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—
§ Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)rose—
§ Major ELLIOT
The Secretary of State for Scotland was standing at the Box, and I am more than willing to give place to him, if he is prepared, as he seemed anxious to do, to make a statement. It will not take us long to deal with this Resolution.
§ Mr. W. ADAMSON
In the Committee stage and since, a number of criticisms have been directed against the finance of the Bill, based upon figures comparing the 50 per cent. grant which is being paid in respect of previous schemes with the amount of grant payable under the Bill ascertained by taking the number of persons displaced under such schemes and multiplying it by £2 10s. That is a fallacious comparison. The present grant represents 50 per cent. of the deficit on each scheme for housing the people, and the chief factor in the production of these deficits has been the cost of house building, which has been steadily falling for a number of years. Since 1926, the fall has been on the average for the whole of Scotland at least 20 per cent. Moreover, the cost of house building is still falling. It is obvious that if the previous schemes had been carried out at current prices the deficits on them would be much less than 909 they are, and the local authorities would, of course, receive a correspondingly lower 50 per cent. grant. The only true comparison is as between one half of the deficit on a scheme at present-day prices, and the amount of the grant offered under the Bill.
Other, though less serious, errors have been discovered in the comparative statements submitted by local authority officials, arising out of the assumption that the 50 per cent. grant at present receivable by the local authorities will be continued at the present amount for a period of 60 years, whereas it will be adjusted from time to time as the deficit diminishes. Two important factors which will lead to a decrease in the deficit are as follows: (1), the loans covering the expenditure are not all for a period of 60 years. For example, loans in respect of streets and sewers are for a period of only 20 and 30 years respectively. When these loans are paid off the deficit will be reduced by the amount of the annual loan charges thereon. Secondly, the present 50 per cent. grant includes expenditure on the acquisition of slum property, including sites. Some of these sites will eventually be disposed of and the proceeds will be credited to the slum clearance scheme, thereby reducing the deficit on the scheme. On a strict comparison there is no doubt that the financial terms offered by the Bill are much more generous to the local authorities than the present 50 per cent. grant. On a scheme which contains an average of four persons per family, which is slightly less than the average in the schemes hitherto submitted, it is estimated that as regards rehousing the grant in the Bill will cover nearly 66 per cent. of the deficit. With an average of only 3¾ persons per family, the grant will represent about 60 per cent. of the deficit. Broadly speaking, the larger the average number of persons per family the greater will be the percentage of the deficit borne by the grant. I believe that, after these explanations, my Scottish colleagues will now agree to give me the Report stage of this Bill.
§ Major ELLIOT
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has certainly given some interesting figures. Members of the House have received com- 910 munications from great Scottish local authorities which show uneasiness about the finance of the Bill, and it will be our duty to examine the finance closer when the Bill is in Committee upstairs. It is quite true that the Secretary of State has brought forward facts analysing the statements by the local authorities, but the Town Clerk and City Chamberlain of Edinburgh gave us a statement on 3rd May in which they went at some length into all the figures and dealt with this specific point which the Secretary of State mentions as to the considerable falling in which will take place in certain charges after the thirty-first year. They come to this rather striking conclusion.The reporters are definitely of opinion that the new financial proposals, so far as Edinburgh is concerned, will not have the effect of achieving the avowed purposes of the Government, namely of conferring an increased measure of assistance on the local authority.That is a statement of which we are bound to take note, and we are also bound to take note of the statement by the City Chamberlain of Dundee, who says:Generally speaking, the proposals as presently framed in the Bill are considerably less favourable to the local authority than are the financial proposals of the 1923 Act, since in many cases the grant will fall short of the amount required to make a clean sweep of the worst places.I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State will not blame us for bringing forward these statements, of which we are bound to take note. I do not hope to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw this Resolution and to lay an entirely new one, giving more generous terms, but, examine these proposals as we may in Committee, we shall find ourselves very tightly bound by the Resolution which we are now asked to pass. In view of the uneasiness of local authorities and their comparison of these proposals with the scheme in the Act of 1923, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when we reach in Committee the Clause of the Bill repealing the 1923 Act slum clearance provisions, he will consider an Amendment which I hope to move to omit that repeal and to leave the provisions of the 1923 Act available as one of the options open to the local authorities. If the right hon. Gentleman accedes to that Amendment, it cannot do any harm and will, I think, do good in 911 reassuring local authorities and in providing, further, for that continuity which has been maintained now for several years.
