§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further and better provision with respect to the clearance or improvement of unhealthy areas, the repair, demolition, or closing of insanitary houses, and the housing of persons of the working classes in Scotland, to amend the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1925, the Housing, etc., Act, 1923, the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924, and other enactments relating to housing subsidies and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid (hereinafter referred to as "the said Act") it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament—
Mr. W. ADAMSON
As has been recognised during the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, the most important change from the point of view of the local authority is that dealing with the finance of rehousing schemes. The Government propose, if a case is put forward by a local authority, a greater measure of financial assistance towards slum clearance schemes, but in a form different from that which has hitherto prevailed. The present percentage system is to be departed from. This form of grant necessitated departmental control of all expenses of local authorities, and it is felt that the grant should be fixed to allow local authorities a freer hand in the framing and development of their housing schemes. As already explained, the new grant will be on a unit basis. The grant for every person displaced and for whom accommodation has to be made available under the Bill, will normally be £2 10s., which is 5s. higher than the corresponding grant under the English Bill. In rural areas, the grant will be £2 15s. per person. An addition to the grant is to be given to meet the conditions arising out of the tenement system so generally prevalent in Scotland.
Under the Bill a local authority may require the demolition by the owner of a tenement which contains both sanitary and insanitary premises, such as a good house or a shop in an otherwise bad tenement. They may also have to purchase such a tenement with a view to its demolition. In the former case, the compensation payable is the market value of the good premises less, of course, the site value, as the owner retains the site. In the latter case, the compensation is the market value, the site in this case becoming the property of the local authority. To meet this expenditure, the Bill proposes to allow an additional unit grant not exceeding 15s., fixed on the basis of the annual sum required over 40 years to meet 50 per cent. of the market value less the site value of the good premises.
The Bill provides that the number of persons to be taken into account in cal- 2478 culating the amount of the State grant must not exceed the number for whom accommodation has, with the approval of the Department of Health of Scotland, been rendered available in the new houses. The object of acquiring the approval of the Department is that the grant may be used as a means of securing the provision of houses of a size suitable for the families to be accommodated therein. The grant is an encouragement to the provisions of larger houses. There has been a persistent demand on the part of local authorities in Scotland to be allowed to build houses of only two apartments, chiefly on the ground that people cannot afford the rent usually charged for the larger type of houses. The new grant, distributed on the basis proposed, will not only enable the local authorities to provide the large house—which is necessary if decent conditions of living are to be observed—at a rent which people can pay, but it will operate in such a way that the net charge falling on the rates will diminish with the size of the house.
Our calculations so far as rent is concerned have been based on the assumption that the rent to be charged for a two-roomed house will approximate to £12 per annum; for a three-roomed house to £14 per annum; and for a four-roomed house to £16 per annum. In each case occupiers' rates will, of course, be payable in addition. On the present cost of house building, it is estimated that if under the Bill a local authority submits a scheme which provides for 25 per cent. of two-roomed houses, and 75 per cent. of three-roomed houses, they will receive grants roughly equivalent on a percentage basis to nearly 66⅓ of the annual cost of the houses beyond what is not recoverable by way of rent. The Bill provides that the local authority are to make a contribution from the local rates towards the annual loss on re-housing of not less than £4 10s.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Do the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given mean that the grant will be higher in proportion to the number of small-roomed houses?
It is the reverse of that. The bigger the proportion of three and four-roomed houses, the better it will be for the local authority. During the last four years the number of houses 2479 completed in slum clearance schemes in Scotland has been 2,500 per annum. The Exchequer subsidy on that number of houses is estimated at about £21,000 per annum. If, as is hoped, in consequence of the provisions of the Bill, this number should increase in the first year to 5,000, and if an average of four persons per house be assumed, the grant under the new arrangement, including the special grant in respect of compensation, would amount to £55,000 per annum. The increase to the Exchequer would thus be about £34,000. If, however, the number of houses provided be greater than 5,000, the amount of the grant would be correspondingly greater. I have, in the short time that I have occupied the Floor, tried to give as clear an explanation of the Financial Resolution as it is possible for me to give, and I hope that the Committee will give us the Motion in a short period of time.
§ Major ELLIOT
We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. He has dealt shortly with the main points under discussion—rather more shortly, I think, than is desirable, in view of the fact that this is really the gist of the whole Bill. This is the steam for the Bill, and whatever engine the right hon. Gentleman builds, unless he gets the steam in the boiler, nothing will happen. I call the attention of my hon. Friends below the Gangway to this point, because, as they know, while a Financial Resolution is all important, it is impossible for the Opposition to increase it, or to alter it in any way in which they would like to alter it. Sometimes, however, pressure from various sides will induce the Government to alter it. The Government only have power to signalise the King's Recommendation which will enable an increased charge to be laid on his subjects. After the Committee stage has been taken, there will be the Report stage, and then, for all practical purposes, the matter is decided, and whatever is done in this Motion governs what we are able to do upstairs in Committee. In the first place, this grant is to be calculated on a formula—
§ Major ELLIOT
It is a formula, and a formula which will stand a little more 2480 definition. The formula says that the sum to be paid to the local authority is £2 10s. multiplied bythe number of persons of the working classes (being persons whose displacement is shown to the satisfaction of the Department of Health to have been rendered necessary by such action as aforesaid) for whom accommodation has, with the approval of the Department, been rendered available in new houses.I handed in a manuscript Amendment designed to leave out the words "of the working classes," making it simply "persons" displaced, because I had a certain apprehension of what the Courts might do. I know what we in this Committee think—we are all right—but what the Courts may rule when confronted with a formula which says that a certain sum is to be multiplied by the number of "persons of the working classes" I do not know. There may be certain other people included in a household. At any rate, I cannot see that it would do any harm to omit the words "of the working classes," and I handed in an Amendment to that effect, but I was informed at the Table that that might mean a charge on the subject, and therefore would be out of order. I cannot move it, but I earnestly beg the Under-Secretary to consider the point, and see whether it would not be possible to recommit the Bill on the Report stage, and to leave out these words.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It may save time if I tell the hon. and gallant Member that it cannot be done on the Report stage any more than it could be done now.
