whole problem is closely connected with local Income Tax, which I will not pursue at the moment, but an opportunity is now given to the House to do an act of justice to many citizens in Scotland who have been called upon to bear a burden of rates in connection with houses and shops which is not a legitimate and equitable burden, and it will be a matter for the Committee stage to see that something is done to bring about more equity in relation to the question of rates
A year or two ago a Minister of Health in this House who now sits in another place expressed the view that a young married couple should be so much in love with one another that they should be happy in a one-roomed house. I am glad that such an expression is not heard today from Conservative benches. The one-roomed house is responsible, in my opinion, for more disease than almost anything else. It has been a death-trap for the infants of working class families. Statistics show beyond all doubt that the one-roomed house has been a curse to this nation and to this century, and we 2426 challenge the conception of the desirability of the working classes living in a single room. It is almost incredible that there should be anyone at the present time who will tell us that a one-roomed house should be occupied by a young couple, and as is the case in some instances, a young couple with children. Just one personal word. I can say from personal experience what it means for a family of six to have to live in one room. It is largely that experience which brought me into the Labour party, and it is because I remember that experience and the many hardships to which it Exposes one that I welcome this Bill most heartily, and hope that by the time it becomes law it will be a much better Bill than it is at the moment.
§ Mr. TRAIN
So much has been said to-day and on the English Bill that I feel it is quite unnecessary for me to say very much. My only excuse for troubling the House is my personal experience in local Government, having been the convener of the housing committee in my own county since the beginning of the Act of 1919. I remember coming to this House in 1919 to see Scottish Members about the Addison Bill which was then before Parliament. The leader of the Socialist party in this House then was the present Secretary of State for Scotland. We were very anxious to get a proper definition of the meaning "working classes," those who would be eligible for the houses when they were built. We tried to get at a sum near £300 a year as the earnings, but I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State saying that if we made it £300 a year we should not house the miners of Scotland. We could not come to agreement, and the Bill went on. We administered that Bill, and managed to get for Scotland four-fifths of a penny rate for the local authorities, the balance to be carried by the Government. We all know what has been the result of the Addison scheme. We are all agreed that many people are occupying them who ought not to occupy them; hence the reason that there are still so many slums to be looked after.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on bringing forward this Bill. It does not please me in every detail, and I shall reserve most of what I have to say for the Committee stage; but it is an advance. All the wards of Lanark did not adopt the old slum clearance scheme. 2427 The middle ward did; the lower ward did not. The middle ward in adopting the slum clearance scheme did something which cost the ratepayers a lot more money than would have been the case if they had worked away with the 1924 Act. The lower ward said: We will work the 1924 Act, but before we build any houses, we will make arrangements with the Scottish Board of Health to have houses suitable for the people who are in condemned houses and in houses on which there is a closing order. They at once proceeded to get the medical officer of health to tell them how many houses in the lower ward were unfit for human habitation, and they proceeded to build that exact number of houses. We have built them; and as far as slum clearance schemes are concerned, they are finished.
It is true that the local rate is 10d. in the £ for housing, but in reply to a question put by me the other day, as to the arrears of rent in the lower ward, the middle ward and the upper ward of Lanarkshire, respectively, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that there was only something like £260 of arrears of rents in the lower ward on nearly 1,200 houses which represent about 4s. 6d. per house. It may be said, "You did not build houses up to the standard to which you ought to have built." I disagree entirely. The Under-Secretary of State himself has agreed to almost the same principle as that which was agreed upon in the lower ward of Lanarkshire, in the case of part of his own constituency. We had 60 per cent. of houses with two apartments, kitchenette and bathroom; and he has now granted 40 per cent. in Kilsyth, as against 20 per cent. agreed upon some time ago. We are letting houses at something like 8s. 3d. including rates. It is true that the three apartment houses, of which there is 40 per cent., are being let at something like 10s. to people who have come out of the condemned houses. We have let the houses to people who were in need of houses, and for whom the houses were suitable, and that is the result. In the middle ward of Lanark the arrears of rent to-day are something like £1 per house. They have built 7,000 houses and have something like £7,000 of arrears. There again, the slum problem has been pretty well met.
2428 It was admitted in 1919 at the Royal Commission—the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Sullivan) knows all about it—that Lanarkshire was a pretty black spot, but Mr. John Miller, the county and district sanitary inspector in his annual report issued on Thursday last states that "the back of slumdom in Mid-Lanark has been broken." He points out that when the Housing Act of 1925 came into operation, there were more than 3,000 houses in the middle ward scheduled as unfit for human habitation and, since then, closing orders have been made in respect of 2,677 of these. More progress might have been made but for the difficulty of providing accommodation for those displaced, and 97 per cent. of the houses closed are of the one apartment and two apartment types. This problem would be easily solved if we could ask a lot of these people who are living in council houses in Lanarkshire, but who could easily afford to their own houses or erect their own houses, to leave the council houses to the people who are now in unsuitable houses.
It seems to me that there are one or two points in this Bill which will require examination. We have a proposal to assist slum clearance by giving a certain amount of money per person, but we have to reckon on the fact that a local authority, before it charges any rent, is giving £4 10s. and the local authority under this Measure is not getting off with anything better than it got off with under the Wheatley Act. Further, it is proposed to shift these people from one area to another and to put upon them the label of "slum clearance." I object to this herding of people into pens. Under the Addison scheme rents were charged comparable with the rents of other houses available in the same area. Then under the 1926 Act we got rents which were cheaper than the rents of the other houses. Now it is proposed to make a further rent which will differ entirely from the two I have mentioned, and, apparently, the people are to be divided into pens—class 1, class 2, class 3 and class 4—and we are going to label these children who are coming put of the slums, as "slum clearance" children. It is said, on some occasions, that we on these benches seek to set class against class but that has never been my experi- 2429 ence. I was brought up at a board school, like many others on these benches, and there are just as many snobs among the children of the board school, as among other people to whom reference is often made in this connection.
§ Mr. TRAIN
I object to the segregation of people into these various classes. Another question is as to how the local authorities will regard these proposals. In Lanarkshire, as many hon. Members know, there are necessitous areas which are overburdened with rates as it is. The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Dickson) knows that in his area in one place the rates are 23s. in the £, and the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Wright) knows that there are rates in his area of 22s. in the £. Can we get these folk to adopt these slum clearance schemes when, already, they have rates of that kind? They are not getting any advantage under this Measure over what they were getting under the Wheatley scheme. They are still paying the £4 10s. and with a 10d. rate for housing. Are you going to get them to adopt this scheme? I submit, respectfully, to the Secretary of State that that is something which he will have to consider, because the local authorities, especially in the necessitous areas, are bearing as big a burden as they are fit to bear. There must be some way of giving them a grant for housing people according to the needs of the area and the need for slum clearance is as great in the necessitous areas as in the areas where the rates are not so high. I feel very strongly that this is a good Bill, as far as it goes, but that it does not go half far enough, and that it will require a tremendous amount of amendment during the Committee stage.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
We owe our thanks to the Secretary of State for Scotland for his terse and clear exposition of the rather complicated proposals in this Bill, which even those of us who are not, like the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train), experts on this subject, found very easy to follow. I think the right hon. Gentleman is also to be congratulated on the welcome which the Bill has received in 2430 all parts of the House. It is indeed time that we did something to grapple with this terrible housing problem in Scotland. That 43 per cent. of our people in Scotland should be living in conditions in which they are crowded together, more than two to a room, is a reproach to us. It is made worse when we are told, at a time when the situation is so serious and when we have so many thousands of men out of work in the building trade, that the actual number of houses to be built in Scotland this year is only half the number which was built last year.
Many hon. Members have dealt and no doubt many others will deal with the difficult situation in the towns and the cities from their own personal experience, but I want to deal with the problem of the rural areas. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in a rather gloomy but forceful speech, referred to the problem which faced his constituents when, with inadequate incomes, they were moved from bad houses into good houses for which they had to pay higher rents. The hon. Member made a passing observation about the plans which we on these benches put forward at the last Election for countering unemployment. I suggest to him that if those plans had been carried out—assuming, as it must be assumed for the sake of argument, that they had been even moderately successful—they would have gone some way towards solving the problem to which he refers. They would have enabled large numbers of his constituents, not merely to increase their incomes, but, in doing so, to leave behind them assets of permanent value to the community.
It is, of course, quite true that this is only one aspect of the great social and economic problems with which our country is faced, and which call for the united and concentrated effort of men and women of good will in all parties and with all kinds of interests, if we are to solve them and pull the country through its difficulties. It is, however, a very important aspect, that a large number of men who are now out of work, and who are trying to subsist with their families on meagre unemployment benefit should be able to get good wages 2431 by building good houses which will remain as permanent assets of value to future generations of Scotsmen.
In the country districts the problem is at least as urgent as it is in the towns, but, at any rate, we are without some of those difficulties to which the hon. Member for Gorbals referred. If you give a farm servant's family a good house, there is no difficulty about furniture, and you immediately improve the whole condition of that family and improve the prospects of the children. The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan), in a very interesting speech, said that there was no overcrowding in the countryside. It depends on how you look at it. It is true that there is not overcrowding, in the sense that there are too many people. On the contrary, we are suffering, not only in the Lowlands but even worse in the Highlands, from the evils of depopulation. But certainly there are houses in which there is terrible overcrowding, and as to which there is urgent need for an improvement of the conditions. I feel that there is substance in a point which has already been raised in this Debate and to which, I hope, the Under-Secretary of State will reply. That is the point that the country districts are not, under this Bill, getting an advantage proportionate to that which they received under the Wheatley Act. There may be an answer to that point, though I do not see it at the moment, and the object of debate is to raise these questions and to get answers, if there are answers to them. Under the Wheatley Act, the towns receive the subsidy of £9 and the rural districts a subsidy of £12 10s., or about 35 per cent. more. Under this Bill 50s. is to be paid in the cities and 65s. in the country districts which represents a much smaller difference in favour of the latter.
