§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
I desire to ask your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order. We considered this Bill on Report stage yesterday, and extensive Amendments of the Secretary of State for Scotland were made. The Bill which is now in the Vote Office and in the possession of hon. Members is merely the Housing (Scotland) Bill as amended in Standing Committee, and I submit that if hon. Members who take part in the discussion on Third Reading want to refer to the Bill in an intelligent manner they will find it impossible to do so, because the Amendments which were carried yesterday on Report are not in the available copy of the Bill. It would require a reference to the OFFICIAL REPORT of yesterday to see the extensive Amendments which were carried. They are not in the copy of the Bill now in the Vote Office, and I am asking for your advice as to the position in which hon. Members are now placed in being asked to give a Third Reading to a Bill, not as amended on the Report stage, but as presented on the Report stage.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
Before you give your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I draw attention to one point. It is true that the Bill was amended yesterday, and that the copy of the Bill in the Vote Office is as it left the Scottish Standing Committee. A great number of the Amendments yesterday were purely drafting, but, in addition, there were certain Amendments which had been on the Order Paper for several weeks. The point I desire to put is that no change was made yesterday to which the House took exception. There was only one Division. A great number of Amendments were considered yesterday without the House joining issue; indeed, there was a general desire that the Government Amendments should go through, and we are grateful to the Opposition for assisting us in that matter. I believe there are previous occasions, although I cannot recall them to my mind at the moment, when the House 1878 has considered the Third Reading of a Bill immediately after it has been through the Report stage, during which Amendments have been inserted in the Bill.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is true, as the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) says, that considerable alterations were made in the Bill during its passage through the Report stage yesterday, and that the Bill which we have now in our hands is not the Bill as it left the Report stage. On the other hand, the hon. Member must realise that it was quite impossible to print the Bill in its amended form by to-day. What the right hon. Gentleman said just now is not incorrect. This course has often been taken before, that is to say, the House has taken the Third Reading of a Bill the day after the Report stage when many Amendments have been made in the Bill. At the end of the Report stage last night the question was asked, when the Third Reading would be taken, and it was announced then that the Third Reading would be taken to-day. I do not remember any objection having been raised to the taking of the Third Reading to-day. Such a, course is sometimes inconvenient, but there is no action that I can take.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The Amendments brought in by the Government on the Report stage were extensive, and while some of them were merely drafting Amendments it is now difficult for Members of the House to continue the discussion of the Bill when it is not the same as the printed Bill which they have in their possession. You, Mr. Speaker, were in the Chair most of the evening of yesterday, and you will recall that of the eight pages of Amendments on the Paper at least six pages were occupied by Government Amendments. Therefore the Government are responsible for the very extensive alteration of the Bill. Surely for the benefit of Members who have to explain this Bill to their constituents it would have been a more convenient matter if the altered Bill had been printed yesterday in the same way as the OFFICIAL REPORT was printed. We have here in the OFFICIAL REPORT all the Amendments that were moved, as well as every word that was spoken in yesterday's Debate.
1879 It would not have been beyond the power of the Department nor of His Majesty's printers to have printed the Bill with the Amendments incorporated, so that it could have been in our possession at the end of Questions to-day, and by 3.30 we could have got it at the Vote Office. The Bill passed the Report stage last night and the Third Reading is to be taken to-day, but it must not be accepted that we agree to the method that has been adopted if we now place no obstacle in the way of the Bill and allow it to get final ratification, so that it can be put into operation at the earliest possible moment. We wish to assist the Government in getting the Bill, but that is no reason why the Government should place the whole House at an inconvenience by not having available the Bill that we are now to discuss. All that we have is the Bill as it left the Standing Committee three or four weeks ago.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The printers had no expectation and certainly no notice that they would be required to print the Bill in its amended form by to-day. I agree that it must be an inconvenience to Members not to have in their possession the Bill in its amended form, but that cannot be helped. It is not for me to arrange the business of the House; that is not in my hands. If the hon. Member wishes to take the opinion of the House on anything of the kind he is always at liberty to do so, and is at liberty even now
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I thought it right and proper to draw your attention, as the custodian of the rights of the House, to this matter at the earliest opportunity. One does not wish to force an issue that would mean practically the suspension of the Debate upon a very important Bill. One does not object to a smaller Bill that does not carry so much weight with the Scottish people as does this Bill being read a Third time without the Report stage Amendment having been printed in it, but this is not that type of Bill. I trust that this protest will at least be a lesson to the Government, and that the fact that attention has been drawn to the matter will ensure that when Bills have to be passed quickly through the House facilities will be given for the printing of the Bill, so that at each stage of our discussions we shall have before us the 1880 Bill in the form in which we are discussing it
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I hope the hon. Member does not think that I resent his bringing the matter forward. This is an exceptional case, and the fact that attention has been drawn to it will possibly ensure that this procedure does not become a practice.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I shall deal only with broad points and deal with them briefly. I propose to group the points under two main heads, namely, the positive results and achievements, and, secondly, one or two misunderstandings which still prevail in certain quarters. With regard to the first head I shall be very brief, because the House as a whole is well aware of the main provisions of the Bill, and is satisfied, I think, that it will reach its objective. Overcrowding in Scotland is one of the most serious dangers and difficulties from which our country suffers. I say categorically that the powers and finance which this Bill gives to the local authorities arms them satisfactorily to deal with the problem as it has never been dealt with before. That is the first main feature of the Bill, but it is not by any means all. The Bill will achieve a double result which has been increasingly demanded by the people of Scotland in the matter of housing: First of all that those who are low wage-earners or who have very limited financial means should be given an opportunity of being re-housed at rents which they can afford to pay; and, hardly less important, that those whose means would enable them to take houses at an economic rent should not be subsidised by their fellow citizens with regard to housing accommodation. In the course of the last few years I have watched public opinion crystallising on both these points. The two hang together. If you have a number of people receiving State assistance when they can afford to provide their own housing, you cannot expect that those whose means are scanty can have the same opportunity of being housed at rents which they can afford to pay.
Next, it is of great importance that in the re-housing of those who will be 1881 taken from the overcrowded centres of the town, the central sites should not be allowed to degenerate. That would be a public waste. I venture to say that the provisions with regard to those areas will ensure that the central sites of our bigger cities are used and are not allowed to degenerate. I need do no more than refer to these points, of first rate importance though they are, because the House, I believe, is in agreement that the provisions of the Bill do meet them.