§ Major ELLIOT
This is a point of great interest. Do I understand you to say, Sir, that it is impossible for the Government themselves to alter the Resolution?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Yes, it would be necessary for them to Withdraw this Resolution and to bring in another one. I intervene to say that because I want to save any argument about it.
§ Major ELLIOT
I am not going to discuss it, but I do ask the Committee to realise how very much we are tied by the terms of the Finacial Resolution.
§ Major ELLIOT
I understood it. I say that it may be necessary to withdraw this Resolution and bring in another one. I have known cases where a Financial Resolution has been withdrawn and a new one presented and I am sure that if the Government, in the interests of making better provision for slum clearance and settling a point which may well give trouble in the Courts in later years, were to withdraw this Resolution and submit a new one, there need be no delay so far as we are concerned. No time would be lost. It might save a judgment such as the Derby judgment, which has held up slum clearance in England for a matter of two years, and has led to a great deal of hardship. I beg the Government to consider the withdrawal of this Resolution and the substitution of a new one leaving out the words "of the working classes." The words "the working classes" are not defined in any Scottish Act. The Schedule 5 of the 1925 Housing Act does, I admit, bring in a certain definition of the working classes, but it is only applicable to that schedule, and gentlemen learned in the law, looking through the Acts for guidance as to a term completely undefined, might well come down upon that Schedule and give a definition which might hold up the progress we desire to make. However, I will pass from that point. I have done all I can under the rules of order to bring it to the notice of the Government.
The major proposition laid before us is this. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman says that the grant, which is at present on a 50–50 basis, is likely to work out at 66⅔ per cent. If that is so, does it really justify the encomiums which have been heaped upon this Measure? We are told that for 5,000 houses a grant of £55,000 per annum will he provided—did I take those figures down correctly?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The amount of the grant would obviously depend upon two factors, upon the numbers dispossessed, and the size of the houses in which these people are placed, so that the hon. and gallant Member cannot get an answer to the question in the form in which he puts it.
§ Major ELLIOT
I was asking whether I had correctly taken down the figures given by the Secretary of State. I did not give what he said at length, but I understood him to say that 5,000 houses at four persons per house would give £55,000.
§ Major ELLIOT
That would be something in the neighbourhood of £11 per house, and I submit that that figure does not accord with the claim that we are launching a great and far-reaching campaign against the slums. Taking it at its best, the Government are giving 66⅓ per cent. against the old figure of 50 per cent., and for 5,000 houses the grant would be £55,000 per annum, an average of something like £11 a house. That is a Government subsidy of £11, and it is for a 40-year period. The previous subsidy was £8 10s. per house for a 60-year period.
§ Major ELLIOT
Let that be so. The grant of £11 is in contrast with the former grant of £8 10s., giving an extra 50s. I suggest that the extra grant will not admit of the far-reaching social changes which have been adumbrated. The lump sum subsidy under the Chamberlain Act—where there is a grant of £8 10s. weighted for 60 yeare—was £162, or thereabouts. What one may call the Adamson subsidy is £2 10s. for 40 years. That is for four persons to a house; and the calculations given in the various slum clearance proposals which have been brought forward, notably the Calton Hill site clearance scheme, indicate something like four persons to a house. The lump sum subsidy in this case, therefore, is something like £170 or £172. The difference between £160, the present subsidy, and £170, the new subsidy, is, again, not anything—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Will the hon. and gallant Member permit me? He is in very serious error here. The present subsidy is £8 10s. In that is included compensation costs. In his £2 10s. figure, on which he is calculating now, he has omitted to include the compensation costs, which may go up to 15s. per head. and add something in the neighbourhood of another £20.
§ Major ELLIOT
I was coming to that point. The Under-Secretary says that, in addition, there is a sum which may be granted for compensation. I would call attention to the fact that that compensation can only be obtained if it attracts an equivalent amount from the local authorities. In the case of the Calton site the only contribution by the Government under the present conditions would be £11,160 for a 60-year period and £13,240 for a 40-year period. The grant by the Government under the new scheme, instead of being £13,200, would be £12,800. That sum is less the compensation which is only on behalf of 153 people who have been displaced from properties and uninhabited houses, and 434 persons who have been displaced in other ways. I do not think that will come to very much. In any case, the figure of £11,160 from the Government on a fifty-fifty basis would require £11,160 from the rates. Under the new proposals a very substantial sum will have to be found from the rates. I do not believe that the figures for compensation average a very high rate for Scotland. While on property in Edinburgh of archaeological value the figure might be high, there are great areas of squalid featureless slum property in which there will be no big figure for compensation, and the figures will work out almost identical with the fifty-fifty basis. We shall investigate these matters further, but even at the best I do not think they will be seriously greater than the figures which the local committee get at the present time.