It is true that the Wheatley Act remains in operation, but I submit that, even with the additional subsidy given to the rural districts under the Wheatley Act, it has not been as effective in the country districts as in the towns. The country districts need at least as great an advantage proportionately under this Bill as that which they enjoyed under the Wheatley Act. I would like to see, at least, the proportions in the Wheatley 2432 Act preserved in the subsidies which are to be granted under this Bill, and I shall hear with great interest any observations which the Under-Secretary may have to make on that point. One of the best Housing Acts, so far as the country districts of Scotland are concerned, is an Act which is not really a Housing Act at all. I mean the Smallholders Act of 1911, under which enormous strides have been made in dealing with the housing problem on small holdings, and I cannot help feeling that one of the strongest weapons which we could forge for the solution of the housing question of smallholders and farm servants would be to enlarge the area of those Land Acts.
I want to refer also to the question of the small burghs in Scotland, which is a very important aspect of the case, where the conditions are really quite different from those which obtain either in the purely country districts or in the big cities. The one thing that I think must strike anyone who goes to most of these small burghs all over Scotland is that the housing is very largely going on in the wrong place. I dare say it is true to some extent in the big cities also, but in these small burghs you find awful conditions in one part of the town, where the poorer people are accustomed to live, because it is near their work, near their fishing, near the harbour. and where they will not leave. We find nothing going on there except decay and the problem getting worse, the housing conditions getting worse, people clinging on in houses which have been condemned as insanitary; and then we go to the new town, where the housing is not so bad, and there you find new houses going up, not for the poor people—for one thing, the poor people will not leave, and the rents are unsuitable—but for the fairly well-off people, policemen and others, and people who do not belong to the burgh, but who are coining in to spend their declining years from some place in the countryside.
Of course, the difficulty there is the rent, the difficulty of putting up a house at a rent which these poorer people can pay, and there we come back to the problem which was stated by the hon. Member for Gorbals. There it [...]s of vital importance to have regard to the other, more fundamental, aspect of this question, and that is the importance of giving 2433 a stimulus to those industries on which these people depend for their livelihood, such as agriculture, fishing, and so on. That is a real difficulty at the present time, that if you go to the small burghs you will find hundreds of people living in horrible conditions, and far from things having improved, they are getting worse. You will find the financial effort of which the local community is capable, or such effort as it is putting forth, with the State assistance, being directed into putting up houses which are doing nothing to solve this urgent and terrible problem.
Under this Bill grants are to be proportionate to the size of the family. I welcome this proposal. I think it a good proposal. As to the question of a block grant, raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot), I should have thought a block grant was a grant given for a number of varied services. This is a contribution made for a particular service. Instead of being based in relation to the percentage cost of the scheme, it is in relation to the number of people rehoused, but I do not want to chop logic on this point with the hon. and gallant Member. Whatever the name of the grant may be, whether it is a block grant or a percentage grant, it does not matter very much. The point is that it should be an adequate grant. What are the facts about that?
The hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove, in his extraordinarily interesting analysis of this Bill, said that under the Bill the capital value of this subsidy would be £43 per person, and under the Chamberlain slum scheme he said, quoting figures given by the representative of the Government in the Debate on the English Bill, the capital value of the subsidy amounted to £160 per house. If, therefore, you have a family of four, it seems to me that under this Bill you will be £12 better off per house. The hon. and gallant Member said £8, but I should have thought it was £12. Now here it seems to me is a very important point from the point of view of these small burghs. The hon. and gallant Member quoted figures showing that, in some of these large schemes in Glasgow, the average number per family rehoused was less than four. I am afraid that if that is true in Glasgow, it will he still more true in many of these small burghs, where young men and women go 2434 away so much and where the fishing and agricultural industries are so depressed at the present time. In these small rural burghs, I am afraid that the average number in the family may work out to be even less than four—at any rate that the amount of advantage under this Bill as compared with the slum clearance Act of 1924 may prove to be very small. That is a point which I wish to put to the Under-Secretary of State, and I hope he may be able to give us some satisfactory reassurance on that point.
In conclusion, I should like to say one word about the local authorities. I agree with what has been said by my right hon. Friend and by other speakers in all parts of the House about the need of seeing that the powers given in this Bill are used and that the Measure is worked for what it is worth, but at the same time, especially when we are dealing with the Financial Resolution, as we shall do later, let us bear in mind some of the difficulties of the local authorities and especially of the small burghs to which I have alluded. The yield of a penny rate in those burghs is very small. In one that I have in mind it is only between £55 and £60, and it makes it very difficult to go in for any very large, progressive scheme of housing on that basis. Then there is the deplorably low rate of earnings of the people, and particularly those engaged in the fishing industry, at the present time. I therefore attach the utmost importance to anything which the Under-Secretary of State will be able to tell us about the way in which this block grant will work.
The financial side of this scheme seems to be vital. It is the petrol for the machine, because, however much compulsion you bring to bear upon a local authority, if its penny rate only yields £55 or £60, you will not get very many houses. I agree with a previous speaker in expressing the hope that the grants will be paid from the introduction of the Bill. A suitable precedent has been quoted for that, and I hope the Government will be able to make that concession. I am sure this Bill will receive the support of all parties in the House in its passage through the House, and, more than that, I am sure that every Scotsman and Scotswoman who values the good name of his country and is anxious to do something to remove this 2435 reproach from our civilisation at the present time will do his best, outside the House too, to see that the utmost use is made of its provisions.
I gladly respond to the last remark expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), in appealing to our Scottish patriotism to do out utmost in the solution of our Scottish housing problem. I believe that to that end, so far, one necessary point has not been brought out in this Debate. There has been no attempt made to minimise the extent or the gravity of our slum problem, but it still remains for someone to bring into clear relief the relative gravity of that problem when compared with the situation in England, because we cannot judge of the value of the remedy which is put before us in this Bill until we are perfectly definite as to the nature and extent of the disease. I was surprised in going into this matter, to find how great the gulf is between English bad housing conditions and Scottish bad housing conditions, and I think the extent of that gulf must be the measure of the additional assistance for which Scottish Members are entitled to ask, in dealing with our national problem.
On the last occasion when I spoke in this House, I mentioned that 52 per cent. of our Scottish houses were single-apartment or two-apartment houses, whereas only 5 per cent. of English houses were one or two-apartment houses. After I had spoken, my figures were challenged, and I therefore went carefully once more into this aspect of the subject. I found that no less than half the population of Scotland live in one or two-roomed houses; compared with that, only one-tenth of the population of England is similarly housed, and if we exclude London, the percentage is brought down to one-sixteenth. But a still more convincing and arresting comparison is arrived at if we take the mining counties of Northumberland and Durham in England and compare them with the mining county of Lanarkshire in Scotland, because there we discover that, while in Northumberland and Durham 5 per cent. of the inhabitants are living in one-apartment houses, there is no less than 18 per cent. of the inhabitants of Lanarkshire so housed. For two-apartment 2436 rooms, the comparison is 22 per cent. in Northumberland and Durham and 50 per cent. in Lanarkshire. For four-apartment houses, you have the other side, shown; you have 25 per cent. of four-roomed houses in Northumberland and Durham and only 6 per cent. in Lanarkshire.
It can easily be calculated from these figures that in order to bring our Scottish standard of housing into line with the present English standard of housing —I am not judging on the immense improvement that English Members expect to see once that Bill has been brought into force—we find that no less than 500,000 one and two-roomed houses in Scotland would have to be demolished, or reconditioned, or replaced by three, four, five, and six-roomed houses, and that the cost of such an alteration would be no less than £1,000,000 per annum for 20 years. I stress that figure, because we turn now to the financial provisions in the Bill, and we are told that the Exchequer grant for rehousing 20,000 people in Scotland is anticipated to be £55,000 for 40 years. I should be very glad if the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, in replying, could indicate how many 20,000 people he hopes to rehouse, and how far the provisions of this Bill will go even towards bringing our Scottish standard of housing up to the present English standard.
I will now pass from the comparative point and come to the actual situation. I found myself rather surprised by a remark made by the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train), who is no longer in his place. He said that in Lanarkshire—or Mid-Lanarkshire to be perfectly accurate—the back of the slum problem had been broken. I differ very radically from him in what we consider the slum 7.0 p.m. problem, because we find that in the Middle Ward of Lanark there are 215 persons for every 100 rooms. In my own constituency they rise to the figure of 246 persons for 100 rooms in the Shotts area, which means that I am in the position of finding Scotland very seriously worse than England, finding the county of Lanark below the average of Scotland, and finding part of my own constituency even below the average for Lanark. Throughout Scotland, we have 10 per cent of the population living more than four persons per room. If we con- 2437 fine ourselves to Glasgow and Lanarkshire, which contain three-fourths of the population, we find that practically half of our houses require to be swept away and replaced by modern up-to-date houses.
