§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Before considering the Bill to abolish, in time, overcrowding in Scotland the House will, I hope, allow me to make one or two observations upon the conditions of life in Scotland. My experience is, no doubt, similar to that of my colleagues from Scotland. When visiting hundreds of homes of the industrial classes in different parts of Scotland, taking the houses quite at random, one feature of our national life stands out predominantly. Parliament has during the last one or two generations made provision—I will not stop to inquire whether it has been adequate or not—against the uncertainties of employment, the tragedy of ill-health, the gradual loss of earning power through age, and the misfortune of widowhood; and for at least three generations Parliament has provided a democratic system of education which has been freely available and of which advantage has been readily taken. In addition, in the last generation or two Parliament has enacted varied provisions to improve the health and happiness of our people. This vast effort by the State, driven forward in turn by every party, is not yet yielding the full reward of the sustained effort and great expenditure incurred, because of the tragic housing conditions of our people. They are, in many cases, a disgrace to our country. These conditions, then, must be remedied if Parliament's effort and expenditure to secure social betterment are to be completely successful.
Before asking the House to consider this problem, let me here pay a sincere tribute to the great effort made by local authorities throughout Scotland since the War in providing houses. Upwards of 183,000 houses with State assistance have been built at a present cost to the Exchequer of £1,800,000 a year. This has given new housing accommodation to approximately 850,000 persons, or nearly 552 one-fifth of our total population. That is a great and valuable contribution, made by successive Governments, towards the solution of one of the most pressing social problems—I suggest, the most pressing problem of our time. Yet our people in Scotland are still far from being satisfactorily housed. There is still an urgent need for large numbers of houses throughout the country. The great mass of the poorer classes continue without decent homes to-day. Why is this? Up to 1930, housing efforts were directed mainly towards meeting the shortage after the War. Much has been done to meet that shortage, but, unfortunately, not nearly enough has been done to meet the need of those whose need is greatest. Slums and crowded tenements still exist at the heart of nearly every town and village of Scotland. Houses have been provided for numbers of the better-off working class, but not so much has been done to provide houses for the low wage-earner. That is the problem that this Bill, linked with the Slum Clearance Act, is intended to solve. The point has now been reached when we must concentrate on the building of decent low-rented houses for the less well-off in sufficient numbers to abolish overcrowding and, in addition, destroy the slums, leaving the provision of accommodation for the better-off section of the community to be carried out by ordinary commercial building unhampered by the competition of subsidised State housing.
A year ago the Government started a campaign in Scotland to destroy the slums in five years. In twelve months contracts have been placed to destroy 40 out of every 100 slum houses, and to erect in their place suitable homes for those who resided in those houses. In 24 months we hope to destroy 60 out of every 100 of those slum houses. We intend to destroy 60,000 slum houses and re-house the occupants in healthy homes. Well within the five years all the slum property in Scotland should be a thing of the past, and the families so displaced moved to better homes. This remarkable progress has been attained because the conscience of Scotland was deeply stirred, and local authorities—all credit to them—entered with energy and determination into the task of doing away with these intolerable conditions. These black spots every hon. Member will agree are not only destructive of the possibility 553 of decent home life, but strike at the very core of national health and prosperity. In order that there may be no weakening, but rather increased and intensive effort, the Government have decided that the present generous slum clearance subsidy will remain undiminished for all houses completed by 31st March, 1938, although the rates of interest and building costs have been much reduced since 1930 when the subsidy was established. I submit that this is a striking indication of the determination of His Majesty's Government to destroy the slums well within the five-year period.
Let me turn to the Bill, and before I sit down I will endeavour to remove some of the misapprehension which exists in the minds of hon. Members in all parts of the House on different Clauses of the Bill. The Bill lays down a standard of overcrowding. That standard is set out in Clause 2 and the first schedule. The House, I am sure, will agree that without some standard of accommodation we cannot hope to make this Bill effective, and that the standard must deal not only with floor space and the number of persons who may occupy a house, but also be such as to secure separation of the sexes. We are not dealing with dormitories only, but with homes where families, in addition to sleeping, have to eat, play, work and receive their friends. Can anyone say that two rooms of 12 feet square are more than enough to do all these things for a family of three adults, let alone two adults, two children and, may be, a baby in addition? The object of the standard is not to create an offence by its breach, but to give direction to the local authorities in the moving of overcrowded families to houses suitable to their needs. The provision of the necessary additional accommodation must come first. Commonsense must determine when the standard can be fully enforced. When, however, it is practicable and wise to enforce it, all sections of the House, I think, will agree, or I hope they will, that some measure of compulsion is necessary if the Bill is to be effective, but that will only be when there is no longer any reasonable excuse left for a family either in town or country to live in overcrowded conditions.
The imposition by law of a general housing standard is new. I think it is practically accurate to say that there is 554 no housing standard in Europe to-day except in one or two towns. The imposition of this standard is new. Its details, obviously, must be very carefully considered in Committee. The machinery in the Bill may not be the only or the best form of control, and any suggestions upstairs will be readily welcomed by the Government. I wish to add that the Government recognise that special difficulties in applying the standard will be met in certain parts of Scotland. Especially is this so with the housing accommodation of farm servants. Hon. Members will find in Clause 4 the method by which we shall have a real breathing-space after the appointed day to consider the best methods of dealing with these special difficulties. Farm workers, their wives and families, who live in such houses will desire in time the same standard as their fellows, but in bringing that standard into operation we must very carefully ensure that we are not creating an impossible housing situation in rural Scotland, or one which will create any difficulties for an agricultural worker with a large family to secure employment. That is the general line of the Government's policy towards that problem.
What are the conditions which the Bill proposes to remedy? The standards of housing in the past have created an enormous number of small dwellings in which are herded together great masses of the population. The pressure on available accommodation is more extreme than any hon. Member, I believe realises. Empty working-class houses, suitable for occupation, in many towns are very difficult to find. In Glasgow, for example, at Whitsunday, 1934, out of a total of over 210,000 houses of three apartments and less, only 1.085 were empty. That situation is in marked contrast to the position in each of the five years before the War; for example, in 1910, when the number was 17,185 and in 1914 when it was 12,096. The percentage of unlet houses of three apartments and less in Glasgow has fallen from 11 per cent in 1910 to half of one per cent, in 1934. Nearly half of all the houses of Scotland contain only one or two apartments. It is in these small houses where the mass of over-crowding exists. Over one-third of the total population, or over 1,638,000 persons, are living more than two to a room, and 555 nearly 750,000 are living more than three to a room.
In view of these circumstances, we cannot, as is proposed in England, rehouse any great proportion of our overcrowded families in tenements in the centre of the towns, as overcrowding largely exists in tenements in these very spots. We must, therefore, rehouse large numbers of our people on the outskirts. It may be asked, and I am sure everyone will ask, would they not prefer to remain in the central areas As to that, inquiries were made by responsible officials in different towns in Scotland with regard to 500 families, who have been removed from central areas and are now living on the outskirts, as to whether they preferred living in tenements near the centre or on the outskirts. Having had experience of both, 86 per cent. definitely preferred living on the outskirts and only 14 per cent., mostly old people, favoured living near the centre.
The problem in Scotland differs profoundly from that in England, and the financial basis on which the Bill has been built reflects the profound difference in the conditions in the two countries. Scotland is faced with a big job, and to enable local authorities to tackle it Parliament must give them sufficient financial help. In Clause 27 of the Bill we propose to give an Exchequer subsidy of £6 15s. per year for 40 years. This will enable the local authorities to build modern houses at rents within the reach of the low-wage earner. In deciding the respective contributions of the State and the local authorities, we came down on £615s. from the Exchequer and £3 5s. from the rates; that is, the State should pay nearly 70 per cent. of the total cost—68 per cent., to be quite accurate. Hon. Members in all quarters of the House who are from Scotland will be glad that in this all-important matter of the financial burden and the proportion of the financial burden, we carry the local authorities with us. We recognised a year ago when we started to explore this problem that without the ready assent and the hearty co-operation of the local authorities any Act dealing with housing would not operate successfully in Scotland, and I make this statement advisedly after having had an opportunity of conferring with responsible people from the local areas.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
Is that the general rate which is applied to Scotland, including the islands and Highlands?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I will come to that point in a moment. I think the House and in particular Scottish hon. Members will agree that the national exchequer has shouldered its full share of the financial burden and that my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has very sympathetically recognised the special needs of Scotland in this matter. The sum of £6 15s. is not the whole of the assistance that will be given; this is sufficient where there are no special difficulties and it will be paid uniformly throughout the country, but the Government will give additional assistance to enable local authorities in the big towns to clear out bad houses on the central sites and erect thereon new houses and buildings well arranged and properly planned. Extensive schemes of this kind will mean extra costs for demolition, compensation and construction, which the subsidy of £6 15s. will not meet. The Government propose therefore to increase the subsidy of £6 15s. where this work is carried out extensively, if the costs justify the need, by an amount up to £4 extra per house. Clauses 12 to 17 show how this is to be done.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
It means £10 15s. as the outside figure; £6 15s. is the figure for Scotland, but in the centre of large towns where there will be extra costs for demolition, compensation and construction, the extra subsidy will be available.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
This extra sum of £4 is distinctly restricted to the big towns where the cost of demolition and other costs are especially heavy. The Government propose to increase the subsidy, but the local authorities will, of course, have to increase their contributions proportionately. I might mention that when this extra sum was proposed to the large burghs they welcomed the proposal, because they recognised that one of their problems was the clearing out of existing sites in the centre of the 557 town and the rehousing of their people. This extra subsidy will enable the work to be carried on, and it will enable the local authorities to grapple effectively with the misery of thousands of citizens who are living to-day in mean congested streets, cursed by sunlessness and squalor.
It is not only in the large towns where, the Government recognise, needs have to be met. Here I come to the point which was raised just now by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson). In far distant parts of Scotland, mainly in the Highlands and Islands, local authorities have to face high building costs, while transport charges are heavy and building labour has to be imported, and, in addition, the rents that can be charged for the houses are exceptionally low. Every case will be considered on its merits, and, when the need is proved, the subsidy of £6 15s. will be increased to an amount necessary to enable the poor people in these areas to get as good houses as our town dwellers. This extra burden will be borne entirely by the State.
Included in the financial provisions of the Bill are proposals in Clauses 23 to 26 to increase the efforts of voluntary agencies in providing houses for the working-classes. Local authorities will have power to arrange with housing associations for the erection of working-class accommodation which will abate overcrowding and replace slums. These associations must not trade for profit or earn more than a limited dividend, which is restricted to 5 per cent. The local authorities in these cases will be able to pay over to the housing associations the Exchequer grant for this work and may add what contribution from the rates they think desirable.
The second provision to which I must call the attention of the House is the proposal in Clause 31 to extend the assistance for the improvement of accommodation for agricultural workers under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926. Already assistance has been given for the reconstruction of 17,000 houses under this Act with most beneficial results to rural Scotland. The Government have arranged to extend this assistance to applications received up to 24th June, 1938. This work must be pushed on, and, if these extensive measures are taken advantage of, as I hope and believe they 558 will be, throughout rural Scotland, the difficulties of providing good accommodation for agricultural workers should be more fully met.
Before leaving this important question of finance, let me touch on one other important matter. A programme of the dimensions which I have sketched out to the House this afternoon must carry with it some risk of rising markets and prices in building materials. The Government have not included in the Bill any direct provision for meeting this risk, but that does not mean that the Government will be inactive. I refuse to believe that, apart from any general rise in wholesale prices, any section of the vast building trade in. Scotland will raise prices above the general level.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am glad of that interruption, because I am able to tell the hon. Member that I have had direct experience of this matter. One afternoon in the summer, about 18 months ago, I asked 40 manufacturers to meet me. I pointed out to them that the demand for their commodities had risen because of Government enterprise and I appealed to them to lower their prices back to their former level. I am glad to say that the appeal met with an instantaneous and successful response.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Yes, Sir. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), as a Scotsman, will see the force of that. If one section of the community raises its charges because of Government action and the expenditure of public money, and the case is put to them, by an individual to individuals, to ask them to play the game in the public interest, I refuse to believe that they will not respond to it.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
By bulk purchase, and a regular output prices might indeed be reduced. I hope at a very early stage to get local authorities and manufacturers together in a voluntary spirit, so that they may consider making suitable arrangements for spreading their requirements in material evenly over long periods, for buying materials in bulk and 559 for generally organising their supplies of all the many commodities that go to the erection and building of a modern house. If these means fail—and I believe they will not fail—and prices rise without adequate reason, the Government will, of course, have to consider what further steps are necessary in the public interest.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I turn now to the rents of local authority houses. Here the Government propose far reaching changes, which hon. Members will find in Clauses 34 to 46 of the Bill. The underlying idea in those clauses is to get rid of the varying letting conditions hitherto necessitated by our many Housing Acts, and to replace them by a single group of conditions which will allow rents and subsidies as a whole to be pooled. This will give local authorities much greater freedom in managing their houses, and will remove many anomalies in the existing arrangements. It often happens that the rents of houses actually facing each other in the same street, similar in size and type, are different. Local authorities have often asked that this anomaly should be rectified. Where subsidised houses are occupied by persons able to pay an economic rent to the exclusion of poorer persons who cannot pay such a rent, there is manifestly a diversion of subsidies from their proper use. We have tried by administration to remedy this. We have succeeded in some measure, but not sufficiently. Indeed, no complete solution is possible under the existing statutes. The single rent pool and unified conditions of letting which the Bill proposes will provide a remedy. In letting local authority houses a preference must always be given to persons occupying unfit or overcrowded houses, or who have large families. Not only so, but all the houses built under this Bill, and slum clearance houses, will be reserved for low wage earners at rents which cannot exceed a maximum to be determined by the Department.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
A similar provision will apply to houses provided by local authorities under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. I cannot state a precise figure for this maximum, since it will vary according to local conditions, but it will be fixed in all localities at such a sum as to secure that only low wage earners will occupy these houses, and the rent will be within their capacity to pay. Apart from these special classes of house, local authorities will be required to fix rents at the ordinary level of the rents of working-class houses in their areas. To meet the need of those who cannot pay the rents so fixed, and cannot even pay the lower maximum rents for low wage earners, local authorities will be permitted to make rebates under conditions laid down by the Department. That is the essence of the provisions which will govern the letting of local authority houses in the future.
At this point let me refer to the provisions in Clause 22 of the Bill, relating to local housing management commissions. Local authorities have, since the War, become the owners of very large numbers of working-class houses. The factoring of their houses has, therefore, grown to be a task of considerable magnitude, involving a heavy addition to their manifold duties. When one considers how rarely complaints are received, I conclude that local authorities manage their property well. The Clause is, therefore, not to be taken as implying any critical attitude on the part of the Government. One can visualise circumstances, however, in which a local authority may—and I emphasise the word "may"—desire to transfer the management of their houses to an independent body, and in such circumstances the power to set up a management commission will be useful. It is, however, purely an optional power, and the House will observe that machinery is provided for the dissolution of a commission on an application being made by the local authority for that purpose.
I now turn to the question of the style and size of the houses that are to be built. It is known that half the total number of houses in Scotland are of one or two apartments. You can only remedy overcrowding by moving the larger families from these houses into larger houses. The number of one-and two-apartment houses which will become 561 available as a result of this process will be sufficient to meet the needs of those who require them, and there is no sound case for increasing the number. I desire to make it clear, therefore, that generally no Exchequer subsidy will be paid for houses of less than three apartments. Even larger houses, of course, will have to be provided, and, where this is so, the subsidy which is being made available is sufficient to provide them.
Another very important point is the planning of houses. There is a general desire to improve the architectural outlook in new building schemes, and to avoid drabness. To secure this result, I recently appointed a strong committee, composed mainly of well-known Scottish architects, to consider what could be done. Their report is expected shortly. It seemed opportune, when Parliament is passing a Bill the effect of which will be to rebuild large areas of our cities, to seize the opportunity to set a higher standard of architecture. Drab and mean surroundings do not encourage a bright and healthy outlook. If we make the homes of our people more attractive, shall we not help to encourage an Appreciation of beauty; and so, in our efforts to improve their physical conditions, may we not also enable them to benefit more fully from the wider and higher education which the, now enjoy? We will take every possible step, consistent with reasonable economy—and I put stress on these words—to enhance the quality of our housing, And Clause 69 of the Bill has been inserted for that purpose.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Would the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that no subsidy is to be granted to anything less than a three-apartment house? Do I understand that the building of one or two-apartment houses will not now be permitted in Scotland?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I think I made that point very clear. My exact words were, and they were carefully chosen:I desire to make it clear, therefore, that generally no Exchequer subsidy will be paid for houses of less than three apartments.I think that that is quite clear.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
Under this Act, of course, the right hon. Gentleman means? He is not referring to the provisions for hostels and so forth under the Act of 1930?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am only dealing with this Bill. Parliament having given certain subsidies for certain purposes, Parliament will implement that promise and undertaking. I am confining myself solely to the subsidy of £6 15s. under this Bill.
I notice on the Order Paper two Amendments put down by hon. Members opposite, and I have also received representations from many quarters about the Bill. I am anxious to remove the misapprehensions and doubts which have existed in the minds of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I have sketched briefly, but I hope sufficiently, the main purpose of the Bill; now let me turn for a moment to some of the fears of hon. Members opposite. They fear that the Government are going to provide compensation out of public funds to owners of houses which have to be removed, and the Amendment of the official Opposition states that the Billproposes to pay public money in the form of compensation to property owners whose properties are to be removed because of their menace to public health.On that matter, the Bill does not introduce any new principle of compensation. It would be unjust to expect owners to surrender their property without being compensated for its fair value. This was recognised by the Labour Government in their Act of 1930, and the compensation provisions of that Act are the basis on which compensation will be paid to owners for property compulsorily acquired under this Bill. I notice that the Amendment of hon. Members below the Gangway speaks ofthe provision of low-grade houses.I hope that the assurance I have given, that generally speaking nothing less than three-apartment houses will be eligible for subsidy, will remove that fear.
Anxiety has been caused by Clause 64, due, I believe, largely to a misunderstanding of the Clause, which I am anxious to dispel. Let me say at once that it is not intended to use Clause 64 for establishing a new standard for existing houses. The Department must confirm all by-laws before they become operative, and we do not propose that any powers to make by-laws conferred by the Clause, which re-enacts in a wider form certain present powers, or that any 563 new powers to make by-laws under the Clause, should apply to existing houses unless where reasonably practicable, and we intend to make this clear in Committee. I wish to clear up another misapprehension. It is not intended that a house should be dealt with as unfit for human habitation merely because it does not comply with by-laws or building regulations. Unfitness is a matter which must be judged in the particular case, each house on its merits. No alteration of the law as laid down in the Act of 1930 in regard to the ascertainment of an unfit house is made by this Bill, and, if that is not already clear, it can be made clear at the Committee stage; and I should like to emphasise that, subject to the very minor provision in Clause 68, no alteration in the right of the subject to appeal to the sheriff against a closing order, or a demolition order, or a requisition to execute works, is effected by the Bill. Another matter giving anxiety has been the question of the procedure to be adopted for declaring houses unfit for human habitation in the case of redevelopment areas. The procedure is to be the same as in the 1930 Act. Here again no change is made or intended to be made.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
Does that mean that anyone against whom such action is likely to be taken or has been taken will have the right to appeal to the sheriff or to the Department before final action is taken in his case?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The words of the 1930 Act apply and nothing in this Bill is intended to make any change in that Act. I think it makes no change, but words can be inserted to make it clear. At any rate, that is our intention.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The appeal will remain exactly as at present. Whether there should be an independent commissioner to decide on this question instead of an officer of the Department is a matter which I shall consider in Committee with the greatest care. I hope and believe that, when these points to which I have referred are fully considered and weighed, it will relieve the anxiety which has already been felt outside.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Clause 64 has given anxiety in Glasgow both on the side of the tenant and on the side of the property owners. It says:The provision of a separate water closet, bath, scullery, larder, adequate press accommodation and accommodation for the storage of coal for each house and facilities for washing and drying clothes and for the cooking of food.Are you going to see in reference to reconstructions that this carried out? You have on the stairhead two-room and kitchen houses and a single apartment. Is the single apartment in every case to be done away with and turned into a lavatory and bathroom?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
That applies to new houses. I said that we do not propose that any powers to make by-laws under the clause should apply to existing houses except where reasonably practicable. In the Scottish Standing Committee, no matter what the Bill may be, the Under-Secretary and I have at all times shown ourselves willing and ready to listen to views from any part of the House. There is complete agreement in Scotland that we should endeavour to banish overcrowding, and within the four corners of the Bill I am sure my hon. Friend and myself will readily listen to any reasonable objection or criticism from any quarter. We want to mould and fashion the Bill in keeping with the forward looking mind of Scotland, and I still hope, although there are differences of opinion here on one side or the other, that when it is completed in all its stages it will go forward a unanimous Bill to deal with this matter, and anything that either my hon. Friend or I can do to secure that object we will do most readily.
These are not only the main provisions of the Bill, but the underlying motive and spirit which will guide us in the Committee stage. We believe that within measurable time, if we secure the assent of the Scottish people, which will find expression through their representatives, we shall end that sad paradox which exists to-day of cities with some of the most hideous features in a land whose natural beauties are unsurpassed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has recognised to the full the special claims of Scotland in the matter. We recognise that it will be costly, but against that we have to set an immense gain in the 565 happiness and health of our people. We may hope to reduce the numbers of those who fill the hospitals of our land and who lose employment through sickness and ill-health. By destroying the slums and abolishing overcrowding we are performing an act of social justice which will ensure health and happiness to many who are alive to-day and to generations yet unborn. Great Britain, having grappled successfully with the financial difficulties that faced her a few years ago, is now going forward with big schemes of social reform, the only country in the world which has these big schemes, because we have first of all faced and mastered successfully our financial difficulties. It is because I believe that in this Bill we have a formidable and effective weapon with which to achieve its object that I present it to-day. I commend it to the favourable consideration of this Mother of Parliaments to remove from our native land the greatest social evil of our day.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, recognising that overcrowding is mainly due to lack of houses available for letting at rents within the means of the working-classes of Scotland, cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which provides for the transference to unrepresentative organisations of the responsibility now vested in local authorities to abate the evil, fails to provide adequate financial assistance to enable local authorities to deal effectively with the question from the standpoint of public health, and proposes to pay public money in the form of compensation to property owners whose properties are to be removed because of their menace to public health.I think the whole House will agree with the Secretary of State in his concluding sentences, that it is the desire of the House to remove from our economic history a blot which has been the subject of many articles as well as many investigations and which has held the housing conditions of Scotland up to the opprobrium of the world. I hope the right hon. Gentleman's optimism is likely to be realised. I am certain that no one in the House would do anything to hinder the progress of housing. Unfortunately, however, the very framing of the Bill shows that we shall not have the very rosy conditions painted in the right hon. Gentleman's peroration. We hope for 566 these things, but so long as he is going to provide, as he himself says and as the Bill says, a type of house for low-wage earners you will not have the high standard of housing which everyone of us desires for the people of our land. Low wages mean inability to pay economic rents, and economic rent pre-supposes an economic wage. If a tenant has not an economic wage he has to drift down into lower rented houses which cannot give him that high standard of accommodation which we all desire.
This is ostensibly a Bill to deal with overcrowding. It is really a rightabout face on the part of the National Government. They abolished the subsidies for England and reduced them for Scotland and held up the building of houses in Scotland, as is shown by the report of the Department of Health. The right hon. Gentleman will recall the insistence with which the Glasgow representatives pleaded with him to carry forward the closing date upon which a, certain subsidy was to be no longer operative for houses which had not been completed within the time laid down by the Department of Health. The only way in which they could qualify for that subsidy, not the subsidy under which they were commenced but another class of subsidy, was that they should apply to have these houses placed under a particular classification which was not the original classification. There was a, subsidy of £9 per house when the Government came into office and £12 10s. for rural houses and the unit grant subsidy under the 1930 Act. Later in the 1933 Act they gave a subsidy of £3 a house, which has been useless as practically only about 2,000 houses have been commenced under it. We have slowed down house building because of the manner in which they have been led by the nose by the English Treasury and the necessity of saving money. The closeness that is evidently more characteristic of the Treasury than it is reputed to be of the average Aberdonian has affected Scottish housing in. such a, way that the Government themselves have now to come forward with these new terms which one can say are fairly generous, terms which may assist providing that other conditions are applied which will enable the accommodation that, they desire to be given to the people, provided that the contracts are carried out in a proper manner.
567 The Secretary of State has given way to quite a number of the statements which have been circulated to hon. Members as well as to himself. One of these, to which we take exception, is with regard to the by-laws that a local authority may, and if required by the Department shall, make and the powers that they take to themselves or have given to them by the Department in order to do certain things. The Secretary of State said that this only applies to new houses.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
§ Mr. MACLEAN
That is the impression that he gave the House, that this was not to apply to houses already in existence, but only to new houses.