The difference between the present scheme of administration has been brought forward to-night, but I suggest that the amount paid for compensation is likely to vary, and in the very schemes where we are anxious to obtain the most favourable results the compensation figure may not give a very good result. In view of this so-called differential rents which are to be paid, where does the money come from for that purpose? Again, the money is paid in the aggregate by the new scheme. The grant is to be calculated on the number of persons who have been rehoused, and any differentiation in the rents comes out of the pockets of the people who are living under that scheme. Once a scheme has been formed any differentiation in the rents can only be made by charging more to one tenant and 2484 less to another tenant in the same scheme.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
There is nothing in the world to prevent the public assistance committee or the corporation of Glasgow making a grant to the housing committee to enable one hundred or even a thousand people to pay those rents.
§ Major ELLIOT
We are now discussing how Scotland is going to be affected by these schemes, and the fact that the corporation may make a grant 10.0 p.m. to help poor persons does not alter the effect of the scheme. There are one or two points of draftsmanship which I should like to see cleared up in this Financial Resolution. I do not believe that the local authorities will get as much as they have asked, or as much as they were expecting. I repeat that the social reforms which have been held out in regard to the differentiation of rents within the scheme can only be brought about if it is understand that A, who is getting a lower rent, can only get it because a higher rent is charged to B, and the only way in which that can be avoided is by a grant from the public assistance committee out of the rates.
The Government ought to give this matter more careful consideration before the Committee stage. They are taking upon themselves a great responsibility. They are getting these Measures through without a Division, and it is always a very serious thing to get anything passed unanimously in this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a compliment.") It is not only a great compliment, but it is an awful pitfall. We shall allow this Financial Resolution to go through without a Division. At this stage, we do not desire to divide against the Bill, but we may divide against it on the Report stage if our points are not met. At this stage, we offer the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Resolution. The money box is open, the House of Commons is waiting for him, the Mace is below the Table, and any recommendation from the King that the right hon. Gentleman may require he can obtain if he puts it in his own singularly tactful manner. Here is our chance. Let us take it, but let us remember that, as I have said, the testing time of this Bill is not now. The Division will come a year hence, when 2485 the Bill for the year, and the housing construction programme for the year, are explained to the House. Then it will be for us to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in fact, he has lived up to our expectations or not.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I support the Money Resolution. I had some doubts about the inducements offered, particularly to rural local authorities, but I think my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has satisfied me that they will be in no worse position than under the 1924 Act. Statistics given under a Bill of this kind must necessarily be of a hypothetical nature. It is clear that neither the Secretary of State nor the Under-Secretary could give us definite figures at the present time, because the whole amount allotted to this scheme must depend upon one or two things in the future. It must depend on whether this scheme is going to be a success or not; whether there is to be a great demand for demolition of slums in certain localities, and whether new houses are to be built, and how many of the occupants to be put into these new houses are displaced people. Until you know these facts, you do not know how much money will be expended by the Government. I am glad to hear that the Treasury feel that as much money as possible should be spent in that direction. I am sure that Members in all parts of the Committee will welcome a better home life for the people. One point which worried me a great deal was this: I understand from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that it will be the county alone which will provide the £4 10s. rate.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That will be the general rate after 15th May of this year. There is a second point which, I think, will affect the finance, and will also affect the passing of this Resolution. Can he say whether he proposes to make the grant retrospective from the introduction of this Bill? I hope so. It will make the greatest difference to the success of the scheme as a whole.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) tried to deal in his remarks with what he called a formula. His difficulty was that in previous Acts we had an unknown quantity, 2486 but in this Financial Resolution the quantities are known, although they vary. When he got to the question of trying to change the words class of workers to meet his own argument, he might have quoted these words: "All persons displaced by provisions of this Act." But that does not alter the fact that the Bill deals only with persons of a certain class. With regard to the finances of the Resolution, it is true that everything is based on the financial working of the Act, but it is well known that the financial business in relation to housing has always been a complicated affair. The effort is made by a great many people to give their family a better chance by getting them into a bigger house, but it is not so much a question of rent as the fact that when they have moved they are faced with increased rates. The financial provisions of this Measure are such that a big effort will be made towards giving financial relief in this direction.
In Clause 34, dealing with valuation and rating, there is a serious thing, which has been associated with all housing schemes. If you take a certain housing scheme mentioned to-day, in the lower part of Lanarkshire, where you have two-roomed dwellings and a rent of £18, what is known in Scotland as the owner's burden of rate is added to the rent. That is to say, the occupier pays the owner's rate. This is the case: The occupier pays owner's rates amounting to £3 12s. The owner pays 4s. rate on rent of £18 amounting to £3 12s. The occupier pays 6s. rate on his £18 rent amounting to £5 8s., a total of £12 12s. Both the owners and the occupiers pay rates on rates. That is to say, £3 12s. is put on as part of the rent which has to be paid, and the occupier pays his rates on that, which becomes £1 13s. 7d. He is thus paying on a sum of money that has nothing to do with the erection of the house. Rates are a difficulty which will go on accumulating unless something is done, and I hope that before this Bill is passed, means will be found to deal with this serious question. It is one of those complicated questions which have prevented local authorities getting down to the foundations and finding out what is wrong. When you get owners and occupiers paying rates upon rates, on the same sum of £3 12s it is ridiculous, 2487 especially when £3 12s, of rates is borne as rent.