Let us consider how far previous Acts have gone towards dealing with this slum problem. There have been many admirable attempts, but the attempts, while admirable in themselves, have the fault which I am afraid may become apparent in this Bill, that in relation to the problem they are tackling they are relatively ineffective. I go back 60 years to a housing census in 1861 and I find that in that year throughout Scotland there were 1,050,000 living more than three persons per room. I go on 60 years, and I allow all the improvements that have come about from the beneficent rule of Conservative and Liberal Governments, and I discover that in 1921 we still had more than 1,000,000 people in Scotland living three persons per room. The situation since then has not been materially changed for the very poorest in the slums.
We come down to the present Bill, and we must see how far it is going to deal with the actual slum dweller and how far it is going to repeat the faults of previous Measures in regulating the needs of the slum population, although helping the other sections of the community who, I agree, also deserve to have their needs met but can pay a higher rent. I am more than satisfied with one part of the Bill in that it makes it a condition of grants that the people living in slums must be re-housed. Although I was slightly alarmed by the analysis the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) made as to what the financial terms of those grants might be even on that basis, I can only hope that he was inaccurate in assuming that the financial provisions of the Bill are not better than those existing at present. I believe the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary, if that danger proves real, will be very glad of the co-operation of hon. Members opposite to remedy it, and I would suggest that a practical way of remedying it would be to assume that, in 100 houses you propose building, the grant should be on a minimum of five persons per house.
2438 Thus, if you were re-housing more than five per house, you would get the additional increment, but, if the fears of the right hon. Gentleman were realised, and you found your figure falling to four, or less than four, you would then be in a position of guaranteeing a substantial difference compared with the present position.
I would stress what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has already so eloquently placed before the House, that our problem is not simply a problem of re-housing slum dwellers, or any other type of Scottish citizens; our problem is essentially a poverty problem, and, because it is a poverty problem, the very heart of this present Measure, the touchstone that will decide whether it is useful or not, the touchstone as to whether it brings real advantages to the people for whom it has been framed, is what the rents are going to be? As a woman, it has filled me with surprise that although speaker after speaker, not only on this Bill but also on the English Bill, have talked on the subject, inside the subject, all round the subject, and have gone into the most abstruse calculations on the financial side of this Measure, no one so far as I have been able to discover, has answered the very simple question: what is going to be the rent of these houses once they are built? I took very considerable comfort from the Bill when first I read it, because it assures us definitely that the rents are going to be lower than those prevailing at present. I would plead with those responsible for the Bill, to see that they are not only definitely lower but substantially lower, and also to see if, at the same time, we cannot bring the rent relief which is equally needed by many working-class people already housed in new houses and paying rents far in advance of their means.
Rents bring me to an interesting and enterprising innovation made by the present Government on this subject, the question of differential rents. It is a good, sound, Socialist principle to seek to give houses in accordance with the ability of the people to pay and to give special consideration to families where there are many young children. I am, however, rather puzzled and undecided an one particular aspect of this matter. Suppose that you have two mothers in 2439 Scotland, each with an income of £3 per week, and each with three children to provide for. Suppose one of those mothers has already placed her family in a house which is not in a slum clearance area, which is not in an improvement area, and which is not a solitary insanitary house. Is that mother going to be left entirely unaided while, we help another woman with exactly the same needs and exactly the same responsibilities and with all the same external circumstances—we cannot presume to judge all the circumstances—who, with her family, has drifted into a definitely slum area? There is a type of woman who is one of my heroines. In spite of all the poverty and everything that has been facing us in the West of Scotland, she has been trying to keep a bold face on her difficulties, has been doing her very best, has been making immense sacrifices, of little pleasures, of little luxuries, and of many necessities, because she realises the supreme importance, even within her limited standard, of giving her family the best house possible. I want that woman to be helped, to be given the advantage of differential rents, particularly if she has young children, but I am extremely puzzled as to how we can justly and honestly apply those differential rents if we are going to draw a dividing line which differentiates against the woman who has been struggling so hard and, more than that, which will ask that woman, through adding to her rates, to contribute to the cheaper houses that the woman in the slum area is getting.
I have given a considerable amount of thought and attention to this problem, and I do not see how a Socialist Government—although we may have to temporise because of the immediate circumstances—can finally solve this problem unless we are to face up as boldly as the hon. Member for Gorbals faced up to the poverty aspect and face up to the necessities of both the slum dweller and the non-slum dweller and devise some Measure to grapple adequately with both those aspects of the problem. It ought not to be a difficult problem, for Members on this side of the House, and for a growing number of Members on the Liberal benches to decide what that solution is to be. We have already had a committee of the Trade Union Congress 2440 and the Labour party which, by nine to three, has reported in favour of schemes of family allowances, not simply for a differential rent for special people, not even the rent rebates of the Liberal party for the slum dweller, out family allowances that would be given in respect of children of all parents below Income Tax level. We could thereby answer the difficulties of the hon. Member for Gorbals, and also ensure that we went ahead with a bold and comprehensive building scheme and that those people who went into those houses would do so happily and without too great a financial burden.
Members will reply that that is all very well, but it would cost too much. The particular scheme which I would like to see as complementary to this housing Bill is estimated to cost £70,000,000. But, as a nation, we are spending £300,000,000, in round figures, on drink, £250,000,000 on gambling, and £120,000,000 on tobacco. If my arithmetic is correct, that is £60,000,000 in all. I do not think a nation that can spend £670,000,000 in such a way can evade its responsibilities to the children of the nation even in asking for a scheme like this costing £[...]0,000,000, a big sum in itself but only 4d. or 5d. in the £ of the national income. We are glad and grateful that those responsible for the Bill are tackling in a more realistic fashion than has ever been done before this particular problem, but we would like the provisions to be broadened, so that there would not be this unfair differentiation between the working-class mother whose family is in the slum, and the mother whose family is outside the slum.
I do not often find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) and I am not in agreement with the solution which he put forward for this particular problem, but he did state a real difficulty when he said that in Lanarkshire we have to face up to the fact that we have already enormous rates, and, although in this Bill more generous provision will be given to the local authorities than was ever given before, the rates will be affected by any new houses that are built. Therefore we are likely to find, if our schemes are not completely torpedoed, that they may be 2441 much smaller in extent and much less in general effectiveness than they would have been if the cost had been entirely borne from the national Exchequer.
I have no desire to indulge in anything that would be in the nature of carping criticism. I gladly give thanks to the Secretary of State for Scotland and those associated with him for the good points of this Bill so far as it goes, but I do not think we are doing a service to our party or to the people of Scotland if on all sides of the House we do not keep on stressing the tremendous relative gravity of our Scottish housing problem, and therefore the need of welcoming the present Bill as a first instalment, but also pressing for complementary and successive legislation that may make it very much broader and more general in its aspects.
There is a final issue to which I would like to refer. I have heard hon. Members talk of the new houses that will be built in the agricultural areas. I have certain agricultural districts in my constituency, and I welcome the help that will be given to the rural areas as well as to the mining villages, not only because it will give the ploughman and the miner a better house, but because it will increase his social freedom by helping him to get rid of the tied cottage which goes along with his job. While fully and painfully realising the limitations of the Measure, I congratulate the Government on going further and doing more than any previous Government has ever dared to do, and I only hope that this will be the first of a number of Measures that will eventually lead us to a complete solution of our slum problem, and, side by side with that, of our entire poverty problem.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
This subject of the housing of our people is one which naturally must be of interest to every Member of the House. We are often taunted on this side of the House about what we have not done. One can well understand that there have been no taunts on this occasion, for our party really first brought this matter of the housing of the people before the nation. The hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee), in her interesting speech, said that the only point in this Bill which was really Socialistic was the differentiation of rent. That is the one thing about this Bill which seems to me to be totally opposed to the usual 2442 Socialistic principles. I am not carping about that; I only want to congratulate the Government on having seen the folly of their principles and come round to the principles which have been laid down by the older parties. That is very cheering. I am rather unhappy about that part of the Bill which refers to the differentiation of rent. The hon. Member for North Lanark put the point very clearly in the illustration which she gave of the two women.
Our party are not going to oppose the Bill. I do not quite agree with the leaders in this decision, for I think that it is a pity that we do not make a little more opposition to the Bill. Therefore, I shall take a line of my own. One must approach the matter with certain ideas in one's mind. It is for that reason that I am rather opposed to the principle of the Bill. We must not forget that this is really a housing Bill; it mentions slum clearance, but the main part of the Bill deals with housing. We must not forget also that the slum clearance part of it applies to the country districts as well as to the towns.
There are two things that we must keep in mind in dealing with housing. First we must make certain that any assistance to be given by the State must be apportioned fairly as between the urban and rural areas. It is only fair that all sections of the community should benefit by it. I fear that the tendency in this Bill will be to give financial assistance more to the urban than to the rural areas. Under Clause 19, assistance is to be given to local authorities to carry out housing schemes. In the rural districts it is practically impossible in many cases for a local authority to have a housing scheme and, therefore, to get the benefit of these provisions. There are scattered cottages throughout the country, and we want to see them improved. I do not agree that the tied cottages are bad, but I would like to see them better built. No assistance can be given to these scattered cottages except under a housing scheme. If an authority says that a cottage must be reconditioned, the burden will fall on the owner of the cottage. If he has to pull it down and rebuild it, that again will fall on him. The whole burden of rehousing, therefore, will fall on the owners, who will not get any assistance from the State under this Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
There is an existing Act, the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, under which they can give assistance.