§ Mr. SKELTON
When the speech of my right hon. Friend is read, it will be clear that his phrase was:To existing houses unless where reasonably practicable.I think that the hon. Member will find that that is so.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
That phrase is certainly not the one used by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not want to make a debating point, because I am certain that no one in the House would more readily accept an explanation from the Secretary of State if he said that he misunderstood. I had read the clause before, but I thought that it was so surprising that he should make such a statement, that I re-read the beginning of it.A local authority may, and if required by the Department shall, make with respect to houses used or intended to be used for human habitation".If they are being used for human habitation they must be existing houses. You cannot use a house in process of construction, but you use a house' which is finished. It is one upon which an inhabitant or tenant can enter and take up his abode. Therefore, if we have not taken the proper meaning from the statement of the Secretary of State, the matter ought to be made plain. If it is intended to alter the wording of the clause on the Commitee stage and make it applicable only to new houses, we ought to have the reasons made definite so that we may know whether the 568 pressure which has been urged upon him has been successful because of its force.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I said on Clause 64, that it was not intended to establish a new standard for existing houses. That was not our intention. I went on to say:We do not propose that any powers to make by-laws conferred by the Clause, which re-enacts in a wider form certain present powers, or that any new powers to make bylaws under the Clause should apply to existing houses unless where reasonably practicable, and we intend to make this clear.I was only trying to show to the House what was our original intention in drafting the Clause, and make clear our intention.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am prepared to accept that when the hon. Gentleman has the matter in typescript, but I want to remind him that it was not to what he read to the House in the general delivery of his speech that I am taking exception. It was his reply to a definite question put to him by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), and it was in reply to that that he made the statement to which I am taking exception.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am asking for a definite explanation. The matter was brought up by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs in order to get some definite and distinct assurance on the point, and the right hon. Gentleman rose and made a statement in reply, and it is that statement to which I am taking exception. It definitely led the House to believe that it was only in respect of houses that were to be built under this Bill that these by-laws could apply, and not to houses already in existence. The Clause as it reads refers to houses that are in existence, and the statement which has been read by the right hon. Gentleman clears the matter up by making it perfectly open that it does apply to that particular class of house. It was the two statements I wanted cleared up so that the House could understand what were the by-laws applicable in those circumstances.
With regard to some other points in the statement of the Secretary of State and in the Bill, I observe that there is to be a subsidy of £6 15s. 0d. from the Govern 569 ment, and £3 5s. 0d. from the local authority. In the large towns £6 15s. 0d. will not be enough in certain circumstances and may be increased by £4 additional, provided that the local authority is prepared to pay a proportionate increase of the amount to be provided by them. I take exception, not to the terms of the subsidy as set out by the Secretary of State, but to its method of application. Large industrial areas are to have a grant on the same conditions as small areas. For example, a large industrial town like Glasgow will have its subsidy given to it on the same terms as a small country town like Crieff. The amount which Glasgow will have to provide compared with a small town like Crieff, will be at a considerably greater rate of expense to the inhabitants. I am not speaking of Crieff because it is anyone's constituency but because it is a small town and less rated than Glasgow. I know that certain hon. Members know a great, deal about Crieff, and perhaps more particularly about what used to be the Crieff Junction where they got off to play golf at Gleneagles.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
It is evident that the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) knows the class of person who goes there.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
They have to pass the whiskey town to get there. I think it is wrong to apply a uniform subsidy. The Government ought to have gone back on the unit principle. They ought to have taken the unit principle established by the last Government, as it was a much fairer and more equitable distribution of the amount the Government had at their disposal in the way of subsidy than the method of giving a general uniform grant or subsidy for the building of a house, whether it he in a highly rated, large, crowded industrial centre, or in a small countrified town where there are practically no houses to be erected.
570 There is another matter to which we take undoubted exception, and that is the fact that the Government are really talking about giving powers to place housing in the hands of some kind of housing association. We object not merely to Government money being handed over to local representatives, but to its being taken from the people and used for the building of houses under the control of anybody which is not a democratic body answerable to the citizens, but which may be only answerable to the Government through the Secretary of State for Scotland. We believe that the local authorities, in spite of all that has been said of the extension of properties by local authorities, should be responsible for the construction of houses. I was glad to note that the Secretary of State for Scotland paid a compliment to the manner in which they had managed these properties. I do not think that the slightest objection can be taken by any Member of this House to the manner in which local authorities in Scotland have managed the properties they have erected under the various Housing Acts and in respect of which they have obtained subsidies. Since there has not been any' objection, and cannot be any objection raised to their manner of managing these properties, I fail to see any reason for the incorporation in a Bill of this kind of a new method of management, and for taking the control out of the hands of the very local authority that has to find the money in order to obtain the subsidy which the Government are to grant in connection with the erection of houses.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I do not want it to be permissive, but taken out of the Bill altogether. It is feasible that in a certain town we may get some reactionary local council, but, according to the general theory that is now being propounded by people on the other side of the House, they want to take these matters out of politics in the same manner as they have dealt with unemployment assistance. They want to take this policy out of politics and place it under some commission or association. I notice the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) shakes his head. He is not on the Front 571 Bench opposite and, therefore, does not know the purpose behind the Government. He cannot answer for the Government. He may not always enjoy the confidence which he should enjoy from the Government, who are his friends.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I wish to enter our protest and to say that we shall do our best to convince the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary of the necessity of removing all this sort of thing from the Bill. It cannot be shown, in the whole history of the housing of Scotland since 1919, that anything has been done by any local authority that would lead the Government to justify the attempt to take the matter out of the control of the local authorities. The Secretary of State also stated that rents are to be fixed at such a sum as the tenants will be able to pay. That point has already been made. I have done my best to make it clear to the Secretary of State that unless you have an economic wage, the house rent which they will have to pay, if the house is to be satisfactory and suitable, may necessitate a much larger subsidy than the Government are prepared to grant. If that be the case, the Government may as well make up their mind that further applications will be made for increased subsidies by the local authorities.
The Government have done everything possible in the past to alter the subsidy arrangements. Subsidies have ceased as far as the Act of the Labour Government of 1930 is concerned. The largest number of houses under slum clearance schemes have been built under that Act and under the Act of 1924, also a Labour Act. Larger numbers of houses have been built under those two Acts than under any other Act that has been passed by any other Government, including the Coalition Government which was responsible for the Addison scheme. I hope that we shall get this Bill so altered in the Scottish Standing Committee that we shall be able to bring back into the Bill some of the benefits and good points of those two Acts which have more or less been allowed to drop by the present Government since they came into office. We had a Scottish Bill before the Scottish Standing Committee only last year. 572 We made considerable alterations in the framework' of that Bill and in what it could do for the people of Scotland. The changes which were made made it almost entirely a different Bill from what it was when it first appeared in this House. We altered it to such an extent that the Minister of Health had to bring in a Bill for England two or three months later to make the poor law of England uniform with the changed conditions of the Poor Law in Scotland.
There has been a great deal of opposition to the English Housing Bill, which has passed its Second Reading and gone to Standing Committee. There will be a great deal of opposition to that Bill there. I am hoping that hon. Members for Scotland will take the same interest in the Scottish Housing Bill that they took in the Scottish Poor Law Bill, and that when we bring the Bill to the House on Report it will be so altered and made so beneficial to the people to whom it is to be applied that the Minister of Health for England will consider it necessary to have a new Housing Bill prepared for England, to make the housing of the people of England more in consonance with that of Scotland.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am sure that the whole House feels that we are indebted to the Secretary of State for the speech with which he opened the Debate. It was a masterly exposition of the principles of the Bill and swept away a great many misapprehensions which have been aroused among the public in Scotland. Indeed, he carried his sweeping process so far, in relation to Clause 64 in particular, that I share some of the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) about the precise nature of what he said in regard to that Clause. It is, however, clear that these points are proper subjects for discussion in Committee and that we shall get the thing straightened out there.
I agree with the hon. Member for Govan that there is one angle of approach from which it is almost certain that the Bill will be welcomed in every quarter of the House, and that is that it represents a complete reversal of the policy of the Act of 1933. There have been many Housing Acts placed upon the Statute Book since the War, but the Act of 1933, which we on 573 these benches fought clause by clause and almost line by line, has obtained unique prominence as being the most ridiculous fiasco of them all. The total number of houses built, or under construction, or approved but not begun under the provisions of that Act is less than 2,000. A greater number than that were built in a single month in 1932; a clear illustration of the derisory results of that Act. I do not want to dwell upon that Act, but it is necessary to consider the new Bill in relation to the great body of Scottish housing legislation which has preceded it, and particularly its immediate predecessor. The policy of that Act, as was stated by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, was to concentrate the efforts of the State on two objectives—slum clearance and houses for the lower paid wage-earners.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Yes, the lower paid wage-earners living in overcrowded conditions, and to leave the rest of the housing of the working classes to be dealt with by private enterprise. The Under-Secretary, speaking in Committee upstairs, said:My hon. Friends desire to see ordinary housebuilding for the working classes, as opposed to slum clearance and low wage earners' houses done by private enterprise, if that be possible. That is what we are seeking to do in the Bill, and I have no reason to doubt that the experiment will fail. [Laughter.] I am obliged for that laughter because it enables me to correct myself. I have no reason to doubt that the experiment will succeed, although some of my hon. Friends have many reasons for hoping that it will fail."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills) 7th March, 1933, col. 46.]Unfortunately he was right in what he said the first time. We on these benches declared that policy to be unsound, for two reasons, first because it is impossible to make any real progress in slum clearance unless at the same time you deal with the shortage which exists of houses available at low rents for people living in overcrowded conditions and earning low wages. When there is a big shortage of houses the pressure is bound to be felt at the bottom, and the difficulties and the cost of slum clearance were bound to be increased by the failure to supply the shortage of low rented dwellings. It is useless to produce in this House mere figures of slum clearance 574 schemes and to talk of bad houses being demolished if at the same time in other areas, through overcrowding, large blocks of houses are relapsing into the conditions of slums. Secondly, we said that private enterprise could not perform the task which was allotted to it, and that contention has proved by experience to be correct.
We also argued that, apart from the unsoundness of the policy, the means suggested for obtaining even the limited objectives of the 1933 Act were insufficient. In the opinion of the Government the £3 subsidy was sufficient to encourage the building of houses for low paid wage-earners living in overcrowded conditions. The Under-Secretary of State stated on the 9th February, 1933:Our proposals will apply to the overcrowded population in such of those 40,000 houses as are not uninhabitable houses which can be dealt with by the Slum Clearance Act. It is in regard to those cases that the subsidy of £3 is given."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1933; col. 390, Vol. 274.]On the 10th April, speaking on an amendment which I moved, he said:I do venture to say to him that is is possible to be unduly pessimistic in this matter. I am satisfied that even now the fall in housing costs is by no means at an end, and that the great majority of local authorities will be able to make use of the £3 subsidy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT: 10th April, 1933; col. 2299, Vol. 276.]Actually, only 1,700 houses have been built with the £3 subsidy from that day to this. We, who exposed the absurdity of the proposals at that time, welcome the Government's belated conversion to the need of a higher subsidy.
In addition to the need for higher subsidies throughout Scotland as a whole, we pointed out the need for much higher subsidies in certain parts of the country, a need which we thought could only be met, with due regard to public economy, by means of the variable subsidy somewhat on the lines of the Rural Workers (Housing) Act, 1931, commonly called the Tudor Walters Act. Under that Act we ensured that the subsidies were high enough to enable houses to be built in difficult areas but never so high as to be greater than was necessary, and therefore to be wasteful of public money. The Government scoffed at our contention, and the Under-Secretary on 11th April, 1933, said, in 575 reply to an amendment that I had moved, that he opposed the amendmentbecause it will put upon the Department of Health a duty which would involve endless and difficult discussions and in my judgment useless and otiose discussions, with every local authority asking for a subsidy. It is not the first time that the question has been raised, and Governments of all shades of opinion and the House have rejected the view that the amount of the subsidy should be localised in each case. So much for the administrative side of the proposal of my right hon. Friend."—(OFFICIAL REPORT: 10th April, 1933; cols. 2295–6, Vol. 276.]By "my right hon. Friend" he meant me. I am glad that there is so much more to be said for the proposal and that the Government have now come forward with a proposal based upon the one which I made at the time of the passing of the Act of 1933. This point of the variable subsidy will be one of very great importance in the rural areas of Scotland, and I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to give us some further enlightenment on Clause 27. That clause says:where the Department are satisfied that the total annual expenditure likely to be incurred by a local authority other than the town council of a large burgh in providing throughout their district such accommodation as is referred to in the foregoing subsection is substantially greater than the equivalent aforesaid, in consequence of the remoteness of the sites of any houses in which such accommodation is provided from centres of supply of building labour and material, and the impracticability of obtaining for such houses higher rents than are ordinarily payable by persons employed in agriculture or fishing or by persons of a like economic condition,"…Then the Department may pay a higher subsidy. What doesthe remoteness of the sites of any housesmean? Does it mean houses that are remote from the main railhead of the district? What is meant bycentres of supply of building labour and material"?Are they those centres from which building labour and material are distributed in the district, or does the phrase mean the main centres of supply in the south of Scotland where these materials are manufactured? Will the term apply, broadly speaking, to the whole of the Highlands of Scotland and the rural districts and small burghs in those parts? In addition to the question as to the remoteness of the sites of the houses from the centres 576 from which building labour and material are obtained, and the impracticability of obtaining higher rents, will such an important point as low rateable valuation be taken into account?
If I may assume that the answers to these questions are going to be satisfactory, I should like to pay a cordial tribute to the Government for the introduction of this principle, for which I have so long contended. I have quoted before, and I should like to do so again, the case of the burgh I know best, my home town, where the average rent of houses in the old town is less than £4, or is. 6d. a week, where the rates are high, and have been increased in recent years, where the valuation is so low that one penny on the rates only yields £50, and where the building costs are still high. For example, in the most recent housing schemes it has cost to build a two-storied four apartment house, £495, and a three apartment single storey house £390, while under another scheme the cost of a three apartment single storey house was £380, and a four apartment flat house £440. I hope that these high costs of building will be taken into account and that we may have an assurance on that point.
The only Act under which this principle has so far been accepted was the Tudor Walters Act, 1931, and we who have benefited owe a debt to Mr. Tom Johnston who got it hrough the Labour Cabinet. But the scope of that Act was limited. It did not apply to housing in small towns but only to rural areas. Apart from that, successive Tory and Socialist Governments have found themselves incapable of dealing with the problem. If, therefore, the Government are really in earnest in this matter and mean to give local authorities and councils of small boroughs under Clause 27 a subsidy which will enable them for the first time to grapple with their housing problems, they will deserve thanks, which I for one shall not be backward in paying.
There are two special pleas I want to enter, again assuming that the answers to these questions will be satisfactory. The first is on behalf of local authorities, like the Sutherland County Council, who are already committed to schemes under the 1933 Act. Take the case which I know best, Sutherland. It has an extremely low valuation. Its revenues are declining, through the depression in 577 agriculture and the collapse of the fishing industry and because sporting rentals have also been declining. Its housing needs are clamant; its rates are rising and its resources are dwindling. But the Government, quite rightly in view of its housing needs, have been pressing the council to build. The Department of Health said they must, and they advised them to build under the 1933 Act. They consented. I beg the Government not to hold them to this bargain. The burden on the ratepayers in Sutherlandshire is crushing, the need for new houses is great and, therefore, I would ask them to allow the scheme to be transferred from the 1933 Act to the present Bill, so that with the same contribution from the rates they will be able to build more of these greatly needed houses.
Secondly, I would ask that local authorities whose special needs are now recognised under Clause 27 as justifying the provision of this flexible subsidy, should receive this special measure of help not only in regard to houses which are to be built to relieve overcrowding but also for slum clearance. The financial difficulties are the same whether the houses are to be built for slum clearance or to deal with the problem of overcrowding—high costs, high rates, low valuation and low earning power. Indeed, owing to the agricultural depression and the collapse of the fishing industry, the earning power of the people in the Highlands of Scotland is lower and their rate-paying capacity is also lower—
§ Mr. SKELTON
On the first point, does the right hon. and gallant Member happen to have with him the rate contribution of Sutherlandshire under the 1933 Act?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
No, but I know that the Sutherlandshire County Council believe that they would be better off if they can come under this Bill. Providing they can go on with the same rate contribution of their own, they will be able to build more houses if they can come under the provisions of this Bill. It is at their request that I am putting this point to the Government. In regard to the second point, slum clearance, and the necessity for this special provision in certain areas for dealing with slum clearance, I would urge the Government first, that they should take power in the 578 Bill to grant this special assistance under Clause 27 to certain local authorities not only in relation to houses built for relieving overcrowding, but also in relation to houses built for dealing with slum clearance; secondly, that they should restrict the rate contribution under the 1930 Act to £3 5s.; and, thirdly, that they should sanction, under the 1930 Act as well as under this Bill, such lower rents as can reasonably be expected from the new tenants.
We had no greater cause for anxiety at the time of the passing of the 1933 Act than the neglect of rural housing, and we moved several Amendments to that Bill in order to repair that neglect. There are only three really effective measures for dealing with rural housing at the present time. The first, and probably the best, was the Tudor Walters Act, or Rural Housing Act of 1931, which is no longer in operation. Next, and excellent within its limits, is the scheme of the Department of Agriculture, under Section 9 of the Pentland Act, 1911, but, alas, in spite of all their assurances of the recognition of the housing needs, the number of new houses constructed under this Act fell from 113 in 1931 to 42 in 1933, and only recovered to 87 last year. I beg the Government to make greater use of this admirable scheme. The full provision of £25,000 a year ought to be made and spent every year, as it could usefully be spent, instead of getting £10,000 as in 1933. But if those who are entitled to benefit under that Act are to be expected to bring their housing accommodation up to the new standards which are to be imposed in this Bill, the provision ought to be and, indeed, must be, largely increased.
The third weapon for dealing with rural housing is the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, under which good work has been done especially in conjunction with the scheme of the Department of Agriculture under the 1911 Act. But this is limited to reconditioning, and there is a growing and natural reluctance on the part of local authorities to make full use of these Acts owing to the rating burdens which they throw upon heavily burdened ratepayers, who have to pay their full rates for the benefit, in the case of these housing Acts, of their neighbours on the land who enjoy derating under the 1929 Act. I ask the 579 Government, in connection with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, what is meant by paragraph 17 of the financial memorandum to the Bill. In this paragraph it is said that:The additional charge on the Exchequer…will, it is anticipated, amount to approximately £22,000 per annum for 20 years.Does that mean only an increase of £22,000 spread over three years? The Secretary of State has told us this afternoon that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had recognised the special needs of Scotland, but he certainly has not recognised the needs of the rural areas, if that is all the provision that is to be made. If that be all, it means a decline in the amount of work that is going on now. Although the need is no less and will indeed become greater when this Bill is passed, actually the increase in the number of houses completed in 1933 over 1932 was 3,600, and in 1934 it fell to 3,000. The estimate for 1935 which I received to-day in answer to a Parliamentary question is only 2,700. Therefore, the number of houses being provided under this Act is now declining, and if indeed it only means that £22,000 is to be spent, spread over three years, there will be a still further decline in the amount of work done in rural housing under these Acts.
There is a. further point, and perhaps it is the most important in connection with rural housing. The effectiveness of the schemes of the Department of Agriculture under the 1911 Act is dependent upon two factors. It is dependent, first, as regards the reconstruction of existing houses, on dovetailing their schemes into those of the local authority under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, and secondly, as regards new houses its effectiveness is dependent on the receipt by the landholder of the subsidy which was paid under the 1923 Act to private enterprise, and which has been withdrawn under the 1933 Act. The Secretary of State has referred to the importance of the farm servants problem, and I entirely agree with him. It is vitally important to improve farm servants' housing. But there is another great problem in the Highlands of Scotland, although it is not confined to the Highlands, and that is the crofter houses. You will not be able to deal with crofter houses and the houses of landholders all 580 over Scotland unless you can supplement the scheme of the Department of Agriculture in some way to make up for the loss of the subsidy under the 1923 Act which was abolished by the 1933 Act.
I ask the Government, first, for an assurance that they mean in future to increase the amount of money at the disposal of the Department of Agriculture for tackling the question of landholders' houses in rural districts, and that they will provide some means for supplying the absence of the subsidy which used to be available under the 1923 Act, so that they can press forward with redoubled vigour with the building of houses for landholders up to the new standards which are to be imposed under the Bill. The improvement of housing in the rural districts and in many of the small boroughs is not keeping pace with the improvement in the big towns, and I ask for an assurance from the Government that this differential subsidy under Clause 27, Sub-section (2) will be used to launch a real housing programme in the small boroughs and rural districts in Scotland, and that increased provision will be made under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act and also under the Department's schemes which are carried out under Section 9 of the 1911 Act for dealing with landholders' houses.
Turning from these special problems to the general problem, let me say at once that my criticisms of the Bill will be neither captious nor carping. Here is a Measure which, with all its faults and blemishes and vices, is cast, unlike that unhappy little brat, the 1933 Act, in a massive mould. It is not only better adapted to Scottish conditions than the English Bill but a better Bill in my opinion than the English Bill. If, therefore, I feel bound to criticise it let me make it clear to its authors that I do so with respect. Its first vice is its complexity, amounting almost to unintelligibility, a serious vice, perhaps not so serious to the supermen who sit majestically on the Treasury Bench, with a group of highly skilled public servants and draftsmen behind them, but certainly serious to ordinary plain fellows like the rest of us. This Measure is as involved, as ugly and as misbegotten a specimen of legislation by reference, as I have ever read.
§ Mr. SKELTON
On the question of complexity, I think there is one Clause 581 which closely resembles some of the features of a section of the Wheat Act, of which the right hon. and gallant Member has some knowledge.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
An Act of which I have some knowledge but not as an example of legislation by reference for it had no predecessor to refer to. I ask the House to look with me at Clause 70, for example. It says:For Section thirty-seven of the Act of 1930 the following section shall be substituted:37. In any case where—Later the Clause states:
that the local authority have failed to exercise any of their powers under the Housing (Scotland) Acts, 1925 to 1935, or under the section which is directed by Section forty of the Housing, Town Planning, &c. (Scotland) Act, 1919, to be substituted for Section one hundred and twenty-five of the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897.
- (i) a complaint has been made to the Department—
- (a) as respects any district, by any four or inure local government electors of the district, or
- (b) as respects any county, by the district council of any district within the county,Subsection (1) of Section one hundred and forty-six of the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897 (which relates to procedure on neglect of their duty by a local authority), shall have effect as if the duties imposed by Section twenty of the Act of 1925 were duties imposed by toe first mentioned Act.Finally the Clause states:Section one hundred and forty-seven of the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897 (which makes provision for refusal or neglect of a local authority), shall be amended by the insertion after the word 'herein' of the words or in the Burgh Police(Scot-land) Act, 1892, or in the Housing (Scot-land) Acts, 1925 to 1935.'Imagine the unhappy chairman of the housing committee of a local authority sitting with all these statutes on his library shelves and pulling them down one by one like an organist pulling out stops. It is useless to tell me that I find this Clause unintelligible because I am a stupid barbarian from the wilds of the far North. The men who will have to administer the Act are just ordinary people like most of us here. First of all they were told to build houses, then to town plan, then to plan improvement areas. First of all it was four-fifths of a penny rate, then a lump sum, then a unit sum, and then back again to a lump 582 Sum Who are the chairmen of the housing committees in Angus or Argyll or Caithness or Galloway? Farmers or merchants or professional men. They will have to work this Measure. They will have to get an understanding of it into the heads of their colleagues on the councils, and on the housing committees, and into the heads of the landlords and factors and all who have to deal with the Act. The chairman of one of the housing committees in one of the biggest and most prosperous counties of Scotland told me only a week or two ago that in his opinion it took two or three years to get the provisions of any Housing Act into the heads of the people who were concerned—to get them to understand the responsibilities, the obligations, the duties and the rights which devolved upon them from any one of these Acts. Surely then it is vital to the speedy success of the Measure that plain straightforward language should be substituted for the involved prolixity of legislation by reference.
Then I ask the House to consider the size of the task with which we are confronted and the prospects of successful and rapid progress under the Bill. The central fact is that according to the census of 1931 7 per cent. of the population of Scotland live in one-roomed houses and 37 per cent. in two-roomed houses. The standard of overcrowding laid down in this Bill seems fantastic and almost fanciful beside facts like those. The Secretary of State has told us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recognised the special needs of Scotland in relation to this problem. But has he? I ask the House to glance at paragraph 16 of the explanatory memorandum, where we get some sort of estimate given us of the rate of progress which is likely to be made. That is, after all, a very important point. It is only 27,500 houses in three years. It is hardly fair to take the first year, because the scheme will take some time to get into operation. But take the next two years, and we find that the total is only 25,000 houses in the two years. Presumably slum clearance will be going on at the same time. I ask the Government to give the House an estimate of the number of slum clearance houses which will be erected in each of the three years mentioned. At the height of the financial crisis in 1932 there were 15,000 State-assisted houses 583 built, in 1933 there were 20,000; and in 1934, owing to the unfortunate 1933 Act, there was a relapse to 18,000.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
There was a lapse in the number of houses built. It is useless to pride yourselves on the number of slum clearance houses being built if you are not at the same time tackling the problem of overcrowding which is making the slums. There was this number of houses built—in 1932, 15,000; in 1933, 20,000; and in 1934, 18,000; and now under this scheme 12,500 is to be the average of the second and third years. With low costs and cheap money the country demands much more vigorous efforts, not only to supply the houses, but to give useful employment in the building trade. "Money is cheap," declared the Prime Minister in his New Year broadcast; "let it be used for work of national development." Yes, I agree; let it be used to root out slums and overcrowding in Scotland. How much money and how many houses to deal with slum clearance and overcrowding in the first three years are referred to in paragraph 16 of the memorandum?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am very glad to hear that. We may take it, then, that the figures given in the memorandum are only an estimate, that possibly they will be exceeded, and that every effort will be made to exceed them and improve upon them. Even so, the greater the help that can be obtained from any other agency, including private enterprise, the speedier the progress of the campaign. A Bill like this is bound to occasion clamour from all the vested interests, but the Government must put public interests first, and,. subject to fair compensation for houses or land compulsorily acquired, private interests must be subordinated to the public interests. In turning deaf ears to clamour and resisting proposals which would offer to private interests an opportunity of making excessive claims for compensation and hampering the efforts of local authorities in dealing with slums and overcrowding the Government will deserve and will receive our support. But the greater the general measure of good will which the plans of local autho 584 rities and of the Government enjoy the quicker will they come to fruition, and any proof of real injustice to individuals who have done their utmost to fulfil their duties as landlords would bring discredit on the scheme and be a real source of delay. The House will, therefore, have to scrutinise carefully the provisions for compensation. I do not understand them, and I hope that the Minister will begin by explaining the basis of compensation laid down in Clause 54.