The 1923 Act is still functioning, and slum clearance is proceeding under it to the extent of one-fifth of all the houses under construction in Scotland. A Statute which is producing slum clearance to that extent, is one which we ought not wantonly to repeal, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he cannot leave it on the Statute Book in addition to the Act which he hopes to put there. He can thereby provide us with a trace horse to take us over the hill which is such a serious obstacle in the way of the improvement of the health of the people in Scotland. We have no great hope of getting the Secretary of State to withdraw this Resolution, and still less of getting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to withdraw it. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was defending the extraordinarily wide Resolution which we were discussing a short time ago, I could not help wishing that he would look at the extraordinarily tight and detailed nature of this Financial Resolution: If we could reverse the position, and get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accept, for himself, a Resolution as tight as this, while giving us a Resolution on Scottish housing as loose as that which we were discussing previously, it would mean both a better Budget and more progress with housing in Scotland. Many of these financial provisions require close examination and criticism, but we wish to proceed with the Bill. We wish to get any additional assistance which the Measure can give to sweep away the slums of Scotland as quickly as possible and I am sure that, on this side of the House, we shall do our utmost to ensure the rapid passage of this Resolution.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
I agree that the House is entitled to look carefully into the details of this Resolution, because this is the first opportunity we have had of discussing these financial provisions, since ascertaining the views of the Scottish local authorities, and it is exceedingly important that we should be able to voice the feelings of our constituents and of the local authorities on this matter.
912 I should like to draw attention to the fact that at a conference of local authorities on the 3rd instant, where a very large number of Scottish local authorities were represented, there was, as far as I can gather, serious dissatisfaction expressed with the terms of the financial proposals. My hon. Friend has referred to the case of Edinburgh and Dundee, but I think I can also add that in the report of the proceedings of that conference the views of the city of Glasgow also were given, and in no case was general assent given to the proposals. I think the right hon. Gentleman is rather exaggerating the case he is putting forward to indicate that the proposals in this Resolution are so very much better than the existing provisions under which slum clearance is carried out. In the figures he mentioned he took an average of four persons per family, and said the proportion of deficit to be borne by the Stare was something like 66 per cent., but when you deal with particular districts, that average does not prevail. I have here the report by the City Chamberlain of Dundee and it will be found that the estimated population comes out at 3.7 per house.
Considerable difficulties are going to arise in connection with the proposals put forward under the operation of the unit grant. It is not certain under this Financial Resolution whether we are dealing with persons actually displaced or those who are re-housed, and there is a considerable difference between the two cases. It does not follow at all that if you displace a number of persons, you will re-house the same persons in the new houses. In Dundee it has been found that a very large proportion of those displaced under slum-clearance schemes will not be re-housed under the proposals of the new scheme. In the Blue Mountain housing scheme it was found that 72 of the houses which were intended to re-house people had to be transferred to the slum clearance account of the 1923 Act. We have had several experiences of slum clearance in Edinburgh, Dundee and other places, where it is found that under the proposals now put forward the situation would be much worse than under the older scheme.
Figures are given in the report of the Dundee City Chamberlain of one of the 913 slum-clearance schemes which indicate that the figures would be substantially worse under the Government's present proposals. We want to know more about this. The local authorities are naturally very much concerned. I should not be in order in developing the question of a percentage grant, but I am entitled to point out that you are dealing here with a unit grant which I think the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) is not correct in describing as a block grant, although it is open to some of the criticisms that we have made of the old block grant, because it lays on the local authority unknown burdens which they may have to face. The burden on local rates is placed at £4 10s., but it is clear that it may have to be exceeded in some cases, and who is going to pay it?
I would remind the House that, under the derating proposals of the late Government, the area of rating is going to be very much restricted, and that the additional burden will be borne on a very much narrower area. In other words, the other ratepayers, who are not going to benefit from reduced rents or relief of rates, may be faced with this additional burden, and the view of the local authorities is that they ought to be safeguarded against any additional burden beyond the figure which has been indicated, namely, £4 10s. Sir William White summed up the decisions of the conference, namely, that the burden of the local authorities should be restricted to £4 10s. per house per annum, and that the State should be responsible for the deficit which might ensue; or, alternatively, they suggested that they should get a percentage grant of at least 75 per cent.