I was going to suggest that there should be some connection between this Bill and that Housing Act, for which my party were responsible. If a local authority says to the owner of a cottage that it is insanitary and must be reconditioned, the owner ought to be able to go to the local authority and get the assistance of the 1926 Act. I suggest that the Government should make it compulsory that, where a local authority make an order for closing or reconditioning, that authority should at least have a scheme under the 1926 Act, so that the owner could apply under that scheme for assistance. When we come to the question of slum clearance and new houses, we ought to see that the improvements that we desire in our housing are effected in the cheapest possible manner. Under this Bill, as I see it, no State assistance is given towards reconditioning. That is a great mistake, because if we want to overcome the slum problem, we must get houses put into proper order. I would like, on the question of reconditioning, to quote the report of a committee which was set up in 1921 to go into the question of the cost of working-class houses. They made a strong statement with regard to reconditioning. They said:The experience of Edinburgh is that insanitary property in the older parts of the town can be converted into serviceable houses at approximately half the cost of new houses.Under this Bill, no assistance can be given to local authorities for reconditioning. It is only for new houses that money can be obtained from the State. All the assistance that is given otherwise will come out of the rates. It is rather a pity that the Government have not approached this question on the lines of seeing what they can do by means of re-conditioning. If they had done so, it would have been a much cheaper way of dealing with the matter. The differentiation of rent is a very bad principle, because it is unfair that a person who does not live in a slum, and who is in exactly the same circumstances as a person who is living in a slum, should not get assistance in the way of rent relief. Power is given in the English Bill to build two-roomed houses if necessary. It rests 2444 entirely with the local authority to decide whether two-roomed houses are necessary. It seems a pity that we should not have the same power in the Scottish Bill. There are many people who do not want a large house, and we have to meet the needs of such people as much as the needs of the people who require larger houses. I hope that the Government will consider whether they cannot do something to help the rural districts. The financial benefits that can be obtained under the Bill are not fairly distributed, and the rural areas will not get their fair share. It cannot be said that the rural areas are better off than the urban. Why therefore should the unfortunate parish council have to be taxed in order to provide houses for those in towns? Their conditions are no better. I lope that a larger portion of financial assistance will be handed over to the rural areas.
§ Mr. BARR
I welcome this opportunity of speaking on the Bill, in the first place because I was a member of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, to which a friendly reference has been made, and in the second place because, like my hon. Friend who has just spoken, I represent a district where this problem is very acute. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) claimed that he had in his constituency possibly the worst slums in Glasgow, or even in the whole of Scotland. I do not suppose any of us desire to enter into rivalry with him on such an unenviable point, but to show how acute and extensive this problem is I would call attention to a Report of the Chief Inspector of the Scottish Board of Health, made five years ago, on 989 houses in my constituency. They all had this feature in common, that not one of them had a water supply of its own.
I do not wish to harry the feelings of hon. Members by going through a description of the various groups of houses—slum areas as they indeed were —that were reported upon. The roofs were described as leaking; the walls were damp; they were unplastered; for show, paper had been put upon the bare stone wall; in many cases the windows, owing to their situation, would admit neither light not ventilation; the floor was often below the level of the ground and was described as rotten and 2445 in holes; and the courts round which these houses were grouped were spoken of as filthy beyond description. Many of these groups of houses had no sanitary convenience of any kind whatever; in the case of some of them there was a very primitive sanitary convenience, though in most cases even this was in very bad order indeed. In one of these squares 18 houses were dependent for water supply upon one stand-pipe, one spigot as we call it in Scotland; in another case 35 houses round a square were dependent on one stand-pipe; in two cases 36; in another case 40; and in the worst case of all there were 45 houses all dependent on one stand-pipe. It is fair to say that one or two of the worst of these slums have since been removed; but I would like to read the words in which the inspector sums up his conclusions:I cannot understand how these buildings have been permitted to be occupied. They are not even suitable for housing animals, let alone human beings.I do not think anyone would consider that reconditioning could be of any use there, and I am equally certain that it would be quite as futile in many of the cases spoken of by the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith). This chief inspector went on to say that nothing would satisfy except heroic remedies. I am very pleased that the Government have made a beginning here —I will not say more—with a heroic remedy. It is only the beginning, and further Measures will need to follow before the slum problem is removed, but I am glad they have summoned their courage to bring in this, so far as it goes, heroic Measure.
Of course some progress has been made already, as the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) indicated. A considerable amount of progress has been made in my own constituency, and I pay this tribute to our town council, that members of all parties on it are agreed that they must go forward in this matter; but it is not easy, because of the economic conditions, to get the slum dwellers to move. There is the difficulty of the rent. In a slum clearance scheme in my own constituency 69 families were removed, but within six months, for economic reasons in the main, 41 were in arrears with rent. Therefore, I welcome the new financial provisions in this 2446 Bill; they may have to be modified and improved, but they give some hope that these slum dwellers will get houses at a rent which they can pay.
I am glad to know, also, that the Bill deals not only with slum clearances, but with the problem of overcrowding, to some extent. In England the Registrar-General counts it as overcrowding if there is an average of more than two persons to a room. In my constituency only 30.8 per cent. of the people are living not more than two to a room; there are 24.7 per cent. living two and not more than three to a room; 20.4 per cent. living three and not more than four to a room; and no fewer than 24.1 per cent., almost one-fourth of all the people I represent, are living on an average of more than four to a room. The hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) indicated the housing conditions in small burghs. I not only emphasise what he said, but the evidence given to us on the Royal Commission showed that there is hardly a town in Scotland, hardly a capital of a county, which has not its slums and its housing problem. There is hardly a slimmer resort, however widely advertised, but has its back street. I will take the capital of a county in the south of Scotland, the representative of which is present here. Evidence was given to us that notwithstanding the beauty of that town, which is called, "The Queen of the South," there were back lanes which, in the words of one of the witnesses, were "a disgrace to humanity." They had continued from the time of Robert Burns, and still bear the names that are found in his letters—Beehive Close and others.
§ Mr. BARR
I was going to make that qualification, as I did in the case of my constituency; and I make the same qualification in the case of another town to which I am proceeding. In a town which is the capital of a county, in the far north of Scotland, people are living in portions of that town at the rate of 816 to the acre. In the case of one other town I will read what was said of it by the representatives of the Churches who gave evidence to us: 2447One of the things that astonished us most in our investigations was the discovery that whole streets of houses in the city were without the most elementary of sanitary conveniences. There is one tenement I know of where there are 22 tenants and there is not a single sanitary convenience in the whole place.I am not sure that that state of affairs also has not been remedied; but those were the conditions prevailing not very long ago and similar conditions prevail at the present time. What has obtained in the past and still to a large extent obtains is almost incredible, absolutely indescribable.
I have three special reasons for giving full support to this Measure. I support it first on the grounds of national economy. The Minister of Health, speaking the other night, quoted the words of John Bright:The nation in every country dwells in the cottage.Because it suits my purpose I would like to complete that beautiful and noble quotation:And unless the beauty of your legislation and the excellence of your statesmanship are impressed on the feelings and conditions of the people there, rely upon it you have yet to learn the duties of Government.I rejoice to think that in a new way we are beginning to learn the duties of Government. We are laying the foundations of a real national economy. Dr. Baxter Wilson and others who have investigated slums have shown, from the number of people there living on charity and dependent on public funds, how such slums are a real loss in every sense; that there is nothing more uneconomical than the continuance of slums and nothing more economic for the nation than to remove slums. Sir Kiffin Taylor, the chairman of the Liverpool Corporation Housing Committee, gave evidence before the Royal Commission and this is what he said:Bad housing conditions are responsible for evils which are costing the country millions of money in workhouses, asylums, hospitals, infirmaries, reformatories and prisons. The remedy for this state of things, a remedy advocated by every party in this State, is that financial aid should he applied by the State or the municipality or both, on the ground that as a mere matter of business such financial aid would prove an economy.2448 We are only at the beginning of this lucrative expenditure to which the State is called. The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) said this Bill was only a step and not a stride. We do not know in what commitments the Exchequer will be involved. During the term of the late Government I put a question to the then Secretary of State for Scotland as to the amount of subsidy that had been paid in Scotland, and the whole national expenditure for housing in the 10 years from 1919 to the 1st October, 1928. I find that the total national expenditure on housing subsidies for those 10 years under all schemes was £8,268,000. I understand that the cost of the "Hood" battleship is £9,000,000, which is more than has been spent by this nation on housing subsidies in the last 10 years. Therefore, we should not grudge this expenditure, and we should welcome every movement for the reduction of expenditure on armaments and for increasing the expenditure on our social services, because that form of expenditure is real economy and a real gain to the nation.