Then it seems to me that the anxiety of the small shopkeeper is not altogether unfounded. He is a healthy, vigorous and valuable element in our social and economic organisation. His usefulness is proved by the success with which he is conducting his struggle against the multiple shop and the co-operative store. I cannot help believing that public opinion is on the side of the small trader in the struggle, and I would welcome some assurance that be would be given a good chance of getting new premises in the new areas to which families living under overcrowding conditions will be relegated.
The hon. Member for Govan invited the House to reject the Bill on three grounds: First, that it provides for the transfer of responsibility for housing from local authorities to unrepresentative organisations. If that were indeed the case I should regard it as a serious criticism of the Bill, but as I read the Bill and as I understood the speech of the Secretary of State I cannot see that local authorities are compelled—they are permitted—to delegate certain powers and give certain specific jobs of work either to commissions of management or housing associations, and they can at any time withdraw those powers if they find that they are being abused or not used to the fullest advantage. Both responsibility and control, therefore, will remain with the local authorities, even if these other bodies are appointed. If for example a reactionary authority hands over control to a reactionary management commission, when a new and more progressive majority gets into the local council it can take control back again. Therefore the responsibility and control rests with the local authorities.
Secondly, the hon. Member said that the Bill failed to provide local authorities with adequate financial assistance. We heard from the Secretary of State that 585 he had the consent of the local authorities of Scotland to the financial terms of the Bill. I imagine that he was referring to the amount of the subsidy when he said that the local authorities had agreed to it. Indeed the hon. Member himself referred to the terms as fairly generous. In those circumstances it seems difficult to justify his attitude.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I do not think that that is altogether a bad description of the terms as we understand them. But the terms would never have been favoured by the Highlands of Scotland if it had not been for Clause 27, to which we attach importance. Lastly, the hon. Member objected to the provisions for compensation of owners of property. But he did not show any cause for objecting to those compensation provisions. I have put some question to the Government on that point. The Secretary of State has said that it is not true that compensation would be paid under the Bill for property which is a menace to public health. Against these criticisms we have to set the central feature of this Bill, and that is that for the first time the great social evil of overcrowding is to be made an offence, and that a determined effort is to be made to grapple with it. A big social evil like overcrowding cannot he tackled without upsetting a great many people and disturbing the habits of generations; but, subject to the reservation of our freedom of action on later stages of the Bill my own disposition, while awaiting the replies of the Government on the points raised, is to offer whole-hearted cooperation to the Government in improving the Bill and in achieving the great task of abolishing slums and overcrowding in Scotland.
We are sometimes told when we support Government Measures that we are merely registering the decrees of the Government. In this case the introduction of the Bill is clearly the response of the Government to the Debate on Scottish housing in July last when Members of all parties condemned the then existing housing policy of the Government, and when we demanded vigorous measures to deal with overcrowding. But the Bill is not 586 enough. Even fashioning and moulding the Bill in Committee is not enough. Money is wanted; above all, administrative drive and leadership are required. Public opinion in Scotland will seek anxiously in the speeches of Ministers for evidence that these requirements will be forthcoming, and that the Government are resolved to abolish slums and overcrowding in Scotland.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
The right hon. Baronet has sounded, I think, every note in the generous octave of his eloquence. I listened to him with pleasure, but I do not think it will be necessary for me to take up any time in dealing with what he has said. The larger part of his speech consisted of questions directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and I have no doubt whatever about their adequacy to deal with the matters which have been put to them. For the rest the right hon. Baronet's consisted of a paean of self-satisfaction at the fact that in the year 1933 he was not as other men; that, indeed, he alone foresaw the future, that he alone declared what was going to happen, and that deaf ears were turned to him by the officials who were in charge of the Measure then introduced. I am not concerned to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was right or wrong, and even if I thought he was wrong I should hate to do anything to disturb the self-gratulation in which he indulged himself.
I would rather reflect that we are to-day not in the year 1933 but in the year 1935, and in presence of a much greater theme. So far as I am concerned, I welcome a Bill which is intended to get rid of overcrowding in Scotland. There is nothing in which my own personal sentiments have been so much engaged of recent years as in the desire to see the slums cleared out of our land and overcrowding abolished. It is impossible to have a healthy and contented people living under the conditions which exist in Scotland to-day. The Government have already taken active measures to deal with slum clearance, and I would like to pay my personal tribute to the present Secretary of State for Scotland for the energy with which he has dealt with this matter and the success which so far he has achieved. We are now dealing with the other branch of the subject, and I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend 587 that it is not enough to deal with slum clearance, and that you only create more slums by the conditions which you leave behind if you do nothing to get rid of this great evil of overcrowding which we have in our housing conditions in Scotland at the present time.
Now, of all moments, is the time at which we ought to tackle the problem because, as the Prime Minister said in the speech already quoted by the right hon. Baronet, money is cheap to-day. The Government to-day can undertake these great tasks with much less expense than would have been incurred at any period upon which we can look back, and certainly, I think, with much less expense than they are likely to be involved in if they long delay the Measure now brought forward. No one knows at what moment trade may revive and the increased demand for money cause money to become dearer. I am, therefore, of opinion that the Government have seized the appropriate moment for dealing with this topic, especially when we have regard to the fact that there is still a vast amount of unemployment, and that the building of houses provides more varied employment than any other kind of industry in which we can engage. In those circumstances, it seems to me that we are in a position to serve two great purposes, one, to relieve unemployment by giving people jobs of a kind to which they are accustomed, and the other to get rid of the sore which at present exists in the body and organism of this country and which, so long as it lasts, must fester and poison the whole of our private and public life.
The main object of the Bill, accordingly, is to deal with overcrowding. The Secretary of State in his lucid explanation of the provisions of the Bill said that it was necessary to lay down some measure by which overcrowding could he controlled. I agree, but I do not fail to recognise the difficulty of the task. There must be a certain amount of elasticity in any conditions which are laid down in that respect. Only the other day I was told of a gentleman who, unfortunately is unemployed at the present time and living on unemployment benefit and who has a family of 15. I am not certain what amount of accommodation he will require under this scheme. At any rate, sporadic difficulties will arise. I imagine also that as the birthday approaches of a child 588 whose attainment of a specified age will immediately convert a house into an overcrowded house, the parents will feel a certain amount of resentment at the idea that they should have to find some different accommodation, which perhaps will not suit the wage-earner of the family nearly as well as the existing accommodation.
Many difficulties of that kind will arise, and I think the Secretary of State will agree that a certain measure of elasticity will be required, especially in the beginning when we are considering the scales which are to be applied. Let me give two instances. Should not we in Scotland regard it as somewhat extreme to say that where a father and mother and, say, two boys of 12 and 14, or two girls of 13 and 15, are living in a two-roomed house, that house should be regarded as overcrowded 7 It seems to me that to lay down conditions of that kind such as are prescribed in the Bill, would strike at conditions which are to-day usual and normal, and perfectly reputable and decent. Again, when it is laid down that a father and mother may not have their child in their own room if that child is 12 months old, a standard is applied to people in every line of life which is far too high for practical working. When we come to consider the scales by which overcrowding is to be judged there will be many suggestions which will require to be met as to the particular gradations upon which it is to work.
Let me come to a practical matter with regard to overcrowding to which I think the Secretary of State will have to give attention. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) very properly dealt with that part of the country with which he is mainly associated and referred to it with fine sentimental feeling. I wish to direct attention to some considerations affecting the great town of Glasgow with which I am very familiar. Let us see for a moment the effect of the application of these scales of overcrowding in Glasgow and the results to a considerable and very reputable portion of the population. I have had figures given to me which show that the application of the present scales would immediately convert into overcrowded houses between 60,000 and 70,000 houses in Glasgow. These, of course, if this 589 Measure were immediately applied, would then become unoccupied houses. It would no longer be permissible for the proprietors of those houses to let them to tenants.
Owing to the particular conditions under which we live in Scotland, and the different legislation and regulations which apply to us, we, unlike our neighbours in the great country of England, are rated upon unoccupied premises. I do not know whether Members of the House are fully aware of that fact. The Members whom I see present now are mostly Scottish Members who are aware of it, but as regards the House of Commons generally I think it ought to be recognised that we in Scotland live under a rating system totally different from that which exists. in England. In England all rates upon houses are paid by the tenant. In Scotland half the rates are paid by the owner and the owner in Scotland is under this peculiar obligation, which does not exist in England, that even when the house is unoccupied he has to go on paying the rates. This has some extraordinary results which, I think, should have serious attention. Let me show what happens at the present time. If a factory in Scotland is shut down, the owner of the factory is still liable to pay rates upon it except upon one condition—and I ask the House to mark the monstrosity of this condition—namely, that he takes the roof off the factory and makes it useless for ever, unless of course he should choose afterwards to put the roof on again. For a practical people I think that is a most fantastic arrangement.
Look at some of the direct results. If a company owns a factory in Scotland and another in England, and if business is not good enough to keep both going, what does that company do? It carries on in England where it will not be required to pay rates on its factory should it be compelled to shut down, and, on the other hand, it not only shuts the factory in Scotland but takes off the roof. I ask hon. Members whether this is not a direct way of doing injury and detriment to our trade, and whether it is not a disability from which we ought to be able to escape at the present time? Accordingly, I would venture to suggest to the Secretary of State that it would be advisable to take into account the condition of the houses which become 590 unoccupied through the effects of this entirely new standard which is being imposed—and properly imposed—upon housing. I would ask him to take into consideration the effects upon those people who are left with unoccupied houses and who will be penalised in rates, as the result of a lack of occupancy, created by public legislation.
This arrangement is particularly burdensome for this reason. As I have said, the owner pays half the rates and in connection with the Rent Restrictions Act this extraordinary result has taken place. In the year 1920 it was recognised both in Scotland and in England that some addition to the rent would be fair even under the Rent Restrictions Act in respect of the increased cost of materials and labour to the property owner, and also in respect of the increased rates which he had to pay. It was allowed by legislation at that time that 40 per cent. should be added to the rent, but that no increase of rates after 1920 should be entitled to be taken by the owner and put upon the rent. The result was that while 40 per cent, increase in the rent came into the hands of the proprietors of houses in Scotland, through the increase of rates which has taken place the proprietors were only able to get about 15 per cent, of the assumed increase of 40 per cent.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
Was there not also during that period, when the right hon. Gentleman was President of the Board of Trade, an Act passed by this House which enabled the houseowner in Scotland to escape with another proportion of rating—a special Act piloted through this House by Robert Munro, as he then was?
§ Sir R. HORNE
He was entitled to two items, of 40 per cent. and 74 per cent., but my figure still remains, that out of this increase that he was supposed to be able to get, all that he has been able to realise in the city of Glasgow on the average has been 15 per cent.; and over many of the communities in Lanarkshire the landlord has not been able to get anything at ell in respect of rents, because of the enormous increase in the, rates. Let us remember that, while rents since the War have been raised in Glasgow, or have been capable of being raised, by 47½ per cent., rates in Glasgow have risen by 253 per cent.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The tenant undoubtedly has been paying his share, but my hon. Friend is good enough to remind me of another complication about this matter that does not apply in England. The owner in Scotland is compelled to collect the tenant's rates, and it is very difficult for any such owner to induce the tenant to believe that the extra amount that he demands is going to the support of the community. In most cases he believes it is going to the support of the landlord.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
You do not know anything about the tenants, but you would if you went down to those quarters of the town.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I know a considerable amount about them, but this is not the way to argue that question. Let me put in figures what happens. If you take an ordinary, well-known tenement in Glasgow, composed of four types, with on each floor two two-roomed houses and one single-roomed house, a very ordinary block of tenements in Glasgow, built probably at an expense of £1,500, generally financed as to £1,000 by bonds and as to £500 by the builder, that is a very ordinary instance of what has happened in Glasgow over a long period of years. What is the difference between the period before the War and the period since? Whereas the revenue upon the £500 which the builder himself embarked was previously £29 11s, 8d., as a result of the high rates in Glasgow and the increased cost of materials, and in spite of the increased rent which he has been entitled to charge under the legislation of 1920. that amount has come down from £29 11s. 8d. to £14 10s. 6d. The House will at once realise that if a single one of the houses in such a tenement becomes unlet, the whole of the revenue upon the property disappears. I wish the Secretary of State to have that in mind when he considers the effect of his overcrowding legislation, legislation of which I entirely approve, but—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The right hon. Gentleman flings figures at us, and I think we are entitled to get his authority for those figures. Is it the local authority or is it the property owners?
§ Sir R. HORNE
They are figures that have been published time after time, and, so far as I know, they have never been challenged. Of course, they do not apply to every property, but they do apply to a, very great number of properties throughout Glasgow, and I was taking a typical instance.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am quite prepared to give credence to what my hon. Friends opposite say when they argue their case, but I beg of them to give at least some credence to what I am saying. The facts given by people who are doing this business are more likely to be accurate than—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this matter of the owner paying rates on unoccupied houses, is he aware that that only came into operation some 30 years ago, that at that time the rates were not put on unlet houses, with the result that they held those houses up to ransom in order to increase the rents of the houses that were occupied? It was because of that that there was an outcry in Glasgow, and I was among those who were in that outcry 30 years ago.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Whatever the hon. Gentleman has to say, he says with great vigour and point, but I am directing the attention of the Secretary of State to the fact that the new overcrowding regulations will in the first place strike at the one-roomed houses, and the kind of tenements I have described will be shut up to an extent that will make it impossible far the owner to get any return upon his money at all. But to put upon the owner, in addition, a burden which does not apply at all in the southern end of the island, the obligation to pay rates upon a commodity from which he gets no return at all, and cannot get a return by reason of the legislation which is now being passed, is surely an injustice which 593 cannot be defended. I would therefore beg my right hon. Friend to take into account, in dealing with this matter, the making of some arrangement by which these unoccupied properties may be relieved of rates. I realise very well the extra burden which may be put upon other properties, but, as was pointed out in a very interesting letter to the "Times" newspaper a few days ago, in the depressed areas such as we are now dealing with, where rates are very high, it will be quite impossible for the local authorities to take enough rates out of the others to compensate for the properties that will become unoccupied.
I beg the Government to deal with this housing question in a large spirit and without any niggling attitude. If they are really going to tackle slum clearance and overcrowding in Scotland, they must leave no sense of injustice behind them. They will build very badly if they build on injustice, whether they build houses or anything else. Therefore, I suggest that they should take into account, in the case of such unoccupied properties, the subventions which may be necessary to provide, and also that very poignant case mentioned by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland the case of the small shopkeeper who may be entirely dispossessed of the position he occupies in a particular property, or, on the other hand, who may entirely lose his custom through the action which the local authority may take.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
What about a man losing his job by a new machine? Is there no compensation for him?
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am dealing with troubles which are caused by the legislation which we are proposing to pass in this House now, and accordingly it is the consequences of our actions that I am looking to. I am not considering troubles attaching adventitiously, which no person can control, but at least we are in a position to prevent injustices which might otherwise occur. Now may I refer to another question of principle which seems to me to be dominant in the whole of this matter? There was set up sometime ago a committee under the chairmanship of the Lord Provost of Edin 594 burgh, commonly known as the Whitson Committee. That committee reports on' the whole matter of housing in Scotland and reveals the troubles to which the Secretary of State referred so eloquently to-day. It sets forth scales by which the standard of comfort in housing in Scotland may be improved. What you find in Clause 64 of this Bill is, I think, in almost every particular taken from the Whitson. Committee's report. The Whitson Committee recommends baths, water closets, and so on, in every house, which it is now suggested may be made compulsory by a by-law. I gather from what the Secretary of State said, though I shall be grateful for the removal of any misapprehension, that this will apply only to new houses and not to the old houses.
§ Sir R. HORNE
We can, of course, discuss the phraseology of the Bill in Committee, but I think that in the 1925 Act you will find that all the considerations, including the cost of bringing about the changes, are taken into account. In the meantime let me remind the House that these suggestions emanate from the Whitson Committee, but the Whitson Committee, in presenting them in their report, lay down that existing owners ought to receive a subsidy from the Government in order to enable them to recondition their property.
§ Sir R. HORNE
They provide that 50 per cent. of the expense shall be borne by the Government and 50 per cent. by the owner. The 50 per cent. amounts to 66 per cent. in the case of the rural worker's house, where changes like reconditioning are made by the owner, and two-thirds of the cost is available by subsidy from the Government. But in the present Bill no such proposal is made. I do not know why my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was so ready to jeer at the suggestion that it should be made, because I gather that the town council of Glasgow, which has not got a majority of people who usually support the views that I hold, passed a resolution the other day in favour of a reconditioning subsidy being payable to the proprietors of houses in Glasgow.
I put it to the House that the proposal of the Whitson Committee should be 595 adopted. I hope that the House will remember the reasons why that committee made this suggestion. The property owner certainly has not the' resources to recondition his property to this extent, and after what I have said hon. Members will realise how impossible it would be for him to find the resources to do so himself. The Whitson Committee suggested that it was important that we should not get rid of the tenements altogether, because people wanted to live near their work. They also said that reconditioning could be much more quickly done than abolishing houses and entirely rebuilding, and that it would be more economical for the State to proceed on those lines than by building new houses; it would cost less to recondition property which was substantial and in good condition than to build new property, and it would be much quicker.
One of the troubles of the overcrowding regulations is going to be the speed in which you can bring them into force. How quickly in Glasgow are you going to be able to supply the deficiency of 50,000 or 60,000 houses? How long will it take to get in a position in which you can eliminate overcrowding? The quickest way in which to deal with this matter is to leave the present property owner to recondition his own houses; it will also be far cheaper than subsidising entirely new houses. Why should not the owner get the subsidy? I should be very interested to hear what any of my friends on the Socialist benches have to say in reply to this matter. Let us look at it fairly. New houses have been built in recent times, with the added arrangements which were suggested by the Whitson Committee and are proposed in this Bill, but how has it been done? Have the municipalities done it themselves? The municipalities, with all their rates behind them, have only been able to put in these conveniences by a grant from Parliament, and why should it be said that people who, up to now, have provided the housing of the country and, who up to the time of the War, provided even a surplus of houses, should not receive subsidies? Why should it be said that we should come to the aid of the municipalities with a subsidy, but refuse such a subsidy to people who are eager and willing to recondition their 596 properties at a much less cost to the State?
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not fear interruptions, but I wish to get on with my speech. I wish to direct attention to some other points under this head which occur in the Bill. If I am not wrong in my interpretation of the Bill as it stands, the provisions make it possible for a local authority compulsorily to acquire houses in their district, and to proceed thereafter to recondition them and to obtain from the Government the provided subsidy. I should like to be corrected if I am wrong.
§ Sir R. HORNE
From my reading of certain clauses I should imagine that the local authority is entitled, certainly under Clause 19, to acquire compulsorily, and thereafter they are entitled to get under the clauses dealing with contributions from the Treasury what is necessary in the form of subsidy at the rate of £6 15s. per house. If I am wrong about that, I am very glad, but I think that a close scrutiny of the words of the clauses would certainly lead one to believe that such reconditioning subsidies were available to the local authorities. Under the provisions with regard to the redevelopment of areas, it seems to me to be unquestionable that in redeveloping an area where only 50 per cent. of the houses need be unfit, the local authorities would be perfectly entitled to keep the fit houses in being and to recondition them so as to make them suitable under the standard laid down, and, at the same time, to claim a subsidy of £6 15s. per house for the reconditioning which they have done. If I am wrong in that, I will depart from the point.
What I wish to bring prominently before the House and the Government is the fact that, unless a reconditioning 597 grant is made, the scheme of overcrowding will be for a long time abortive. If you have an enormous number of empty houses, you will make it impossible for any of the present property owners, with the meagre revenues they are getting from their properties, to continue, and you will be left in a state of things in which it will be very difficult to carry through the scheme. Look at what the Government propose to do in contrast to what the Whitson. Committee laid down. They propose that the property owner shall, at his own expense, recondition his property to the extent of putting in those desirable new equipments, and that thereafter he will be able to put his scheme before the local authority for their approval, and if they approve it they will give him a certificate which will hold him immune for five years.
Who was the genius who designed this particular project? And who could envisage anybody who would do anything of the kind? I cannot imagine a person with an authenticated gold mine, if he had only five years run of it, would put down all the plant to run it. With rent restrictions and rates which burden the property owner in Glasgow, what possible inducement could there be for him to go to the expense of making new additions to his property, which would not only cost him money but would lead to his losing money on the rents which he is enjoying and entirely eradicate the whole of the revenue which he is at present getting? Such a provision must have been written pour rice. Nobody in his senses would ever do anything of the kind suggested in that Clause. I notice that one of the medical officers of health, talking about this matter, said a proprietor would have to be given at least 20 years before he could properly be induced to make such a change, but even then the temptation to do it would be very small. Unless you give this subsidy for reconditioning to property owners, you inevitably land your scheme in hopeless confusion and a great many people in hopeless disaster.
I should like the House to think for a. moment who these property owners are. There is an imaginary idea that they are people of bloated wealth battening on the lives of the people. Who are the property owners, in fact, in Glasgow? I know some of them, and I have met a great many of them in recent days. A vast number of them are people who are 598 trustees of properties, who are beneficiaries and have no resources to spend on reconditioning the property to the extent that would be required. I would remind the House that in Scotland the customary form of investment which a man has left to his widow and children has been an investment in house property, either tenements themselves, or bonds and dispositions in security for such property. These investments are held by vast numbers of women, widows—
§ Sir R. HORNE
I have seen many of them, and I shall not be deterred by the jeering of the hon. Gentleman opposite from putting their position before the House. Hon. Members opposite are accustomed to be listened to with complete respect when they talk of the distresses of the people with whom they come in contact in their constituencies, and I venture to claim my right to talk on the distresses of the people in my constituency. There are many of these people who are living on pittances derived from investments in property of their fathers—all that remains of investments in property which has decreased in value through a variety of acts of legislation. These people are compelled to bear the whole load of the burden which has fallen upon the community in respect of rent. The State has had to bear the burden with regard to the mass of the population in the case of increases in the price of food and lack of employment, but this limited class of people have had to take upon their shoulders the whole burden connected with the supply of housing accommodation. On the average, the return on their-property has been no better than on a Government investment, but there has been none of the security which a Government investment gives. I will read: a letter which I have had since I arrived in the House. Some of the circumstances mentioned in the letter are unusual, but the distress which is mentioned is clamant throughout my constituency. The woman who writes to me says:I am wholly dependent on the income from two tenements since my husband was drowned five years ago while off duty. I receive no compensation, and I do not receive a widow's pension. I have struggled to educate my two children, so if conditions are made any worse than at present, some drastic steps will have to be taken to provide for people who are in such a position as I am.599 These are people for whom there is no unemployment benefit. Their distresses seldom come before the public. These people are largely inarticulate, because they are still proud. I submit to the House that we cannot do injustice in such circumstances. Parliament is responsible for encouraging investment in house property. It made heritable bonds a trustee security, and innumerable people have been induced to put their money, into them on the strength of the recommendation of Parliament. The Bill in its present form would completely destroy not only the ordinary values of property but also the value of heritable bonds. During recent times working-class tenement property in Glasgow has become unsaleable, one can get nothing for it; and so far as heritable bonds are concerned, many which were put up recently in the ordinary centre where they are sold have found no bidders, and, prior to that, the bonds were selling at only very low prices. Further, a vast amount of the savings of the people is in these heritable bonds, and in the feu duties connected with these properties. I do not know whether anything is to be realised on the feu duties, but I would quote a sentence from a report by the Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow, a leading body of lawyers.For the past 20 years holders of bonds secured over dwelling-house property have suffered severely through the Rent Restriction Acts which have prevented the calling up of bonds and imposed limits on the rates of interest which could be charged—limits which were, for many years, less than the current yield of Government stocks, although the investments had not the same degree of security. Bondholders have been forced without recourse to watch their security subjects diminish in value while in many cases the granters of the personal obligations have died, and in some cases the estates of personal obligants have actually been paid away to their heirs. The effect of the Bill in a very large proportion of cases will be to take away what remaining value such security subjects have, as site values will rarely be sufficient at the best to do more than compensate holders of feu duties or ground annuals which rank prior to the bonds. The effect of the Bill on holders of fue duties and ground annuals will also be extremely serious.I would recall the fact that a great corporation like the University of Glasgow has £350,000 invested, as I understand, in property, feu duties, ground duties, etc., and other corporations have got very much larger sums invested in the same 600 way, providing the revenue to pay pensions to people who are in distress. This kind of investment is widespread. I believe that by some of the provisions of this Bill we might easily create a state of affairs which would prove disastrous to the whole investing community, a whole body of people in Glasgow who are interested in the stability of ordinary investments. I hope the House will forgive me for dealing at such length with that particular topic, but I regard it so gravely and with so much anxiety that I cannot believe it is possible to lay too much stress on the effects of some of the Clauses of the Bill.
