HC Deb 02 July 1935 vol 303 cc1743-50

5.5 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 11, to leave out from the first "as," to "after," in line 12, and to insert "the Department may."

This Amendment and the following Amendment—in page 2, line 1, after "authority," to insert "fix as respects their district"—are drafting Amendments. I will, if I may, read the first portion of the Clause as it will stand when thus amended: It shall be the duty of every local authority, before such dates as the department may, after consultation with the authority, fix as respects their district …

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: in page 2, line 1, after "authority," insert "fix as respects their district."—[Mr. Skelton.]

5.6 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, after "showing," to insert: in such detail as the Department may direct. It will be within the recollection of Members of the Scottish Grand Committee that during the progress of the Bill hon. Members in all parts of the Committee asked that these instructions should be drawn up on uniform lines, and that the Bill should contain some form of words which would secure that object. I gave an undertaking that such words should be inserted. The reports should include the following information: The number of empty houses in the district; the number of overcrowded houses; the extent of sub-letting; how far overcrowding can be relieved by a better distribution of population; how many new houses are estimated to be required; the sizes of the new houses. Information such as this will be asked for by the Department. When we met the representatives of the local authorities in Edinburgh a fortnight ago, this question arose, and we invited that body to appoint some of their members to assist the officials of the Department of Health, so that a form might be drawn up which would be advantageous to the local authorities and would secure the information that will be necessary for the purposes of the Act.

5.8 p.m.


Was the meeting that the right hon. Gentleman had with the local authorities of Scotland a fortnight ago in pursuance of the pledge that he gave during the Committee stage?




The right hon. Gentleman promised that there should be a meeting with the 29 authorities in order to consider certain matters to which they took some exception. Can he give us some information about that meeting?


The point on which I undertook, during the latter stages of the Bill, to confer with the local authorities in Scotland, did come up at the meeting to which I have just referred, but that question will arise at a Later stage of the Bill. It was mentioned during the course of the discussion to which I have just referred, which was a long one, but I thought it might be of interest if I mentioned now that the local authorities are with us in this matter, and we are seeking their advice and assistance in the preparation of this form.


As regards the conference between the Secretary of State and these bodies with regard to the matter that arose during the latter part of the Committee stage, may I take it that the right hon. Gentleman will inform the House later as to what transpired, and as to any agreement that may have been reached?



Amendment agreed to.

5.10 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 21, at the end, to insert: (3) Any proposals under this section for the provision of additional housing accommodation shall be accompanied by a statement of the steps which the local authority propose to take to secure that the rehousing of families living under the worst conditions as regards overcrowding is provided for first. This Amendment, also, gives effect to a pledge made during the Committee stage of the Bill, that words should be inserted to secure that the worst cases should be taken first. As the House will see, the method adopted is that, when proposals to deal with overcrowding are submitted by the local authorities to the Department, those proposals shall be accompanied by a statement of the steps that the local authorities propose to take to secure that the worst cases shall be dealt with first.

5.11 p.m.


I think there ought to be some definition of what the worst conditions are. I understood that what is proposed in the Amendment is what is done by the local authorities now, that is to say, that the worst houses, in which people are living under the worst conditions, are cleared first. Is this an attempt to lay down a uniform basis on which the local authorities shall act, and what is to be the test? Is it to be, for instance, the number of children, which seems to be the case in some instances now? Sometimes, however, there are other conditions which are more serious than the number of children. Sometimes there is disease, such as tuberculosis, which has already been mentioned in this connection. You cannot run a straight line along and say that such-and-such conditions are the worst; there are many factors which enter into the question. I would rather that the local authorities, with all their faults, shortcomings and failures, were left a free hand in these matters, because they know each case, and very often it must come down to a consideration of individual cases.

5.12 p.m.


With regard to the question of tied houses on farms, I understood, from everything that was said by the Government in Committee upstairs, that tied houses on a farm would be dealt with very leniently and with a good deal of latitude, and that the local authorities would use discretion, because the question is a very difficult one. It seems to me, however, that, under the Amendment now proposed by the Government, the local authority would have no option if the tied house happened to be the house in the worst condition as regards overcrowding. If the survey of the district should show that the tied houses are the worst as regards overcrowding, the local authority, under this proposal, would be compelled at once to deal with them. So far as I can see, there is nothing in the Bill to show how the question of the tied house is to be dealt with, and I should be grateful for some information on that point.

5.13 p.m.


Perhaps, with the permission of the House, I may reply to the questions which have been put to me. I think the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has not read the Amendment with his usual thoroughness. The words are not merely "the worst conditions," but "the worst conditions as regards overcrowding." The hon. Member will recollect that the Bill deals with overcrowding, and it was strongly impressed upon us in Committee that, when the local authorities were putting forward a comprehensive plan or programme to deal with the overcrowding discovered by the survey, they should show that they proposed to carry out that programme in such a way that the most severe or the worst conditions as regards overcrowding would be dealt with first.

5.14 p.m.