My second reason for supporting this Bill is that it is in the interests of public health. On this point, I wi]l give one illustration. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Marcus) mentioned the subject of mortality in slum areas. During the proceedings of the Royal Commission on housing there was one figure given which I shall never forget. It was given by Dr. Chalmers, the Medical Officer of Health to the City of Glasgow, in which he said, taking boys under five years of age:The mortality for boys living in a one-roomed house was 40.56; in a two-roomed house 30.2; in a three-roomed house 17.9; and in a four-roomed house 10.27.My third reason for giving a full support to this Measure is that I believe it is in the interests of the moral and social welfare of the people. In this respect I would like to quote the words of Lord Shaftesbury, in which he said:Until the housing conditions are reformed and christianised all hope of the moral and social elevation of the people is utterly vain.Those words put the case very strongly. It must be nearly 100 years since Lord Shaftesbury gave utterance to those words, and yet very little has been done to remove this evil since that time. Why 2449 has progress in regard to this problem been so slow in Scotland? For the simple reason that people did not believe in Lord Shaftesbary's method. That may be to our credit or otherwise, but in Scotland we believe very strictly that character is everything and environment nothing. We often hear people say, "What is the good of removing slum dwellers, because they will take their surroundings with them, and they will turn your new houses into a pig-sty." My own father kept the most beautiful and commodious pig-sties in all the countryside, and one result of that was that his pigs were as clean as any in the whole area. Even a pig responds to its surroundings, and much more does a human being. Therefore, we need to emphasise the value of the environment of people, and the great benefit that comes to them morally, socially, and spiritually from such a removal as is proposed in this Bill.
People can live clean and noble lives in the very worst surroundings. I know something of the moral heroism of the poor who often live clean and pure lives in the worst conditions, but that is a form of heroism that should not be asked of any man or woman in a civilised, not to say a Christian community. When we provide better homes for the people we at once provide better people for the homes. I wish that the church would realise this. Dr. Thorold Rogers says in his "Six Centuries of Work and Wages" that it was the better conditions and new hopes of the working people in the eighteenth century that gave the Wesleys their spiritual opportunity; and in my opinion this Measure and those that will succeed it will offer an opportunity for the opening of new avenues not only for material building, but for moral, social and spiritual uplifting. I see a new door of hope opening for these people. It is only ajar now, but it will need to be opened mare widely. I will close by a reference to what fell from the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities, who made a reference to John Bright and a famous speech which that statesman made. I would like to correct the hon. Member on one small point. The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities said that the speech he quoted was delivered by John Bright in 1884, but it was delivered in 1883. I was 2450 present, and therefore I know, and the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities was not present in 1883. I well remember the closing passage of that speech, in which he dealt with the slum conditions of Glasgow, and he said:These things would not always be, and the sun would yet arise on the dark slums of our cities. The poor were not doomed to have their expectations always disappointed.He crowned that magnificent passage by quoting from the Book of Psalms, chapter 9, the 18th verse:For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
As the representative of an urban consistuency in which some of the areas might be described as at least depressing, I want to add my tribute to the line and the courage with which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has taken up this question. I would also like to include in my commendation the remarkable and eloquent speech which was delivered by the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee). After all, we are dealing with a great poverty question, and that fact was emphasised by the hon. Member for Gorbels and supplemented by the hon. Lady opposite when she said that we had to think of the rents in proportion to what the people could afford to pay. I was astonished at the last election to find such a large number of genuine criticisms by working people who, notwithstanding the efforts of successive Governments, still found it impossible to get suitable accommodation at rents which they could afford to pay, and at a rent which would enable a man to bring up his wife and family and provide for them the necessities of life.
One of the great difficulties which has arisen in regard to this matter is the heavy cost of the houses which have been built. They have not been erected in the most economical way. When I speak of economy I do not suggest that the work should be stamped, but that a different type of home might be built and I am glad that more freedom is being given to local authorities in this Bill to deal with this matter, and more especially to deal with the provision of alternative accommodation in regard to which it appears that they can do pretty well as 2451 they like. I notice, however, that they are not to be allowed to put up two-roomed houses, and I think that is a mistake. When I speak of two-roomed houses I allude more particularly to subdivided buildings which are divided into two-roomed houses. My point is that a great deal of the cost of alternative accommodation has been due to the fact that the wrong type of houses have been chosen, because many of them are self-contained. They have each the four walls and roofing, and there is a good deal of additional cost in the way of special connection of drainage and fittings, and all that has to be borne by the rent charged. I know that there are two-storey houses in Edinburgh, and you get four houses in a block of two storeys with an outside staircase. I am aware that that type of house can be let at a cheaper rent. I know that even such houses cannot be provided at the present time at an economic rent, hut they would be nearer it and, further, I think it would be unwise to deprive these people, who at the present time find great difficulty in keeping body and soul together, of the opportunity of living in two-roomed houses.
The hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) seems to have been converted to my point of view on this question, because he said that undoubtedly the great thing that would tend towards a solution of the housing problem would be the ability of people to pay economic rents, and that that state of things could only be brought about by a great revival of the productivity of the industries of this country. I hope that the Government, in giving no more than these subsidies out of the Treasury, are looking ahead to a revival of trade and industry, when the happy inhabitants of these houses would be able to pay an economic rent, and then we could provide the best style of houses for the accommodation of the people, and they would also have enough money left to provide themselves not only with the necessities but also with the luxuries of life. I appeal to the hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and hope he will agree with me when I say that one of the best ways of supplementing this solution of the housing problem is for him to change his fiscal policy, and in that way give more encouragement to our in- 2452 dustries at home by the protection of safeguarding.
Duchess of ATHOLL
The speeches which have been made on this side of the House have shown how fully we realise the gravity of the housing problem, more particularly in connection with slums. We have been very interested in some of the speeches which have been made on the opposite side of the House, particularly the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I should like to say to the hon. Member that a recent visit which I paid to the slums in one of our big Scottish cities brought forcibly before me the necessity of doing everything possible to clear the people out of those terrible dwellings. I should also like to say to the House, remembering as I do the text of the hon. Members speech, that I cannot help feeling that though there may be in the slums many people who have a difficulty in meeting the rents of the improved houses and to whom furniture may be a difficulty —that makes it an urgent question to get houses built at the lowest possible price and at rents which they can afford to pay—I was amazed during a visit which I subsequently paid to a new housing area to which people in another part of the slums of the city had recently been removed, at the excellence and taste of their furniture. One of the most striking impressions I received from my visit was of the excellence of their furniture, and with what taste it had been 8.0 p.m. chosen. The only exception was that of a widow who was inhabiting a house of three or four rooms, and she had not been able to provide herself with carpets and furniture such as I found in the other houses. Therefore, I suggest that among the slum dwellers to-day there are people who, if better houses had been plentiful, would have been inhabiting them, and while it is for us to get houses built and to do what we can to meet the poorer people with rent, do not let us think it is not worth while clearing the slums because there is a great deal of unemployment and poverty in the country. It is because we recognise so fully the gravity of this problem that we are ready to support any Bill that offers to take us a step further, and therefore we are not going to put difficulties in the way of this Bill securing a Second 2453 Reading, though we do see here and there in the wording of Clauses indications of that "new despotism" the existence of which has lately been impressed upon us by a legal authority, and which is the subject of investigation by a Committee set up by the Government. Such indications will demand careful examination and consideration in Committee, to see that while every step is taken that can be taken to assist in slum clearances, no injustice is done.
I cannot help feeling that the part of the Bill which deals with single houses shows that the Government have not fully grasped all sides of the problem. We find, for instance, that Clause 11 empowers the local authority to require the owner of a house which is unfit for habitation to execute whatever works the local authority considers to be necessary, and if the owner does not do this immediately, the local authority under Clause 12 is empowered to execute the works and to charge the owner on the rent of the house. Sub-section (3) of Section 12 says that the cost of these improvements spread over 30 years may even be recovered from the occupier, and deducted by him from the rent of the house. It seems clear from the wording of that Clause that the Government are of opinion that the rents of the houses are sufficient to pay for the cost not merely of the repairs, but of such reconstruction as may be necessary to put them in a proper state for habitation. They evidently consider that the rents are large enough to meet the cost of repairs and to Leave some balance over. I venture to say that such a suggestion shows how little they have grasped the low level of rents of working-class houses in the rural areas of Scotland. Admittedly the slum dweller has often to pay rents out of all proportion to the amenities that he enjoys, but when we come to rural areas we find rents at a different level. I doubt if Members representing town constituencies realise how much lower these rents are. On one rural estate I know with a large number of houses 50 per cent. of the houses let are rented at less than £5 a year.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I agree that they are old houses. I do not say that there are many recent houses, but there are 2454 more than 50 per cent. of them let at under £5, more than a quarter let at between £5 and £10 and only one-thirteenth of the total number at more than £20. That shows what a different proposition it is in the rural areas compared with the towns. On this particular estate a fair average amongst houses under £5 to 30s. a year, and this includes gardens. On another estate the usual figures for rent of agricultural cottages is £2 10s. a year. In that rural area the usual figure is £4.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Not at all; they are rented. The figures I have given are exclusive of tied houses. That brings me to another point. I do not think that all Members realise how much rural landowners have done in the way of housing the population in general.
Duchess of ATHOLL
No; on the contrary, these figures apply to houses that are not provided for estate employés. These are houses rented by other people not necessarily working on the estate. I submit that this shows that owners of houses have rendered a service to the community in general in providing houses at lower rents than these could be found in the towns.
Duchess of ATHOLL
They are in the county I know best—Perthshire. I think it is quite evident to Members that rents such as these are far too low to leave any margin for the expense of reconstruction, and if we remember the difficulties of Scottish agriculture, we shall further realise that owners of land are too seldom in a position to provide money to be spent on houses improvement, and that the rents of these houses cannot furnish the money. Therefore, I cannot say with what hope and joy many owners in different parts of the country have been able to receive grants under the Rural Housing Act for the improvement of houses which otherwise they would have found it impossible to carry out. The passing of that Act gave new hope to Scottish owners who desired to bring 2455 their houses into a satisfactory condition. The crucial point now is this: Does the Rural Housing Act still stand? I have already put that question, and have received the assurance that the powers of the local authorities still stand, that the Act does not interfere with their powers?