I am certain that I am voicing a feeling which is very strong throughout Scotland to-day in saying that, under the proposals of this Financial Resolution, an unknown burden will yet be placed upon local authorities. The conditions have not yet been fully explored or explained. There are many circumstances which have not yet been taken into account. What is the basis of the right hon. Gentleman's estimate? Has he taken figures for definite slum-clearance schemes all over the country? Is it not the case that, when he has to deal with these schemes, in which there is a very large 914 proportion of one-roomed or two-roomed houses, he will find his average very much down? Is he not taking his average on a basis which will show a larger proportion of individuals per family than will be found in many normal cases throughout the country? I am satisfied that, if the local authorities had been consulted earlier—and it is very much to be regretted that they were not more fully consulted—it would have been found that they would have much preferred a definite undertaking that they were going to get a percentage grant. This Financial Resolution leaves an unknown responsibility on their shoulders.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take the view that we are restricted by what has taken place in regard to the English Financial Resolution. The Under-Secretary of State, at this conference, stated, I understand, that they were bound by what had taken place in England, that the Financial Resolution had been carried in the House of Commons, that it was binding upon them, that it had to be considered in the light of what the English local authorities were prepared to take. I entirely differ from that point of view, because we are dealing in Scotland with entirely different conditions, and no one knows that better than the right hon. Gentleman. A very definite distinction has always been drawn with regard to the case of Scottish housing. It is well understood that the average number of persons per house in Scotland, where there are many two-roomed houses, is considerably lower than that in England. In Dundee the figure is 3.7. Again, in Scotland you have a different rating incidence altogether, and, in fixing rents in Scotland, account has to be taken of the fact that the owner's rates have also to be considered, whereas that question does not arise in England. In the third place, we have higher structural costs, owing to the climatic conditions. Therefore, we have an entirely different case to make.
When the right hon. Gentleman asks us to assist him in going to the Treasury, we say that we are willing to give him all the backing we possibly can, and that he should go with his hands perfectly free from any restriction laid upon him by what has taken place in England, and should make his own case. I feel that 915 there is here a case to be reconsidered. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove has made one or two suggestions as to how the matter can be dealt with. I should prefer that the Resolution should be withdrawn to give effect to the views of the Scottish local authorities, but I am not prepared to put any obstacle in the way of getting forward with our slum clearance schemes. I suggest that we should get an undertaking that the matter should be reconsidered in the light of further experience that may be gained and that we shall not be regarded as having bound ourselves definitely at this stage to accept the proposals that the Government put forward, but that we shall be in a position to come back and ask for something better.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I should like to put in a plea in support of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said concerning our own constituencies as one of the cases with which the Government, and particularly the Under-Secretary of State, is familiar. It is certainly a pity that there have not been earlier consultations with the local authorities to enable them to have submitted fully the difficulties that pertain to such an industrial centre as Dundee. That position, we know, in dealing with a former Bill, created a considerable amount of difficulty. Not only is there Dundee but Edinburgh and Greenock were involved on that former occasion and it was found to be essential to make provision for the smaller class of dwelling houses. Unfortunately the whole trend of this Bill is directed to providing larger houses. We quite agree on the desirability of providing larger houses, indeed we can go further and say we are in favour of having larger incomes, but the difficulty is to get them, and you cannot very well get houses without paying for them. The people in Dundee, at any rate, have very small provision in the matter of wages and they are obliged to find a smaller class of house. The plan adopted in this Bill is an arrangement whereby the onus of carrying out the plan of differentiation of rent is thrown upon the local authority. That will certainly be attended with very serious difficulty. But when you take the fact that £7 10s. is given as the allow- 916 ance for a two-roomed house, there are 1½ units allowed for each room and at that allowance we find by actual experience in the working out of one of these large clearances that have already taken place, it is established beyond any chance of doubt that there would be a very serious loss to local authorities, and most strongly have they urged, and particularly the Labour members of the council, this plea within the past week.