In the calculations made to-night by those in charge of the Bill, in regard to the paying of £2 15s., I would point out that there is a relation between what may be calculated as rent and what may be calculated as rates. If we are to take the real financial basis of rent, it is surely the cost of the erection of the house. The moment the contractor is paid and the scheme finished, then the local authority takes over all road, sewage, cleansing, etc., and they go on a definite rate. The difficulty has to be faced if we are going to get down to a real basis of rent, and, by following the course I have indicated, we come to the real question of being able to reduce the rent much more than even the provisions of this Measure, good as it is, will do.
The next point deals with finance, in regard again to rates. While sitting in a Court hearing appeals in Glasgow under the last De-rating Act, I found that there were a great many people who had difficulty about the ownership of property, and even of the site on which the property was built. Clause 24 of the Bill deals with the question of ownership. In that Court there was one case especially where factors factoring property, and also in relation to the site, had been drawing rent for years without being able to say who the owners were. When they were asked what they were doing with the accumulated rent and rates, they said that they were putting the money in the bank.
I should like to ask how Clause 24 will operate. When property comes under review for valuation within an area dealt with by this Financial Resolution, I should like to see it provided that, where the owner is unknown, the property will become either the property of the State or of the locality in which it is situated. With regard to hostels, I should like to ask whether there is going to be any special regulation, or whether they are going to be put under the direct financial control of the community in which they are; and also whether existing privately owned hostels will be recognised. We require details of matters of this kind, in order to be able to deal with them 2488 during the Committee stage of the Bill. I would specially draw the attention of the Under-Secretary to the question of the inclusion of rates as rent, especially where the owner is paying rates on rates as well as on rent.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I cannot agree with those who cover this Bill and the Financial Resolution with praise. Were I not a single individual in this matter, I should certainly divide the House both on the Bill and on the Resolution. It is a most inadequate Measure. It is a purely eyewash Bill, and the Financial Resolution, analysed as it has been in this Debate, makes that clear. I should not wish to leave the matter without registering my protest against the underlying humbug that there is in the whole scheme of the Bill. It is, of course, plain when one comes to the Financial Resolution. My hon. and gallant Friend the late Under-Secretary has made it clear that the additional financial assistance given by the State is fractional at best, and against that must be kept in mind the fact that all of us who have attended to this Debate and the Debate on the Second Reading, have had our minds refreshed—if I may use the word—or rather, appalled by the facts that have been brought before us again as to the appalling state of Scottish housing as compared with housing in England. Slum clearance has gone on to a larger extent in Scotland up to date than in England, but when one recollects the figures that have been given and realises how absolutely insufficient the Bill is to deal with slum clearance, and realises also the vital facts of how large a proportion of our Scottish houses in the towns can be regarded as slums, one has before one the whole picture adequately to consider the Bill, and in my view—I wish to state it with frankness, not only to the audience of this Committee but to the larger audienece of Scotland—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not know if the hon. Member was in the House yesterday when I pointed out that we cannot discuss the Bill on the Money Resolution.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I apologise if I used the word "Bill," but this being the essence of the Bill on the financial side, all I wish to say can be said by turn- 2489 ing to the Money Resolution. This is, of course, a block grant. Hon. Members below the Gangway seem to kick at that phrase. My objection to the block grant in this Resolution is that hon. Members opposite have only half learnt the lesson that my hon. Friend tried to teach them last year. Their block grant is utterly inadequate. The whole essence and value of a block grant is, by getting a proper formula, to give the proper amount of money to the districts that need it most. Amongst the many admirable and suggestive speeches that have been made, none has raised the question of the inadequacy of the block grant more than a word or two thrown out by the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train). If the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary had learnt the not very difficult but important lesson which was taught them in the De-rating Bill, they would have applied the principle of the block grant to make some use of it, but they have only made nonsense of it. The proper course the Resolution should have taken would be to give the more necessitous areas sums from the Treasury which would to some extent have met the problem of slum clearance.
The extraordinary needs of Scotland have been brought more clearly to my mind by to-day's Debate than they have been for a long time. When one compares the needs with this paltry provision, one sees that the arrangements under this Resolution offer no real inducement to hard-pressed local authorities in districts which, from the slum point of view, are necessitous seriously to undertake the work of slum clearance. That is the point, after all that has been said on the platform and elsewhere, which makes the position so utterly contemptible. That is my view, and I hope that as long as I am in this House I may express my views in Parliamentary language.