But a further point arises. In view of the Clause I have quoted, will the local authorities feel it worth while to exercise their powers? Will they feel inclined to give a grant to help the owner who comes forward with a scheme for improving his house under Clause 11, if they think they can oblige that owner to make all necessary improvements out of his own pocket? This raises a most important question, because it would be an unspeakable set-back to the improvement of rural housing if anything should arise to interfere with the increased use that is being made of the Rural Housing Act. I know it has been the fashion amongst some hon. Members to laugh at that Act and say it is doing nothing. I admit the delay at first. It took time to get the Regulations framed, and I know that some local authorities could not come to a decision until the Department had said exactly what the standard was to be. There is the further difficulty that if a reconstruction of houses is being undertaken, it may be that alternative accommodation has to be found while the improvements are being made. We all know that there are few spare houses in rural areas, and that in many districts whenever there is a vacant house there are always a number of applicants. Therefore, in planning a scheme for the improvement of rural houses, I know what an anxious question it is whether there are sufficient houses in which to put the people when the moment arises, and that improvement schemes may be held back for lack of alternative accommodation.
This Bill seems to be drafted in such a way that it is doubtful if local authorities will wish to proceed with grants under the Rural Housing Act. The first result of this will be that many owners will be obliged to delay, if not repairs, at any rate reconstruction and improvements as long as possible. In the second place, there will be cases in which, from fear of being obliged by the local authorities to make improvements to the 2456 houses, the cost of which they cannot meet, as soon as the house becomes vacant, the owner will prefer to close it rather than keep it open at a low rent, and with the possibility of this liability hanging over his head.
In the third place, it seems to me that, assuming that an owner does find it possible to produce the money to make such an improvement, he will probably find himself in a position in which he will find it necessary to charge the full cost of the improvements, spread over a period of years, on the rent. That may mean a much more serious rise in rent than is possible under the Rural Housing Act, because, as the Under-Secretary of State well knows, the amount of increase of rent which an owner may make under the Rural Housing Act is limited to 3 per cent. of what he has himself spent. If he has to find the whole cost of the improvement, it may well be that he will feel that he must try to recover the whole of it gradually over a period of years, from the rent.
I will mention just two cases that I know of, showing the sort of amount that has to be spent on some of these houses. There is a scheme in progress at this moment where the reconstruction and additions to two houses will cost £370, exclusive of the architect's fee, which will probably bring the amount up to something near £400. The total rent received at present for those two houses, and for one room in one of them which is let separately, is £6 5s. Under the Rural Housing Act, the person improving those houses will not be able to add more than £6 to the rent, making a total of £12 5s. for the rent of two families. If the full cost of those improvements were to be put upon the rent, the addition would not be £6, but about £24. in the case of another scheme, the improvements to four other houses on the same estate have cost a total sum of £400. The rent of these houses before the improvements were carried out was £16, and an addition of £3 has been made to the rent of these four houses since the improvements were carried out.
It seems to me, therefore, that it is very difficult to exaggerate the set-back that may be caused to the improvement of houses in rural areas in Scotland unless this Bill can be drafted in such a way that local authorities will not feel that it is no longer worth while to operate the 2457 Rural Housing Act. I would say, in addition, that, if the procedure possible under this Bill is followed, instead of the procedure under the Rural Housing Act, it seems to me that there will certainly be delay, and possibly friction between owners and local authorities, where, surely, we want to see co-operation. The housing problem, both in the cities and in rural areas, is so big that if needs the whole-hearted co-operation of owner, local authority and Government Department. It is a very big problem. It is a very unhappy inheritance that owners of land and housing property have on their shoulders to-day.
I cannot say to the House how I feel the responsibility that rests on owners of housing property. I want to see every opportunity given to them to do everything reasonable that is within their power to improve the many houses that I know need bringing up to modern standards. I am certain that that responsibility is being increasingly recognised, and I do not think that what has been achieved or what promises to be achieved under the Rural Housing Act is by any means sufficiently appreciated. I have been shown figures to-day to the effect that the grants approved to date under the Rural Housing Act already total over £300,000. To that we must add another £300,000 contributed from the rate, and it is, therefore, not too much to say, adding the owner's contribution to these grants—and the owner generally has the biggest third of the expense—that an expenditure of probably fully £1,000,000 has already been sanctioned and is being worked out in rural Scotland. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to give us an assurance, if he can, that he anticipates no slackening of advance under the Rural Housing Act. If it is not possible for him to give that assurance, I would ask that he and the Secretary of State give this matter their most earnest consideration, because I feel that it would be a calamity if it should go out that in Scotland it is no longer worth while to operate an Act upon which so many of us are basing very great hopes.
Then I should like to say a word about the grant system. It is, of course, pleasing to us on this side of the House to hear the praise that has been given to-day to the block grant system—a block grant which is a service grant, in that 2458 it is dedicated to one service only; it is not a unified grant, but still it is a form of block grant. I think that one attraction which this form of grant has for us is that, being based on a sum per person displaced and rehoused, it will ensure that local authorities proceed first with displacement and rehousing in the most crowded areas. That seems to me to be a distinct advantage. I hope, however, that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will bear in mind the fears that have been expressed from this side of the House that the proportion between rural grants and urban grants laid down by the Housing Act of 1924 has not been quite maintained. The rural areas are not coming off quite so well proportionately under this Bill as they did under the Housing Act of 1924, and that, quite legitimately, I think, gives some of us a little concern.
I wish to touch on the suggestion that has come from one or two quarters, notably from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health two days ago, that the grant might not only be assessed on families, but might be re-distributed by families on a system of allowing a rent rebate for each child. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, in the statement that she made on this subject, in which I think she indicated that a scheme of that kind was in the mind of the Ministry, though technically the local authorities were free to adopt it or not, said that this idea of rent rebates was an analogy with the Income Tax rebates which were made by the late Government. I do not think that the two are a true analogy. I do not think it can be said that to make a reduction on a tax which people have to pay, and which, however, necessary it may be for the services of the country, yet brings to the taxpayer no immediate or personal return—nothing is handed back to him, so to speak, when he pays his tax; he has to pay it to the Exchequer and trust that it is well spent, hoping for the best—I do not think it can be said that a rebate from a tax of that kind, handed to the National Exchequer and bringing no immediate return to the individual, is at all the same thing as telling an individual that so much will be allowed off his rent for every child in his family, because rent is something for which the individual gets an immediate, definite and obvious return. 2459 I cannot help fearing that any system of that kind may tend to lessen parental responsibility, may tend in some cases to an increase in the size of families—[Interruption.] I should like to feel that there was a family in every house in the country, but is it always a great advantage that the family should be a very large one, particularly when the home is not a very big one? A house that may be big enough for a family of four or five may be a very crowded one for a family of six or eight. There is an increasing feeling among the women of the country that it is for them to say what size their family is to be, and I do not think the big majority of them would feel that it was for their welfare, or for that of their children, that any scheme should be in operation which tended to make the family larger. I cannot help feeling that any system of this kind may really tend to perpetuate the housing problem. Therefore, I earnestly hope that no utterance will go out from any Member of the Government which local authorities will take as a recommendation or suggestion to adopt a scheme of this kind. It has been advocated by one Member below the Gangway, but I observe that the Secretary of State in his allusion to it showed a truly Scottish caution. I hope very much that the Under-Secretary will equally betray the national characteristic.
Finally, I should like to say how much I welcome the proposal for hostels for old people. There is a very real need for better and more accommodation, and yet small accommodation, for old people who are not up to looking after a good sized house and yet find it difficult to get the right sort of accommodation. I think the suggestion that local authorities should be asked to consider programmes of buildings and improvement a good one, though, unless the Government can bring into effect some remedy for the present difficulties in which Scottish agriculture finds itself, the hon. Gentleman may find that a good many local authorities may he very 10th to commit themselves to schemes of rehousing some years ahead, because, if the present depression continues, who can say what will be the numbers of population in rural areas at that period? Subject to the points I have indicated, and to the necessity I have stressed for 2460 the continued operation of the Rural Housing Act, we shall do what we can to assist the passage of the Bill, because we feel that any attempt as a solution of this great problem is one that we should do our best to assist.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am sure the Government cannot in any way complain of the tone or temper of the criticism to which the Bill has been subjected, and, as I hope we shall shortly proceed to discuss the Financial Resolution, perhaps hon. Members who have been sitting here for a considerable time, will make their observations upon that Resolution.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
I must enter a word of warning here. When we come to the Financial Resolution, we shall be bound by the terms of the Resolution, just as we were on the English Bill.
§ Major ELLIOT
I understand that there has been a discussion of an informal nature in an earlier stage, and it was ruled by Mr. Speaker that the utmost latitude should be allowed on the Financial Resolution in view of the fact that a great many Members would be shut out by their voluntary limitation on this occasion.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Is there any arrangement whereby the Debate, which is restricted now to the Bill, shall terminate at a given time?