There is one feature in the Bill that is hardly of less importance, and that is the financial pooling arrangements. I think they are of great importance, and the more one studies the administration of housing activities under the existing laws, which are many in number, the more one realises that the various forms of subsidies, provisions, and so on have resulted in certain restrictions. The financial pooling arrangements have the double effect, first of all of getting rid of the special conditions imposed by the different Statutes, and, secondly, of giving far more elbow-room to the local authorities in their housing activities—elbow-room not merely because they get rid of the restrictions, but because they will be able to use with far greater freedom the funds which the pool will put at their disposal. That is a matter of very great importance. Let me add a word upon that. The pool, in order to be effective and fully valuable, has to contain contributions from the local authorities bearing a relation to their contributions under the various Acts, otherwise the pool, to the extent to which that principle was cut into, would cease to be a pool.
Therefore, my right hon. Friend has not found it possible to accede to the request of the local authorities that where, in fact, they have been able to get off with a less rate of contribution, though receiving the whole State subsidy with regard to this particular class of house, the actual figure so involved should be the amount they put into the pool. My right hon. Friend has not been able to accede to that request, and I think the House will realise, when they look into the nature and function of the pool, how very seriously anything of that sort would have cut into the principle. The pool is valuable, and I believe that, as the years go on, it will be found to be ever increasing 1882 in value, and it would have been a mistake to have reduced it in that way, quite apart from the inequity of using the State subsidy up to the statutory height, and allowing, with regard to the rate contribution, a much smaller amount to be put into the pool. I believe that the existence of this pool will enable local authorities to look with a wider vision upon their housing needs, and I hope that its existence will enable future housing schemes to contain such provisions as open spaces for play and other purposes which, up to date, have not often been part of a housing scheme. At this stage it must be in the nature of a policy. I, myself, entertain the possibility of very beneficial results flowing from this new pool provision. I say no more upon the main issues of the Bill, which, I think, have been, on the whole, fully understood by the House.
May I turn for a moment or two to one or two misunderstandings which, I think, still exist with regard to the Bill? One cause of misunderstanding undoubtedly was removed by the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend on the Second Reading, and the alteration made in Committee, to remove the fears of those who thought that the object of one of the Clauses was to force the owners of existing property to adopt forthwith a new standard. That cause of misunderstanding has been removed. There has been one other misunderstanding, namely, that the provisions of the Bill will result in what I may call the indiscriminate slaughter of existing housing accommodation. If that were so, obviously it would be a very great misfortune, but it is, I think, a complete misconception.
First of all, let us consider the provisions of the Bill with regard to that matter. Let the House remember that action under the Bill begins with a survey by the local authority, and one of the matters to which that survey must appertain is not only the housing needs but the housing supply in the district, and the provisions of the Bill make it clear that, where the results of the survey show that there are available for the housing needs of those presently overcrowded, existing houses of a suitable sort, then the local authority's programme will not be allowed to be of such a size as to neglect the existence of those houses. There will not be that indiscriminate slaughter which is feared. In that connection let me add 1883 that when I say the local authority's programme will not be allowed to be of such a size as to neglect the existing supply, the provisions of this Bill do strengthen the Department in its control over local authorities in carrying out the Act. It has been sometimes a difficulty to make certain that the Department was armed with powers to ensure that the provisions of the Acts were, in fact, being carried out. The House has strengthened our powers in that regard, and therefore I say the House may take it that where a survey shows that existing houses are suitable for replacement for occupational purposes, then that fact will undoubtedly have to be borne in mind in relation to the housing programme.
The House well knows the superfluity in Scotland of one-and two-roomed houses. Of one-roomed houses let me say that they are not suitable for family life, but, even so, they are not entirely without value to the childless couple or the single person, and anyone who has any practical experience must be able to recall individual cases of a man or woman living by himself or herself in a single room which he or she makes very comfortable, and which is very often extremely well kept. But no one will advocate that a one-roomed house is suitable for a family. Not so the two-roomed house. A two-roomed house may well be suitable to a newly married couple and even a couple with one child. Therefore, I say there is nothing to lead one to suppose that there will be an absolutely indiscriminate slaughter of two-roomed houses. But there are in Scotland many two-roomed houses which date back to the middle years of the nineteenth century, built in vast rookeries with lighting, air space and passage space entirely out-of-date. There are a number of two-roomed houses which, according to modern conditions, ought not properly to be inhabited, and I do say some of them will undoubtedly go. For the rest, I say there is a class of two-roomed houses built shortly before the War with proper modern amenities, and I do not myself believe that they run any risk. Summing up the points I have made, I say there is a real misunderstanding as to the effect of the Bill with regard to the wholesale slaughter of existing housing accommodation. I think some must go. The conscience of 1884 the day we live in will obviously demand it on ordinary grounds of public decency, but nobody need fear that an indiscriminate slaughter is imminent, and I need not extend the argument in the case of the three- or four-roomed house.
The other topic on which, I think, there is still misunderstanding is that of compensation. I do not propose to enter into the arguments for and against that. The views of both sides were strongly advanced, and both views have arguable cases. I will not go into that: It may be that the matter will emerge in the Debate. But I would like to make one general observation. The proposition that there has been a fall in value as the result of this Bill will not, I think, stand examination. There has been, undoubtedly, a fall in values since the War with regard to certain classes of pre-war houses, but we have no right to attribute to this Bill a course of events which has been operating long anterior to this Bill. The second point is that there is a fear that, whatever the value be, owners will not receive that value if habitable houses are taken. It is suggested that here and there there will be a tendency on the part of those responsible for scheduling houses, namely, medical officers of health, to put habitable houses into the category of uninhabitable houses. I mention that only to dismiss it with this observation. When you have, in the first place, independent commissioners, and, secondly, Ministers responsible to Parliament, I think that if any attempt were made to put habitable houses into the uninhabitable category—I, myself, do not believe that responsible officials would make such an attempt—it would clearly have to be dealt with by the Department and by Parliament. With regard to the method of valuing, and so on, let me say that, so far as I know, it is exactly the same method as that adopted in the valuation of property for purposes of death duties, and I have never heard those concerned complain of estates being under-valued in the case of death duties
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
But is not the position entirely different in the two cases? When an estate is valued for death duties the Government are going to take money from the subject and there is no fear that they will under-value the estate. But this is a case in which the subject is going to get something from 1885 the Government, and there is every danger of the estate being under-valued