There is another reason why I feel that these are matters which should not pass through this House without a Division. I cannot understand how this House can accept the proposition underlying differential rents which clearly are implied in the Financial Resolution. There is some dubiety about the matter, it is true, and I do not think that the OFFICIAL REPORT will make it clear whether differential 2490 rents are to be part and parcel of the scheme or whether it is hoped that it will be possible to bring this about in certain circumstances. It is clear that there is no answer to the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend as far as the finance of this scheme is concerned. The only method by which you can lower the rent of "A" is by raising the rent of "B." The suggestion of the Under-Secretary of State that some other committee in a local authority may give a grant in order to prevent that from happening has nothing to do with the Bill at all. That is my sole objection to differential rents, and it is an objection so serious that a further word should be said about it even at this late hour. I cannot for the life of me see what possible excuse there is for reducing the rent of, let us say, a rather haphazard family consisting of a large number of children whose financial situation is such that they get a reduction of rent, whereas some decent pensioner or some old spinster keeping her single room, even in the slums, in spotless condition has to pay not merely the full rent of the new house, but something more to enable some squalid Irish family to batten upon cheap rents.
§ Mr. SKELTON
To some people the truth is always unfair. Who can deny that one of the great elements in the slum problem in Scotland is the presence in our urban districts of the rural Irish Celt?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not want to enter into the merits of, or to oppose, your Ruling, but I want to say that the hon. Gentleman has made a statement reflecting on a large number of the population, and I think that it should not be allowed to go unchallenged.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I hope that my words were not such as to give a false impression. I agree that the difficulty is that I cannot very well within the rules of Order explain them. Perhaps you will permit me to say, without calling me to order, that it is well known that one of the special difficulties of the slum problem in Scotland is the presence in our urban districts of the Celtic population 2491 which, however admirable in rural districts, sinks as soon as you take it into the city. That is my view and I should be prepared to discuss it fully with my hon. Friend if it were a matter of order.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The general effect of differential rents will, I am convinced, press hardly in many cases upon deserving people, who will be burdened by the differential terms given to persons who I, or any fair-minded man, would regard as less deserving people within the slum areas. As the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee) said, in a brilliant speech, the differential rent produces an even more hideous anomaly when you treat it not only within the slum area but with regard to people outside the slum area, vis a vis with people inside. It is clear, in my judgment, that by making a differential rent which is applicable only to the slum clearances which are made under this Bill, you are burdening the rest of the working-class people in Scotland most unfairly, because even if their circumstances are exactly the same as those of people in a slum area, where you give a favourable rent, you give them no opportunity of having a similar abatement of their burden. Why, in this year of grace 1930, because a certain family finds itself inside an area that is going to be declared a slum area, should it have a chance of a more favourable rent than a family in similar financial circumstances outside a slum area? It seems to me to be one of the most inequitable and most foolish provisions that could be put into an Act of Parliament, and on that ground alone, and I am not using language of exaggeration, if I were judge of the matter, I would divide against this Money Resolution. I think it is an improper, an inequitable and a monstrous proposition, and neither by speech nor vote would I give it any countenance.
Further, speaking as a Unionist, as one who is not a Socialist and who has no Socialist leanings, I do not believe that the principle of differential rents is a sound one. If you could be certain that you were going to differentiate the rent in accordance with the merits of the people, and if you could be certain that you were going to have an adequate test 2492 whereby you would not give the favourable rent to the less worthy ease, I should have less to say against the principle, but I am not satisfied, so far as the Debate has proceeded to-day, that any test sufficient to justify one citizen getting his house for a lower rent than another citizen, can be applied. I am confident that you could do nothing worse for the community than to single out upon insufficient tests, particular individuals and give them special privileges. I do not believe that that is right and I do not believe that it is sound finance. I am positive that it is unsound socially and I am equally positive that it is absolutely unsound from any standard that one might call a moral standard. These are the objections that I have to this Financial Resolution and I confess, after having listened to the Debate to-day, my opposition to this Bill and the financial methods that we are discussing, has steadily increased. I am far ess-satisfied now than I was when I read the Bill and considered the Financial Resolution, originally.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I have tried to direct hon. Members to the point that a proper block grant to areas truly necessitous from a slum clearance point of view was a more constructive alternative, because it would induce the less richer local authorities to go on with slum clearance schemes. It is not for the hon. Member to accuse me of not giving a constructive alternative. That is the suggestion I make, and it will have to be acted upon if we are going to deal with slum clearances in Scotland. You must, have some formula and a block grant which will induce the poorer local authorities to get on with this work; and one of my main objections to this proposal is that they do not get adequate assistance under this Financial Resolution.
I am not satisfied that we are not taking a backward step, so far as rural housing is concerned, by passing this Financial Resolution. At any rate, I am perfectly certain that it can hardly be described as a step forward No subject needs more attention than that of rural housing. I do not want to say much about this because I know how easily one can exceed the Rules of Order, but in looking at this Financial Resolution I 2493 am convinced that the Government have no adequate understanding either of the problems of rural housing or of the vital necessity to the country as a whole that rural housing should be put right as soon as possible.
It is not possible for me to answer the speech of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) on the subject of the Rural Workers Act but his description of its failure was utterly inaccurate and most unjust to the individuals and local authorities which in the great bulk of Scottish counties are doing their best to work that Act. I thought the speech of the right hon. Member was founded on most inadequate and inaccurate information. Let me reiterate that the scheme, so far as it concerns rural housing, is inadequate. It is not worth discussing whether the fraction is in favour of the new scheme or against it. The change in the present proposal is tiny. If we are going to do anything for rural housing it must be a big advance not a microscopic movement to the front. We have not got that from the Government, nor did I expect to get it from the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. I repeat that I regret that the party to which I belong is passing this Financial Resolution without a Division. Only a Division can adequately show the people of Scotland how contemptible is this Financial Resolution—
§ Mr. SKELTON
Unless the hon. Member will act as a Teller I should find it difficult to do the whole work myself.