I will not deal with other points at any great length. I will only say that questions will arise as to whether the compensation which is being offered is anything like adequate to the purpose. I have pointed out that we have already made these properties almost worthless when tested by market value, and if this is all the tenants are to get, it is almost negligible. There are other Clauses dealing with the rights of local authorities. I recognise that the explanation of the Secretary of State has, to some extent, limited the points to which I might have adverted but, still, it is possible for a local authority to proclaim an area for redevelopment and, although there has to be an inquiry, to go ahead, with it without there being any appeal to the sheriff or anybody else. In Committee we shall have to look very closely at some of these Clauses. While I support the Bill wholeheartedly, and, indeed, with more enthusiasm than I have been able to give to any other legislation except that dealing with unemployment insurance, I would urge on the Secretary of State that many large questions remain to be dealt with when we come to the Clauses, and that I hope he will keep his mind open to deal with them in a way which will be favourable to the views I have presented.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Sir I. MACPHERSON
I shall detain the House for only a moment or two, because I know there are a great many of my colleagues representing Scotland who would like to say a, few words about this all important Bill. I always listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) when he is opposing a Bill relating to Scotland. He 601 is usually prolific in his grounds of opposition, but to-day he appeared to have the greatest difficulty in finding genuine opposition to this Bill. I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State on introducing the Bill. It is a tremendous step in advance; it shows great courage and great foresight. At the same time I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) that when we are dealing with a subject of this magnitude we ought to do so in a generous and a just and fair spirit. The Opposition Amendment puts forward three main objections. First, there is the objection that duties are being transferred to unrepresentative bodies. That point has been dealt with. It is not compulsory upon any public body to transfer its housing duties to any unrepresentative body, the Bill is quite permissive, and housing authorities may continue with the extremely good work they are now doing, as to which no criticism can be levelled against them. The second objection concerns compensation. I quite agree with the principle that the public right is the main consideration, but it is monstrous to suggest that where an innocent person owns property, whatever the size of that property, which has not been a menace to the public health or welfare, no compensation should be paid when that property is compulsorily taken away. Where property is taken compulsorily in the interests of the public the owner of that property should, unless there is some very strong ground to the contrary, be entitled to fair and reasonable compensation.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) rather congratulated himself on finding his successor in office, the present Secretary of State, having to reverse his policy of the Act of 1933. I do not mind how often he reverses his policy if the result of the reversal is such a fine Bill as this. If the Secretary of State found that the Act of 1933 was not workable, he was entitled to introduce a Bill of this kind, and the House will be glad that he has done so. I shall not deal with the housing problem in large cities, because there are many exponents of housing policy connected with urban districts in this House, but I would like to refer to Clause 27, which deals with the differential subsidy. The general State 602 subsidy is very fair and adequate, and I am glad that there is a differentiation to deal not only with important industrial centres but remote parts of the country such as are found in the Highlands and Islands. Owing to the low rateable value, the difficulty of transport and the difficulty of getting materials and labour, questions arise there which are quite different from those in the ordinary self-supporting areas of the South. In the Highlands the problem is not so much overcrowding—which for the first time is to become a penal offence under the law of this country—but the habitability of the dwellings there. I should prefer to see an extension of the Rural Housing Act, 1923. That Act gives the power to create new houses, unlike the Act of 1926 which deals entirely with the reconditioning of rural houses. In the Island of Lewis, under the Act of 1923, no fewer than 300 houses were built, to the great advantage of that remote community.
Then there is the question of housing the farmworker. The housing of the agricultural labourer in England and the farm servant in Scotland has always received sympathetic interest in this House, and I am glad to hear that no fewer than 17,000 houses have been provided within the last two or three years, and that the previous Acts and the present Bill will allow that process to go on until the Autumn of 1938. The other rural housing question in Scotland concerns smallholding properties. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland drew attention to the fact that the Department of Agriculture in Scotland did a lot of good work for rural housing, and I agree with his observation that it is well worth considering whether there should not be an extension of the powers held by the Department of Agriculture. They know the housing conditions better than any other body, and I feel that if they took a sort of housing commission responsibility upon themselves for dealing with the whole rural population in the North they would be able to cope with any difficulties that could arise. I shall not say more, except that I welcome this Bill whole-heartedly, because I feel sure that not only will it be of great benefit in the cities but of great benefit also in the rural parts. It is a Bill of scope and magnitude. I think the financial provisions are the fairest I have seen included in any Bill 603 presented to this House. I, therefore, congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland, and while reserving to myself the right to move an Amendment or two in Committee upstairs, I say now, without hesitation, that I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I listened to the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and in the main I thought it both lucid and reasonable. As one followed the right hon. Gentleman from point to point he did carry Members with him in a complete understanding of the policy that is being pursued by the Government in this Bill, and I think that the House has little complaint to make in connection with his explanation of the details of the Bill. I regret, however, that the right hon. Gentleman did not deal more completely with the question of reconditioning, to which he made only a very brief allusion, and with the question of compensation. In connection with these two matters there was not that lucid explanation of the proposals in the Bill which one would naturally expect. In the Standing Committee we shall have an opportunity of hammering, out the details of the Bill, but I do say that we ought to know more now of the intentions of the Government with regard to compensation and the reconditioning of houses. I have listened also with attention to the right. hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). I think I do him no injustice in saying that while his division in Glasgow is overwhelmingly middle-class, and that a. large section of his constituents are bond-holding and property-owning people, there are also a. great many people in that area who belong to the artisan and poverty-striken mass of workers. In my experience of four years and nine months here I have never heard the right hon. Gentleman come to this House and put forward any plea on behalf of that section of the people, whom he is bound to represent as a public representative in this House. His speech to-night was a plea, for redress and consideration for the' owners of all the bug-ridden, rat-infested property in the City of Glasgow. He spoke for slum-property owners. I am not devoid of. sentiment—I think that the individual who is without sentiment loses much in life—and if I had taken 604 the right hon. Gentleman's speech seriously, I think he would have moved me to tears about the sufferings of these people who own property in the City of Glasgow. I think that if his speech were published throughout Scotland at the next general election it would do more to damn the National Government than anything I have heard in this House.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) associates with those who talk nonsense, and I have no doubt he knows as much about it as anybody in the House. He is entitled to his opinion. At the same time, I am entitled to my opinion, and I will maintain it in this House without fear or favour. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman is interested in slum property-owners and bond-holders and not in the great mass of the population of Glasgow and Scotland who are being dealt with under this Bill. He gave us an exposition of the different assessments for rating in Scotland com. pared with England. Any person familiar with the rating system in Scotland may think that it has its faults. But when the right hon. Gentleman comes to tell us that owners of property should be freed from rating because their property is empty, I would ask him if that is also to apply to every unemployed man, and if he is to get free from his rates in Glasgow? Just as a factory or a house is not earning when it is empty, so the unemployed man is not earning, and he should be equally entitled to de-rating.
I would say this in connection with the right hon. Gentleman's statement concerning bonds. I have had a little experience regarding property and property-owners and the fixing of bonds in Glasgow. For 27 years before I came here I was in the building 'line—from the age of 13. For 19 years I was a working master-plumber, and I was continually in association with the property owners and the house factors of Glasgow. When we are dealing with the question of compensation in this Bill we have to ask ourselves: What is the system of fixing bonds that has gone on in a large number of areas in Glasgow Properties were run up by speculative builders, and were built perhaps at a cost of £1,100. They had a false valuation placed upon them, sometimes by a man in the company. There 605 may have been a lawyer or a chartered accountant in the company dealing not only with the valuation of the property but with the fixing of the bond. A false valuation of, say, £1,500 would be placed on the property and a £1,000 bond drawn on that property. Always, the whole of the cost of the initial building of the property was placed in bond. Not only does the owner put a £1,000 bond on the property, but he expects to pay interest on the bond, to pay feu duty, to pay ground annual and at the same time to draw a further income from the property. He is the owner of, the property in name, although he has put no money into the property at all.
Let us examine the other point of the speech. When the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) speak of fair compensation for property owners, what do they mean by that? I know properties in Glasgow that have been up for 100 to 120 years; properties that are bug-ridden and rat-infested and diseased from stem to stern. Are hon. Members in this House seriously suggesting that when this diseased property is pulled down, because it is endangering health, the property owner should be compensated in any shape or form? I feel great difficulty in restraining my speech when I am dealing with people of that kind. For years the owners have drawn money from the tenants of these properties and have, in many cases, refused to do any sort of repairs to the property. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of 471 per cent. I could take him to properties in the East End of Glasgow, in the Calton area, where owners have starved their properties of paint although they were given that increase in order to carry out repairs to their property, You get them with no demarcation, with wash-houses broken down, and so on. These are whole tenements with not a single pane of glass in three or four stair-heads, and where the windows often have not been washed for years in many cases. In these houses no painting or repairs of any sort have been done. In a large number of cases it has been necessary to bring in the sanitary authority and get a certificate for the house to force the owners to do the ordinary repairs required by common decency. These are the things we have to point out in this House when 606 "reasonable compensation" is talked of. It means compensating people of that kind in Glasgow. When the right hon. Gentleman talks of property owners, let him have a thought sometimes for the poor people who are compelled to live in these disease-ridden houses and give consideration to their feelings, their health and their life in connection with the exploitation that has gone on in these areas.
The Secretary of State, when dealing with housing generally, pointed out that we had built, I think, 183,000 houses since the. war. There was a Commission in Glasgow which told us that we equired in Glasgow alone 136,000 houses We required in 1917, 46,709 houses and 5,000 houses annually for a period of 18 years, which means that 136,709 houses would have been required up to this. year in Glasgow alone. Let us also remember this point, to which I have often referred. The right hon. Gentleman may say that in Glasgow there are many thousands of houses which are unfit for human habitation, but official figures do not record anything like the total number of houses unfit for human habitation. I am doing no injustice to the sanitary inspector when I say this. When I say to an inspector: "Why do you not put a closing order on that house?" he will say: "We cannot close it because we are bound to rehouse the people, and we have no alternative accommodation for them." Therefore, you have the housing committee and the health department working continually one with the other and deciding that they will not condemn houses because new houses are not ready in which to rehouse the people.
That is one contradiction that I always see. I do not say that I have any practical suggestion for getting over that difficulty. But I do say that for a local medical officer to have power to work with his corporation and to have influence brought to bear on him not to condemn houses as unfit, because the authority is not able to re-house the people affected, is a serious matter. I say without fear of contradiction that the great mass of the tenement property in Glasgow to-day is totally unsuited for human habitation and is a danger to public !health. Instead of talking in terms of 10,000 or 12,000 houses being unfit for human habitation in Glasgow, 607 if we went round the city making a thorough and businesslike examination of these properties, we should have to add tens of thousands of houses to the total estimated by the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman says that a great deal of money is being paid by the State to Scotland—£1,800,000 a year. I was amazed when the Secretary of State claimed great credit for that. Why, it is not a fourth of the cost of a modern battleship. We spend £10,000,000 on a battleship, ultimately to destroy human life, and yet we pat ourselves on the back when we spend £1,800,000 to preserve the health and well-being of innocent people in Scotland.
I do not want to be obstructive on this or any other housing Bill because I recognise how serious this matter is to the mass of the people in Scotland, and, while I am fighting for a greater measure of progress, I am prepared, if the Government can make a step forward, to accept that, if that is the most that they are prepared to do. I remember the words of Carlyle:In thrifty Scotland, in Glasgow or Edinburgh, in other dark lanes hidden from all but the eye of God, there are scenes of woe, destitution and desolation such as one may hope the sun never saw before in the most barbarous regions where men dwelt.That is a true description of life in areas like Glasgow. I will not attempt to be obstructive. I hope that in the Committee stage of the Bill we shall get that spirit of accommodation which the Under-Secretary of State has shown from time to time. I invite the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead to come to the Committee and give us assistance in redressing some of these wrongs. On previous Bills he has never paid attention or come near the Committees to give us the benefit of his advice.
We have heard a great flourish of trumpets in conection with the deeds to be accomplished under the Bill, but I have lived long enough on this planet to know that Bills are introduced from time to time with great gusto and cheers, and that that is the end of that part of history. There was the Bill of 1933. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) in the Committee upstairs, and I must pay my compliment to him, 608 because, whether he is critical or not, there is no Member of this House who pays greater attention on committees to the affairs of Scotland than he. We were told of the great benefit that was to result from the Act of 1933; I do not think I am doing the right hon. Gentleman any injustice in connection with that Measure. Then there were the unemployment regulations. They were to be another great chapter in human history. Many such things have been hailed as great chapters; therefore, I am very sceptical that the Government intend to deal seriously with the question of the slum landlord and with the owners of property that is to be reconditioned. I shall wait, and I will admit my error if I am wrong. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead can go home to-night and sleep safely in his bed, in the knowledge that the Members of the Government have a property sense and will defend propertied interests. In spite of what I am saying, I hope that the Bill is going to accomplish what we are told it will accomplish, and that we shall have a great measure of progress in housing.
We have put down an Amendment to the Bill in connection with low-grade houses. We say that there has been a tendency to provide the jerry type of house in Glasgow. I have had experience of them as a tenant and they are smaller in their accommodation. Their fittings are of the most shoddy character. The grinding and cutting down of the cost of house building has given us the most shoddy article on the market, and we feel that housing officials and the Government take the view that anything is good enough for that section of the common people who are on the bottom rung of the human ladder. The provisions of the Bill lead us to believe that the Government and the ruling classes are looking to a long period of poverty and unemployment for the great mass of the people who are at that end. The Government ought to have made proper provision for the incomes of those people before putting them into houses where it is questionable that they will be able to survive the economic results of the policy of the Government. It is no use laying down hard and fast rules. I welcome two to a room as a step in the direction of rehousing the people on humane and civilised lines, but if the rents are such that the great mass of the people cannot pay them that is 609 going to be disastrous to the health of the women and children rather than a steady advance. An additional room means, in lighting, fires, linoleum and beds, extra expense which these people cannot provide, and unless the Government are prepared to provide an income they have no right to talk about a civilised advance in connection with the health of the people.
Allusion is made in every speech about housing to the housing commissions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty says that that provision is optional. I agree that it is. For the last two years I have been hammering away at this matter, pointing out, in connection with the Government scheme, that if we apply reason and human intelligence we can see the drift to boards in every direction. Just as unemployment has been taken out of politics, so I can see the desire to take housing out of politics and away from the control of the local areas.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
The house builder says "Hear, hear." I see all that taking place. Hon. Members say that it is optional, and they think that the case is met. Take the history of the means test as applied to housing. The Minister, or whoever occupied his position previously, called together a consultative committee, and they were dissatisfied with the people who were living in subsidised houses. It has often been cited in election leaflets that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) live in subsidised houses, and have about £400 as their incomes. Nothing has been said about our having to live both in London and in Glasgow and to maintain two homes, and that the resulting income is very much less than that of the people who are criticising. The consultátive committee was got together and—"Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly"—invited the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) and his good lady, who is a member of the Glasgow Corporation, to discuss the question of the people who were in the houses, and they recommended a means test for housing. It was not finished there and neither are the Government finished with it now. The 610 Bill brings it a step nearer. The committee said, "We must have a form of means test," and they induced many areas to compel tenants to supply information about their incomes. Other corporations refused to do that.
The Government and the Scottish Office have been dissatisfied with that position, and they have gone a stage further. When certain areas had to dive down in the world because of unemployment and economic conditions and said, "We want a reduction in rents." the Scottish Office said, "We are prepared to consider a reduction in rents on condition that you get each applicant for a reduction to supply us with a note of the income of the home." That shows that there is a gradual step forward, and the Bill, which confines the subsidy entirely to people with certain incomes, indicates that a means test is being put in complete in another form. For that reason I am sceptical about the idea of boards. The plan is to get certain areas to set up boards and, after a large number of areas in Scotland have instituted boards, to say, "It is hardly fair that a large number of areas should have them and that a minority should have none, and therefore we are going to recommend that the minority should have compulsion applied to them in the interests of the majority," like the suggestion that we have heard during the India Debates.
Then we shall get the nominated boards free from party politics and from local pressure and local opinion, and it will be possible to fix one standard of rent for the whole country. There will no longer be low rents in a progressive area and high rents in a reactionary area; there will be nothing but high rents, just as there will be nothing but low relief under the Unemployment Assistance Board. Step by step the Government are gradually building up boards outside the influence of the people. The Bill is one more attempt, and our efforts will be strongly directed to the elimination of the relevant Clause from the Bill, because we regard it as a danger to democracy and to municipal undertakings. I content myself to-night with that; I could say a great deal more, but I reserve what I have further to say until the Committee stage, which I shall certainly attend, in an attempt to make the Bill a better Bill.
611 A point which I forgot to mention is that we believe that housing should be supplied to the people on a basis of interest free money. When you build a battleship for £10,000,000, you do it not by a loan but by taxation. Housing ought to be based upon taxation. An amount, say £100,000,000 or £120,000,000 a year, should be devoted to rehousing the entire people of this island, the houses should be let to the people, and repayments should only be sufficient to cover the building of future houses and should be spread over a number of years. It should cover whatever duties are payable and the cost of the ground and the annual cost of repairs. Housing is essential to the people, who should not be compelled to go through a period of continual terror of being evicted, from their houses by reason of inability to pay. The question of housing is an economic one. Very few hon. Members of this House have a housing problem because they have the incomes to pay for or to build their houses. This question only affects those who have insufficient economic power and resources to enable them to pay for their houses. We ought, therefore, to raise the money by taxation, and it should be loaned interest free to the local authorities so as to relieve the localities from the pile of debts and burdens which are at present imposed upon them. Housing is a, State duty and not a local duty. When the Bill goes further in the Committee stage we will use every power which we possess to improve it, to lick it into shape and to make it a Bill worthy of the people of our native land.
§ 7.29 p.m.
I congratulate the Minister on his clear explanation of the Bill this afternoon, and I offer him my thanks for his reassurance on Clause 64. His speech will go a long way to allay the just fears and apprehensions which have possessed the mind of many people in Scotland since the Bill was introduced. The fundamental principle of the Bill is an attack upon overcrowding; with that, no one could disagree. All of us are aware and ashamed of the miserable conditions under which many of our people are living and have lived for far too long, and all of us deplore the repercussions of those conditions on 612 the social life, wellbeing, health and morals of our people. But there are many points in this Bill on which I do not altogether agree. I shall vote for the Second Reading, because I venture to suggest that it is a good Bill as it has set out to attain its object, but at the same time I feel that there are a few points on which I do not agree. I am aware that some of my objections may be committee points, but I should like to call the attention of the House to one or two of them. The right hon. Gentleman said that he knew there was apprehension in the minds of the people, and I think he also said that there had been representations from different associations. All Members of the House have received those representations. It is no secret to say that the property owners and the factors have written and sent memorandums to all Members of the House, but I have had more representations than that. My mail-bag has been increased very considerably by the representations I have had from working men and women who want to know their position in this matter.
In spite of those representations, however, I do not see this question through coloured spectacles. I approach the subject with an open and free mind, because I am not a property owner further than owning my own home, I have no financial interest in property, nor am I a bondholder. I have no interest in institutions, hospitals, universities or charitable institutions, nor, I might even go so far as to say, co-operative societies or friendly societies. I have no interest in any of these organisations, but I understand that many of them have very substantial financial interests in property. I have, however, a long experience of work on a local authority, and have given a very great deal of attention and consideration to the matter of housing. I hope that on this great question I may be able, with that experience, to bring to bear a certain amount of common sense tempered with what I may call fair play to all sections of the community.
The right hon. Gentleman gave us a very grim picture of the bad housing conditions in Scotland, and I should be the very last one to minimise it. But I think it is well to say, and I think the 613 right hon. Gentleman did say, that we must remember also that we have built a great many new houses in Scotland. There are new housing schemes in and around Glasgow which have sprung up in recent years, and which have quite transformed the life of the city and its surroundings. I believe that under one housing scheme alone there are as many people living in new houses as the total population of Inverness. But even with all that the difficulty is not solved. It seems to me that the difficulty of the housing question has never been fully appreciated. We have had Act after Act, until one's head buzzes with trying to look up the references that are given in this Bill; but even now the question is not solved, and it never will be solved until we can supply houses at rents within the capacity of the working man to pay. No matter how many houses may be built, no matter how much we may decrowd, a solution will never be reached until we have houses at rents within the working man's capacity to pay. The Bill gives no indication of what the rents are to be. I was a little disappointed to hear the right hon. Gentleman say to-day that he would not indicate a rent figure. I would venture to suggest to him that it would be a very great help to local authorities in framing their schemes for improvement and for dealing with overcrowding if a maximum rent figure could be stated.
I come now to the standard of accommodation. The Bill sets up a new standard, which will mean the provision of a very large number of new houses; but, if that standard is to be strictly insisted upon for existing buildings, we shall not only be faced with a large number of new houses, but we shall have what is perhaps worse, a greater number of empty houses, with disastrous results not only to the owners but to the bondholders and the small shopkeepers. Having regard to the structure of houses in Scotland—the size of rooms, air space, ventilation, windows, the height of ceilings—I would suggest that this new standard is too great a jump in the other, direction. If my memory serves me rightly, in 1931 the standard of accommodation was three per room, and that standard was also approved in the report of the Whitson Committee. I am at a loss to know why within four years that standard should have been altered to two per room, or even one. Surely, if the 614 measures to be taken in Scotland are to be practical, the steps to abate overcrowding must be more gradual. In this connection I want to put the woman's point of view. I can never be accused of advocating the rights of women, either in this House or outside, but as regards this standard of accommodation I am constrained to put forward the point of view of the working-man's wife. Think of her position. She may find herself having to move into a house of probably five rooms and a kitchen. With a large young family, she has had difficulty in finding the rent of the house she vacated, and now she has the mental anxiety of finding a higher rent for new house. In addition to that, she has the physical strain of trying to keep a larger house clean, as well as attending to her family. It is not physically possible; it cannot be done. Either the family or the house must suffer, and, from a health point of view, I would suggest that a small house kept scrupulously clean is to be desired rather than the conditions which may arise if there are no facilities for cleaning a larger house.
This standard of fitness also lays down that a child under one year does not count. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) mentioned this matter, but, being a woman, perhaps I can make it a little plainer than he did. When that child reaches the age of 12 months, it is no longer to sleep in the same room as its parents. I wonder who framed this Bill. At any rate, whoever framed it or had anything to do with it knew not the first thing about bringing up a family. If there is one question above another on which the advice of a woman is needed, it is the question of housing. I regard it as nothing short of fantastic nonsense to say that the wife of a working man must put her infant of 12 months into a room to sleep by itself, or into a room with other young children who themselves might need attention during the night. We hear sometimes the word "elasticity" used in this House, and I hope in this connection it is going to be stressed to the uttermost.
There is also the question of annual holidays. Picture hundreds of people in. the West of Scotland, in Glasgow particularly, who desire to take a holiday at Glasgow Fair. Many of them join holi 615 day clubs. Hon. Members opposite may think that I know nothing about holiday clubs, but I know that my people subscribe to holiday clubs. They save small sums all through the year in order to have their annual holiday, probably at Rothesay. But, think what is to happen before they get there. They will have to apply to the local authority for a permit, and one can visualise the local authorities at coastal places being inundated with applications. The holiday period will be over before they can be dealt with. I am not putting up a case for the coast landlady; indeed, I would go so far as to say that in the past she has made her living out of overcrowding.
As to the position of the landlord the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) is distressed because powers are to be taken out of the hands of the local authorities. I cannot subscribe to that. I think that the local authorities have in many cases had too great powers in the past, and under this Bill they are going to have still more. I should like to see the powers of the local authorities tightened up, particularly in regard to two matters—one, the allocation of houses, and the other the prosecution of the landlord. Local authorities in Scotland own matey houses themselves, and under this Bill they will own more. They are, indeed, competitors with the private owner, and let us remember that the local authorities are partly subsidised by the rates at the expense of the private owner. It seems to me to be unfair that the local authorities should have the power of prosecuting the private owner. Let us suppose that the houses belonging to a local authority have become overcrowded. Who is going to prosecute the local authority? I suggest that this matter should be left in the hands of the procurator fiscal.
With regard to re-development areas, that is certainly a very desirable thing, and one that many of us would wish to see carried out, but here again, while provision is made for the sending of a notice of plans to owners and occupiers, there is no provision for the sending of such a notice to owners of feu duties, ground landlords, or the holders of bonds, who themselves may be vitally affected. The Bill certainly contains a provision that objections may be lodged, but, even allowing for that, I would 616 suggest that a notice of plans should be served upon all interested parties, and that, if objections are lodged, a different machinery should be used for dealing with those objections. Here again, however, I am afraid I am trespassing on a Committee point.