§ Mr. SKELTON
I think I dealt with that point in saying that the proper result could only be arrived at by the impartial operation of the system, and I think it will be found that the method of valuation proposed will work successfully. I have dealt with the general structure of the Bill and with two matters on which misunderstanding has arisen. I think that misunderstanding is capable of being dissipated, and I hope that what I have said may, to some extent, dissipate it. In conclusion, I would say that this is the beginning of an immense effort to deal with an immense problem. I believe that we are initiating that effort along the right lines, and I submit that the importance of the effort to Scotland as a whole cannot be exaggerated. One has heard from time to time recently expressions of the view that the morale and character of the people of Scotland are on the decline. I have never subscribed to that view.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The Leader of one of the Oppositions says—and nobody is more fitted than he to say so—that there is no evidence of it in this House. What is even more important, there is not, I think, any evidence of it in Scotland. But every generation has its own dangers and its own problems. The population of both England and Scotland to-day is largely urban and it is clear that, so long as the conditions of overcrowding remain as serious as they are we are running grave risks of a decline in the morale of the people. In this Measure we are facing a danger which, as long as it exists, must be real and a formidable danger to the character and the future welfare of the people of Scotland. For my part though I see no sign of degeneracy, no sign which could give one any excuse for defeatism with regard to Scotland or the character of her people, yet I present this Bill to the House as a Measure of first-rate importance to our people at the present time because it seeks to deal with a problem the successful treatment of which is one of the means which will most definitely raise and sustain the morale of our people.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
The sentiment contained in the concluding words of the hon. Gentleman's speech is one in which every Scottish Member will at once agree. I have been in the House now for a number of years and I have listened to various Secretaries of State and Under-Secretaries introducing housing Measures for Scotland. Every one of those Measures has been introduced with the same high motives as those which—as one can believe from their speeches and their actions—have actuated the present Secretary of State, the present Under-Secretary and the others concerned in this Bill. The unfortunate thing in the past has been that each one of those Measures, which set out to change housing conditions in Scotland, miserably failed to effect the high purpose for which it had been introduced. I hope, and I am sure every one here will join me in that hope, that the defects of previous housing Measures will cease to have the same results in Scotland once this Bill becomes operative. Whatever our different views may be we can all agree upon the urgent need that exists for an improvement of the housing conditions in Scotland and particularly in the urban areas. Unfortunately, while this Bill contains many good points several things have been introduced into it which, from our point of view, are not improvements. One cannot upon this occasion go into the details of the Bill in its amended form to show the various alterations which have been made, but the concessions made by the Government during the proceedings on the Bill in Committee and in the House will in our view militate against the development of good housing as we would like to see it in Scotland.
We fear the results of those changes. I hope that our fears may prove to be unfounded and that it will turn out in practice that the Government have not damaged the Bill to a serious extent by the concessions made to certain sections in the House. The Government say and I daresay with some truth that under the Bill they have increased the existing powers by which local authorities can be forced to take action in the matter of housing. I trust that those powers will be exercised a great deal more industriously than they have been in the past. I would also like some guarantee that 1887 the subsidies given under previous Acts are not going to be stopped by tale operation of this Measure as has been the case with regard to some of the earlier Measures. We have had various subsidies to enable houses to be provided for the working classes and then subsequent housing Measures have either reduced those subsidies or abolished them altogether. As long as the Government play with these subsidies and with housing conditions in that fashion, local authorities are unable to embark on long term programmes of housing reform with a feeling of security. They fear that a subsequent Government may come in and smash their programme to pieces and leave them with a large and possibly expensive scheme only partially completed upon their hands.
During the discussion on the Bill in Committee claims were made for the compensation of shopkeepers whose customers had been taken away from them as the result of new housing schemes. The Government gave a rather sympathetic hearing to those claims and indeed I understand that in the Bill itself they have in a manner provided for the possibility of compensation being payable to shopkeepers in those circumstances. During the earlier discussions I suggested—and I think the suggestion will be borne out by anyone who has had experience of housing schemes—that while we have set our minds in the past on the actual housing of the people we have largely left out of account the necessity for providing shopping facilities for the people who are rehoused under these schemes. These people require shops close to their place of residence. In our great towns we see large housing schemes, covering anything from 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants—I know of one which covers close upon 40,000 people—with very inadequate provision of shopping facilities. There may be only half a dozen shops for a very extensive area.
The position of the shopkeepers is that they are unable to set up new shops and run them as they did in the old district under the old conditions. Under these new schemes they must either buy the ground or feu the ground from the corporation and then erect the shop upon it. If shops are erected by the corporation then they must buy the shops from the corporation before they can 1888 start business. I submit that this is one of the factors which brings about overcrowding in the central districts of large cities on Saturday afternoons and evenings and even on ordinary evenings. The people, not having the shopping facilities which they require, at their doors, are compelled to use the transport system to go into the centre where the large multiple firms have their headquarters. That may be a good thing for the municipalities which own their own transport systems but it involves a great amount of complication and it is a matter which ought to be considered by the Government. My view is that instead of offering compensation to shopkeepers whose customers have been transferred to these new housing estates, the Government ought to introduce an Amendment in another place providing for the offer to those shopkeepers of alternative shops in the new housing estates. An alternative shop in one of the estates, to which possibly the most of his customers had removed, would enable a shopkeeper to retain the larger part of his business, and it seems a more sensible way of dealing with the difficulty than merely assessing the value of the business and the average of the profits taken year by year in the old locality, and then paying compensation from that basis.
There is another difficulty which I would like to mention, though I am pleased to see that the Government have already recognised it by the inclusion of an Amendment which does something to meet the case. We drew attention in Committee to the fact that in the lay out of the schemes of local authorities, little account was taken of the recreations of the people. I instanced, when I spoke upon it, some junior football clubs which were under warning to leave playing fields in which games had been played, in one instance, for 40 years, in order to make room for an addition to a new housing scheme, and I suggested that greater facilities should be given for the recreation of those who were going to live under the new housing schemes. I am glad to see that the Government have included, in one Amendment which was carried yesterday, a suggestion that playing fields are one of the things that must be laid down as part of the facilities granted to those moving into new housing estates.