§ Mr. SKELTON
That is a matter for my judgment. Were a Division called, I should most willingly take part in it. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite need not try to ride off on that horse, because they, more than anybody else in the Committee, are, I am sure, at one with me in feeling how utterly inadequate must be the schemes for slum clearance under this Financial Resolution. For my part, I do not believe that this Financial Resolution can bring about slum clearances of nearly the same size or value as the improvements which would have been brought 2494 about by a proper scheme of reconditioning houses in the slums, such as would have been carried into operation had we been successful at the polls at the last Election. I urge, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvin-grove (Major Elliot) did, the withdrawal of this Resolution and the substitution of a Resolution which, if it does not go the whole way in the direction I have indicated, will at all events give local authorities more assistance and more encouragement to go on with slum clearance in the towns and will more adequately realise the necessities of housing in the rural districts.
§ Mr. MATHERS
The words which we have heard from the other side of the House have been very strong indeed, and the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) has found it necessary, in order to give point to his argument, to apply the term "utterly contemptible" to the provisions of this Financial Resolution. If he reflects, I think he will realise that, in using language of that kind about a Financial Resolution, which is admittedly a step in advance—though to him a small step—of what his Government did, he is saying in effect that the proposals of the Government to which he gave adherence were absolutely beneath contempt. It is curious to find hon. Members opposite urging the desirability of providing more money in this connection when we know that they are in fear and trembling all the time as to the proposals for the provision of necessary money which are to be disclosed next Monday. It seems to me that we are justified in saying that a great deal of the vehement opposition which is being offered to this Resolution, arises from a "sour grapes" feeling in the minds of hon. Members opposite. We have had revolutionary incitements from the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) urging us to get into the cash box while it is open, and to secure more money, but those sentiments are not quite in keeping with the record of hon. Members opposite.
The Debate has shown that, so far as Scottish housing is concerned, we are still able to express a very deep interest in financial matters. There is general agreement with regard to the principles that this Resolution carries out. We are being 2495 asked in this Resolution to make an investment in health that is being undermined by bad housing conditions, and we are being asked to invest in sounder bodies for Scottish children. We are told on some occasions that one is not able to buy sunshine and fresh air, but that is falsified by the facts of the Scottish housing position. We are being asked in this Resolution to invest in sounder minds in Scotland, because we cannot have proper intelligence developed in bodies that are stunted by bad housing conditions; and right through the whole gamut of life, from the point of view of morals, we are being asked to make an investment that is well worth what we are being asked to pay.
Again, in respect of civic and national pride, this Resolution asks us to make a real investment. Some of us are very proud of the part of the country from which we come and of the cities in which we live. I think that pride is especially pardonable in my own case in respect of the City of Edinburgh, and yet we know that behind the glory and the beauty of that city there are what might be described as festering sores. We want to be proud of the places from which we come, and we want to be able not only to show the fine places, the beauties of architecture and of natural situation, but we want to be able to show, to those who come to our cities, everything that is in those cities and to feel that there is nothing in them of which we need be ashamed. This Bill and this Financial Resolution will give us the opportunity of making an investment along these lines.
With regard to the contention that there is no inducement here to the local authorities to make a real improvement in respect of Scottish housing, it has been authoritatively stated to-day that it will be better financially for the local authorities to go in for providing the bigger type of houses, houses of three and four rooms, than to cling to the older and less satisfactory type of houses with small accommodation. There is there quite definitely an inducement to the local authorities to go in for better houses and to remove, to a very considerable extent, the stigma that rests upon Scotland to-day, that perhaps the most highly intelligent country in the 2496 world has been content up to the present to have its citizens housed in, the worst conditions that are known in any civilised country.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has been blamed for having urged that, while the cash box is open, we should see that the Secretary of State gets more out of it. Really, it do not think anyone ought to blame us Scotsmen for doing that, and I am sure the country will be very pleased that we should take that line, but I want to be quite sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland and those in charge of Scottish affairs are going to get out of the cash box what they think they are going to get. I have only one question to ask in regard to the wording of this Financial Resolution. In paragraph (1, a) it says:for whom accommodation has, with the approval of the Department, been rendered available in new houses.I want to know what is meant by the words "new houses"? Does that entirely depend on the new houses which are built by the authorities? It seems to me that you might have a case where people are moved from a slum area into new houses built by private enterprise. They would be new houses, and would conform to this paragraph, but would it be possible for them to claim this £2 10s. or £2 15s.? Therefore, I should like to know that this Financial Resolution expresses what the Government really means. It is a very important point, because, unless they get this grant from the Treasury, they will not be able to prepare their schemes. The more money they get from the Treasury, the greater will be the reduction that they will be able to make. I wish we could persuade the Government to withdraw this Financial Resolution and introduce another giving some assistance in regard to reconditioned houses, and enabling the authorities to put their people out of the slums into these reconditioned houses. In Edinburgh, for instance, there are many houses which might be regarded as slums, but which are old buildings and which could be reconditioned and used for the housing of the people. Outside they would retain their old beauty. Most of them are wonderfully built, and have been standing for centuries, and will probably stand for another century, and it seems to me a pity that the only in- 2497 ducement given to the authorities is to pull them down. I would ask whether some assistance could not be given to recondition them. I should like to have some reply to the question of what is meant by the phrase "new houses," because it seems to me it does not necessarily mean houses built by local authorities. It only says:for whom accommodation has, with the approval of the Department, been rendered available in new houses.