All I know is that when we go into Committee we must be bound by the terms of the Resolution.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I hope Scottish Members are to have an opportunity of dealing with their Housing Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
An hon. Member has handed me a cutting from one of yesterday's newspapers dealing with the Glasgow situation. It mentions the case of a man living with his family on the 2461 south side of Glasgow, warding off rats night after night in order that his wife and children may secure peaceful rest. It mentions the squeaking of the rats and the noise they make running to and fro, and beetles and other vermin. Committee after committee has made inquiries into our housing conditions. The Noble Lady asked the Secretary of State and myself to make reservations, if we could, so far as family allowances were concerned. May I draw her attention to the Report of the Committee on Sexual Offences? It mentions a case of indecent assault by a father. A young daughter slept with her father, and there was a brother of 17, another family, and a lodger all in one bedroom. In another case of incest a widow lived with 11 children in a two-roomed house in a wretched locality. One of the daughters, aged 14, gave birth to a child, and two of her brothers were convicted of incest. There is page after page of horrible accounts of sexual offences against young persons. The late respected medical member of the Scottish board for a long period of time collected statistics of infant mortality. He tells us that measles, whooping cough and diphtheria show a death rate among young male children in one-apartment houses of 23 per 1,000, in two-apartment houses 18 per 1,000, in three-apartment houses 10 per 1,000, in four-apartment houses and upwards five per 1,000. In other words, the chance of death is four times greater for a baby in a single-roomed house than it is on the average in a four-apartment house in Scotland. I take the Report of the commissioners on the slum clearance schemes. There we get accounts of the conditions under which people are living to-day which one is almost afraid to read in a mixed assembly. Here is one in a Glasgow slum:Dilapidation is rife throughout the area. Ceilings are falling down, woodwork is rotting away, there are holes in the walls of houses through which the street can be seen, and the plaster-work of the walls is loose and broken. The houses are a hunting-ground for vermin of every description. The tenants complained that they could get no peace from these pests, which drop upon their faces and crawl over their persons and beds at night, and which fall into their food during the day. The food itself will not keep in many of these tenements… owing to the damp and verminous condition of the holes in the wall in which it is kept… There are lice, rats in great number, mice. cockroaches, snails. and even toads.2462 I remember one case of personal experience where, with another hon. Member of this House, I sought to prevent an eviction in a Glasgow slum, and there we had it certified to us by the doctor in attendance that a baby lying in a box on the floor had been bitten on the cheek by a huge rat. Take the city of Edinburgh and the extraordinary figures given by the burgh engineer at the inquiry on 10th February this year concerning the Saint Leonards ward. The figures are almost incredible. The average number of houses per acre in that ward is 166. The average number of persons per acre is 576. The Wheatley Act allows 12 houses to the acre; here there are 166. In the worst part of that area there is a density of 470 houses per acre, and there are 1,393 persons per acre. If I wanted further evidence as to the necessity for this Bill, I should take the comparative mortality statistics for the four great cities. I take Glasgow. In the Calton ward, in 1928, 161 babies died out of every 1,000 born. In the Cathcart ward only 37 died. In Edinburgh, in Saint Giles's ward, a working class ward, out of every 1,000 babies born, 111 died before they reached the age of 12 months, but in the Colinton ward only 12 died. In Dundee the figures ranged between 65 in Broughty Ferry ward, and 127 in Hawk-hill and Blackness ward. In Aberdeen, the same proportions obtained—63 in Rosemount ward and 134 in Saint Andrew's ward. With these figures before us, is there any hon. Member in any part of the House who dare say that there is not an urgent necessity for some such Bill as the Government have introduced this afternoon?
There have been criticisms brought forward. Some of them were more suitable for the Committee stage, and will require to be dealt with in Committee upstairs. But there were two points which emerged from the discussion in general upon which I should like to offer a few observations. One point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), by the hon. Lady who represents North Lanark (Miss Lee) and, indeed, by other hon. Members. It is the question of poverty. Are these people able to pay the rent which will be charged, and which they are being charged in the present day slum clearance schemes? What is to be done with 2463 the people who are so poor that they cannot afford to buy furniture? That was the chief point which was made by the hon. Member for Gorbals. These people at present are paying 5s. a week in a city slum. What is to be done with them when they are assisted to a slum clearance house? The answer is that there is already power in the hands of the local authorities, under the Act of 1925, Section 43 (2), to furnish and supply any such house with all the requisite furniture, fittings and conveniences. The power is in the hands of the local authorities now.
While it is undeniably true that the whole question of housing is very largely, at the present time, a question of poverty, the power is in the hands of the public assistance committees and the local authorities to make contributions, if necessary, and there need be no reason, when this Bill has been passed, for any human being being compelled to live under the horrible housing conditions which I have just described. If it is a question of poverty, the local authorities have power to deal with the matter. They can subsidise. They can reduce the rents. They can average the assistance which the State gives them in such a way that the backs best able to bear the burden bear it, and those who, because of poverty, are unable to pay a decent rent, will get, at any rate, a decent house. It is the opinion of the Government that every human being in the land is as much entitled to healthy shelter, fresh air and decent living conditions as to a decent supply of water, and it is the purpose of the Government, in the midst of many and manifold difficulties, through this Measure to assist local authorities as far as possible in our day and generation to wipe out the slum conditions, and to ensure that every family has a decent minimum standard of physical existence.
Another question was raised as to the operations of the Rural Workers' Act, how far it is operating now, and how far it can be speeded up. The Noble Lady expressed some fear as to whether as an indirect result of this Bill the operations of that Act might not be slowed down. The facts are that, while the Act was slow in beginning operations, it is now operating. There have been approved for alteration 3,518 dwellings and 2464 work has been finished on 1,981 dwellings. The Secretary of State for Scotland is doing his utmost to induce local authorities who have not so far operated the Act to put it into operation. There are parts of the country where, I am sorry to say, not a single house has been dealt with under the provisions of this Act.
The hon. Member who initiated the discussion, and other hon. Members, expressed a fear as to whether or not the subsidy was adequate for dealing with rural housing conditions. Is is always better in these matters to reason from the individual specific case where all the facts are known. We have had the figures extracted, and here is what they amount to: In a rural area, with a grant of £2 15s., if a rent of £14 per annum were charged, the local authority paying £4 1s. 7d. on an average, over a period of 60 years—the equivalent of £4 10s. for 40 years—there would actually be a profit to the local authority of 19s. 8d. per annum on that house. Under the provisions of the Act, however, the local authority is not permitted to make a profit, so that in such a case the rent would require to be reduced to about £13 per annum. If a rent of £13 per annum only were charged, there would be no loss to the local authority, above the £4 1s. 7d. per annum to which I have referred.
In rural areas it is the case that the bigger the house the bigger the subsidy, but in any scheme taken over 60 years, not 40 years, with 75 per cent. of three-roomed houses, the net State subvention would amount to 66⅔ per cent., as against the present 50 per cent. of the net average loss. I hope that these figures will reassure my hon. Friends below the Gangway opposite, that so far as rural areas are concerned they are better off to some extent than they are under existing conditions. The fact remains that only five counties in Scotland have operated the Slum Clearance Act, but if an average scheme is taker and if the local authorities will ensure that at least 75 per cent. of the houses will be houses of three rooms and over, then the average subvention given to the local authorities in aid of that scheme will amount to 60⅔ per cent.
There is one further point to remember. Under the Act of last year the agricul- 2465 tural relief from de-rating in Scotland amounted to £950,000 this year, of which it is estimated that £396,000 is to be handed back by the owners to the occupiers, leaving a balance of £554,000 in the hands of the proprietors in Scotland in the rural areas. Surely, it is not asking too much to say that, at least, part of that sum will be used to improve the property and to provide healthier conditions for the people who are living on their estates. I do not want to detain the House with points which must be discussed in Committee upstairs. It is inevitable that when we come to the Committee stage many points will be raised by hon. Members, and they must be thoroughly and adequately discussed.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Before the hon. Member finishes, can he give us any information in regard to the points raised as to the small burghs in Scotland?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
That point was, I understand, raised by the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train). He complained, I believe, that I have agreed in some cases to permit the building of 40 per cent. of two-room houses in housing schemes. Much against my wishes I was driven to do it. I have endeavoured to limit the proportion of those houses to 25 per cent. of the total. We are seeking to raise the standard of houses in Scotland and to limit the proportion of two-roomed houses, but there have been instances where the local authorities have shown that they have already three-roomed houses under the last housing scheme, unlet, and there have been local authorities who have shown us that their previous housing schemes had no proportion of two-roomed houses. Therefore, under pressure, we yielded and permitted a larger proportion of two-roomed houses, but in no case have we gone above 40 per cent., and in other cases I think we have reduced the proportion which the local authority desired.
The hon. Member also raised a point about houses in small burghs where a penny rate raises a very small sum. There are places where a penny rate raises only about £55, and where the local authorities have done nothing at all, even where they could have done something, and where it will be our duty to 2466 bring pressure upon them. There are local authorities at this moment with regard to whom the Secretary of State and myself are considering setting up a form of local inquiry under the Act as a preliminary to our taking still more drastic steps, if necessary. The question of houses in small burghs where a penny rate produces a very small sum of money is a problem which has many repercussions, and I trust that my hon. Friend will not push me too far, lest he pushes these houses out of the control of the local authority altogether and into the hands of the counties. Even in those burghs which have a very small return for a penny rate, under the provisions of this Bill, except for two-apartment houses, it will be possible to proceed with slum clearance schemes and to let those houses at rents which are substantially the same as the rents the people are paying now. There are probably no two burghs where the conditions are alike, and it is very difficult to set up regulations which will apply to every burgh, but as far as our advisers can tell us there is no burgh in Scotland whose financial circumstances will not benefit materially by putting into operation the provisions of this slum clearance Bill, to which I trust the House will now give a Second Reading.