1889 I should like the Secretary of State for Scotland, who gave a promise that he would meet a number of local authorities in Scotland which have taken exception to the stopping of subsidies as laid down in one of the Clauses of this Bill, to have told us the result of that meeting. They were feeling greatly perturbed in the matter, and they sent out a circular, which, owing to lack of time in Committee, because of a division in the House being called, I was unable to read, but which I handed over to the Government. I was promised in Committee at the next meeting that the right hon. Gentleman would call these people together and see what exactly was the extent of their grievance and how far the right hon. Gentleman might be able to meet them. We have had no report from the right hon. Gentleman on that point. In answer to a question yesterday, he promised to let me have some information later on, but unfortunately, owing to the manner in which the Debate was going, I expect it slipped his memory. I do not complain of that. Indeed, the discussion went completely another way, because those who were the die-hards upstairs became even the greatest supporters of the Bill last night.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
No. I was referring to the die-hards opposite, not to the legitimate Opposition, but to what I might call the illegitimate opposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not using the word in any moral sense, of course. I feel that those who support the Government should support the Government, but on this Bill we have not found that to be the case. One never knows into which category to place the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten). He can support either the Government or the Opposition, and he can always find good reasons for whatever attitude he takes up. Consequently, I am always in doubt as to how to regard him. On this occasion, however, we did regard him, if not as one of the leaders, at least one of the stalwarts of the opposition to the Government from their own side. During the latter stages upstairs, I think that was the most violent opposition that they had, and indeed one of the reasons why we were given two days for the debate on the Report stage was to give the Government's own supporters 1890 who were opposing the Bill an opportunity on the Floor of the House. The reason we were able to get through in one day was that that opposition was either satisfied with the concessions that were given, or that it wilted away.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
We had no Amendments down yesterday. We want the Bill. We recognise its limitations, but even with those limitations we want the Bill put into operation as quickly as possible. Some hon. Members opposite, from their speeches upstairs, apparently do not wish to have the Bill put into operation at all. I hope the Minister will be able to let the House know whether such a meeting with the local authorities as I expected was held, what the conclusions were, whether he was able to satisfy those municipalities, and, if not, why he was unable to give them any guarantees such as they required regarding the housing schemes already put into operation, concerning which they were fearful that they would lose the necessary subsidy.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Yes, but the pool did not specifically refer to these authorities. The hon. Gentleman took all the authorities in general, and I did not therefore take that as an answer to my question. We recognise, as I have said, the limitations in the Bill. We think that a Housing Bill for Scotland might have contained additional steps to those that are to be found in this Bill. We believe that it will take too long to get the necessary and complete results for which we are looking, and we should have liked the machinery simplified and many other things done to enable us to get houses erected in Scotland. We do not agree that the room-and-kitchen house, built away back in the middle of last century, is a solution of the problem of housing. In my constituency I could show hon. Members room-and-kitchen houses built at the beginning of last century. They were well built, it may be, but they do not look well built now, and the people in them want to get out of them, but find it impossible to do so. It is the same in various other parts of Glasgow and in 1891 Edinburgh, and I have no doubt that if you went into some of the back streets in Campbeltown, you would find such places there, and perhaps in Oban too. Such houses, built such a long time ago, should be swept entirely out of existence.
We want a completely new set of circumstances, and the sooner we get it, the better for the health and conditions of the people of Scotland. It is not merely an overcrowding question; it becomes a health question, and we want to see the features embodied in this Bill extended in a more generous manner, the machinery simplified, the methods to be adopted by the local authorities handled in a different way, and the Government Departments seeing to it that the local authorities attend to their duties under the housing legislation. We know that local authorities have been remiss in attending to their duties under the Housing Acts in the past, and we hope the Scottish Office will see to it that those authorities which desire to evade the conditions imposed on them under this Measure are made to carry them out. We hope that we shall have, if not in this Bill, at least in a later Bill, additional powers given to the Department to sweep out of existence the great curses of single-apartment and room-and-kitchen houses that have been so much to the detriment of the health of the people of Scotland.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I am afraid I am going to offend against the maxim laid down by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), when he indicated that in his view it was the duty of those who sat on the Government Benches to give indiscriminate support to the Government in whatever Measures the Government might produce. I have never regarded it as my duty to sacrifice my independence to that extent, although it is well known that there are few people who have been more loyal supporters of the Government than I have, or more loyal supporters, let me say, of some of the individual Ministers who have conducted the affairs of the Government.
May I suggest for my hon. Friend's consideration that if his maxim be true with regard to those who sit upon the Government Benches, there is an obverse to his proposition, namely, that it is the 1892 duty of the Opposition to oppose, and, so far as I have observed in the course of the Debates in Committee and yesterday in this House, there has been very little sign of opposition from those whose duty it is supposed to be to give us due criticism of the Government. In fact, so far from such opposition having been noticeable, we had yesterday an Order Paper on which there was not a single suggestion made by His Majesty's Opposition. It may be that that fact in itself indicates some explanation of the divergence of opinion between the Government and some of us who sit on these benches, because a Bill which is so entirely satisfactory to people who hold doctrines completely contrary to those which we espouse can scarcely be one which is completely in conformity with the theories which we have been accustomed to maintain and indeed which we were elected to maintain in this House.
§ Sir R. HORNE
After all, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the composition of this House is, as to 75 per cent. of it, represented by those who have held opinions somewhat different from those of the Lord President of the Council, and at least we are entitled to some sort of consideration. I pass from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Govan, and I come to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He has made a speech which, for lucidity, could not be surpassed, and which, for the expression of devoted interest to the welfare of Scotland, is one which we should all ourselves aspire to make. I have no objection at all to the general principles laid down by the hon. Gentleman. I am myself one of those who have been ardent supporters of a rehousing scheme, not only for Scotland, but for the whole of Great Britain. There are several Ministers in important positions in the Government who can testify to the fact that ever since this Administration took office I have been persistently, day in and day out, urging that the first duty of the Government was to bring forward Bills by which this great sore existing in the heart of our country should be cured. I have never ceased to urge in private upon Ministers that it was one of the first tasks to which they 1893 should devote their energies. It cannot, therefore, be supposed that in anything I have to say I am a less ardent sup- porter than Ministers themselves of the general idea of giving our people proper accommodation in which to live and proper sanitary conveniences such as everybody now desires they should have.
I had indeed supposed, and I still think, that it would have been possible to produce a measure of rehousing which would have accomplished everything that we wish to accomplish and have done it without any injury to a single interest, and at the same time have achieved this great object at a cost to the State which certainly would not have been more than is involved in the present schemes. In that I have been disappointed. The schemes which have been presented here have got back-spangs of injury which should never have been present in a Measure of this kind. Rehousing could have been done in a way that would have ruffled nobody and have done justice to everybody. I find it difficult to understand why the Government should have ignored the most obvious line upon which they could have proceeded, and should have brought in a Bill which, instead of being a solvent to the feelings of the whole of the country, has produced a vast amount of irritation among people who are undoubtedly worthy of consideration and who are among the most thrifty and deserving of our population. I think that, in part, the difficulties experienced in dealing with Scotland are due to a failure to recognise the difference between Scottish conditions and English conditions. But before I come to that I would like to deal with a question which affects England and Scotland equally.