§ Mr. McKINLAY
I had not intended to intervene at all, but the Government have been urged to withdraw this Resolution, and, judging from the remarks which fell from hon. Members opposite, I am sure the Government would be well advised to withdraw it, and introduce another substituting 100 per cent. of the cost of slum clearances as the amount to come from the national Exchequer. I want to ask a question with reference to paragraph (b, ii) which says:The purchase price or compensation paid in respect of the acquisition of the remainder of the said dwelling houses or other premises.What is meant by "other premises"? I have a recollection that in the English Financial Resolution there is a, specific reference to the question of compensation to licence holders who are displaced because of clearances. I want to be perfectly clear, and to ask whether a portion of the sum allocated for clearance schemes will find its way into the coffers of the traffic which does as much to create slums as any other traffic I know. I want the interests of the taxpayer to be safeguarded, but the Motion is not specific about this. This traffic have funds from which they pay compensation, and as the licences are held on only a 12 months' permit from the local authorities, the lapsing of such a licence should not be a charge upon this Money Resolution. On line 46 of the Motion appear the words:annual contributions towards the provision of hostels to meet the needs of single persons.What exactly is meant by the word "hostels"? In the City of Glasgow we have places that assume the respectful designation of hostel, but which in reality are nothing more nor less than model lodging houses. I want to be assured that no part of the proceeds of this Money Resolution can be diverted for the purpose of creating glorified model lodging houses in any area in 2498 Scotland. I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would give me an assurance on these two points.
§ Major DUDGEON
Before the Report stage of the Money Resolution, I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider two particular points. The contribution to be given by the counties towards the new houses will amount to £4 1s. 7d. per year per house over a period of 60 years. This may not appear to be a very large sum, but, as a member of a county local authority, I can assure my right hon. Friend that at this moment it is difficult to get county councils to embark upon new responsibilities, firstly, because they receive no Treasury grant towards that new responsibility, and, secondly, because owing to the Derating Act of last year, their assessable value has been so greatly reduced. If we are to have progress in dealing with individual slums in the counties—and they are a serious and widespread evil in Scotland—the contributions from the county councils will have to be even smaller than the £4 1s. 7d. per house.
The next point about which I am uneasy, is the contribution per person for these new housing schemes. We are transferring the whole basis of grants from the house to the individual. I am inclined to think that both elements should have been brought into play in a new formula, and a certain amount of the grant given for the house, and a certain amount for the individual. In a number of small burghs in Scotland the present position is that Where they schedule an area—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That also is a Committee point, and if the hon. Gentleman can get it into the Bill, well and good.
§ Major DUDGEON
I am raising the point about financial contributions. If the Government contribute in these areas on the basis of four persons per house, it may be all right, but they 11.0 p.m. may contribute on the basis of only two or less. I raise this point because local authorities have co-operated to a certain extent to get the most overcrowded houses demolished in the smaller areas; people have moved out of those areas into new houses, and 2499 in many cases it will be found that the population does not amount to even three persons per house. Therefore, the contribution under this Resolution may not be sufficient and may require further consideration.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
At this time of night and after having sat here for seven hours, I really despair of being able to give every hon. Member who has raised an abstruse and difficult point the satisfaction which I might have attempted to give him at an earlier stage of the evening. I will endeavour to do my best, however, though I must tell hon. Members that many of the points raised would be more suitable for the Committee stage. The hon. Member who spoke last referred again to the effect of the charge of £4 1s. 7d. per annum falling upon rural areas and spoke of it impoverishing them; but has he figured out what is the cost to a local authority of disease, the cost of the maintenance of a hospital, the cost of an outbreak of some infectious disease? If he will consider the matter further, he will see that the £4 1s. 7d. is not a dead loss to the local authority. They may gain from the increased valuation resulting from the wiping out of slums and the creation of new property. All these factors must be considered by the hon. Member and his friends in the county districts when making up their minds as to how far they can operate the provisions of this Act.
The hon. Member for Partick (Mr. McKinlay) asked whether a local authority purchasing a slum area which included a licensed house would be compelled to buy out the licensed house, or were there other means of dealing with it. That would depend on the local authority. In the area in which I live, there would be no necessity to buy out the licensed house, because we should have voted it out; but I should imagine that a local authority would transfer the public house to some other area, and not pay compensation for it. But that is a matter for the decision of the local authority. Then he inquired about hostels. What we have in mind is this. In a city like Dundee there are considerable numbers of single women earning their livelihood in the mills. They do not want a three-room kitchen 2500 house, or even a two-room kitchen house. What they want is their own apartment, their own privacy, and decent sanitary conveniences of their own; possibly, also, a common dining room. That is what we have in mind when we use the word "hostel." In view of the backing which the idea has had from housing reformers of late years, I should think that is a part of the Bill which would be adopted unanimously.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire (Mr. R. W. Smith) raised a legal point to which I do not care to give an answer, but I cannot conceive of private enterprise building houses and letting them at normal rents unless they ha J a subsidy from the local authority, and that is not a form of house building which the present Government is desirous of encouraging. If possible, we want local authorities to do their own building and own the houses. The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) talked about our proposals being contemptible and all the rest of it, but I would like tc remind him that the principle of differential rents is nothing new. The Wheatley plan included differential rents, and so did the Chamberlain plan. The idea of a differential rent was enshrined in a Conservative Act of Parliament, and therefore the language which the hon. Member for Perth has used seems to me to be singularly inappropriate to the occasion. When the hon. Member said that this Bill means nothing to local authorities in dealing with the question of slum clearances, I can only say that I have in my possession a letter from possibly one of the greatest housing experts in Scotland, Sir William Whyte, of Lanarkshire, saying that he was highly delighted with the Bill, and no man has devoted more attention to housing in impoverished areas than this gentleman.