There is the question of disease, certain forms of which, while they might not be certifiable, would be shocking when people were crowded together. Moreover, with a family of four boys the conditions would not be so bad as with a family of two girls and a boy. Would the Amendment mean that the local authority, if they had a case which they considered it advisable to deal with on account of some serious trouble, would not be able to deal with it first because it was not the worst case as regards numbers? This will be a reactionary proposal if it interferes with the power of the local authority to deal with cases of trouble of that kind.

5.15 p.m.


I quite follow my hon. Friend. I do not think the worst cases of overcrowding are to be judged by reference to numbers only, other considerations would be taken into account. Any programme which dealt with the worst cases first would have regard to the factors which my hon. Friend referred to. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Sir R. Smith) knows the difficulties involved in the question of farm cottages, and knows, from the undertakings given by my right hon. Friend in Committee and elsewhere, that the question of farm cottages and overcrowding is to be the subject of further investigation by a committee. He will recollect if he was in the House on Friday that I stated we were proposing by administrative methods to see that in the case of future contributions for the improvement of farm cottages it should where necessary be a condition of a grant that there was an improvement in the accommodation. My hon. Friend suggests that local authorities will be compelled under this Clause to deal immediately with farm cottages which otherwise they would not deal with, but I do not think that position will arise. I do not think their proposals could deal with farm cottages in the first instance, but I will look into the matter to see whether there is a point in regard to the phraseology of the Sub-section to be taken up, and if necessary I will undertake to have it put right in another place.

5.17 p.m.


I wish that this new Sub-section had read: "Living under the worst conditions in regard to houses," because it seems to me that is the important factor. I feel the Subsection is really necessary, because we all know that even local authorities are apt to be influenced by commercial motives. They want things to be a success, and there has been a tendency for them to select as tenants not always those most in need of better houses but those who are likely to be best tenants from what one may call "a landlord's point of view." I think this Amendment will be a useful check upon them and it ought to be inserted.

5.19 p.m.


I wish to reinforce the appeal made in connection with this Amendment. Often after a Bill has been passed we find that we have neglected to make it definite enough to deal with certain types of cases, and I think this Subsection might be much more definite in its instructions to local authorities to deal with cases such as were mentioned by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). We have frequently raised this point with the Glasgow Corporation and with the Scottish Office, and are always told there is no power to deal exclusively with such cases, urgent as they are from a health standpoint. This question arises frequently where a member of a family has tuberculosis. I have come across three such cases in the last two years. In one case there were eight children and the father and mother—10 in all—in a single-apartment house. For 15 months I was trying to get them another house, although I found that in the meantime people with only two or three in a family had been provided with houses. One boy in that family had returned home from a sanatorium. Although not cured of tuberculosis, he was dumped right back among those young children, spreading infection throughout the home. We were told that the local authority could not deal specifically with that case, although in view of the danger to the health of the other children it was one of great urgency.

We have striven to get special provisions under which cases of this kind could be dealt with effectually, and I appeal to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary to go into the matter and to give definite instructions to the authorities to treat them as urgent. May I say, in passing, that I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary back in his place? I regret that he was not present during the Committee proceedings. While the Bill was dealt with very completely and adequately in Committee we did feel that his presence was lacking. I am sure that he and the Secretary of State will be prepared to go into the matter to see whether anything further can be done. After the Bill has been passed I do not want the local authorities to say "Yours was the obligation; you ought to have met your obligations in the House. You cannot now come to us as a public body and ask us to do the things you neglected to do yourselves." While we are waiting for overcrowding to be completely abolished we ought to deal with cases of the type indicated as drastically and as effectively as possible.

5.23 p.m.


We have heard nothing but commendation, so far, for this proposal, but it does not seem to do much except to ask local authorities to add something to the report for which the Clause already makes provision. I should like to know whether we have visualised that some regard should be paid to the possibility of differing conceptions of "the worst conditions," in various localities. That was a point touched upon by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). Attention ought to be paid to the matter by the Department, and the local authorities communicated with if they do not act up to this standard. I would draw attention to the statement in Sub-section (2): it shall be the duty of the authority to cause a further inspection to be made and to prepare and submit a report and proposals as aforesaid as respects their district or any part thereof and where the Department give a direction under this Subsection they may fix dates before which the performance of the said duties is to be completed. In view of the fact that the worst conditions have now to be indicated, do I take it that the Department will endeavour to get an agreement with the local authorities to submit a report on the time within which they will have dealt with the worst conditions.


The last point is certainly outwith the scope of the new Subsection. It deals only with the programme, including the steps being taken to deal with the worst cases. It has nothing to do with the date of completion of the programme, which is another matter entirely. Both my right hon. Friend and I have been impressed with what has been said with regard to ascertaining what are the worst cases, but I do not think I can add anything further, except to say that we will look carefully into what has been said, and if words can be added which do not leave the Sub-section too full of detail, which is always a risk, we will consider whether it can be made clearer that the test of the worst houses is not to be only the numbers housed in them but that other considerations are to be taken into account.


I take it that it will include the health conditions as well as the overcrowding?


We will consider that point.

Amendment agreed to.