I shall not detain the House longer by going into any more of these points, although, as a member of the Whitson Committee, I should have liked to have dealt with the questions of reconditioning and compensation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead has, however, gone exhaustively into them, and I shall not occupy the time of the House by dealing with them further. They are both great questions, and will require the utmost consideration in Committee. I end as I began, by saying that I believe that this is a Bill which has been framed with the intention, and justly framed with the intention, of helping to deal with this great evil, but I hope that, after it has been before the Scottish Grand Committee, it will come back to this House a better and a more reasonable Bill, and the effect of its operation will redound to the credit of the National Government for what it has done, in taking this great step forward in social legislation, not only for the prosperity of the country but the future of our race.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I regret very much that the hon. Lady has expressed the woman's point of view in the terms that she has used. I am certainly prepared to admit that she is entitled to speak for women, but, as one who goes into hundreds of houses in St. Rollox, I am afraid that the type of woman from whom she has collected her woman's point of view is not to be found in great numbers in that division. No woman who has ever been in a small house will agree that by going into a little larger house the woman's labour is increased. People who have been forced to live in cramped, confined conditions, with no place to put their clothes, with their food on the table all day long because there is nowhere else to put it, do not complain that an extra room or two rooms gives them more work. They have found ease and contentment and less anxiety than attended them under the conditions that they were previously forced to endure. I was also 617 very disappointed to hear her despairing that in four years we should depart from the three to one room concept of overcrowding to a two to one room. I think the four years too long for us to make the advance instead of too short.
I was not at all surprised when listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) state his case. I anticipate that before we go to a Division many mere will express similar points of view, because it never surprises me to hear vested interests fighting for their rights in this House. This is where they come to fight for their vested rights, and it is no use denying house owners and agents the same rights as are claimed by other sections of the community in the protection of their particular interests. I am not unmindful of their difficulties, but they must realise that other people, even moneyed people, have also anxieties and difficulties to face, and many in other forms of activity have lost hundreds and thousands of pounds. Some of the big industries, of which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is not a member, but which he knows have been indulging in the practice of reducing the value of the pounds given to them by small shareholders who have had their pound turned into shillings, and no redress has been given to them. Those who have put their money into buildings and have not sunk enough to meet the risks entailed in the holding of that type of property cannot complain of their own negligence in that matter.
I have never adopted the policy of providing houses for which the working-class can pay, because in my opinion you have not for many years given wages to the working-class which enable them to pay the rent, and you will have to face the necessity of helping from State funds to provide the houses which the system under which we live has failed to provide. I am not in any circumstances going to agree that the houses built by either State or municipal activity should be houses built down to low wages. If we cannot get the wages up, the State will have to come in and protect those who will have to live in these houses.
When the English Bill was before the House my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) painted a humorous picture, which entertained the House, of the jerry building and the bad workmanship that went into the con 618 struction of many houses. He pleaded that, in order to ensure that good materials and good workmanship were employed, steps should be taken to see that the wages paid were fair and that no builders were allowed to build for any municipality unless those fair conditions applied. The Secretary of State is a great believer in the possibility of the leopard changing his spots. He was very insistent on the idea that, with just a word or two from him, the rings that have functioned would abandon their attitude and would all come together in a nice little Sunday school circle and agree not to take more than a very small return for their services. The right hon. Gentleman must have missed a little paragraph that appeared in the papers recently, especially in the Scottish papers, to the effect that the cement people have been very much perturbed because someone of an independent attitude had not been conforming to their price. But by a little persuasion—the type of persuasion was not specified—he was induced to conform and in the last few months the price of cement has jumped 4s. to 5s. a ton. Having seen the advantage of coming together, perhaps the 4s. or 5s. will very shortly be raised to 10s. or 12s.
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) referred to the method of applying the subsidy and touched upon the very good results that had accrued under the unit grant laid down in the 1930 Act. I should like to give an additional illustration of the incidence of this matter in areas where the rates are heavy. I have been informed by one who was previously in the House and is competent to deal with housing matters that the same subsidy will be given to Hamilton, with a rate of 14s. 10d. as to Annan, with a rate of 7s. 3d., to Glasgow, with a. rate of 13s. 10d., to Aberdeen, with a rate of 8s. 2d., and to Edinburgh, with a rate of 8s. I think some consideration might have been given to the possibility of so framing the Bill that heavily burdened areas might receive some greater consideration than others. I find that the Under-Secretary at one time was very apprehensive of the interests of the necessitous areas being lost sight of. At that time he was criticising the Bill of 1930 and was sitting on this side of the House. He said:The proper course the Resolution should have taken would be to give the more 619 necessitous areas sums from the Treasury which would to some extent have met the problem of slum clearance.A little further on he was more emphatic.When one compares the need with this paltry provision one sees that the arrangements under this resolution offer no real inducement to hard pressed local authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1930; col. 2489, Vol. 237.]I have had worked out for me the position that, with the subsidy as now proposed, £6 15s. from the State and £3 5s, from the local authority, a, man, woman and child, or five units, under the 1930 Act, would receive no less than £12 10s. This shows, when worked out in capitalised figures, a subsidy of £128 per house lower than that which could have been provided under the 1930 Act. Coming to the clauses of the Bill, I notice that the first clause imposes the duty to ascertain the number of overcrowded houses. If I state one or two points pertinent to Glasgow, it might be helpful. I hope that the time allowed for this matter will be ample. If I only mention the hon. Gentleman's own constituency, it will be sufficient to show the need. The houses that will come under review under the definition given will be no less than 99.2 per cent. of the whole town of Greenock that he represents. Glasgow, of course, will not be so high. Nevertheless, the problem there is a big one and will take some time. With regard to the definition of overcrowding, I notice that no guidance has been given as to the height of ceilings. The floor area should not be the only factor as far as space is concerned. I need only mention attics to show that the floor computation is entirely unsuitable to give a proper definition of what is required. I notice also that houses are referred to and not rooms. It will still be possible, as in. the past, for the kitchen or living room to be looked upon as a place in which to sleep. I should like to see a modification of this so as to prevent people from sleeping in the room where the whole family congregates throughout the day. I see that under the schedule there is to be no sleeping room under 50 square feet. In Glasgow the very minimum for a sleeping room is 81 square feet. I suggest that a change might be made there. Overcrowding is 620 to be an offence after the appointed day. The Bill makes it clear that it is possible to have several appointed days. I should like to know if it will be possible to have several appointed days in one city because, as hon. Members can see for themselves, the problem facing such a city as Glasgow is a patent one and requires some consideration. I notice that a house declared as being overcrowded will be brought under control. Does the Bill prevent overcrowding of a new house and it becoming vacant?
The question of the accommodation of a person not a member of the family will give considerable trouble. Take the instance of a brother of the wife or husband. Will that relationship deem him to be a member of the family? Other illustrations will appear to the hon. Member himself. I do not think that the licence for temporary overcrowding should be unconditional. The period of one year is too long and requires considerable modification. I am not prepared to say what would be a suitable time, but the time is too long. I heard the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mrs. Shaw) refer to windows, but I have not seen any reference in the Bill to windows or ventilation. You may have as big dwellings as you like, but unless the windows are properly spaced and ventilation is attended to your space will be rendered futile.
I wanted to say rather more than I am going to say with regard to re-development areas. I wonder if the word "buildings" can be better defined than it is at the present time? I presume there will be a legal definition somewhere but perhaps that will not be ample for the purposes of considering the matter from its proper angle in the Committee. What is a "substantial extent"? In Clause 13, it appears that we might allow most of the area to be let as an open space, but "substantial extent" is something which may keep any municipality from going into the matter, and I should like to have some attention paid to the point.
I am definitely opposed to re-conditioning. I do not think that my opposition will be sufficient to prevent it from taking place, but I hope that this line of activity will be kept at its absolute minimum, if we indulge in it at all. It is a great reflection on property owners in general that houses of the age to which the hon. 621 Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) referred should even be considered as something that might be re-conditioned. I would fight very strongly against anything being done that would keep in being any longer many of the buildings which I am positive some will accept as suitable for re-conditioning. If it be the case that some people to whom the right hon. Member for Hillhead referred have been living on the rents of one or two houses and that they are going to be placed in difficulties and become destitute, I do not wish to be harsh, and I hope that I shall not be looked upon as harsh; but if there are any persons who think that they should be allowed to prevent their houses from being put into a condition that will permit of the full exercise of human self-esteem and respect, I am not prepared to believe that they are as proud as they were said to be in the statement that has been made. There can be no pride on the part of any persons living on the proceeds of one or two houses. If they are capable of allowing people to continue under those conditions because of their own personal interests, I do not call it pride.
§ Mr. LEONARD
The conditions referred to were those in respect of a lady who lived on the rents from two houses she occupied.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
According to the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) these houses were in a perfectly compact and substantial condition.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I am talking about what the right hon. Member for Hillhead said, and therefore there is no question raised as to whether these houses were suitable for habitation or not.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I do not think that we know enough about the details. The impression was that if the owner of those 622 two houses was forced to do something to make them habitable, it would put her in financial difficulties, and she was a very proud person, and my assertion is that a person who refuses to put such houses into condition cannot have much pride.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I have already dealt with that point with regard to people without money in other forms of activity. There has been criticism by the hon. Member for Shettleston, and I hope that there will be a great deal more before we finish with the Bill, regarding the proposals to allow outside organisations or associations to have anything to do with the housing of the people of this country. I want to know, first of all, where public ownership has been proved not to be up to private ownership standard. If you cover the whole ambit of housing as attended to by the municipal authorities of the country, you cannot find any instances where they have not been capable of attending to the requirements in a better manner than do private interests at the present time. While it has been stressed that they are permissive powers and the local authority might accept them if they so desire, my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) pointed out that you may have reactionary authorities. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) told us that, if they took the step and it proved a failure, or if they acted in some way against the interests of the locality, they could, at the next election, take it all back from them. But elections are not as simple as that. Few, if any, elections turn on one pivotal point, and it is possible that if it were proposed to take back power that was given, some other herring might be put on the plate to allow the electorate to scramble for it, and the question of control by other associations would be entirely lost sight of.
I am rather inclined to think, as has already been stated, that the Government are quite consciously in this, as in other things, endeavouring to take back from democracy what democracy has fought for and has been winning. I am strongly of the opinion that it is because of the advancing recognition of the power of the people that things intimate to 623 themselves are to be kept within their own purview and control, and that it is because of that that the Minister of Health, when introducing the English Bill, stated the policy of the Government. He said that the policy of the Government was to keep housing on an even financial keel. That is a very desirable object to have in view, but we have to see that the plimsol line is kept above water, and it is as important to watch the plimsol line as it is to watch the even keel. There is no more effective body to keep the plimsol line well above water than the elected representatives of the local authorities.
With regard to the review of the Exchequer contributions, power is given to determine or review the subsidy in October, 1937. That is a rather short period for experiment. It should be much longer than a two years' period of activity. The local authorities of Scotland are entitled to a longer period of guarantee. Hon. Members should keep in memory the difficulties into which we got by the withdrawal of the 1924 subsidy. It placed the City of Glasgow at a great disadvantage, and I presume many other parts of the country, and because of that fact I hope that the point will be taken into consideration. As to the question of the disposal of the balances of the housing fund, I hope that some effort will be made to alter the question of the disposal of the balances in the housing fund. I have here a statement from the Chamberlain of Glasgow, which says:In the event of a surplus accruing at the end of any quinquennial period, it should be noted that the Government's share of any prospective reduction in interest charges will, under the Bill, be greater than under existing conditions, whereas in respect of any increased interest rate the local authority will have to bear the extra burden.My last point deals with the by-laws and I am surprised that the representatives of property in general have got up such a hullabaloo about them. Many of them should have been put into operation long ago. There were powers in the 1925 Act. I do not adopt the attitude of charging anyone with anything unjust, but I am not above suggesting that perhaps the interest represented in the corporations of Scotland, representatives of owners of 624 property and factors, were to a great extent responsible for some of the bylaws within their power not being applied. The question of passenger lifts seem to point to the possibility in the future of having the large tenement type of building introduced into Scotland, taller even than the buildings at the present time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I am definitely against that, no matter who says, "hear, hear!" I pay the medical officer of Glasgow, along with other citizens, £2,000 a year more or less, and he tells us that one of the great agencies of health is sunlight. I want sunlight in every street. I do not want shadows, but sunlight in every street, and I think the difficulties of congestion are so apparent that it is not necessary to amplify them. Therefore, I am not inclined to look with any kindness upon the idea of the passenger lift. For these reasons, and having in addition given indications of the attitude my colleagues will adopt in the future, I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
§ 8.15 p.m..
§ Mr. BURNETT
I rise to speak as one who feels that this Bill to deal with overcrowding is both due and overdue. What we have wanted for some time has been houses and more houses. I know that local conditions are different in one place from what they are in another and that there are some places where the big problem is the slum problem, but at the same time there are places where overcrowding is the bigger problem. The Whitson Committee in their report stressed the fact that overcrowding was as big a problem as the clearance of slum conditions. They also stated that it was a threat not only to the people from the point of view of public health and morality but also to the houses, because it tended to convert them into slum, conditions.
I have watched with some regret the fact that so many houses have been pulled down and others erected, and I do on that, matter want to issue a caution. I have felt that we were not going ahead in the providing of more houses which were so essential. In the constituency which I represent we have not the large tenement mansions, some of them. 300 years old, where every room is farmed out to a separate family. We have not that 625 slum problem to the same extent as in other centres, though we have insanitary houses and houses that are damp. We have not any of those unlet houses to which the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) alluded, but we have a greater degree of overcrowding than exists in the other larger cities of Scotland. Last month the Aberdeen Town Council made an inquiry with a view to finding out whether there were many families requiring four-roomed houses. For that purpose the list of applications for council houses was gone over in the factor's office. The inquiry was to find out how many families consisting of nine or more persons were on the factor's list.
I have here a list of the families. There are 58 families of nine or more persons on the factor's list, and 56 of these were cases of overcrowding. In nearly all those cases the families were living in two rooms. I will quote a concrete case. I heard an hon. Member say that he did not agree with concrete cases, but I will read out from the list—the official list, that was made on that particular occasion in Aberdeen. Here is a case:Husband, wife and seven sons, aged 18, 17, 17, 16, 15, 3 and 2 years; four daughters 19, 12, 4 and 1 year making a total of 13 persons, or an equivalent of eleven adults, in the back room of a shop in which there was accommodation for two and a-half adults only. Income £5 7s.—Rent £12 yearly.That family is overcrowded by 8½ adults. There are here cases of overcrowding by 8½ adults, 7 adults, 7, 6½, 5½ and 5½. When we have cases such as these I feel justified in saying that overcrowding is an exceedingly urgent and serious matter. While I have not personally come across cases as bad as these I did come across one case a fortnight ago of a family of five—father, mother and three children—sleeping in one bed, and two other children sleeping on cushions in a small attic room. When we have overcrowding to that extent I feel that the chief thing is to be able to deal with it from the top. My criticism of the overcrowding standard set forth in Clause 2 and in the Schedule is that it begins by dealing with the overcrowding from down below. We have cases of overcrowding to the extent of 6, 7 and 8 adults. To start as we do in this Bill to say that two persons and an infant is the number that may be permitted in one room is not helping the matter very much. It will be years 626 before we shall come to the time when that is really a practical problem to be dealt with.
There is the question, which has been raised by other hon. Members, of the growing family, where you have a father, mother, and two children of perhaps two years and one year. I am sure that it is not the feeling of hon. Ladies who are Members of this House that children of two years and one year should sleep in another room from their parents. The alternative might be that the mother should get the father to sleep in the other room and look after the child of two, but possibly the discipline exercised in that case might not be approved of. I am doubtful whether the standard we have set is desirable. I think that the standard we had before might well remain for some time. The big problem that we have to deal with is the growing problem of overcrowding, which is of first importance, and we must get rid of that in our big towns. There are any number of cases of overcrowding that might be quoted. Within a year the number of cases of applicants on the Council list in Aberdeen, cases of people who were overcrowded, increased from 1,090 to 1,340. That fact is accounted for partly by the large numbers of people coming in from the country at the present time. While we are dealing simply with slum clearance we are not overtaking the overcrowding problem, which is a most important matter.
With regard to the provision of floor space, I note that the minimum floor space imposed in the Bill is 110 feet. There are a certain number of rooms in the older part of Aberdeen which have 250 feet or more of floor space, and it is a matter for consideration whether in those rooms there might not be some relaxation until sufficient houses are provided, and then we shall be able to tighten up the whole question. I should like to pass to Clause 19, which gives the local authority power to acquire houses and other buildings and to alter, improve and enlarge them. I should also like to refer to Clause 48, which places upon the property owner the duty of submitting plans to the local authority as to reconditioning and ascertaining from the local authority whether, when those improvements are carried out, the house will be declared fit and will remain fit for another five years. That clause 627 follows on the recommendations of the Whitson Committee, which considered that reconditioning was a very important matter, because it meant that we could provide sufficient accommodation within a reasonable time, and also that it was more economical. It was also regarded as an improvement in the conditions of those people living in houses which had perhaps a life of 20 years or more before them.
But the owners of these houses have no opportunity, so far as I can see in the Bill, of carrying out the work, for reasons which are given pretty fully in Section 71 of the Whitson Report. We had a large number of witnesses before us in connection with that Committee, and I do not think there was one witness who stated that he considered that the property owner could manage to carry out reconditioning as an economic proposition. We saw one building, I think it consisted of two tenement blocks in Glasgow, which had been reconditioned by a contractor. In that case the work had been done so as to bring in a return, but those blocks, as far as I remember, had been obtained at a purely nominal sum, and the rooms within them happened to be particularly conveniently arranged. Therefore reconditioning could be done successfully. That is exceptional. All the other evidence went to show that reconditioning was impossible.
It is important that reconditioning should be dealt with in the Bill in such a way as to be possible to carry out. I have discussed this matter with our sanitary inspector and have visited a number of houses to see what are the possibilities of reconditioning. We have some 22,000 tenements which can be called modern. They were erected 40 years ago, or less buildings of solid granite, and window frames and joists and walls in excellent condition, but which would not fulfil the conditions in the Bill. They have not got bathrooms, and the sanitary conveniences are between two houses except in the case of the oldest where they have less provision for sanitary accommodation. They will not be ripe for demolition within 50 years. If they are to be reconditioned and brought up to the standard mentioned in the Bill it will be a matter of some difficulty. Some of these tenements have three and four rooms on one storey, 628 and others three and two rooms on one storey. One room can be taken to provide the extra accommodation, but we should then be losing a certain number of four roomed houses available in the city and creating a certain number more of two roomed houses. The majority of them can only be reconditioned by building an annexe at the back, which would be exceedingly costly and in some cases it would be impossible. If the landlord were to carry out this work he would not be able to ask higher rents, because the rents already are rather above the level of the rents of similar council houses. As a rule owners of this kind of property are not well off and it is therefore obvious that reconditioning by the private owner is impossible. If he hands it over to the local authority then the local authority will be in the undesirable position of being the universal owner of these houses in the constituency. That is to be avoided. Under the Bill a local authority can hand over its responsibilities temporarily, and take them back when required. It is undesirable that a whole mass of electors in a ward should be the tenants of the town council, who have a say in the rents to be imposed. They would be in the position of landlord and tenant; and probably public and private interests would conflict.
There is another question, and that is the position of a proprietor when he has sold his house. Most of them are bonded. Take the case of a house bought for £3,000 in 1913, and fetching a rent then of £300, with a feu duty of £30. Possibly it may have a bond upon it of £2,000. No one can say in present conditions that such a house would bring in the proprietor anything more than £20 a year. The bondholder would gladly discharge his bond probably for something like £1,000. He cannot do so as long as the proprietor owns possession of the house, but if the proprietor sells then the trustees may say that they must foreclose on the bond and the result is that the landlord becomes bankrupt. There have been a number of such bankruptcies. We shall have to consider this if we are to enforce the provisions of the Bill. I hope that the suggestion put forward by the Secretary of State as to a modification of the conditions with regard to these by-laws will be carried out. I want to see an overcrowding Act which will mean the build 629 ing of a lot of houses. In this Bill we have a Measure which most certainly can do that. I want to see it pushed forward, so that the conditions which give us so much trouble in my own constituency are as quickly as possible wiped off the face of the earth.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
I rise to congratulate the Government on the introduction of this Bill. I am aware that in certain quarters it has been received with a chorus of disapproval, but in a sense I welcome the outcry because it is the best evidence that this is a thorough-going measure of reform. You cannot expect to carry through a drastic reform without treading on somebody's toes. The Bill bristles with points of controversy. Let me say a word on one of them. We have heard a proposal that urban owners should receive a grant from the State in order to enable them to recondition their houses. The Bill makes no such provision and, as I understand it, the Government are not prepared to concede the claim. I think that the Government are right and I hope they will maintain a firm attitude. The rights of private property must be respected, and if a local authority acquires a property compulsorily then the owner is entitled to fair compensation. It may well be, as the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) said, that the compensation provided in the Bill is inadequate. If that is so let us amend the Bill. But the claim for a grant for reconditioning is in my judgment wholly inadvisable. An investment in heritable property is no more hazardous than many other forms of investment, and the risk of legislation is just one of the risks which every investor has to face.
No supporter of the Government could defend a Bill if its aim and object were to expropriate the private owner. That is not the object of the Bill. Its sole purpose is to secure, what the Bill calls, a higher standard of fitness for human habitation. It may be that the standard prescribed in the Bill is too ambitious and will have to be relaxed. If that is so, let us amend the Bill. If the claim for a grant be conceded as a general principle then in my view social legislation will soon come to a standstill. Throughout the past half century Parliament has passed many factory Acts, and every time a factory 630 Act has been passed I do not doubt that throughout the country hundreds of factory buildings required to be reconstructed and rebuilt. But whoever heard of a claim for compensation? Social legislation will become quite impracticable if you are to scatter largesse to every vested interest you brush against. The claim for a grant for reconditioning is really a reductio ad absurdum, at any rate in the form in which it was presented this afternoon. Here we have a Bill which I hope and expect will improve the health of the people, lengthen the expectancy of life and reduce the death rate. There are other interests which may be adversely affected. What about the shareholders in cemetery companies? What about funeral undertakers? That business is just, as necessary as the business of the house-builder, a calling no less honourable.
Duchess of ATHOLL
Does my hon. and learned Friend suggest that Parliament should legislate so as to increase the profits of undertakers and cemetery owners?
§ Mr. MILNE
The Noble Lady misunderstands me. I was suggesting that the claim in the form advanced this afternoon was a reductio ad absurdum. I apprehend that it may well be, when this Bill becomes an Act, that the business of the funeral undertaker will be seriously prejudiced in overcrowded localities. Are we then to have the right hon. Gentleman coming down with a moving appeal for compensation? I hope the Government will be firm in the matter. In the Committee the Bill can be amended extensively. For my part, I am prepared to accept drastic Amendments, and I am sure that we shall see that no injustice is done to the private owner or to any other party, but we are not going to allow this Bill to founder in a snowdrift of vested interests.
One other point on a wholly different topic. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to prevent overcrowding, and there are drastic Clauses for that purpose. Those Clauses have been somewhat loosely drafted and will require to be overhauled in Committee. There is one Clause which seems to have escaped attention. At any rate, no one has mentioned it, to-day, and it really 631 raises a question of principle. Clause 9, Sub-section (3), enacts:A local authority may institute proceedings for any offence against any of the foregoing provisions of this part of this Act committed within their district.A local authority may institute proceedings." If that Clause remains in the Bill, it is going to give a new lease of life to private prosecutions in Scotland. We had hoped that we were getting rid of private prosecutions. I think I speak with a sufficient degree of accuracy when I say that in Scotland in the case of common law crimes private prosecution is now unknown. Private prosecution survives in the case of a few statutory offences, such as offences against the Education Acts, and possibly in the case of Revenue offences, though I am not sure. The Revenue is a law unto itself in these matters.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends continued it in a very extreme form recently in the Unemployment Act, in connection with young people's offences.
§ Mr. MILNE
I was giving instances where private prosecution survives. There is poaching. One hundred years ago an Act of Parliament was passed which empowered landowners to institute private prosecutions against persons found trespassing on their lands in pursuit of game. That Act is still in full force, and in practice the landowner employs his own solicitor. But private prosecution is altogether objectionable. It still lingers in more backward countries; in England it is the ordinary procedure. It is objectionable for two obvious reasons: In the first place, in the case of private prosecution the prosecutor as a rule lacks experience. He is unfamiliar with criminal procedure. Moreover the private prosecutor is acting for an employer. His incentive and his aim are to secure a conviction. The public prosecutor is not only expert but he is impartial. If a stranger were unacquainted with Scotland he might well, in considering the position of the public prosecutor, suppose that he would be regarded with public execration. The very opposite is the case. In Scotland the procurator fiscal shares equally with the sheriff in the esteem and confidence 632 of the public. The public know that he is efficient and that he is fair and merciful.