I come to the question which has been raised by the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl), who seems to be under some apprehension lest the provisions of the Bill will deter local authorities for some years from proceeding with alterations under the Rural Housing Act. I think I can give her an assurance on that point. In the first place, the Act of 1925, to which she has referred, still remains on the Statute Book, and by Clause 3 of 2501 that Act the same power that we take in this Bill is to be found in that Act. The powers which she apprehends in this Resolution as likely to deter local authorities from operating the Rural Housing Act are already the law of the land.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Is it not the case that local authorities can serve an order on an owner for necessary repairs, but, if reconstruction be necessary, then there is no power to make a closing order, and, therefore, the powers are not so wide as under Clause 11?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
With respect, I would submit that it affects the Money Resolution to this extent, that, if the Noble Lady be correct, then certain financial commitments which may be involved in the Financial Resolution will not be required at all. However, I will obey your Ruling and will only call the Noble Lady's attention to the succeeding paragraph, where reference is made to the closing order, that it "shall be deemed to have become operative," and, therefore, what she is afraid of is the law of the land. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot), in a rather humorous passage in his speech, said "The Treasury is open; now is the time. The Secretary of State for Scotland can go and lift whatever money he likes." I think it is a joke now at the Treasury that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he sees us—and we go regularly for money—when he sees the two of us coming orders the cat's milk to be taken in. If my predecessor in office can give us any hints as to how to get more money, I hope that he will not keep the hints to himself. We shall be glad to have them. He put certain questions relating to the precise amount of our grant under this Bill, and he used figures in regard to the Calton housing scheme. I do not know how far his estimate of the families to be moved out, for example, are accurate. Therefore, he will not expect me to answer that point, but we have had averages taken, and we can deal only with averages in a matter of this kind. I will give them. If we take the burghs in industrial areas—I am leaving out rural areas altogether—then in a three-apartment house, if the local authority 2502 gave a subsidy of £4 1s. 7d. per annum, not £4 10s., there would be no lose whatever to the local authority, if the rent was £14. If there should be four-apartment houses in the scheme, then the grant would be bigger. The local authority would then, on those four-apartment houses, make a profit of £3 7s. 9d. There is the further point that if there were four-apartment houses in the local authority's scheme the loss to the local authority would be reduced. While it is true that, if the proportion of two-apartment houses be high, there is no gain to the local authorities, if the proportion of three-apartment houses be high there is a considerable gain, and if there be any four-apartment houses in the area the local authority will do very well. To-day the local authority, under a slum clearance scheme, gets £8 10s. from the local rates on an average. There is an average loss of £17 per annum on slum clearance schemes now. The local authority bears half, namely, £8 10s., and the State bears half. Under this Bill the local authority is not going to bear that loss of £8 10s. The subsidy on two-apartment houses—we call them three-unit houses—is £2 10s. per unit, or £7 10s., which would represent a loss to the local authority of £1 if all the houses were two-roomed horses, as compared with the present rate; hut if they are three-roomed houses, the grant is £11 5s., and if they are four-roomed houses the grant is £15, as against the present grant of £8 10s.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Yes; they are comparable. To-day the average cost to the local authority is £8 10s. When this Bill passes, if the houses are four-apartment houses, the local authority will get a grant of £15, as against £8 10s. to-day. If they are three-apartment houses, the local authority will get £11 5s., as against £8 10s. to-day; but it is true that, if the houses are two-apartment houses, the grant will only be £7 10s. If however, an average be struck, it is certainly the case that the local authority will be considerably better off than it is to-day. If, for example, 75 per cent. of the houses in a scheme are at least three-apartment houses, the proportion of the loss borne by the 2503 National Treasury is 66⅔ per cent., and not 50 per cent. as it is to-day. I submit that that is a considerable benefit to a local authority which sets out to operate the provisions of this Measure.
I trust that I have met the important points which have been raised by hon. Members, and which were within the terms of the Financial Resolution, but I would say, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that we shall welcome criticism and advice and assistance during the further progress of the Measure. We recognise the appalling magnitude of the problem with which we have to deal. We recognise that the lives of thousands of people in this generation are at stake, and we submit, while quite convinced that we have not solved all the social problems by this Bill—and no one Bill will ever solve them all—that we are definitely making an attempt to tackle a part of them. If we can carry the Bill, thousands of children at any rate in this generation will get a chance of life that they otherwise would not have, and the House will have deserved some thanks from the people of Scotland for the Measure which I now commend to the Committee.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.