I regret intensely that, both for England and Scotland, the Government have thought it necessary, or deemed it expedient, whichever phrase you like to employ, to use the municipalities for the purpose of carrying out these schemes. I confess that I see great difficulties in future with regard to the plan of action which the Government have adopted. I see the question of rent being brought into the arena of ordinary electoral contests in the municipalities. That is a thing to be deplored. One of the most insiduous evils that democracy has had to encounter at all stages of history has been that of the appeal to the acquisitive 1894 instincts of people. I do not attribute these tactics to one side more than to the other. The temptation to use them seems to me the most deplorable result of a great measure. It may be said that I am imagining things which will never occur, but let me give an example of what has already occurred. I have in my hand a circular which contains a questionnaire to candidates for seats in a town council in a not remote election. The Tenants' Association, holding tenancies under the corporation in question, put as one of the leading questions to those who were seeking their suffrages, "What steps are you prepared to take to bring to a successful conclusion the demand of the Tenants' Association for a reduction of rent of corporation houses?" If that is done in the green tree, what can we expect in the dry, when all over the country the sole owners and controllers of working-class property will be the local authorities who are elected by popular election? What are we to expect in the way of questions to the various candidates with regard to rent? Does anybody imagine that that will be a good thing for the life of this country?
The Government have recognised this danger very prominently, as a previous Government did. When they dealt with London transport, they did not turn it over to the London County Council or any body of that kind; they sedulously and of intent put the matter into the hands of a body which is free from all political interest whatever. What did this Government do when they came to the question of unemployment relief? They recognised that the bidding for votes through the amount of relief to be given was something that would corrupt the life of our country, and they put it into the hands of an independent board. It is true that the first scale that was introduced did not satisfy everybody, but the definite endeavour of the Government which, I am sure, they mean to carry to complete fruition, is to keep these matters out of the political arena. Now over the whole country by this Bill and by the English Bill you will produce municipal candidatures in which one of the most important elements of consideration will be what particular candidates will promise to do about rents. I hope that I do not belong to a day that is past. I hope that I am not uttering a sentiment 1895 which is now regarded as fit only for the dustbin, but I do deplore the fact that you should be enabled to appeal to people upon the basis of what you are going to be able to give in this direction, for that, I am sure, will divert them from the proper subjects with which they ought to be concerned in caring for the welfare of the community.
I will pass to what particularly concerns the Scottish Bill. As I have indicated, a part of our difficulties has arisen from the fact that we have been more or less considered as on all fours with England, and that whatever is to be done for England must also apply to Scotland. We argued strongly in Committee in favour of a special consideration being given to the owner-occupier. We were assured that on every count—moral, political and financial—it was impossible to give any such consideration, and that we ought not to ask for it. On the Report stage of the English Bill, however, the English Members succeeded in getting special consideration for the owner-occupier. Immediately, thereafter, on the Report stage of our Bill, we find special consideration given for the owner-occupier in Scotland. That is only one example of what has happened. There are certain things which have been refused to us because they did not suit England, and I have come to the conclusion that in this matter Scotland has been a kind of tin can tied to the tail of the English terrier. That is not a position which I for one am prepared to accept.
Let me give the House some account of the differences which exist as between England and Scotland in order to show that legislation should proceed along different lines. In the first place England is built upon a leasehold system. Scotland is built upon a system of feuing, which, for lack of a better term, I would describe as a perpetual lease. The result has been that in Scotland houses have been built of a far more enduring quality that they have ever assumed in England. In order to reinforce my point, may I give a sentence from the report of the Whitson Committee, which described Scottish property in this way:The solidity and substantial construction of large numbers of Scottish houses is a weighty factor in support of a policy for improving and reconditioning them.1896 That is why re-conditioning has not assumed the importance in England that it has assumed in Scotland. In England, we are dealing with a type of building which is much less enduring and which is more easily removed at a time when the lease falls in and the proprietor turns the land over to somebody else. In the second place, Scottish houses have been built with much larger rooms than English houses, as is evident from the scale which the Government in their wisdom have put forward for living rooms, namely, 110 square feet for two people. I do not dissent from the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) in the point of view which he expressed yesterday, that that is a small space, even for two people, but I say that if 110 square feet is good enough for two people, as the Bill lays down, 130 square feet is good enough for two people and a child on the basis of the scale itself. The scale says that 70 square feet are enough for one person, 90 square feet for one and half persons, and 110 feet for two persons. Scottish rooms are not generally built with only 110 square feet, but much more frequently with 130, 150 and up to 200 square feet. We are ruled by this scale, however, because 110 feet is the normal size of a room in England, and no allowance is made at all for the fact that you generally have rooms of much bigger sizes in Scotland. That is one of the reasons why we have difficulties in this Bill.
I will go on to considerations which are more important. In Scotland the owner pays half the rates upon his property, but in England the owner pays no rates at all; they fall upon the tenants. That fact has had important results, and in particular it has had this result. The House will remember that during the War and afterwards rent restriction has created a severe curtailment of the owner's power to alter rents, but it was recognised in 1920 that, as the cost of repairs had gone up, the proprietors of houses were entitled to have some advance in their rents. Both in England and in Scotland they were given the opportunity of increasing their rents by 40 per cent. The Scottish owner, however, frequently lost the advantage of the 40 per cent. because there was inserted in the Scottish Measure a provision that no increase in the owner's rates could be charged upon the rents. 1897 That had the effect that in Scotland in many cases owing to increases in rates the owner did not, although his expenses of repairs were immensely greater, get any increase in rent at all, and I think that on the average it can be said that, instead of 40 per cent., he did not get more than 10 per cent. In England the owner was able to put up the rent, and therefore to keep up the value of his property as a marketable commodity. In Scotland he was not able to get any net increase of rent, beyond this small margin, with the result that instead of his property going up in value disappointment and distrust put it down.
We have to-day this extraordinary situation—which this Bill does nothing to help, and, indeed, does a great deal to emphasise and exaggerate—that although before the War English property and Scottish property sold at more or less the same number of years' purchase of the rent, to-day, while English property is comparatively little affected, Scottish property, upon the admission of the Scottish Office itself—property of the working-class tenement order, I mean—cannot be sold at more than, and in many cases you cannot get as much as, six years' purchase. Why is that? It is not because the Scottish property is less valuable in itself than the English property, it is entirely the effect of legislation, and it is Parliament which has caused this depreciation in Scottish working-class houses.
§ Sir R. HORNE
That is no reason why the Government in 1935 should take no account of that position and should seek to expropriate the property of these people, at a value much below what if ought to be.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the Government should have included in the Bill some proposal to increase rents?
§ Sir R. HORNE
No, I am not suggesting that for a moment. My hon. Friend is putting an entirely false interpretation on my argument. My argument is entirely devoted to the way in which values have been artificially depreciated and the effect upon compensation. I have suggested by way of remedy a very modest remedy as the hon. Member 1898 would have found if he had looked at an Amendment which was on the Order Paper yesterday. That is one flagrant example of what is happening to Scottish property as compared with English. Here is another anomaly. In England, if a property is empty, rates are not paid upon it, but in Scotland the owner has still to pay rates. I shall show in a moment what an extraordinary effect this imposition has upon the fortunes of Scottish owners of property.