This further point was also raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove as to whether the Government intended to repeal the 1923 Act. It would only be fair to local authorities that the Act should be allowed still to operate. If they are satisfied that they can get better terms by that Act, I cannot see why the Government should repeal it. It is certainly most necessary that one should urge upon the Government to give special consideration to these centres. I believe that a meeting of Scottish Members was held in the Scottish Office during the past week. It happened to be on the same day as a conference was called by the local authorities. I can only say that as one who attends meetings very regularly I was not invited—[Interruption]. If my hon. Friend has anything to say, let him say it. The Parliamentary representatives have an opportunity of considering subsidiary matters at these meetings, but on this occasion it so happened that it was the Scottish Housing Bill which Members were invited to consider. It was not a very fair handling of the question that certain Members who are Scottish Labour Members should not have been invited. It was reported in the Press and stated by a colleague to be a meeting of Scottish Members. [Interruption.] I expect it was a meeting attended by Labour party Members, and I can understand the difficulty. The party is united sometimes. You have to swear by the Labour party or it will not do. Fortunately, some of our own crowd are not likely to proceed on those lines. I am dealing with the interests of my constituency. The Labour Members of the Dundee Town Council have protested against the action of the Labour Government. I submit that the Government ought certainly to take into consideration the industrial centres where the economic conditions are such that it is imperative to make provision 917 on lines that will meet the ability of those people to pay the rent. One idea, apparently, is to have a differentiation in regard to rents on the basis of ability to pay. The local authority of Dundee do not want to pay more than £4 10s. They consider that they are contributing a fair proportion of local expenditure towards unemployment. Unemployment is a national question and it is not fair to throw the onus of providing a substantial share of the finances of a scheme on to the local authority. We want to see what can be done to get better terms for those centres which are dealing with the matter.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I would not have intervened at this late hour had I not a matter of great importance to bring to the notice of the House with regard to the position of a large number of people in Scotland who live in small burghs in rural areas. This Bill will not apply to the position in these burghs. The Secretary of State has given some interesting statistics comparing the advantages given under this Bill with the advantages given under other Acts of Parliament to people in the big cities. It is my complaint not only against this Government, but against previous Governments that they have not faced up to this very important and increasingly urgent problem as to what is to be done to these people who live in the small burghs with a very low rateable valuation. I am talking of a valuation where a penny rate yields from £55 and £60 up to £80 or £100.
In these small burghs building is going on under the Chamberlain and Wheatley Acts, but it is not meeting the case of the poor people who are living in terrible slum conditions. Their conditions are getting worse. They are not being moved into the Wheatley and Chamberlain houses, which are being occupied by people who come into the burghs from the country. It is sometimes said that the people some of whom live in these houses make room for people from the slums, but it is not working out in that way. In one burgh which I know, a very small percentage of people who have gone into Wheatley and Chamberlain houses have left habitable houses in that burgh. I mentioned this point in the Debate on Second Reading, and the Under-Secretary said: 918Even 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 for the small burgh 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1930; cols. 2465–6, Vol. 237.]The hon. Gentleman is really misinformed. Most people are paying in the small burgh to which I personally belong an average rent of less than £4. We cannot build at that figure under this Bill to meet the requirements of these people. We are faced with the situation of having to provide for poor fishermen, share fishermen owning their own boats, who are not wage-earners and who have not been able to afford more than this rent; and I contend that we must do something probably on the lines of the Addison scheme. When I referred to the places where the yield of a penny rate was only £55, the Under-Secretary said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1930; col. 2465, Vol. 237.]I know of a county where the yield of a penny rate produces only £280 for all purposes, and they are piling up considerable liability for the improvement of rural housing under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. They are going to be rightly urged to make the best use of this Bill, but what will they have left with which to help the burghs, if the burghs are forced under their jurisdiction? There is really no hope on that line.
The fact is that we are not at the present building for the poor people who are living in these wretched conditions in which there are serious risks. What would happen in some of these slum areas in the small burghs if there were an epidemic I tremble to think, and yet nothing is being done to avert that risk. Nothing much can be done under this Bill, and nothing could be done by the Acts passed by other Governments. It is time that we faced up to the position. There has been so consultation with the representatives of the small burghs. I have not been invited to the meeting which has been held at the Scottish Office.