§ Major ELLIOT
The Under-Secretary has not referred to the question of finance as it affects rural areas.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I thought the hon. and gallant Member would have permitted us to do that on the Financial Resolution, in view of the important statement which I understand is to be communicated to the House.
§ Major DUDGEON
I do not desire to prevent the House discussing other important matters, but I feel there is a point of view with regard to certain areas in Scotland which should be put before the House. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) made an interesting contribution to this Debate. He stressed the question of poverty in regard to housing, and that is a point of view which requires most careful examination. A large number of people would like to avail themselves of housing accommodation, but are unable to do so because they are unable to pay even the reduced rents which are now being charged by 2467 local authorities; they are unable even to provide furniture which would make these homes reasonably comfortable. The hon. Member for Gorbals stated that the rent of 5s. per week which was paid in certain slum areas in Scotland would probably amount to 8s. 6d. in the case of these new houses to be provided for them. That is an additional rent charge on the people who are to be transferred from these slums from the money which they ordinarily expend on food.
I would suggest that the Bill, although a distinct step forward, should have even wider ramifications. A great reduction could be made in the cost to individual holders if a system of what is termed service flats was available. These poor people can only buy in small quantities, and they have, therefore, to pay top prices for both coal and food. An extension of the system of service flats to the poorest people in this country would enable them to have a cheap means of warming their houses, and, by a sytem of central feeding in these flats, they would be able to obtain their food at a most reasonable rate. Then there is the question of the small burghs. Some of them have been trying to deal with the question of the clearance of slums. The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr) referred to the town of Dumfries, a part of which I represent. Dumfries has a progressive town council, and during the last 10 years has really grappled with the slum problem. They are some of the worst slums in Scotland. A great part of the credit of the action taken by the town of Dumfries is due to 9.0 p.m. the initiative of the medical officer of the burgh, who is now the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire (Dr. Hunter). The question of site is very important. It is often extremely difficult for small burghs to get a proper site in their own area for new houses in connection with slum clearance schemes, and I would suggest that some machinery should be set up whereby small burghs could be brought into contact with the county authority in order to get the really best site within a reasonable distance for these new housing schemes.
The last point I wish to mention is the individual slum in the rural areas. Some hon. Members consider that a tied house is undesirable and others that it is de- 2468 sirable; but the point I wish to stress is that at the moment we have to put up with these tied houses because in some cases they are really part of the equipment of the farm. I deplore the fact that in every Housing Bill since the War this question of the tied house has been baulked. I agree that it is a difficult matter, but it can be dealt with by the co-operation of the landowner, the occupying farmer, and the local authority, and if we are to get rid of some of the worst slums in the whole of Scotland, we shall have to get rid of some of these tied houses on farms. In some of them overcrowding is extreme, water has to be brought two hundred and three hundred yards by women, several times a day, and they are absolutely deficient of all sanitary conveniences. A much more serious effort should be made to bring these houses into a reasonable state to meet modern requirements. We are losing the best of our populatiion from the countryside in Scotland, and they are going not only overseas but into the towns where, if they find employment, they very often displace a town dweller. If we are to maintain our people on the land we must go in for a policy which will give them the same housing facilities as are enjoyed by people in the large towns. I would stress the point that the financial provisions of this Bill should be extended in order to give the countryside in Scotland greater opportunities to get up to date and to provide a proper system of housing in our rural areas.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Do I understand that at the conclusion of the statement which is about to be made upon another matter, there will be a proper opportunity of renewing the discussion on the Scottish Housing Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
As soon as this Bill has been read a Second time the House will go into Committee to consider the Money Resolution in connection with the Bill.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Will it then be in order to have a general discussion on the Financial measures pertaining to the Bill?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
On a point of Order. I think it was generally understood among Scottish Members that a general discussion would be allowed on the Money Resolution, if the statement mentioned by the hon. Member was allowed to be made just now after the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the Money Resolution will be discussed in Committee and that the Chairman of Committees will be responsible for the conduct of the Debate on that occasion. It is not for me to interfere with the discretion of the Chairman of Committees, as to the length to which that discussion may go.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
As the Chairman of Committees has ruled that we would not, on such an occasion, have the opportunity of a general discussion I should like to make my remarks now.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
On a point of Order. Is it not possible to have an interruption of the business now and to resume the Debate on the Second Reading after the statement has been made?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not see how that can be done. If a Motion were made "That the Debate be now adjourned," the discussion would have to be confined to reasons for adjourning the Debate. We must abide by the Rules of the House, whatever happens.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
In Scottish interests, I must take this opportunity of exercising my right as a Scottish Member to speak on this Bill before it receives a Second Reading. Some of us have been waiting here during the whole of this afternoon for an opportunity of dealing with the Bill, and while I know that a large number of Members, like myself, wish to hear the important statement which we understand is about to be made, yet I do not agree that Scottish affairs should be relegated to one side in the manner suggested, or that it should simply be a matter of the Government calling upon the House to set aside Scottish business in order to take up other matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I propose to get on with it, but the hon. Members who interject these remarks have not been here all afternoon; indeed I do not think there have been more than a dozen people in the 2470 Chamber during most of the discussion although this question of housing is a most important one for Scotland. A point which has been urged in connection with this Bill and which I would like to hear emphasised from the Labour benches is that we are not here dealing with a root question—which is unfortunately the impression left by previous discussions on this issue—but that we are only dealing with a branch question. All through the speeches from both sides of the House to-day, there has been a growing acknowledgment of the fact that, whatever Bill may be produced, dealing only with housing, there is still the poverty issue, and all that it involves, to be faced.
We have to face the fact that this Bill is endeavouring to confer, only on the occupants of what are known as slum houses, the advantage of a certain differentiation in payments. I urge upon the Government that there are other people in Scotland, in very poor circumstances, who do not, fortunately for themselves, occupy what are known as slum areas or slum tenements, and those people are also in grave difficulties. Perhaps I may refer to the case of the City of Dundee. There are many people in that city, with families, occupying dwellings of one room or two rooms, because of the exigencies of the circumstances pertaining to their livelihood, and while the city has done well in the matter of housing we have reached a point at which there is a concentration on providing for the occupants of what are known as slum houses, while other people, who are also in difficulties, are debarred from getting an advantage which is very necessary to them as well. In proposing to make a differentiation in favour of the people in slum areas, I suggest that the Government will put a disadvantage on others who are not in occupation of tenancies which come within the description of slums. To-day, as we know, local authorities are enabled to exercise the right of relieving people, such as those of whom I am speaking, of their rates apart, from the particular class of houses which they may occupy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] If hon. Members think that the way of dealing with the housing question is by interruptions of that kind—[Interruption.] I am sorry to hear anything of the kind coming from the Labour benches, but I assure the hon. Members 2471 who interrupt me, that I do not work on the automatic system. I come here voluntarily to stand up for what I believe to be right and necessary.
In Dundee we have already done a substantial amount in clearances. The Leader of the Conservative Opposition, a few years ago, visited one of our slum areas and described the situation there as appalling. The whole of that area has been cleared and through the generosity of a citizen, who passed away some little time ago, a sum of £100,000 has been made available for the provision of playgrounds and open spaces—that being, of course, apart from the question of providing houses. It is necessary to emphasise, however, that the Bill does not insist on the necessity of the actual building of the houses—the production of the houses—to accommodate the people who are displaced. The authorities are left to pursue whatever course they think fit. The demand is that a scheme should be submitted, for a clearance area or an improvement area, but nothing is definitely laid down concerning the building of the houses. There is a definite undertaking that before a scheme can be approved, accommodation must be available, but there is no definite direction as to the building of the houses.
With the situation as it is to-day in the depressed industrial condition of the country, our city itself is beginning to feel the tightening of the grip, and the situation has become desperate. There are people in very grave and serious circumstances, and whatever may be the result of the Naval Conference, there is no actual home defence. That is the problem we should be discussing now. It is most appropriate that you should have in view the defencelessness of the home circle, the appalling conditions of people unable to find a livelihood. As the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, it is not the housing issue, but where are we going to get our living, where are we going to get a chance of providing the necessities for the cupboard and facilities to feed the children?
These are the issues. There is no doubt at all about it. You can get an agreement. It is years since there was such absolute unanimity about the housing question. It is a popular question. It has been exploited largely politically, as if you were doing something substantial 2472 in regard to the eradication of these root causes, but they are not being touched. You are deliberately evading them, and you know you are not touching them. The Labour Government themselves are not facing the problem. This bill is good, so far as it goes. Undoubtedly the situation is astounding, but it is not the finding of the bricks and mortar and the stone or the creation of the houses; it is the human element, to which we were directed in the English discussion by the former Minister of Health, that is the real, the pronounced issue that we have to face, and that human element is being allowed to be submerged. You can find houses, but you are not producing the manhood, you are not safeguarding the womanhood, you are not protecting the childhood of the nation. It has been well said that the glory of the Empire is settled in the hearts and homes of the people. Well, the hearts of the people are broken, the hearts of the people are sorrow-stricken. We are concerned about the question not only of houses, but of the withholding too often of the necessities of life.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
With all due deference, if that be so, I guarantee that there are some who have gone a long way beyond that in this discussion this same day, but I do not proceed any further, because I have endeavoured to urge the strong feeling that is at my heart, and I would not be in this House for five minutes if I did not discharge, when I have the opportunity, the duty which I feel called upon to discharge.