I suggest that in dealing with the situation in which we find ourselves all these things should be taken into consideration. I agree with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that property should not be capriciously demolished in the centres of our towns, but I cannot at all agree with him that it will not be so demolished. Let me give my idea of what will happen, in contrast with the view presented to the House by my hon. Friend. He says that there will still be a use for two-room houses, though not much use for one-room houses. I agree with him that the one-room house will go out of existence, and although there are certain cases, of which he gave examples, where a single person or a man and his wife may occupy with some comfort even a one-room house, I should hope they will not continue very long, because even in such cases another room to move into is a great benefit.
The picture as I see it is something very much more tragic than that which my hon. Friend envisages. Let us take the situation when the survey of the houses which have been certified to be overcrowded is completed. I understand from the Amendment made yesterday that the most overcrowded houses are first to be dealt with. Then the local authority starts building houses in order to accommodate the people who are to be turned out of these overcrowded houses. That will mean that, gradually, there will be a flow from the overcrowded houses to the new corporation houses, and the houses left by the overcrowded families will obviously become derelict. What else could become of them? They do not afford the conveniences which modern sentiment requires. They have not bathrooms and sanitary appliances such as the new corporation houses are to have. While my hon. Friend says that all the trouble about this Bill has been removed by the alteration made in Clause 64, 1899 which seemed to and, indeed, did in its phraseology enjoin that houses should be declared uninhabitable for want of modern sanitary appliances, the effect of leaving that Clause in—I am not taking objection to the fact—even in a permissive form is to make all that kind of property taboo to anybody who can get any other house and inevitably reduces its value. Such properties will gradually become empty and derelict And there will be no compensation at all for the proprietors who, nevertheless, will be compelled to pay taxes to help to pay for the £6 10s, which the State provides for building new houses and to pay rates in order to make up the £3 10s. which the local authority provides for the same purpose. They will be paying rates upon empty houses in order to subsidise the houses which have emptied their own, and thus further complete their own ruin. I am not drawing a fancy picture. It is an absolutely inevitable picture in the eyes of anyone who chooses to face the facts. That is what will happen, and if I were a Socialist I should be delighted to see it happen. I have not the slightest doubt that it is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friends have had so complete a success with the Socialist party in regard to this Bill. In a quiet and constitutional way it completely carries out the Socialist view that private property is, if not a crime, at least an error, in any civilised community, and that the sooner you get rid of it the better. I cannot imagine any way under our modern constitutional system in which one could more insidiously accomplish that object than the way which the Government have taken in respect to this housing scheme. Either there is to be no compensation At all to the private owner or there is to be compensation which is based upon something which has become very much less valuable by reason of the new standard which the new Bill sets up. That will be the unhappy plight of All those who up to now have been doing a business which they probably thought was respectable but which has made them pariahs of the State, which by legislation has first of 'all reduced the value of their property from 14 years'—or whatever it may have been—to six years' purchase, and then exterminated its value altogether. I hope the House will not regard me as guilty of exaggeration. 1900 I am saying what I think must inevitably happen and why it is necessarily going to happen. It need never have happened at all.
An obvious way of dealing with this difficulty was presented to the Government. It would not, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said on Second Reading, have given the existing houses a very long life but it would have given them some life. That way was to provide, on the terms of the Whitson Report, a subsidy by which this solid and enduring property which is spread throughout most of our large towns could have been kept in being. There are innumerable properties in Glasgow, which I know well, where two-room houses could be turned into two-room houses with bath and sanitary appliances, and innumerable two-room houses which could be turned into three-room houses, with sanitary appliances, at a very small cost. The Whitson Committee examined the question of cost and suggested that it could be done for an expenditure of about £75 a house. In passing, I may say I regard as fantastic, as does every practical man to whom I have spoken, and I have consulted many, the figures which the Secretary of State gave in Committee. Why should not this plan of reconditioning have been adopted? Obviously it has very great advantages. It could be carried out rapidly, at very little cost, and instead of a large mass of working people living in uncomfortable houses until sufficient new houses have been built for them we should be furnishing them quickly with houses in which they would have the proper appliances which modern civilisation demands. It is a method of dealing with the problem at much less cost than is involved in building new houses.
There is an idea, which I have found in the minds of some people, that this would mean an addition to the cost of the scheme. It does not mean any addition at all, and even supposing it were only a transitional measure to carry us over the ten or fifteen years during which we shall be gradually spilling the overcrowded people into the outside areas it would obviously be a great scheme of public improvement to which it would be worth while to devote attention. What are the objections to it? I confess that I have never yet heard of an objection which had any just foundation. I heard 1901 a sough—to use a Scottish word—to the effect that we must not subsidise private interests. But the Government can never make that reply. The Rural Housing Act by these very subventions for reconditioning subsidises private interests all over Scotland, and if that is good in principle for the rural people it must be good in prinoiple for the town people. Few Acts passed by recent Governments have been so successful, and the Under-Secretary had a good deal to do with its passing. If it is not wrong in principle what other objection to it is there? It would have the effect of giving the people much more quickly and at an inconsiderable expense equipment in the way of houses and accommodation which we wish to give them. I feel it difficult to understand why we have not had a measure which by such processes would have brought relief not merely to the people who will immediately get the advantage of new houses but to those who will otherwise be kept in bad conditions for a very considerable time.
I do not understand why the Government should have refused a modicum of support for the purpose. It is evident from the calculations of the Whitson Committee that the owners of property have had their resources so reduced over the last 20 years that it is impossible for them to do it by their own unaided efforts.
§ Mr. SKELTON
My right hon. Friend has not shown how the reconditioning of two-roomed houses has any relation to the question of overcrowding.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Very large numbers of people who want two-roomed houses do not want them without the necessary conveniences. Since you have laid down in your Bill—quite properly laid down—and for the future made compulsory for new houses what the public conscience requires, here is an opportunity to deal with these older but competent houses in a way which would make them commendable to the people who could occupy them. You would be creating an entirely new situation—I recognise that if you initiate such schemes you are entitled to make conditions about them. If a subsidy is given for reconditioning you are entitled to see that the reconditioning is carried out according to the plans which the Government Department think appropriate and necessary. You would be 1902 entitled also to make conditions that the rents should not be above a certain figure. But at least let the property owner have the opportunity of doing it. If the proprietor does not want to do it he will not do it, but at least give him the opportunity of converting his property into something which is suitable for modern housing purposes and which the public will recognise as contributing to the great reform which you are making in housing conditions.