§ Mr. W. ADAMSONindicated dissent.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. T. Johnston)
Surely there has been no issue, housing or anything else, which has been down for consideration, on which the hon. and gallant Member and his friends were not present?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
We were confined to administration. Legislation was ruled out. I am not making any complaint, and I hope the Under-Secretary will not think that I am making an attack upon him or his Government. This is a problem which no Government has yet faced and I am appealing to him to face up to this question and bring these people into consultation upon this urgent problem. He really has been misinformed when he says:There are probably no two burghs where the conditions are alike, and it is very difficult to set out 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1930; col. 2466, Vol. 237.]How can the financial circumstances of a burgh where a penny rate only brings in £55 and where the average rent is only £4 benefit under this scheme? Of course conditions are different. That is one of the difficulties of the case. The Government have not discriminated between the varying conditions which exist in the districts in Scotland, and I ask that they should take them into consideration and see whether it is not possible to vary the Regulations issued by the Department. These local authorities do their best. I hope they will work this Bill for all it is worth; I shall give it my support. Do not let us put all the blame on the local authorities, as we are apt to do, when Acts which are passed here are not a success. They are asked to make bricks and we sometimes supply them with very little straw. If we think that these small burghs will be able to face the problem by this Bill we are 920 deluding ourselves. The position is serious. The information with which the Secretary of State has been supplied is not full or comprehensive, and it is not accurate. I ask him to hold some form of quick inquiry into this matter, bring the conveners of the housing committees of the small burghs into consultation, give them an opportunity of explaining their difficulties, their special problems, and, if possible, vary the Regulations of the Department to suit the differing conditions which exist. Then I hope it will be possible for these small burghs to face up to their difficulties. I support the Resolution and I support the Bill, and I will do my little bit in any way I can to make it effective.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
We have heard a great deal about what Dundee requires for their housing scheme. I would like to know what Aberdeen would like.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I trust that at this late hour I shall not be expected to go in elaborate detail into the many financial points which have been raised by hon. Members, particularly as it will be possible for us on the Committee stage to have very full discussion of those points. But I would like to reply generally to the accusations which have been made that by three or four speakers to the effect that the terms offered in this Bill are inadequate to induce local authorities to proceed drastically with slum clearance schemes. The hon. and gallant Member who addressed the House so eloquently on the necessities of impoverished small burghs and rural areas does not, I am sure, expect that a Bill of this kind can deal adequately with the great problem of the economic impoverishment of many of those distant areas. It is a tremendous problem to build houses and let them at rents which the people can pay in districts where the wages are so low as barely to provide for the minimum standard of physical existence. It is a problem for the Department of Health to decide how far it is possible to put the screw on many of these small burghs and local authorities in distant areas where, as the hon. and gallant Member said, the yield of a penny rate may be only £50 or £55.
The hon. and gallant Member asks me what we are going to do for areas where the people are paying only £4 rent at the present time. That is a problem 921 which must be tackled by the House in another direction. You cannot level up the conditions between an impoverished fishing area or area in the Outer Highlands and a prosperous county town by a side wind, by a Clause in a housing Bill. We have to face up in other directions to the problem of equalising conditions in Scotland so that the inhabitants everywhere will be able to get at least a minimum standard of life. I was asked whether the Bill did anything for the small burghs. I said on the Committee stage that it does something for the small burghs. I have spent all my days in a small burgh. The conditions of a small burgh are what I know best, and if the hon. and gallant Member will take the case of a small burgh and a three-apartment house, with the six persons who may be admitted into that house, he will find he can get a State grant of £15 for the rehousing of that family. Surely, then, the small burghs can begin to consider whether they cannot decant the larger families into these new houses, seeing that they will get a grant of £15 in such cases.
While the difficulties may be such that it will not be possible to provide proper housing accommodation, that is no reason why local authorities cannot play a larger part in providing more sanitary houses when such large grants as I have described are possible under the Bill. Reference has been made to the schemes of the larger local authorities, and Glasgow and other local authorities have expressed considerable apprehension as to whether they were going to be better off under the financial terms of this Bill than on the present 50 per cent. grant basis. The Health Department has examined every scheme from every local authority including Glasgow and in no case is the local authority worse off than they would be on the 50–50 basis, and in many cases they would be better off.
I have been asked whether local authorities could have the option of having the 50–50 basis if they preferred it and I am authorised by the Secretary of State for Scotland to say that we shall consider that suggestion in all its aspects and get the best advice we can between now and the Report stage. I am convinced that when the local authorities understand the provisions of this Bill there will not be any 922 desire whatever to go back to the 50–50 basis. In the case of Edinburgh I have a copy of the report which has been referred to and it is inevitable that there would be very serious losses if a large sum was paid for the church amounting to £4,000 or £8,000. That would not be permitted under the 50–50 arrangement, because it would not rank for the grant. I simply give that as an illustration, and it is not fair to make comparisons of that kind.
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) said that the Corporation had been exceedingly apprehensive as to the working of this Measure. If the Corporation of Dundee are trying to build houses for these single-person families and are only getting a £2 10s. grant for those houses, there will be considerable financial difficulties. I can assure hon. Members that these schemes have been examined further by the experts of the Department, and under the scheme for housing single person and two person families, Dundee will get 58 per cent. of its loss by way of State grants under our Bill, as against 50 per cent. under the existing law.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Has the hon. Gentleman compared the findings in the report with the assessors' report in regard to the variations between the worst cases and the best?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
What I did was to invite the representatives of Dundee to get in touch with the experts at Edinburgh and to go over the details of the estimates, and they actually find that even under the worst construction which can be put on this Bill they will get 58 per cent.