I have some apprehensions with regard to this clause, and my concern is especially for the occupier. The owners are equally entitled to consideration, but in most cases they are far better able to take care of themselves. In the overcrowded tenements the occupier is often an illiterate person and inarticulate. Someone may say, "Oh well, but why all this anxiety? If a local authority were to abuse its power and to act harshly it could be brought to book on the Floor of this House." Make no mistake about that. His Majesty's advocate, the Lord Advocate, has the control and direction of all public prosecutions, but in this clause Parliament delegates its power to a local authority and surrenders control. Private prosecution is utterly undemocratic and retrograde. I do not know how this clause has found its way into the Bill. It may be that some authority asked for it. Even if the clause had the clamorous support of every local authority in Scotland I would still oppose it. But I do not suggest that. I expect that the Clause inadvertently slipped into the Bill, and I hope that in Committee we can as easily shake it out. That is a very minor point. What is important is the main purpose of the Bill, and I intend to go into the Lobby and vote for the Second Reading with the utmost satisfaction.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
One speaker after another during this Debate began by pointing out that he or she was not a property owner, and had nothing to do with the ownership of slums or of any houses at all. After the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne), I feel that I ought to begin by stating that I have nothing whatever to do either with funeral undertakers or the owners of cemeteries. Most of us who are here to-day are here with the one desire to thank the National Government for at last taking steps to deal, more effectively I hope than any previous Government, with the appalling problem of overcrowding in the houses in Scotland. Over and over again we have had housing Acts. One Government after another has tried honestly to deal with this subject. When we began to make these efforts we 633 thought we were going in the right direction by simply getting houses built. We thought that in that way we could do away with the evil. That scheme failed and I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on the fact that they have grasped the real way of getting rid of the present appalling housing conditions in Scotland, and that is by concentrating on certain definite aims and objects.
We were told by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and by other speakers that the introduction of this Bill marked a, volte face or a change of policy. It is not so. The Government have not come here with a new decision. Only now have we got the local authorities to deal on practical lines with the subject of slum clearance and only now are we ready for the next step in the declared Government policy. I have already said that we tried in the past to get rid of the slums. We absolutely failed, until we produced this new scheme of getting the authorities to concentrate on a five-years' programme to destroy the slums, and now we can look forward to making progress in other directions. Were it not for that scheme I do not believe that we would be able to look forward to-day to the early destruction of at any rate 40 per cent. of the slums in Scotland and the re-housing of the people who are at present living in them.
Now we come to the introduction of this Bill to deal with the second part of the problem which is the evil of overcrowding. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) spoke of the appalling conditions in his own constituency and many of us who spoke here last summer upon this problem gave instances of similar conditions prevailing elsewhere in Scotland. I think every hon. Member in this House, to whatever party he or she may belong, detests the thought that men and women, our own country-people, should be living under such conditions. I believe that we ought to approach the second reading of this Bill with this idea in mind: Are these people to be re-housed; are we going to do away with the overcrowding and are we going to get houses under this Scheme? I think the scheme in the Bill is the best that could have been brought 634 forward. I think it is excellent in many ways.
My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill gave us a lucid description of its provisions and he encouraged many of us here who look forward to seeing a new Scotland housing her people as they ought to be housed. My right hon. Friend gave us a vision of that kind and he spoke with the sympathy which we have learned to expect from him. I would only say this: In our effort to make Scotland that perfect dwelling place for her people which we all desire to see, in our effort to achieve that ideal, do not by any chance let us lose the opportunity of getting as many people as possible quickly out of their present conditions. In considering the standard which it is proposed to set up, I wish to consider also the existing conditions as we have heard them described in this House and elsewhere—both in Scotland and England. I had the honour of serving on the Moyne Committee and also on the Whitson Committee and having seen something of slums and overcrowding in both countries, I would say, without fear of challenge, that the gross overcrowding which exists in Scotland cannot be equalled anywhere south of the Tweed. It is that gross overcrowding which we have to attack.
We know that the number of houses to be built will be enormous. We know that with the best will in the world, it will take a long time to build them. What I fear is that with the standards which we have in the Bill at present, many local authorities may begin to "de-crowd" the cases which are most easy to "de-crowd" and may disregard the worst cases, which ought to be dealt with first. Because of that I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Members who are to consider this Bill in Committee, will see to it it is so framed that the worst cases are dealt with first. I believe that if we took the figures of those living in more than three to a room in Scotland, we would find that the number of houses to be built was something like 70,000. I do not make this suggestion because I want to see a low standard but because I do want to see the people of Scotland housed as they have never been housed before and as it would pay us to house them. I do so because I am so afraid that in our effort to get up to a higher standard these unfortunate 635 people may be left even longer to endure the present conditions under which they are living.
There is a question which I would like to put to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Is he sure that once the Measure has passed through this House and has become the law of the land we are going to be able to carry it out under present conditions? By that I mean are we going to get sufficient organisation in the building trade and sufficient supplies of labour and material to carry out what is intended I Are we going to be able to find a way of moving people from one part of the country to another and of producing the necessary materials quickly enough? In short, are we going to be able to see these houses built and the people put into them? That is a task for the local authorities such as they have never tackled before. We are putting upon them an enormous charge. We are asking them to build as they have never built before in Scotland. Are they ready for it? Has all this been organised and thought out or do we think that our responsibility ends when we have voted here for this Bill and passed it through all its stages. Are we to be content to say we have passed the greatest Measure for helping social conditions in Scotland that has been passed for many years? Our responsibility does not end there. We must see to it that the local authorities have the power and the help necessary to get the houses built.
I realise that under the Bill we make provisions regarding the local authorities who do not carry out its terms. I am not for one moment suggesting that the local authorities will not wish to do so, but, if they fail, the Department can step in and build. We have also had the point brought to our notice of the work of housing associations and management committees. We have heard criticisms and expressions of horror at the awful thought that housing associations should build or manage houses. Personally, I approach this matter with the one idea in mind "Can these houses be produced?" I hope that there will be no "dog in the manger" policy in regard to it because there is plenty of building to be done whoever does it. I cannot see anything undemocratic about the permissive provision in the Bill with regard to housing 636 associations and management committees. I believe that those who object to it are exceedingly undemocratic in their outlook. If a body democratically elected by the citizens of a city chooses to arrange for some houses to be built under a housing association, I cannot see that that is undemocratic. I think those who are undemocratic are the people who say that, after the citizens elect a town council and give that council certain powers the town council is not to use the powers as it thinks best for the welfare of the people as a whole. As I say this provision is permissive.
To me, at any rate, it seems more desirable that we should concentrate on seeing that the people of Scotland are taken out of their present conditions and put into good houses than that we should spend our time in discussing theories as to who is and who is not to be allowed to help to build the houses. As I have said there is plenty of building to be done and the more who come forward to do it the better for Scotland and the Scottish people. I would also touch on the subject of the advisory committee. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make certain that on that committee there is a woman member. My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mrs. Shaw) put forward various suggestions from the women's point of view and I would add this. We are often told that woman's place is in the home. If my right hon. Friend is setting up an advisory committee to deal with the homes of the people then, at any rate, he ought to take some advice from those people whose place, we are told, is in the home.
My right hon. Friend also referred to the subject of flats. He said that inquiries had been made and that it was found that the great majority of the people did not wish to live in fiats. He pointed out that those people who were consulted were people who had come from the centres of the towns, from tenements, and who after their experience had no wish ever to return to them. Might I, with great respect to my right hon. Friend, point out that the people in Scotland of whom we are talking have at the present moment not the slightest conception of what the modern flat building can be? Over and over again, I have heard from people in bungalows or in those three-storey buildings outside the city that they would find the new flat 637 accommodation inside the city much more what they wanted. I should like to see experiments made in the development of the inside of our cities. We must look to the future. We must have well-built flats, with good balconies, with playgrounds, and with far more fresh air than they get very often nowadays, when the mother must either keep her children in the house with her or risk them running into the streets. To-day on the outskirts of the town there is often a small garden shared in many cases by many tenants. We see the gardens and their beauty, but they are not necessarily playgrounds for the children.
I hope to see in Scotland models of the best possible flats put up, with balconies, with playgrounds for the children, with downstair places for the prams, really model buildings. I think the advisory committee would do well to consider these things, because if we are now looking forward to building homes for this enormous number of our people, we must look into the future, and I believe that gradually the people will come to realise that we cannot possibly go on building out and must come to building up as well. We must look to the town planning and the country planning of the future, and see how the people can best be served.
I do not wish to be dogmatic on the subject of flats, but I think the majority of the people, because they never see these flats, cannot understand them. The majority of the people look back on dark tenements, with long stairs, perhaps put straight on the street, with no playgrounds for the children, no balconies, and no chance of fresh air. None of us want to see that kind of building in the future. We want more light and fresh air and better accommodation for the children. I am glad to see clauses dealing with the consolidation of housing accounts. I think in a great many cases we shall find that people are going to move from the housing areas into the small private enterprise bungalows that have been put up in so many places.
In conclusion, I realise the difficulties that other speakers have referred to, but I think that in Committee many of them probably can be dealt with. In some cases, if one reads the clause where the onus falls on the landlord, before letting a house, to see that there will be no 638 overcrowding, it looks as if great difficulties will arise. We have an Act in Scotland to give a cheap sixpenny birth certificate, and it looks as if it will be inevitable to produce such a certificate before any house can be taken. I think the major principle of the Bill is excellent. I think it is the biggest thing that has been done to help the health and welfare of the people of Scotland for many years past. There are many drawbacks to be found in the drafting of some of the Clauses, but it is only because we look at these details and want to get the Bill more perfect that we criticise it. I believe that we who have taken part in this Debate and will, during the Committee stage, try to make the Bill what it ought to be, will look back afterwards on having taken a share in one of the biggest works any Government has -done in modern days.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. K. LINDSAY
I rise for two and a-half minutes, because I realise that a great many other Scottish Members wish to speak, and I should be the last to wish to stand between them and their remarks; but I would like to reinforce every word that has fallen from the last speaker. There is a great difference between worn-out, bug-infested property and property of good structure which is a little shabby. All this business about the small property owner can be settled, I believe, in Committee. If it be that the principle of the Bill is at stake, then we are up against something which is very serious, and you might think from the Press that this principle was going to invalidate the whole Bill. Yet we have heard to-day from several loyal supporters of the Government, like the last speaker, that this is the greatest single piece of reform the Government has put before the country. Someone evidently is wrong somewhere, and I suspect that, as on a good many other occasions, the National Government has to offend a few people on either side in order to drive through a really big Measure.
There is in this Bill a central advisory committee. Either that committee is what Mr. Garvin calls "fudge," or else it is full of significance and meaning, and I share the view of the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) that it has to be given some real form. With regard to the management commissions, I inter 639 vened when the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) was speaking because they are purely permissive, and whether we have the management commissions or not, I was totting it up that in my own burgh there will be something like 3,000 houses under the control of the local authority. That is a big business. I am not suggesting for a moment that the local authority cannot run it, but I do suggest that the old form of local government is not necessarily the best suited to deal with it. There are housing directors in some cities, and I think there will have to be housing directors and managing directors everywhere.
But how are you going to drive through this great new piece of legislation? That is the thing that I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State to answer. I think most of us here are in favour of the main principles of the Bill, but how are you going to drive it through? That seems to me an enormous question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to appoint two special men and that was a very significant step, about a year ago to go round to the local authorities and pass on information. Now we are giving to these local authorities a really big business job to do, and I suggest that not only should there be a woman on this central advisory committee, but some first-rate men too. I suggest that there is a young architect to start with, I suggest that there is a quantity surveyor, and I suggest that there are people who have real knowledge of the building materials industry and also of land. I suggest further that they are paid. You may pay expenses, as the clause says, but on these advisory committees, when you want a real job done, you do not generally just get a few people to give parts of their spare time. I want to be certain that at any rate the chairman is paid, and that it should be a really responsible job.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has done one other very important thing in Scotland. He has set up a departmental committee on health, and I believe the report of that body will be one of the most significant things in the future for Scottish health. Here is a great opportunity to do another important thing, and that is to make this central advisory committee the head of a big new movement for getting rid 640 of overcrowding. There will be a great many new questions cropping up which local authorities are not used to tackling. Some of us have experience and could quote examples—in my own constituency in the last year, for instance—which would horrify any business man, of the way in which the slum clearance scheme has been tackled. If you have still got the old-fashioned method of organisation in parts of the building industry, and of local government, and you throw on it this huge new strain, it will probably break down. We all want to see concrete results, and I am suggesting that the Secretary of State should take this clause in hand and give it some real meaning.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. TRAIN
I will not detain the House longer than five minutes as I know there are many of my friends who want to speak on this Bill. I rise with different feelings since hearing the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State explain some of the illusory clauses of the Bill. They are very different feelings from those which I had when I read the Bill. A great many people all over the country were rather perturbed when they read the Bill. Hon. Members and I have had a great deal of correspondence since it was introduced, but we have now the assurance of the Secretary of State that Clause 64 has been misunderstood and that he will remove any wording in it that does not make it clear. He assures us also that it does not apply to old houses but only to new houses. In dealing with overcrowding, the Government are tackling one of the biggest jobs that they could tackle. It is a bigger problem than slum clearance, and I was sorry when the Secretary of State set out on his great task that a large number of people were fighting against him instead of helping him. We want to get everybody into this campaign. As the right hon. Gentleman said, private enterprise in 1910 had a lot of houses to let and in Glasgow there were over 17,000. That was when the Government put a paralysing hand on the building trade by what was known as Form IV. That was in the days of private enterprise. To-day there are about 1,200 houses of which he could have the choice, but I am bound to say that I do not know of any modern houses in Glasgow which he could have.
641 What is the history of this Bill? Was it not that the Government took this question very seriously and set up alongside the English committee a Scottish committee known as the Whitson Committee? That committee duly reported and we find in the Bill many of the recommendations made by it. The committee sat for many weeks, and after hearing all the expert evidence we could on reconditioning and overcrowding, many of us on the committee found it a little difficult to sign the report; but rather than have a minority report, we tried to get together as near as possible. The conclusion of the committee was that reconditioning was a desirable thing, that compensation should be paid to the extent of 50 per cent., and that it was not to exceed £75 for any one house. We had estimates from qualified surveyors who gave us evidence that it could be done quite well for less than £75 per house. The owner would not be getting any more rent; indeed, he would be getting less where he had reconditioned—that is, where he took the middle houses out and made them into kitchenettes and bathrooms, so that he lost four of the houses in a four-storey tenement. His rent was accordingly reduced, and he would get £5 less a year while spending £50 a house. What is the alternative to that? An hon. Friend opposite, who is very familiar with graveyards and funerals and undertakers, judging from his speech, did not see his way to give any subsidy at all. What is the alternative to it? I am informed by people who know that in Glasgow there are £30,000,000 in property that would be condemned under Clause 64 as unfit for human habitation.
It may be said that the local authorities will build plenty of houses, but they are building as many houses as they can at the moment. Just outside Glasgow at Bishop Briggs there are 40 houses which have been condemned for the last two years, but the people are living in them still, for they cannot get houses elsewhere. We are putting too much work on to the local authorities. We want everybody to build new houses. This grant is practically putting us back to the 1923 Act. We want everybody to help in building houses at rents that can be paid. No Government has ever had a better opportunity since the days of the South African War, when consols were standing at 112 and money and buildings 642 were cheap. We could then build three or four apartment houses to be let at less than £20 a year. Look at the difference between the Addison houses of 1919 and those of to-day. The latter are being built for £300 each, and they are similar to houses that cost £1,000 in 1919. The-interest then was 5 or 6 per cent. and the interest amounted to a year, while. now the interest is only £9 at 3 per cent.,. being a difference of £41 a year on the rent.
The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) suggested raising a great loan of £100,000,000. We need £500,000,000 in housing bonds at, say, 2½ per cent., to buy out all the people who cannot recondition their property and build those fine flats of which the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) spoke. The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) is optimistic, for he would build suntraps in Glasgow. I do not know where you are going to build suntraps in Glasgow; they would be more like rain-traps. If we can get down to the problem and remove all the fear that is in the minds of people who have been in the building trade and who have invested money in property—and it is not the builder who has put money in property but the investor—we should go a long way to solving this problem. We have the Trades House of Glasgow which is a benevolent institution with £650,000 invested in property. Of the £30,000,000 in property in Glasgow £20,000,000 is on mortgage. People invest their money in ground annuals, and the Kirk of Scotland for the quod sacra parishes invest a sum sufficient to give a return of £300 per annum in feu duties. Are we going to allow these people who have got all their money invested in property to be disgruntled? Get them on your side, and let us get on with a great housing programme.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
At this late hour I will try not to go over the ground already covered, and if I do not say very much on general lines and the introduction of the Bill it is because I entirely agree with all that has been said by the last speaker and particularly by the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). On that part of the Bill I will content myself with asking two questions. It is plain from statistics that, on paper, Scotland is nearly 10 times as badly off 643 as England in the matter of overcrowding, but I can hardly believe that to be the fact, and I hope that before the Committee stage the Government will inquire whether it is possible to give us information as to the relative differences in the average sizes and heights of rooms and other matters, which are just as important as the numbers of rooms in considering whether people are overcrowded. We cannot apply our minds to this matter in Committee unless we know rather more than is found in the census report. It may well be that in the two points I have indicated, if there is the same standard on paper as there is in England there is a very different standard in fact, and that if we want to reach the same standard in fact we must have a different standard on paper.
It may well be my fault for not understanding the Secretary of State, but I did not gather what he proposed to do by way of fixing rents for the people who are taken out of overcrowded houses and put into new houses. I understood that if they were very badly off they were to get a reduction, and I understood that if they were getting normal wages they would pay normal rent, but I do not understand what is to happen to people who are tolerably well off. It is not by any means unknown to find people living in overcrowded conditions although they may have a family income of £5 a week or more. The cases are not very frequent, but they are frequent enough to make it necessary to have rules for them. I should like to know whether it is proposed, in the case of people taken out of the slums or overcrowded houses, that where there is a more than average family income they are to pay an economic rent. I think they should do so, and I hope it will so be provided.
Now I come to where I think the Bill is deficient. It seems to be almost wholly admirable so far as it deals with the building of new houses, but as regards existing houses it appears to leave a good deal to be desired. However hard one wants to go ahead with the building of new houses, the capacity of the building trade is limited, and it is plain that even if within the next 10 years we remove every house that is a slum, or on the verge of becoming a slum, we shall have half-a-million or more antiquated houses which people simply 644 must inhabit for the next generation, whether we like it or not, because there is no way of building a sufficient number of. houses in the interval to take their place. Is it fair that the man who has done something for himself, who has got himself out of the slums or prevented his house from becoming overcrowded, although having no more, and very often less, than the average wage, should be passed over, and that everything should be done for the man who has allowed himself to go down into the slums or allowed his house to be overcrowded? That he should be promoted over the head of the decent and thrifty man who has put himself into the best house his means can afford, although that house is antiquated, is unsatisfactory. I believe that the public opinion will demand that we are not to limit our benefactions to those who have allowed themselves to sink into the slums. We cannot afford to neglect all those millions of people who are living in conditions which are far from satisfactory but which are neither within the scope of overcrowding nor slum clearance legislation.
The only way we can benefit these people is by improving or reconditioning their houses. It is the only possible way. An hon. Member shakes his head, but if it is the fact that it is physically impossible to rehouse these people in the next generation because the full capacity of the building trade has been taxed to build houses for those in the slums or on the verge of them, how can we help those people otherwise than by improving their existing houses? I believe the Bill is very deficient in not making provision for that to be done. That the Bill approves of the principle is plain, because it contains provisions—wholly unworkable provisions it is true—not only to facilitate reconditioning by private owners but provisions, to which considerable exception will be taken in Committee, allowing compulsory acquisition of property by local authorities for the purpose of reconditioning. We shall want to know a good deal more about those provisions in the Committee stage. It is not because the Government do not sympathise with the improvement of existing property that they fail to make such provision, but simply because somebody is against providing a subsidy for it and I can see no reason for that attitude.
645 The Whitson Committee, which consisted of a great number of people of different political views, and which heard a good deal of evidence, was almost unanimous in the conclusion that there were at least 200,000 houses in Scotland which could be improved without uneconomic expenditure. They would have a useful life of something over 20 years, and the improvements would be worth the cost. Further, there are a great number of houses which will necessarily become derelict unless they are improved by being joined up to make two houses into one. There are far more two-room houses in Scotland than can possibly be needed for families small enough to go into them while keeping above any standard of overcrowding, and unless we amalgamate these small houses and make them into bigger ones we shall have derelict patches in the cities which will cost the Government five times as much for subsidies in the end as they would if the Government would only give a reasonable subsidy for the improving of them. I appeal to the Government from the point of view of economy in the long run not to be short sighted and not to refuse the recommendation of the great majority of those who form the Whitson Committee.
As I and a lot of other people read Clause 64, dealing with the by-laws, it appears that the grossest injustice is going to be done to existing owners. I say the grossest injustice for this reason. There are property owners who have maintained their property in accordance with the standards of the time, and the State has recognised it as a trust investment, but now, when the nation demands, rightly, that a new standard of housing shall be adopted, it says: "We are not going to pay for it. We are going to make the unfortunate owners pay for it who happen to be in a position where we have a stranglehold over them." That, no doubt, suits those who favour confiscation and sit on the benches opposite.
I understand that the Socialists are wholly in favour of confiscation, and that it is part of their programme, but that anybody who sits on this side of the House should favour that legislation astonishes me. [Interruption.] Then no doubt some of the party opposite will help us to get this matter put right. However that may be, the Secretary of 646 State is undoubtedly going to relieve our apprehensions to a considerable degree, but at what cost? Surely there is here a dilemma. If those by-laws are to be enforced, it can only be at the expense of the grossest injustice to owners unless the State contributes its share to the cost of the improvement. If the by-laws are not going to be enforced, it can only be at the cost of leaving in the lurch the people with whose case I dealt a little while ago—the decent, respectable, thrifty people who have taken themselves out of the slums and out of overcrowded areas and are now told by the Government, "We are not going to put these by-laws into operation in the case of your house. You can stay on for another generation in your present unsatisfactory conditions. We are going to give the whole of our money to the people who have allowed themselves to sink into the slums." I believe that public opinion simply will not stand that, and that the only way of avoiding that dilemma is for the Government to recognise that if the nation demands a new standard of housing the nation has to pay for it. That is simply justice, neither more nor less. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Cabinet as a whole will reconsider this matter as one of the utmost gravity for the future of Scotland and will be in a position before we reach the Committee stage to inform us that these bylaws are to go on but that they will be coupled with a satisfactory financial arrangement.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN WALLACE
We have had a most interesting Debate and the speeches have been of a very varied character. We have had some speeches that occupied a very long time in delivery and others that were shorter. If I may without offence express a preference. I will say that I enjoyed the shorter speeches very much better than those which in view of the fact that so many Scottish Members wish to speak occupied a time rather longer than was necessary. I would like very cordially to congratulate the Government on the introduction of this Bill, and to congratulate especially my right hon. Friend on his speech in introducing the Measure to the House. I think he has made one of the most successful speeches he has ever delivered in this House, and he has expressed in definite 647 terms his determination to see this far reaching Measure placed upon the Statute Book.
I only wish to put before the House two points of view. There are two different kinds of apprehension in Scotland regarding this Bill. One relates to the subject raised by my hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken. It is the question of compensation, which always seems to arouse the ire of at least some of my hon. Friends on the other side of the House. I do not know the particular reason which inspires their attitude against compensation because in other spheres of life they are sound believers in the principle of compensation. On that particular point I want to read a letter which I have received from a man in my own constituency, illustrating very well the point of view with regard to compensation. This letter represents in a very reasonable way my own idea with regard to compensation. It is as follows:I as a working man and owner of working-class property in Dunfermline, view with alarm the housing (Scotland) Bill now before Parliament. The Bill is designed to abate overcrowding. With that I agree. I have a block of houses, two storeys, eight tenants, main doors to each house, solid stone back and front and gables beautifully finished in Kauri Pine, with W.Cs. for every two tenants outside, built 29 years ago and passed by Dunfermline Dean of Guild Court. It will be structurally impossible to put baths, sculleries and larders into each existing house, and many others are in the same position as I. Even if it could be done, the expense would be prohibitive. If I cannot meet the expense my property will be condemned, and I will lose my all. Please see that the Bill is so amended that it will not be a Bill that will bring ruin to many-thrifty working-class property owners who have invested their savings in property.I would like to know if my hon. Friends opposite are in sympathy with the case stated so reasonably in this letter. If they are against the principle of compensation qua compensation, then my constituent who writes in these terms might, under Clause 64, be deprived, as he suggests, of his life's savings. I suggest to those who oppose the principle of compensation that they must have in mind the very wide ambit of compensation and the need for some discrimination in dealing with this vital consideration.