I know that there is a certain amount of resistance to such ideas on the ground that some stunt or ramp is suspected on the part of the property owners. I hope, however, that the House will remember that investment in house property has been one of the safe investments sanctioned by the State into which a great part of the savings of the people of Scotland have been put. That sort of investment has been the repository of the pensions of many of the trade houses, of university bursaries and of friendly societies. When embarking upon these schemes, I hope that the Government considered what the result was likely to be upon all those institutions when the schemes come into force. I am not speaking merely for those who sit with me and who have spoken with me on the subject in Committee and upon these benches, but for a vast body of opinion in Scotland.
I dare say every Scottish Member has received, as I have, in the last few days, communications sent by nearly every important chamber of commerce in Scotland, every legal society in Scotland, by the principals of three universities, and by the secretaries of several trade houses, whose funds are in property in some shape or form all of whom protest against this Measure because they foresee its evil consequences upon their own fortunes. It is no good anybody smiling and saying: "That does not matter; they know nothing about it; we are the only people who know," because such people represent great institutions, managed by skilled people who know very well the effects of legislation. They are not prejudiced in favour of property owners, except that they are prejudiced in favour of keeping investments alive and, not allowing wanton waste of wealth to occur through Parliamentary action.
1903 One of the things which I see coming under this Bill is undoubtedly disaster to a large part of the investments which have been put into working-class houses, in many cases by individuals who, perhaps do not amount to such an enormous number of votes as would influence the Government to give sufficient consideration to them. They are, however, people with human feelings, and they all deserve consideration. I do not hope to convince the Secretary of State for Scotland; I have no kind of expectation that he would begin to be affected by any of my appeals but there is one point on which he is still vulnerable. I believe that he will live to regret those provisions of the Bill which he has presented to the House and which he has now carried through, and that when he ultimately realises the amount of hardship which he has caused to people who are now unable to resist, and who are perhaps not vociferous enough to command consideration, he will bear in his heart some burden of their distress.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I associate myself with the graceful compliment paid by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for the admirably lucid speech with which he opened the Debate. We missed the hon. Gentleman greatly in Committee, and we are glad to see him back taking part in our Debates. In his absence in the Committee the Bill was conducted with admirable tact and courtesy by the Secretary of State for Scotland, as I know every hon. Member will agree, and I should like to say for myself and my friends how much we appreciated the consideration and the invariable courtesy which he gave to the suggestions which we made in the course of the discussion on the Bill. We have consistently supported the Measure at every stage, and of any body of members I think we have the clearest and most consistent record. I am glad that the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) now welcomes the Bill which he opposed at an earlier stage.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is true. I know that very well. I merely remarked that the hon. Member is now supporting the Bill and does not propose to divide against it on Third Reading. Our criticism against the Measure is directed rather to the fact that there are things which are not in the Bill than to the things which are in it—but if I developed that line of argument I should be out of order. I will therefore confine my observations to one point, to which we attach immense importance and which is to some extent dealt with, although inadequately, in the Bill; that is, the rural housing problem.
Efforts have been made, in the course of the discussions in the Committee upstairs, and in the course of discussions which have been held outside, to suggest that the problem of the rural districts, and more particularly of the Highlands, is not as serious as it seems at first glance. Figures have even been used by the spokesman for the Government to show that in the Highland counties the number of three-roomed houses is very large and therefore that the problem of raising the general standard of crofters' houses in the Highlands is not comparable in seriousness with the problem of urban housing. Such figures take no account of the fact that the three rooms in the ordinary crofter's house are what we call in Scotland two rooms and a closet and that in a great number of cases if not in all—nobody can say whether it is in the majority or a minority of cases, although I am certain that a large number of houses are concerned—the closet will not be large enough to come within the area of 70 square feet which is necessary if it is to be regarded as a unit under the First Schedule of the Bill.
Before the Measure was brought in containing this improved and higher standard of accommodation, which we support, we were faced, in the rural districts of Scotland, with the very great problem of bringing our housing up to what was then considered a proper standard. Now we have to aim at a higher standard still, and it is our contention that the provisions of the Bill are inadequate to deal with that problem. We have to rely upon two main provisions of the Bill. There is one set of Clauses under which the Housing (Rural Workers) Act 1905 is prolonged. That is useful, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead has said, and has, on the whole, worked well in the country districts of Scotland. We could not dispense with it, but undoubtedly, the burden which it throws upon the ratepayers of the country districts, and particularly upon the Highland counties, is increasing very rapidly, and is causing serious disquiet to the Highland county councils, who feel strongly that they are reaching the limit of the burden which can be thrown on the ratepayers, a burden which is rapidly becoming intolerable. There are no provisions in the Bill to enable the county councils in the Highlands to deal with the problem of crofters' houses.
In so far as an advance in the solution of rural housing problems in Scotland is concerned, we are therefore forced back upon Clause 23 under which the housing advisory committee is set up. As a result of the Amendment which we moved in Committee, and which the Secretary of State moved in a new form on the Report stage, there is to be a special sub-committee of that new advisory committee, whose first duty will be to study rural housing problems. I hope that, out of that Committee's study of the question, early recommendations will come, upon which the Government will take action.
The Under-Secretary referred this afternoon to the pooling provisions, and said that one indirect advantage of those provisions would be that the difficulty with regard to the provision of open spaces and playing fields would be to some extent removed. I wish we could have a stronger assurance that those difficulties, which are very real in Scotland, will be effectively met. Only the other day I remarked that, except in two places, namely, Aberdeen and Glasgow, the progress with regard to town planning has been negligible; and even under the Aberdeen town planning scheme, admirable as it is, there was great difficulty in obtaining adequate provision for playing fields. The National Playing Fields Association, with the approval, I think I can say, of all the Government Departments concerned, has laid it down that five acres of public open space for every 1,000 of population, of which four acres should be devoted to playing fields, ought to be provided, and that is the 1906 standard towards which, with the support of Government Departments, the National Playing Fields Association is working in every part of the country. I hope that in Scotland the Government Departments concerned, now that this great housing drive is being undertaken in every part of the country, will see that adequate measures are taken in time, before all the available land is absorbed by development schemes, and that provision is made for playing fields and public open spaces on an adequate scale.