One word about the Calton scheme. It is the largest small families scheme that has been undertaken at one bite by any local authority. I have had the figures examined and re-examined, and on the corporation's own figures, on the fifty-fifty basis under the present law, the State grant amounts to £11,160—that is, half the annual loss. Under our Bill the amount is £11,673, so that they will be £513 better off than they now are. In addition to that £513, they are to get an undetermined sum by way of compensation for disturbance, whereas the figures for compensation are included in the State grant on the present fifty-fifty 923 basis. Taking the circumstances at their worst, every local authority which has a scheme can have it examined, and will find they are going to be better off financially under the terms of this Bill than they were on the fifty-fifty basis. Take cases such as Lanarkshire or Glasgow, or wherever there is a considerable proportion of single-unit families or two-unit families, and you find there is a difficulty. We all know that it is almost impossible to build a house for a single old man or a single old woman, or an old couple without a family, and let it at anything like an economic rent with a unit basis of £2 10s. There is nothing in this Bill to compel a local authority to decant these particular people out of the slums into the new slum clearance houses. You can take the single-unit families or the double-unit families and decant the large or overcrowded families in other improvement areas, get the bigger grants and put the people into the new houses. You will then have vacant houses for your single or double unit families.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If we take the overcrowded family, the large family of, say, six or eight people, out of an improvement area we get the grant; but the local authority must build the new houses before it gets the grant. It builds the houses and gets the grant in respect of the large family and it has then a house vacant into which it can put the two unit family or the one unit family.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I understand the argument about decanting the large family and getting the grant, but where is to be found the house into which the one or two unit family is to be put? It is living in a district which is a slum.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The house into which we put the one or two unit family is the house from which we take the overcrowded family.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If you build a new house for a large family which you take from a smaller house, you have vacant a house into which you can decant one or two unit families.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
Then does the improvement area really mean an improvement in regard to the number of people you house and not an improvement in the structure of the house? You are not improving the house, but you are improving matters by not letting the house be overcrowded? Is that to be the improvement area?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
That is only part of the meaning of an improvement area. I am only dealing with overcrowding at the moment. I am only seeking to show that this is one method by which the local authority can get rid of part of its liability for the housing of its smaller unit families, which might bring down its average grant and thereby create less of a loss.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The family which you move from a clearance area into a less overcrowded house is a family for which you cannot get a grant. You cannot get a grant for both. It is the large family for which you build a new house and the small one you take from a slum area. Whichever is the family that is decanted to the new house is the family for which you get the grant.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
You are shifting the smaller families to larger houses. How is the rent arranged if there is no grant? You shift the one or two-unit family to the house from which you have removed the larger family, and presumably, since there is no grant for the second shift, there is a larger rent for the single or two-unit family. How is that arranged?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is provision 925 in the Bill whereby the rents may be equalised if taken over the whole scheme. It is rather a difficult and complicated matter to explain at this hour.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to go into it as long as there is a provision to meet the point.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
There is a provision to meet the point. There is another point to which I wish to draw attention. A difficulty undoubtedly arises over what you are to do with the single person and two-person families; but there is nothing to prevent the local authority dealing with this difficulty under what is called the Wheatley scheme basis.
§ Major ELLIOT
You would allow in that case a larger proportion of two-room houses for these families, because it would be obviously unnecessary to have the larger house for a two-unit family?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If we take away overcrowded families from improvement areas, we should be able to deal with some two-person families in that way. Every local authority which chooses to use its powers under this Bill will gain. It may attack the problem of the two-person house through the Wheatley scheme. It may attack it through the method of decanting families into an improvement area, it may attack it by the method of equalising rents, or it may attack it by other means that I need not specify here. I will only say that we are endeavouring to put local authorities which have slum clearance schemes into touch with the actuaries and experts of the housing department in Edinburgh. We are going into every scheme submitted to us, as fully and conclusively as possible, and we believe, that if the House passes a Bill somewhat on the lines on which this Bill has been drafted, subject of course to such Amendments as may be considered proper, it will enable every local authority to deal with some of its urgent housing problems and certain local authorities to deal with the majority of their urgent housing problems. More than that, I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would not claim for this Bill 926 but if we can justify that claim I think we shall have deserved well of all who are interested in the improvement of housing.