The other apprehension felt in Scotland with regard to this Bill is of equal im 648 portance. I notice that my right hon. Friend in introducing the Bill to-day to a very large extent disarmed criticism. It occurred to me that he may have disarmed criticism to rather too large an extent, especially in dealing with Clause 64. I should like to refer to this Clause for a moment. The first Sub-section reads:A local authority may, and if required by the Department shall, make with respect to houses used or intended to be used for human habitation by-laws regarding any of the following matters.I should like to know from my right hon. Friend or from the Under-Secretary the significance of the, modification now attached to that particular Clause. What we want in Scotland to-day are houses for the working people at reasonable rents. Possibly I shall convey my idea better to the House if I give single example of what I mean by that statement. Not very long ago I visited a house in my own constituency—as I have visited many—and in my opinion that house was unfit for human habitation. It was damp almost beyond description. It was inhabited by a decent man and his wife and family, and there, was one particular point about it to which I paid special attention. We often hear it said that people who live in slums would make slum conditions inevitable wherever they go, but I do not accept that contention. This house, which had caused this man to be ill with rheumatism and which had crippled his daughter with rheumatism because of the damp, was kept in a most spotless condition by' a. fine upstanding Scottish wife who kept everything from grate to ornaments spotlessly clean and well polished. This man and wife did try for a long time to get alternative accommodation, and I want to know whether, in view of the modification of Clause 64 that has been announced by my right hon. Friend, there is adequate provision for such a case. I should like to know whether these people can be provided with the alternative accommodation for which they have waited for years. The dominant need to-day in Scotland is for decent housing, and surely, after the statement made by my right hon. Friend—
§ Sir J. WALLACE
I have made no such observation. I do not suggest that any property owners who allow their property to get into that condition are entitled to compensation. I have not suggested any course of that kind. On the other hand, when I asked earlier whether hon. Members opposite agreed that compensation should be given in the case to which the letter referred I got no response.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
About the man crippled with rheumatism, and his daughter who also had rheumatism. I have got it myself—and I am interested. I should like to know if there is any medical explanation why the sturdy wife had not got rheumatism.
§ Sir J. WALLACE
I always observe a certain amount of reserve and reticence about asking for particulars of that kind. It is quite possible that I arrived at the house on a lucky day for the wife, because she showed no sign of rheumatism on that occasion. My hon, and learned Friend ought to know what are the inevitable physical results of living in a damp house. If he wishes for any further particulars, I can give them—and I am quite serious in this—about the tiny room and kitchen of the house which the man described to me as a snail's skating rink. It was an accurate description; snails were all over the place. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State what adequate provision could be made for proper alternative accommodation at a reasonable rent for people living in conditions of that kind? That is not an isolated case, because I have come across many houses of a similar disgraceful character.
After what my right hon. Friend has said about half the population of Scotland living in either one-roomed or two-roomed houses, no further argument is required to show the extreme importance of the housing question in Scotland. In deciding the standard of overcrowding we must be careful to make our terms definite and reasonable. It is quite possible that in 'considering this very important question the element of gradualness will have to be taken into account in the remedial legislation which we have in view. The dominant need of the people of Scotland is decent housing accommodation, and I hope that no modification of Clause 64 will prevent 650 our removing a great blot on the reputation and escutcheon of Scotland, so far as housing conditions are concerned.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
This Debate seems to have taken rather a queer twist. I came to the House to criticise the Bill but I have stayed to applaud the speech of my right hon. Friend who introduced it. He seems to have clothed a rather soulless document with a garment of humanity, so, instead of dealing with the Bill as I had intended, I shall deal with it as I see it through the eyes of my right hon. Friend. I would like to join with the rest of the House—or with the majority of those who have spoken—in thanking him for having shown, on behalf of the Government, determination to rid Scotland of slums once and for all. Everyone has friends in his constituency who live in those dreary, drab, squalid surroundings and under conditions that cramp all brightness of outlook and all hope, and we feel a sense of relief that the Government have at last determined that this stigma on our humanity and good name should be removed. We have been waiting a long time for it. Those are the reasons why I welcome the decision which my right hon. Friend has put before us to-night.
I am worrying about one thing: in our determination to benefit one section of the community it behoves us to remember that there may be a danger of inflicting hurt or injury on some other class of the community, who tare possibly equally deserving. When I first read the Bill I said to myself, "In this grand piece of legislation is there a possibility that we shall be hurting any minority, in order to bring benefit to the majority?" To judge by the postbag, which many of us have had pretty full during the last few weeks, there is obviously one section of the community which appears to be hurt by the Bill. The property owners' federations have been so vocal and so vociferous that they have certainly convinced their members of the possibility of injury, and at times they have, I think, convinced me, too. But when there is so much propaganda, and when I get letters from old ladies, typewritten letters, going into the last detail of what they have suffered in their incomes, and letters from associations and organisations that are normally very little concerned with housing conditions, I begin to wonder 651 whether they are not protesting too much, and I begin to see the way in which they are going materially to benefit.
Then I come to the final conclusion, which is this: I cannot believe that any Government would be so incredibly foolish as to introduce legislation which would be obviously unfair and politically unsound at this stage of the Government's career, and I suggest to property owners, and to the federations who look after them, that, putting it at its very lowest, it is surely obvious that the Government would not introduce unfair and unjust legislation, for one reason at least, which is that it would have a bad effect on their chances at the next election. I have put it at its very lowest, but if we regard the Minister and the Under-Secretary as understanding humane and sympathetic individuals who are responsible for the Bill, knowing them as we do, we can be satisfied that, in its intention and ultimate effects, this is a fair, honest and just Bill, designed to bring the greatest justice to the greatest number. Every piece of legislation has meant injustice for some section. Every piece of land legislation has meant injustice for some landlords, and every piece of factory legislation has meant injustice for a section of the factory owners. Therefore, we have to face the fact that this legislation may entail a certain amount of injustice for property owners. We have to ensure that those injustices, should they exist, are limited within reasonable bounds. From what my right hon. Friend said this afternoon in introducing the Bill I feel that by judicious amendments, which he has promised to consider fairly, we shall probably evolve out of this Measure, which some of us were prepared to criticise, one of the really magnificent pieces of social legislation that this Government has yet brought before the House.
I should like to put to the Under-Secretary, who, I believe, is to reply, one or two points with which I would like him to deal in his answer. I should like him to try to remove the feeling which exists among a considerable number of property owners in Glasgow, as well as in the West of Scotland, that there is an atmosphere about the Bill by which property owners are to be regarded as a grasping, greedy and hard 652 hearted section of the community. I do not believe it is true, nor does my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) believe in his heart of hearts that it is true. He knows the facts as well as I do. But I think it would be a good thing if my hon. Friend, in his reply, would remove that feeling. I have several other points that I should have liked to put to him, but I will put them to him privately, and the Committee stage will give us the opportunity of having them thrashed out.
There is only one final word that I would say, and that is to ask him if he will confirm quite definitely that there will be a right of appeal to the sheriff, and that reasonable compensation will be given—and here I share the view of my hon. Friend opposite, that reconditioning must inevitably take place if this great housing campaign is to be a success. As I said to my right hon. Friend the other day, the Government have created a standard of health in cattle, and if, as a result of foot-and-mouth disease, cattle are destroyed, there is adequate compensation. In this Bill the Government are creating a new standard of health in housing. Some houses will not, and, indeed, cannot, attain to that standard, and therefore it is surely obvious, and follows from the policy of the Government themselves, that there should be a fairly reasonable standard of compensation. If the Government will give us these assurances, they will not only relieve the minds of the factors and property owners, but will also relieve the anxieties and doubts of a large number of people throughout the West of Scotland who are dependent on the returns from housing property to give them their means of livelihood.
§ 9.47 p.m.
Mr. K I R KWOOD
I would like to begin by replying to the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), because I believe he spoke on behalf of the property owners in the West of Scotland. There is no doubt from his speech that he was well briefed. I interrupted him when he was making great play with the fact that the property owners in the West of Scotland had to pay the rates on unlet houses. My interjection to him at that time was to the effect that that is perfectly true, but it has only been put into operation within the last 30 years. 653 Up till then the city assessor in Glasgow did not tax the property owners, with the result that they held, not only many dwelling-houses, but many shops, unoccupied when there was a demand for both shops and houses, in order to force up rents. When the present city assessor put into force the law and taxed unlet property, the immediate effect was a reduction in rents all round. I have only given that as one of several illustrations that I am going to give to show who are the wise, gentle old maids, widows and orphans with whom we are dealing here, and for whom special consideration is asked.
Then the right hon. Member for Hill-head told us about the sort of people who are property owners—how there are thousands of them and how the hard earned savings of those who went before them were put into "stane and lime"—a good old Scottish phrase—in order to safeguard their descendants when they went away. That was not because they were anxious to supply houses which the Scottish folk required. That is not what the houses were built for. They were not built to supply people with shelter at all—that was only incidental; they were built, and the money put into them was invested, because it was a safe investment. An investment in what? In the homes of the people. I was born and bred in a house of that type, in the city which the right hon. Member for Hillhead has the honour to represent. We were in that house for 30 years, and the landlord never spent £5 in repairing it.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Yes, we took good care of it, and that is why it is such a safe investment. That is why the fly old Scotsmen put their money into "stane and lime." The workers recognise that these houses are their homes, and they take care of them. They spend hours—not only the mother of the family, but the husband also—in trying to make their home as comfortable as they possibly can, even in the very poorest localities, even in slum property. When I think of the power that is behind the property that they are trying to defend, trying to get a square deal, because several of them have written to me—factors, chambers of commerce, shopkeepers, and so on, all individuals who are looking after private 654 gain, and are not looking after the welfare of my native land at all—that never enters into their cranium—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
When the hon. Member was working for wages, was he not working for private gain—his own gain?
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Yes, that is perfectly true. The workers have to sell the only commodity that they have—their labour power incorporated in their bodies, which, in order to live, they have to sell to the employer. But this is quite a different matter—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I leave you, Mr. Speaker, to be the judge. In this case they have never done anything personally; it has been handed on to them and to their fathers. I have two cases in which personal friends are appealing to him not to speak in the direction in which I am speaking now, because their father left them this property and they are living on the proceeds—they have never done an article of work.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The hon. and learned Member had better inquire into these things; he is better acquainted with that side of life than I am. They have never done anything; the money has been invested, and they draw from the property, which has been handed down from generation to generation. There is another thing that I want to put before the House. It is no use our giving instances of this poor widow and that poor orphan. We have to deal with a gigantic affair. The hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) is not, I am sorry to see, now in his place. I had intended to make reference to him, but the last time I did so when he was not present he thought I should have waited till he came back. My time is too limited for that, so I shall not make the reference; I must let it go.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead made his case for those who are getting no return for the money they have invested in property. He said they provided for our needs, and we have no right to penalise them now because we have raised the standard of housing that 655 met the requirements of the day when those houses were built, 30 or 40 years ago. I should agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we should not penalise folk in that way if the same idea were put into operation where the worker is concerned. A change has come over civilisation. We are all out for peace and do not need to build so many battleships, and, in order to give an indication that we were in earnest, the Prime Minister went to America and interviewed the then President. As a gesture of his earnestness—he was always great on gestures—he stopped the building of a cruiser in my constituency. The firm was compensated but the workers were not. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
I took the matter up and questioned the Prime Minister in the House, and he said the compensation that the workers would get was our incomparable social services. If our incomparable social services are good enough for the workers. they are good enough for the property owners. They have no more right to be compensated than the workers, and, if it were left to us, you may take it from me that we would deal more generously with the widow and orphan or any others who were going to be hard hit as the result of raising the standard of housing than the ruling class of the country are prepared at the moment to deal with the working-classes when they get thrown out. There is not only the case of peace; there is also rationalisation in industry. All over the country engineering shops and shipyards have been shut down and scrapped and the employers compensated. For the workers there are our incomparable social services. Then we are supposed to be hard hearted because we stand up for our rights and draw attention to this mode of procedure regarding the workers.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The shipyards were not compensated when they were shut down. The shipbuilders made an arrangement mutually among themselves. That was also done with the English licensed premises, and it is quite competent for the workers to do the same.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
We shall have no objection to the property owners doing the same thing, and I am going to show how they can afford to do it. In 1909 656 and 1910 there were 30,000 unoccupied houses in Glasgow and 42,000 scheduled as unfit for human habitation. Since then all those houses are occupied and the property owners have been drawing rents from them. The Glasgow medical officer of health reports that there are 71,000 tenement houses without bathrooms or sanitary facilities and that 600,000 people live in dwellings which should have been scrapped a quarter of a century ago. Glasgow property owners have obtained £15,000,000 in increased rents since the War. The rent commission of inquiry reported in 1925 that property owners all over Scotland were receiving from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 a year increase of rent, so that they have received an aggregate of at least £48,000,000 in the last 12 years.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
Any suggestion of compensation is not for people who own that type of house, but for people who own a quite reasonable type of house which now has to have more conveniences attached to it.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The Labour party are quite prepared to meet a just demand at all times. We would never at any time be parties to crushing either the widow or the orphan, or the strong and the robust. The party to which I belong, and for which I speak, believe on this point that, if any of us or a party of us have either physical or mental equipment, it was not given to us for our own aggrandisement, but in order that we might defend those who cannot defend themselves. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) told me that he was going away, but I said that I was going to say a word to him. In the last Debate he criticised the Government because they did not get on fast enough with this question of overcrowding. He is the last person in this House who should have done anything of the kind. I said some harsh things about him on the last occasion, and I am not going to do that to-day, but the fact remains that when he took over the office of Secretary of State for Scotland the first thing he did was to have a raging campaign throughout my native land in favour of building more houses. He laid the project before the local authorities, and made a great speech in Edinburgh which was broadcast from one end of the land to the 657 other, and the local authorities trembled in their shoes at this mighty man who had arrived in their midst.
Clydebank at that time had not a Labour majority, but the town council unanimously declared for the building of more houses because of overcrowding. That was their belief. We have heard the right hon. Gentleman giving the Government gyp to-day because they had not attended to the matter. They negotiated with the Secretary of State for Scotland and eventually determined to come and see him, but he refused to see them. I then made tracks for the Secretary of State but—it might have been fortunate or otherwise—he could not be seen. However, I got the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who, to his everlasting credit, as far as I am concerned, received the deputation from Clydebank. But the Secretary of State for Scotland turned them down. Why? Because the same set of individuals who are opposing this Bill because they fear that compensation is not to be paid to those who own houses which are unfit for human habitation, are the individuals who are responsible for the bad housing conditions in Scotland. There are no worse housing conditions in Europe than those which prevail in Scotland. And yet the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness rose in his place to-day, and got at the Government because they are not attending to their business and making amends regarding overcrowding. It was because of his reference, and his mannerisms in making the reference, that no Government, including the Labour Government, had done any better than the present Government, that I thought it was due to me to do what I could, at any rate, to put him in his place.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I did not refer to the question whether the Labour Government had done better than the present Government or not. I only said that in one particular respect they had not done what I wanted, which was the variable subsidy, except in one Bill for which I gave full credit to Mr. Tom Johnston as a Labour Member of the Cabinet. So the hon. Member must not say that I was unfair to the Labour Government. As regards the present Government, I gave full credit to them for the effort which they are making in this Bill, which I said was cast in a massive mould, and I said, that subject to what I heard from the 658 Under-Secretary of State, I was prepared to support the Bill. Therefore, from what I heard of the last two sentences the hon. Member seems to have been misrepresenting my position.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Hon. Members will notice that the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness did not touch the kernel of the statement I have made. He went round-about and made a reference to the Government, but he did not deny, because he dare not, that he turned down Clydebank, who asked him to give them liberty to do what he suggested that all Scottish local authorities should do, and that was to build houses to meet the demand. It was not a partial vote in Clydebank but a unanimous vote of a town council which was not Labour, though they are now, I am glad to say. It was the pressure that was brought to bear by the same individuals who are bringing pressure to bear on all the Tory Members from Glasgow at the present moment. It was the same organisation. The Tory Members are making a grave mistake when they come to the Government and say that the Bill is an irritating Bill and causing terrible trouble in our constituencies. They should have the courage to stand up against it. They are only a few individuals who do not count. It is wrong to affect the lives of tens of thousands of decent men and women in this way, and we should not allow the idea of self-interest to enter into the matter for one minute. Those who fight to retain the tenements and continue our system of housing which is undermining Scotland's physique, are giving the country the evil reputation of having the highest infantile mortality in the United Kingdom.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
We have had a most interesting Debate, which has covered the main points suitable for discussion on the Second Reading of a Bill of this kind very fully and adequately, and I think that all who have listened to it will feel that the main arguments for and against the Bill, if there are any arguments against it, are clear in their minds, and it remains for me to deal not with every point of detail—for some of the points that have been raised are clearly Committee points—but with the main arguments and points of view which have been made from many quarters of the House. 659 I must not forget that there is before the House a reasoned Motion for the rejection of the Bill. It is not often that in the last speech in favour of a Motion for the rejection of a Bill one is told, as I was told by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), that we must not listen to certain sections of criticism but must fight on with the Bill, because the welfare of tens of thousands of people depend upon it. I entirely agree with the hon. Member.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I hope the Under-Secretary is not going to take advantage of that remark. It was simply in reference to the compensation of individuals who may demand compensation far beyond what they are in justice entitled to.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not intend to strain my hon. Friend's language to any undue extent but, however qualified it may have been, I did listen to that phrase with satisfaction. I think it represents the point of view and reflects the opinion, not only of hon. Members opposite but of hon. Members below the Gangway, who have also put down a Motion for rejection of the Bill, and that when the Bill goes to the Scottish Standing Committee—which assumes that they do not expect that the Motion for rejection will be accepted—they will do their best to help the Committee to make the Bill the best that it can possibly be made. Of course, it is the duty of an Opposition carrying out its work of opposing, to put down a Motion for rejection for the purpose of criticism. I do not, therefore, propose to deal at great length with the actual terms of either of the Motions for rejection.
I think my hon. Friend opposite strained somewhat the meaning of the provisions of the clause whereby a, local authority may transfer to a Commission the work of managing houses. One must realise that the main object of that criticism was to express a feeling that local authorities should not delegate their work to unrepresentative bodies. I think, however, he stressed the phraseology of the clause, which is permissive only. I will not enter into the constitutional question, because that has been dealt with and answered by my hon. Friend the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). Let me deal with one 660 or two points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). With regard to the special subsidy for distant areas I do not think the language of the Bill is in any doubt. The test of whether such a subsidy will be exigible is whether or not the cost of the erection of houses is specially great, owing to the distance and so on. Low valuation is not taken into account. It is the cost of the house and not the state of the valuation that is the test.
On another point which he raised he asked whether small burghs will get the advantage. Certainly, if the class of house in a small burgh, as most of them are, is the class of house described in Clause 27. My right hon. Friend raised what I thought was somewhat of a hare with regard to the figures in the Financial Resolution. The object of those figures is to show, on the estimated amount of construction, what the Treasury expense will he in the years immediately ahead. On the strength of that, my right hon. Friend asked me what was the total number of houses which we expect to complete in the three years. That is to say, what will be the number of slum clearance houses. I can give him an estimate, and that is that we expect in the year 1935–36 to complete something like 22,500 slum clearance houses, in the following year 15,000 and in the next year 10,000. That will complete the five-year programme. If he doubts our capacity to keep to this programme, may I say that the tenders approved for 1934 were for over 20,000 houses, and that the tenders which have been approved as the weeks go by during the present year, give us every reason to hope that we shall be able to carry out the programme. We may reasonably expect, with proper administration and organisation and a proper activity at the centre and in the localities, that this will be achieved.
The House knows the great activity that has been shown in regard to slum clearance since my right hon. Friend directed his attention to the problem. We are speeding up in slum clearance and may expect to keep a, steady pressure, and as regards overcrowding, I see no reason to doubt that 25,000 completed houses is quite within the bounds of possibility and that with slum clearance these houses will become predominantly 661 decrowded. The phraseology of Clause 64 is a matter of some concern to hon. Members. The general intention of that clause is consolidating, and so far as it deals with existing houses there is no intention to raise entirely new standards. If the clause is read as a whole it will be found that it gives ample scope for variation. By-laws have to be confirmed by the Department of Health, and if a by-law of unreasonable strictness is put up to the Department by any local authority, if it should desire to do such a thing, then the exercise of administrative common sense would come in and the by-law would be put into a reasonable and fair form.
The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) spoke with great clearness and force upon the general effect of the building of houses to deal with overcrowding upon existing houses in Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow. Broadly, his fear was that by building the necessary houses to accommodate the people who are overcrowded at present—the overcrowding exists mainly in the one and two-roomed houses—you would cause a large number of these one and two-roomed houses to be put out of use, to become empty. His second point was based on a reading of Clause 64 which I do not think he will hold now, that a large number of houses would become useless if there were to be a substantial raising of the standard of existing houses, such as he supposed to be involved in Clause 64.
The main result of his argument was that a hardship is involved in the Bill on existing owners, and he made a few suggestions as to how we should deal with that hardship. The first suggestion was that the houses which, it was assumed, this Bill would throw out of use and which would become empty, should be given the advantage of de-rating, should be relieved of owners' rates while they were empty. It will be seen that that proposition, given the assumption of a certain measure of equity, would have to be carefully considered. I think the House will agree that if you can point to a particular piece of legislation affecting especially a particular piece of property, it is a matter for consideration at all events as to whether you are not impressing upon that particular interest or piece of property too great a hardship. The first proposal that there should be 662 relief of rates for the houses which, on my right hon. Friend's assumption, are going to be rendered empty by this Bill, is a proposal which at all events directly deals with an assumed grievance. I shall not say more on that point.
The other proposal to which my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members have addressed themselves, was that a subsidy should be given to private owners for reconditioning, on the ground that by that means you would be dealing with and meeting an assumed hardship. The kind of subsidy that was referred to was the subsidy which was first described in the Whitson Report. The proposal for the relief of rates on houses which are specially affected by the Bill is at all events a direct way of meeting that particular point. I would add, with regard to the second proposal, that it does not seem to me, when it is analysed, to give any advantage to the householder from the point of view from which it was proposed.
The proposal of the Whitson Committee was that 50 per cent. of the cost of reconditioning should be met by the State and the local authority, but with a maximum of £75, and it was said that a great deal of the reconditioning in view could be done for sums of about £80 or £100. Take the figure of £80, by way of example. That would mean that the State and the local authority would give £40. A typical case which was referred to as suitable for reconditioning—it is the best case that can be taken—was the case of a tenement each storey of which contains three houses, two of which are two-roomed houses, and one a one-roomed house in the centre, and the proposal is that the one-roomed house should be converted into a bathroom and lavatory for the two-roomed houses on either side. Assuming that the cost is £80, the suggestion is that the public authority should give £40, and that that would be a real advantage to property owners. Would it?
Assume the reconditioning is done. What happens? One house out of the three ceases to be a rent bearing subject. The owner of the three houses loses the rent of one.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am sure my hon. Friend and I approach this matter from 663 different points of view, but perhaps he will allow me to complete my argument. One of the three houses ceases to bring in the rent of £13 or £15, or whatever it may be, and, as to that loss of rent, the Whitson Committee makes no suggestion at all except that rents would be controlled by the local authority. With regard to the actual cost of reconditioning the owner only gets half. Therefore, what the owner, for whom this is supposed to be so great 'an advantage, would have to consider before reconditioning under the Whitson scheme would be this: Can I afford to spend £40 myself and as a result lose the rent of one of the three houses? I venture to say that that suggestion, from the point of view put forward by my right hon. Friend himself, is unworkable unless the rents of the other two-roomed houses are substantially raised.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Is it practicable? I do not myself believe that in the economic conditions of the West of Scotland—though they are improving—it would be practicable, even if it were desirable, to raise the rents of two-roomed houses which have been reconditioned. I do not believe it is possible and if it were possible I do not myself believe that it is desirable.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Does not my hon. Friend see that his argument amounts to this, that as it is expected that the private property-owner will be killed out anyhow, there is no use giving him a draught of oxygen beforehand. What he fails to see is that although, as I agree, the extra revenue which he is going to get under the conditions which have been described will be nothing, nevertheless he will be able to preserve something which is still valuable to him, namely, some portion of his invested capital. That is what has to be considered. May I ask my hon. Friend, if that is his view of what is going to be the result to the private owner, why do they dangle this carrot before him in the Bill, asking hire, by himself and entirely unaided, to recondition the property and then saying they will "vet" him for five years?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I will deal with that point in a moment. I am dealing now, 664 I hope clearly, with the proposition of my right hon. Friend that there are two ways of helping private owners who are affected by the Bill, one by relieving the houses affected of rates, and the other by the project which I am discussing. I am not discussing the merits of the question as to whether the private owner ought to get subsidies or any of those points. I merely say that unless, as a sequel to the reconditioning, the rents of the two remaining houses are raised, so as to compensate for the loss of the third house, I do not believe the scheme would' be workable.
§ Mr. LEONARD
The hon. Gentleman in giving recognition to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) suggested that he was going to consider the derating of decrowded houses. Is he bearing in mind the fact that the decrowded house will still be available for smaller families?
§ Mr. SKELTON
In the meantime I am only dealing with this matter on the assumption of my right hon. Friend and, on his assumption, I venture to say that while his first proposal is certainly of assistance, his second proposal is not of assistance. I wish to put that most clearly to him, because I think it is fundamental. The next point which he makes is that there will be a large number of one and two-roomed houses still existing, but empty. I think he forgets that in redevelopment areas many of these one and two-roomed houses will be demolished, and the question there, the question of equity which no Parliament could refuse to consider, is this: Where a one or two-roomed or other house is demolished in the course of a redevelopment area scheme, is compensation to be paid along fair lines? You must remember that here is a habitable house being demolished. On that question I would only say that the demolition of habitable houses under improvement or redevelopment or clearance schemes, whatever you like to call them, has been going on since 1923, and that it is not proposed to alter the method of compensation which has been going on in relation to the 1923 slum clearance Act and the 1930 Act.
