HC Deb 02 July 1935 vol 303 cc1788-91

8.5 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 14, line 40, after "buildings," to insert: (not being houses or buildings situated on land entered in the valuation roll as agricultural lands and heritages and required for the purposes for which such land is used). This Amendment is put down to redeem a pledge given by my right hon. Friend to the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) on the Committee stage, when my right hon. Friend said, in reply to the hon. Member: He asked me whether local authorities would have power to buy a tied house and so upset the economy of a farm. I do not think for one moment they would do so, but if he would prefer that some Amendment be made at a later stage, I would gladly give an undertaking to insert in the Bill words which will make clear that point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee on Scottish Bills, 1st May, 1935; col. 645.] This Amendment is intended to meet that pledge, and I think it does so.

8.6 p.m.


I want to thank my hon. Friend for the trouble which the Government have taken in drawing up this Amendment in fulfilment of the pledge which they gave. Although I do not suppose it could have been the intention of the Bill that what I feared might be done should be done, I think it is well to insert these words in order to remove certain apprehensions that existed.

Amendment agreed to.

8.7 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 14, line 40, to leave out "are, or may be made, suitable," and to insert "are being used."

The Clause deals with the re-conditioning of buildings and proposes to give power to local authorities to acquire compulsorily, for the purpose of Part III of the Act of 1925, any houses or other buildings which are or may be made suitable as dwelling-houses for the working classes. I entirely sympathise, of course, with local authorities being allowed compulsorily to acquire such houses, and I am entirely in favour, as I daresay the Committee will have understood from the somewhat long speech that I made, of re-conditioning by the local authorities as well as by private bodies. I think, however, that the power which my right hon. Friend seeks to give to local authorities here is unnecessarily extensive and might upon occasion be open to considerable abuse. In the re-conditioning of working-class houses, obviously all that is required to be obtained is the property itself. I have already described to the House the kind of tenements which we have in Glasgow, where you have single-room houses flanked by double-room houses on each side, and the easiest re-conditioning of these houses would be to convert the single room in between the two flanking double rooms into two bathrooms, emerging into the houses on each side.

In that way you would have a series of two-room houses, with appropriate sanitary accommodation, in fabrics and buildings which to-day are as good as when they were put up. That would enable working-class people to get, much more readily than they will under the other Clauses of this Bill, a type of house which would be very convenient to live in. Why should the power be extended for the acquisition of houses which might be made suitable for working-class accommodation? I can scarcely conceive of any house which could not be made suitable for working-class accommodation. You might take any district you like and say that it would be very convenient for a certain number of people to live there, and you might take over a series of villas and adapt them, for which purpose you may compulsorily expropriate the inhabitants into working-class houses. That is a power which is quite unnecessary and which, by many local authorities, could very readily be abused. The situation could be taken advantage of quite unnecessarily, for reasons which might be somewhat outside the ordinary motives which inspire people in the acquiring of these houses.

In these circumstances, I suggest that the purpose of the Bill would be entirely served if the power to re-condition houses by the local authorities were confined to houses which are already in existence and are being used as working-class houses. Heaven knows, there is a big enough job to be done in that direction in most of the communities in the West of Scotland, and I submit that the local authorities will have plenty of scope for their efforts without dangling in front of them possibilities of other forms of acquisition which are entirely unnecessary and which, as I have already said, might be open to considerable abuse.

8.12 p.m.


The right hon. Gentleman has very consistently urged that the Government should insert in this Bill powers to re-condition property, but the Amendment to which we are now directed would have the effect, no doubt unintentionally, of taking away certain powers which the local authorities already possess under the 1919 Act. Further, in Section 44 (1, b) of the Act of 1925, local authorities were given powers of compulsory acquisition of non-working-class houses which might be made suitable, by conversion or re-conditioning, for working-class accommodation. It is true that this Clause goes a little further and will give power to local authorities to purchase working-class dwellings which may be re-conditioned by local authorities. I think, therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman realises that the wording of his Amendment runs counter, not only to the expressed intentions of Parliament as far back as 1919, but to intentions which found expression also in the Act of 1925, an Act passed six years after the first Act had been passed, and after no doubt some experience had been gained of the 1919 Act, he will not expect the Government to-day to go back upon what has been on the Statute Book in one case for upwards of 16 years and which found expression in the further Act of 1925. If these words were inserted powers would be taken away from the local authorities which they at present possess, and that might have the effect of restricting the improvement of working-class houses. For this and other reasons the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised that the Government are unable to accept the Amendment.

He spoke of these powers leading to abuse. I am sure that no hon. Member in any part of the House desires that the wide powers entrusted by Parliament to local authorities should be abused. Throughout the discussions on this Bill I have always been very anxious to find out any particular case in which local authorities have abused their powers, and if now, or in the future administration of this Bill, any case is brought to the notice of myself or anyone connected with the Scottish Office showing prima facie that a subject of the realm is being unfairly treated either by local authorities or the officials of the Department I will immediately look into the matter. I realise that when these large powers are being transferred to these authorities subjects of the realm may naturally feel apprehensive, and having sat in this House for many years in opposition to the Government of the day, and having voiced the views of those who opposed the Government, I sympathise completely with those who are jealous of the powers which Parliament entrusts to Departments and local authorities. If any cases can be brought forward in which there has been abuse or hardship or unfairness to any inhabitant of Scotland who owns these properties I will look into it sympathetically, but as this particular Amendment runs counter to the expressed intentions of Parliament and would have the effect of restricting the powers of the local authorities to make the best use they can of the properties in their areas for the better housing of the people I regret that I am unable to accept it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: In page 15, line 23, at the end, insert: and the following proviso shall be added at the end of the said Sub-section:— 'Provided that nothing in paragraph (b) of this Sub-section shall authorise a local authority to acquire (otherwise than by agreement) any house or other building which is situated on land entered in the valuation roll as agricultural lands and heritages and is required for the purposes for which such land is used.'

In line 34, leave out "leasing, feuing, or selling," and insert "selling, feuing, or leasing."—[Sir G. Collins.]