Broadly speaking, that method of compensating for habitable houses which have been demolished in the course of an im 665 provement scheme does not date even from 1923, but dates practically from the Unionist Housing Act of 1890. From 1923 onwards, thanks to those clearance schemes, improvement schemes, and so on, it has been necessary to give compensation for a considerable number of habitable houses demolished in the course of the clearances. The owners have been compensated along the same principle that compensation will be given under this Bill.
§ Mr. SKELTON
No, Sir. The assumption that this Bill has had any effect upon market value is, I believe, a relic of a misreading of Clause 64, and if my right hon. Friend will look at the Unionist legislation of 1923 and the Labour Act of 1930, which had exactly the same effect upon habitable property under certain conditions as this Bill will have, he will realise that compensation has had to be paid for a number of habitable houses in Scotland. We have had no complaints as to the amount of compensation given. So far as I know, no questions have been asked in the House, and no complaints have reached me. I cannot put it in a more categorical way, because the question of compensation is not one for the Department, but for the local authorities and individuals concerned. But I wish to make it very clear to the House and to the wider audience outside that now that another Bill will deal with habitable houses existing in re-development areas, no new principle of compensation detrimental to the interests of the owner of a habitable house is being introduced, but that the principles which have been in operation under the 1930 Act and which, practically unchanged, have been in existence since 1890, are the principles which will apply. That appears to me to be a matter of the very greatest importance.
I have dealt in this broad way with the main question of the one-and two-roomed houses as affected by this Bill, but let me emphasise once again my belief that when the system of re-development schemes is in operation, you will. not have that great mass of empty one-and two-roomed houses that is sometimes held before us as a probable result. I think many of them will be swept away and compensation 666 given, as I believe, on fair terms. It is further to be recollected that when the housing of the population is re-adjusted to the needs of the families, there will be considerable demand for two-roomed houses. When the standard of overcrowding is discussed people talk as if all families were increasing units, but after a certain stage the size of families decreases. It decreases when the children grow up. I think—and I am not alone in this view—that the utility of two-roomed houses in the future has naturally but inaccurately been very much underestimated. That is entirely apart from any question, which cannot of course be argued about, as to the probable size of future families. All we know is that, on the whole, the size of families tends to decline and that process may continue.
I am satisfied that there are not in the proposals that we put before the House those elements of injustice and of danger to particular classes of the community that are anticipated, and I venture to say that we would not be responsible for a Bill which put undue pressure and hardship upon any section of the community. I do not believe that in principle the point made by the hon. Gentleman who preceded me is one to which he himself would adhere. I do not think anybody with such a burning sense of injustice as the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs would say, when he thought the matter out, that injustice did not matter when it was applied to only a few people. We must in social legislation see that we do not put pressure, hardship and injustice upon a few or many. Such criticism cannot be made of this Bill, and echoes of it still remain in this Debate as an aftermath, I think, of a misunderstanding of Clause 64. When this Debate is fully considered by those who have taken part in it and who study the OFFICIAL REPORT, they will realise the true interpretation of Clause 64, and I believe that many of the fears that they have expressed will turn out to be out-of-date and no longer existing.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the point I raised in regard to compensation? Why are the Government so anxious to compensate those who will be penalised because of new ideas in housing, when they are not so anxious to meet the just demand of workers who are penalised as the result of rationalisation?
§ Mr. SKELTON
If the hon. Member has done me the kindness to follow the' observations I have put before the House, he will see that I have been dealing with the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead that there is a particular hardship. I was merely making a comment on his two suggestions, and further than that I do not propose to go at this stage. Before I close, let me recall, what I do not think has ever been far absent from the mind of the House, and that is the object of this Bill. On any historical question people give different explanations, but my own belief is that the lower standard of housing in Scotland as compared with England, rests on the fact that until a much later date than England, Scotland was a very poor country. Great parts of England have enjoyed great prosperity ever since the Middle Ages. Most of Scotland was terribly impoverished until the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution is not so far back, and a standard of housing is something of very slow growth, and it is not surprising that the Scottish population on the whole finds itself worse housed and overcrowded—and, indeed, endures those conditions more readily—than a population which has far greater traditions of wealth behind it.
But let us make no mistake. At this time, when progress moves upon such rapid feet; when the idiosyncrasies and the points of view of one district are obliterated in the general quickening of transport and the speed with which news travels from one part of the world to another, we cannot allow the present housing conditions to continue. I reecho what my right hon. Friend said, that by far the most grievous feature of Scottish social life to-day is overcrowding. Much is said—my hon. Friends opposite will not misunderstand me, or think this was the motive of this Bill—of the economic difficulties of Scotland, the way that Scotland is falling back in the race for industrial development, and so on. I think those views are exaggerated., but if we want to attract new industries to our country we must bring them to a country where the workers are well housed, where their inner spirits are filled with that sense of content for which good housing is essential, and though that is not our motive for dealing with a crying social need, I believe 668 that when this Bill is operated and this appalling proportion of overcrowding-15 out of every 100 living more than three to a room—is steadily decreasing, we shall have a factor in Scottish life which will be of direct assistance towards its future industrial and general prosperity.
The suggestion has been made from time to time—not in this House, but I have seen it elsewhere—that there is something revolutionary in a Government which contains Tories dealing with overcrowding. May I read one sentence from what was said by a Tory statesman—I will tell the House who it was in a moment:After all, whatever political arrangements we may adopt, whatever the political Constitution of our State may be, the foundation of all its prosperity and welfare must be that the mass of the people shall be honest and manly and shall have common sense. How can you expect that these conditions will exist among people subjected to the frightful influences which the present overcrowding of our poor produces?That is not a revolutionary proposition of an Under-Secretary in 1935. That was the great Lord Salisbury, speaking in the year 1884; and I do not think that even those among us who are Tories and have the greatest respect and belief for tradition—and I myself am not wanting in that respect—will feel that a step which is going to remedy a grievance pointed out in 1884 by one of the greatest of Tory leaders can, from a Unionist point of view, be regarded as an unjustifiable revolution.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Brigadier -General Sir WILLIAM ALEXANDER
I do not propose to detain the House more than a minute or two. I have sat here continuously since a quarter to four in order to make a speech which I thought it necessary to make, especially in regard to a constituency such as mine, right in the heart of Glasgow's industrial area, where the bulk of the property consist of single-apartment and two-apartment houses. Of single-apartment houses there are 1,700; of two-roomed apartment houses there are close on 16,000; of three-roomed houses there are close on 3,000 and there are less than 5,000 with more than five rooms. When I heard the statement of the Secretary of State to-day, I decided that I would cut out a great deal of the 669 criticism I proposed to put forward in reference to the undoubted injustices in this Bill and the need of a fair deal for all parties. It was my view, on hearing the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that he had taken a brave and a wise course; and that instead of this Bill, as issued, being twin sister to the Unemployment Assistance Bill, we are going to receive consideration and a drastic improvement and amendment of the Bill, especially in regard to Clause 64. But when the Under-Secretary delivered his speech, it appeared to me to a very large extent to countermand the commitments and promises made by the Secretary of State.
We are all in favour of the ideas and the hopes of this Bill so far as overcrowding is concerned. The only exception that we take to the Bill is that it creates injustices for certain classes of decent, respectable people who have invested savings in these properties, and also for landlords. We also believe that there is a better and more businesslike way of dealing with this overcrowding than by this policy of simply building new houses and giving no compensation for properties which could be reconditioned at much less cost to the State and to the taxpayer. I will give an idea of one way in which a considerable improvement could be made both in the matter of finance and in the matter of the time to be occupied in dealing with this problem of de-crowding. In my own constituency, which is typical of many constituencies in Glasgow, the bulk of the working-class property is of the single-room, two-room and three-room type. In a tenement you have a single-room house in the centre and two-room houses on either side. It is proposed that these properties, which are built of good, solid stone, could be economically reconditioned to meet the requirements of this Bill.
It does not seem to have occurred to anyone that it would pay to compensate the owners of those properties to recondition, and to pay them well, because while you cut out the single apartment in order to convert it into a bathroom and the conveniences for each of the two-roomed houses on either side, the tenants can still keep those two rooms, and there is no more disturbance than putting out one person from a single apartment, and you achieve more cheaply and quickly a 670 solution of the evil of overcrowding which we are trying to abate. It will be necessary in Committee materially and drastically to alter the injustices in the Bill in order to make the Bill popular to the mass of the people in Scotland. There is one thing in Scotland that we do like, and that is a square deal for all classes irrespective of rank. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to eliminate the weak spots in this otherwise good Bill, so that it may come back to the House for passing as a sane, sound, commercial and popular proposition.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I, also, am very much disturbed after the speech of the Under-Secretary of State. I took it from the speech of the Secretary of State that there was to be a very definite exclusion of existing houses, which were to be compelled to have these desirable conditions imposed upon them, but now it seems that there is at the end of the Bill a sub-section which says:The operation of any by-laws made under this section may be limited to houses of particular classes or in particular areas.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Yes. This can be dealt with over the heads of the local authority. We must remember that we are dealing with a Government Department and we have seen such handling of the unemployment business, and we do not know what they may do. We know that the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. As the result of the introduction of the Bill there has been an extraordinary amount of uneasiness, not only among the property owners but among the workers, who are afraid that their privacy is to be disturbed and that inspectors may be coming in late at night to see how many people are sleeping in a room.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
That is the sort of thing, and there is disturbance in every class of the community. Hon. Members must not take it from the attitude of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) or, still more, from the attitude of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that most of the working-class in Scotland 671 believe that the man who has erected a house, although it may have been done out of the fruits of his own labour, has done them an injury. I never could see why there should be this feeling against a man who built a house and sheltered another man. I should have thought that would be very popular. It is very like a man who lends money to his friend—who loses his money and his friend—the ordinary rational being would say that as long as a man did not over-charge or over-rent, but took a small and moderate return, as many property owners take from small property investments, that was not a person to be done down and not compensated. He is spoken of by some hon. Members opposite as if it was a criminal offence to own property, as though the property owner were a man whom it was no midemeanour to chisel out of his halfpence. As a hard working father, the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs has, I hope, accumulated a little, and will not leave his sons without anything. I hope he will have the good sense not to put his money into house property. But these gentlemen do not represent the tenants. What always strikes me in the working man's relations with his landlord is his astonishing honesty and desire to give the landlord a square deal. He has no hatred for his landlord. He pays his rent, wishing it were not so high, but the higher rent is camouflaged by the disgraceful rating system in Scotland. It is scandalous that the poor landlord, even though he only gets a return of 2½ or 3 per cent., should have to bear the unpopularity due to these high rates. It was the city assessor of Glasgow who got the Bill through which mixed up the two things. The tenants do not know that it is the wicked corporation that is piling up these enormous charges; they think it is the poor landlord.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of correction. It is not the corporation at all that is to blame because the rents are high. The city assessor rates the assessment on the rent, and it is because the landlords have made the rents so high that the rates are correspondingly high.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
But the landlord's rent has been restricted, and now he has to collect both the rent and the rates. He is made the Stubbs, the debt 672 collector of the corporation, and no one is more unpopular than a debt collector. He gets all the unpopularity that ought to attach to the corporation. I remember a sermon being preached on the importunate creditor, and its being discovered afterwards that the importunate creditor was the preacher's own landlord. He never thought of the roof that protected him from the cold Scottish winds and the hail and the snow. It is like a man who borrows your umbrella. The landlord is the person who puts the umbrella over the tenant. Why should there not be some little consideration for him?
Why is there so much overcrowding in Scotland? It has been largely due to cold and hunger. People took in lodgers to help them with their household expenses. Food is infinitely more important than even a house, though of course both are important. What we really want is better feeding of the people. How did this overcrowding come about in Glasgow? It was because, during the War, there was a tremendous rush of people into the city owing to the colossal wages that were being paid to the munition workers—£10 and £15 a week. On the other hand, the rents were restricted, so that the one person who got nothing was the man who sheltered the people. Then they stayed on in Glasgow because they thought it was better than the place from which they came, and that was the real cause of the overcrowding.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It is all over Scotland because Scotland is always a cold country. If people are given rooms and no means of artificially heating them, they will crowd together. If the buildings were on sensible lines, with heating pipes passing through them. there would be no temptation to overcrowd, but if the people are not given the coals with which to heat their rooms, they are of no value to them, and they all crowd into one room. Mention has been made of the fact that many people are sleeping in kitchens, but there is no more comfortable place to sleep in than a kitchen. Sensible people want to keep warm in the cold Scottish winter, and that is the reason for the small Scottish houses. Of course the time may come when we have a better system of housing, with central heating for whole streets and towns, and when 673 it will be possible to turn on hot water from taps, but in the meantime, as long as the Scottish climate continues as it has been in my experience, there will always be a tendency for people to crowd together for the mere purpose of keeping warm. It is not the size of the house or the size of the rooms that makes for happiness. Hon. Members who have bibles may have read in the Old Testament that it is better to dwell in the corner of a housetop where love is than with a brawling woman in a wide room.
Under Clause 5 people are to be licensed to have persons in excess of the permitted number to sleep. What a monstrous proposition! There is a town in my constituency where battleships come in occasionally. The inhabitants, women especially, beg me to get battleships to visit the place. One woman told me she could put up 12 sailors in one room at 1s. 6d. a night and a shilling for breakfast and she could make enough money to keep her children in boots and clothes for the winter. After all, the doors are open and there is the greatest possible propriety. There is safety in numbers.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Of course it is. but what have you clone to help them? I have tried to keep the shipyards and distilleries open. There is no doubt that we have a lot of bad houses. We have heard from the hon. Member for Shettleston about houses with the sanitary arrangements all wrong. If he would use his influence with the plumbers to do their job properly, I will get the lawyers to do their work and we shall get houses for the poor people a great deal cheaper. I do not think it is possible for the worker to pay more than he is doing. If you give them bath rooms and the landlord sacrifices the rent for the single house, only getting the same rent for the two houses with bath rooms, there will not be overcrowding and within a year or two the difficulty will be to a large extent solved.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It is an unusual procedure for Government supporters to continue the Debate after. the Government spokesman has spoken. It is not 674 uncommon for the Opposition to do that, but most uncommon on the part of Government supporters. I am not criticising hon. Members for doing a most unusual thing in carrying on the Debate after the Government speaker had closed it, and I make no apology for following the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) as this to us is a serious problem.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
It is a problem which cannot be treated even after 11 o'clock at night with levity by the House of Commons. It is a problem affecting the well-being of great masses of our people.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am not suggesting what either one Member or another has done. Whatever we may say about the Bill, it affects great masses of people. It is not a little thing. It affects districts throughout the whole of Scotland. I agree a good deal with some of the criticisms that have been made here. One of the reasons for my speaking is to reply to the hon. Member for the Central Division of Glasgow (Sir W. Alexander). One of the matters at issue, and all must recognise it, is that the great masses of the people are concerned about housing, but, because of the great issue of poverty, even housing has become a secondary consideration. It is not because they do not wish to have houses, but because other ideas claim so much of their time and attention.
When I heard the hon. Member for the Central Division claiming to speak for his division by saying that in his division one-and two-roomed houses, if you gave the owner the subsidy, could be made into even better houses for the workpeople, I really wondered if he knew his division. I know every street there. I have walked through it all. There has not been a house, with the exception of those built by the City Improvement Trust, built in that division in the last 60 years. Indeed, the average is 80 years, and he comes here with such a proposal. He thinks that it is fair that we should hand over public money at times—and this is used in connection with Conservative arguments 675 —when we have only a limited sum to spend. When we have only that limited sum, the amount needed for human needs is to be handed over to people who have property, some of which is 60 years old. What happens in any other business? Those people have to set aside something each year for depreciation and renewal. In this case they have not set aside a penny. I heard the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) read out a letter to which must be given a certain amount of sympathy. He stated that it was the case of a widow who lost her husband through drowning, that she had two children, and, he pointed out, was unable to pay for the reconditioning of her property. She is not the only widow. What he is claiming is a type of treatment for that widow which is not granted to other widows.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am asking nothing for that widow except plain justice; that, and nothing more. I ask that her property shall not be destroyed by Act of Parliament, without compensation.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
She is not the only widow to-day not receiving a pension. I could give scores of cases, but they have no property. The problem here is not merely a housing problem, but a problem for this country to see that that widow is decently treated, but not as an owner of property. She should be decently treated whether she owns property or not. He became a little annoyed when I asked where he got certain figures. He has not answered. When a man gives figures, it is not uncivil to ask him where he got them. One is entitled to know the source of them. If they come from the property owners, then we know the source and we can give them their proper place in the argument. The property owners are behind this agitation and, naturally, they make the figures for themselves. They have not been supplied by the local authority.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The proper way for the hon. Member to deal with this matter is not to revile the source of the figures, but to challenge their accuracy.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Certainly. These figures have been published and they have been public property. There is no ques 676 tion who has supplied them to the Press. One of the colleagues of the hon. Member knows where the figures come from. The proper course for the hon. Member for Gorbals is to challenge their accuracy.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished advocate, and he is not doing credit to his profession. What have I heard in the courts? I put this to any barrister: I have heard learned judges say that if a man makes an assertion it is not for me to disprove it but for the man to prove it. My right hon. Friend has made an assertion about figures and he ought to prove it. Instead of doing so he says: "They come from the house owners, and because you are not a house owner, because you have no access to the facts you have to accept them." He has made no attempt to prove them. I hope I do not speak ungenerously of a colleague, but we feel that he does not do himself or Scotland justice. He has ability—I only wish had half as much—he has great capacity. We meet in the Scottish Standing Committee, where I have gone for 12 or 13 years, and discuss human issues, the Poor Law and other things affecting his constituents, although not to the same degree as they affect my constituents, but I have never yet seen him there. He comes here to-night, when there is an issue of human life under discussion—not merely the interests of property owners but the welfare of the residents in the houses, and how they are to live, and we hear his voice claiming justice for the owners of property. Never once during all the years that we have been discussing these other human issues has be ever helped us. It does not do him or his movement credit.
This agitation has been carefully engineered. Why? The trend of the Government in recent months in the Scottish Office has been to make concessions to us. In Scottish Poor Law they have made concession after concession. The property owners were not likely to wait. Unlike the people on unemployment insurance, who can only agitate after their case has been decided, the property owners agitate before legislation is passed, and are now demanding 677 from the Government more in the way of concessions than should be given by any public authority to private owners. This agitation is engineered in order to make this Bill a battleground between the vested interests in property and the Government. We do not intend to allow that to be the battleground; we intend to make the condition of the great masses of poor people the issue. Everyone has said that we must deal with the canker of overcrowding, and at the same time we have heard a great deal about compensation. I have a case in my pocket of a person who claimed insurance from a company, the judge awarded damages, but the person cannot be paid because the company has gone broke. He cannot get one penny. And we are told that property owners are to be singled out for different treatment.
We shall divide against the Bill because it does not go far enough. What is the use of giving people new homes unless you give them incomes upon which they can live in these new homes? That is the crucial issue. If I had to choose between a bad house and an income I should take the income. Food is the first consideration for these poor people, food and clothing, and unless you provide them with a sufficient income you are only making the problem worse. The Bill does not face the problem of income. I should be the last to depreciate the value of decent housing conditions, but we do feel misgivings that the Bill does nothing to deal with the income problem. As to the number of people to the house, this is no new problem in Glasgow. I think, however, that the fear of inspection has been exaggerated. It has not been badly abused in Glasgow. The only thing is that I do not like it. I do not like people having power to walk in and see whether you have three, four or five living in a house. Once the Government makes a stand for human decency, and it is accepted by the people, the great mass will carry it out without any need for investigation and inspection. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) knows that the great mass of the people in Glasgow do not go with their children into a public-house, not so much because of a law against it as because it is not thought decent.
So let us get decent, human conditions for our people in Scotland. But I look 678 upon the principle of any kind of compensation as wrong. These owners have drawn rents from the people. We have heard some reference to the widow owner. I went to the Glasgow small debt court only a short time ago, and on the top of every paper I found that the name of the property owner had to be stated. Out of 300 owners, less than 10 per cent. lived in Glasgow. They lived in every place but Glasgow. They had never seen the property, and carde little how the people lived in it so long as the owners got enough profit out of it. I have no sympathy to give them. When people are universally unpopular among the great mass of fair-minded people, there is always a reason for it. They have not become unpopular because they own property, but because of the way in which they have dealt with the masses of the people, and they are the most unpopular section of our community.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. STEVENSON
I would not have intervened had it not been necessary to remove a misunderstanding in the minds of certain people with reference to property owners. Particularly I desire to do it, because I have been in close touch with them in my constituency, which includes a large number of very small properties in the east-end of Glasgow. The properties are of different types. I am satisfied with the explanation which was given by the Secretary of State that these property owners are satisfied with the Bill so far as it goes. The objection which certain of us take to the Bill is that it does not go far enough. The position is that the Government have provided that there are to he proper, wholesome, sanitary houses for the people who are at present either in slums under slum-clearing legislation or are living in crowded conditions. But it leaves what I think we can say are the very best of the working classes of our country to occupy houses with the lowest standard of sanitation. It is against that that we complain.
You may build new houses to provide for those who now occupy the slums, but the working man in Scotland who has been able to pay a small rent is living in a two-roomed house, and there may be one lavatory for three families in many of these houses. These lavatories are kept perfectly clean in many cases, but in other cases, where there is a large 679 number of families, they are not in a satisfactory condition. We have to remember the condition of many of the properties in Scotland, and the fact that you cannot build a separate lavatory alongside a bedroom. You require to take away one of the rooms out of the house. I am looking at this matter entirely from the tenant's point of view, and I want to show what the financial effect is going to be on both the landlord and the tenant. So far as the landlord is concerned, if he voluntarily cuts up the building and makes proper lavatory accommodation in the case of the average tenement in Glasgow, he is going to lose a revenue of £20 a, year. If he is going to carry out reconstruction it is going to cost a capital sum of £600, entailing a loss of about £60 a year. That cannot be done. It cannot be paid for by these property owners in Glasgow.
What we say is that the landlords are prepared to lose their £30 a year if the Government will contribute to the cost of this alteration. Not one penny of additional revenue will go into the landlord's pocket. The sole advantage will accrue to the tenants. That is what is wanted by those whom I represent. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) asked why had we not built up a reserve fund. We have not done so because the conditions in Scotland are entirely different from those in England. When the Rent Restrictions Act was introduced in 1920 property owners here got 40 per cent. increase to defray the extra cost of maintenance. In Scotland owing to the particular rating system we got our 40 per cent. increase and we got 7½ per cent. for the increase of rates on the owner up to that date but that 47½ per cent. had to be added to the value of the property and on that we are rated. The result was that as rates grew the percentage went down and in Glasgow, instead of 40 per
§ cent. increase we barely have 15 per cent. There is a great distinction between the two rating systems.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Member is talking about something that has only operated in recent years but these houses have been in existence for perhaps 60 or 70 years, before the Rent Restrictions Act or anything of that description.
§ Mr. STEVENSON
That is quite right, but there is a large number of houses which were built before the War, and during the War the rates were high. There is another distinction. There is another very great distinction between England and Scotland in this respect, that the owners in Scotland, by paying rates, have been contributing to the building of subsidised houses by the local authority. In other words, the owners have been building houses to compete with their own. The owners also contribute to the public assistance fund, and therefore they are helping to pay the rates of these houses. Nobody has suggested that the Government should recondition these houses where they have only a very few years of life. We are all satisfied that no grant should be given unless the Government is satisfied that there are at least 30 or 40 years' life in the property. We are not suggesting that you should throw money away, but we are suggesting that by reconditioning certain of these tenements which have a good life, it will in the end of the day be very much cheaper to the community at large, and it will achieve the main object of allowing the type of person who most requires it to live in a house that is not only wholesome, but which has up-to-date and proper sanitary arrangements.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 118; Noes, 30.681
|Division No. 57.]||AYES.||[11.38 p.m.|
|Albery, Irving James||Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)|
|Alexander, Sir William||Burghtey, Lord||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Assheton, Ralph||Burnett, John George||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Duncan. James A. L. (Kensington, N.)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Casttereagh, Viscount||Eastwood, John Francis|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Eillston, Captain George Sampson|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Evans, Capt Arthur (Cardiff, S.)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Cook, Thomas A.||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Cooke, Douglas||Ford, Sir Patrick J.|
|Buchan, John||Copeland, Ida||Fraser, Captain Sir Ian|
|Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Mac Donald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Gluckstein, Louis Haile||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Goff, Sir Park||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Greene. William P. C.||Maitland, Adam||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Spens, William Patrick|
|Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Ztl'nd)||May hew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Stevenson, James|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Milne, Charles||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chlsw'k)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Templeton, William P,|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B,||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Jamieson, Douglas||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Pearson, William G.||Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Penny, Sir George||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Liewellin, Major John J.||Petherick, M.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midiothian)||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Loftus. Pierce C.||Ramsay, T. B, W. (Western Isles)||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Mabane, William||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick)||Resbotham, Sir Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Ross, Ronald D.||Sir Frederick Thompson and Sir Walter Womersley.|
|Banfield, John William||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McGovern, John|
|Batey, Joseph||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Mainwaring, William Henry|
|Buchanan. George||Jenkins, Sir William||Maxton, James|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Paling, Wilfred|
|Cleary, J. J.||Kirkwood, David||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lansbury, Rt. Hon, George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Wilmot, John|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Leonard, William|
|Edwards, Charles||Lunn, William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
Question put, and agreed to.