I consider that the Under-Secretary has made out his case that this is a big Bill. I did not at any stage spare my condemnation of the Act of 1933, because I thought it a bad Act; and I think it is only honest now to say sincerely to the Under-Secretary that I regard the present Bill as a good effort which is worthy of all support, and which I hope will succeed. We all wish to help the Government in any way that we can, in the future administration of the Act, to tackle this appalling problem of overcrowding in Scotland. I know that individually the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will put administrative drive behind the Measure, and I hope that they will get that support from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other important Ministers of the Government which will be indispensable if the harvest for which we all hope is to be reaped.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) has spoken this afternoon on this subject with a depth of feeling which must command our respect, and has put forward the fears which are entertained by some people in Scotland, who are by no means confined to a single class in the community. I wish to do my best to avoid any repetition of arguments which have already been sufficiently laboured, both in Committee and on Report, but I think it would be unfortunate in the highest degree if anybody were to conclude, from the speech of my right hon. Friend, that the Government, in embarking on this great Measure of social reform, have been indifferent to the just rights of property. I believe that those apprehensions are founded, not only on a misunderstanding of the intentions of the Bill, but on a miscalculation, and in some cases, I think, 1907 a gross miscalculation, the origin of which it is exceedingly difficult to trace, of the practical effects which this legislation is likely to produce.
We are told that our social legislation has artificially lowered the value of house property, and that we are now, by this Bill, enabling or encouraging a municipality to plunder the owner of house property by the compulsory acquisition of good property at this artificially depreciated value. I think it was made clear during the Report stage yesterday that the extent to which compulsory acquisition for the purpose of re-development schemes is likely to take place is exceedingly limited; but, within those limits, what ground is there for supposing that any injustice is likely to be suffered by the owner of property?
My right hon. Friend represented that the effect of the Rent Restrictions Act had been to depress the value of property from, I think he said, 14 years' purchase to six years' purchase. It is possible, of course, that by limiting rents, if the capital value is calculated on so many years' purchase of the rent, you might depress the total value of the property, but I do not see how you could depress the number of years' purchase on which the property was valued. If a house before the War was producing a rent of £10, and if it was valued at 14 years' purchase, that would make the value £140. If it is now valued at six years' purchase, it will be valued at £60. But all that can be said is that the Rent Restrictions Act may have prevented the rent from going up to, say, £12 or £15, and it may have reduced the value in that way, but it cannot reduce the number of years' purchase at which the value is assessed. I think it is very little use making these representations unless we are prepared to indicate some remedy. My right hon. Friend was asked whether he wished the Rent Restrictions Act to be abolished and rents to be raised, and he replied that his remedy was the Amendment which he had on the Order Paper yesterday, and which was not called. I think that that Amendment—my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—was to insert the words "willing buyer" after the words "willing seller" in the provision by which the determination of value is governed. That provision is to be found in 1908 Section 2 (2) of the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919, which reads as follows:The value of land shall … be taken to be the amount which the land if sold in the open market by a willing seller might be expected to realise.I do not see that additional protection would be afforded to the property owner by the insertion of the words "willing buyer," unless it is to be supposed that people in Glasgow or elsewhere are in the habit of buying house property unwillingly. The courts have interpreted this provision to mean that a willing seller is a free agent and one who cannot be required by virtue of compulsory powers to sell, and one who is willing to sell, making the most, in the circumstances, of his property. If there were any other means by which we could protect what we all agree to be the just rights of property owners by giving them a fair valuation, I am sure we should be glad to adopt it.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I did not develop that part of the argument which I should have presented yesterday, but obviously my hon. Friend is giving an erroneous notion of the whole business. In the first place, he gives a wrong representation as compared with what is in the Act. The Act provides for sale in the open market by a willing seller. I provided for a fair value as between a willing buyer and a willing seller—a category of transactions very well known to valuators, whom, I am afraid, my hon. Friend has not consulted. My reason for rejecting the open market idea was that in Glasgow to-day there is no open market for these properties at all; there have been two transactions since the 1st January.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
Would it cause the arbiter to put a higher value on the property if he were instructed to carry out the valuation in the words suggested by my right hon. Friend?
§ Sir R. HORNE
All that I have to say is that my Amendment was rejected by the Chair on the ground that it would involve a, higher charge on the State.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
I cannot, of course, pursue that point, but I rather think the Amendment was more likely to have been rejected by the Chair on the ground that it would make no difference whatever, although if, by 1909 any conceivable stretch of the imagination, it could make a difference, it would involve a higher charge upon the State. Perhaps, however, it is unwise to pursue the reasons for the non-calling of an Amendment.
What are the facts about this depreciation in the value of house property? We know, of course, that any house property is normally a wasting asset, and it is undeniable that social legislation such as we have had for the last 60 years, even since Disraeli's Act of 1877, designed to raise the social standards of the housing of the people, is likely to accelerate the natural process of deterioration of the value of old property. Any prudent investor who puts his money into house property will allow a certain annual sum for depreciation, and I think it is exceedingly unfair that it should be suggested now that this natural process, which has unquestionably been accelerated by all the social legislation which we have had for the last generation, is in any particular sense the fault of the present Government. But if representatives of the property owners are determined to circularise Members of this House, and to proclaim and advertise to the public that the value of their property is being reduced to nothing, that no prudent investor will in future put his money into this form of property, and that no return is ever likely to be received from it, is that likely to encourage those "willing buyers" whom my right hon. Friend is so anxious to see?
My right hon. Friend proceeded to say that the effect of this Bill would be to render an enormous amount of existing house property derelict. That is a question which we have already discussed so much that I am very reluctant to embark upon it to-day. The statement has been circulated, on the authority, I am told, of the medical officer of health, that 50,000 two-roomed houses in Glasgow will be rendered derelict by this Bill—houses in good condition. May I remind the House of the table at the end of the Whitson Report showing the number of two-roomed houses in Glasgow. The total number is 111,000, of which approximately one-half are overcrowded according to the standards of this Bill; so that, if it is to be assumed that 50,000 two-roomed houses will be left derelict, that means that the entire number of 1910 houses which are overcrowded according to the standards of this Bill are, in the first place, in good condition, and, in the second place, likely to become uninhabitated as the result of this Bill. When we look at the number of one-roomed houses, we find that some 22,000 out of a total of 37,000 inhabited by 90,000 people are at the present moment very badly overcrowded. I think it will be obvious that, when these people are moved out of the overcrowded one-roomed houses, they will occupy a very large proportion of the two-roomed houses which are in good condition. A great number of these two-roomed houses are occupied by more than one family and, when one of the families moves out, it does not follow that the remaining one will be too large to continue living in the house. There are also cases where there is more than one family in a three or four-roomed house, and, if the family is small, there is no reason why it should not be moved out into a two-roomed house.
The most important factor is that the process will take a very considerable time, and during that time the number of married couples who wish to have only one or two children is steadily increasing. I cannot see any grounds for supposing that under the Bill any serious injustice will be suffered by owners of property which may have in some exceptional cases to be compulsorily acquired or that many houses in good condition will become untenanted. My right hon. Friend complained that a reconditioning subsidy had not been given by the Bill. He also made some observations about Clause M. It is true that the Whitson Report recommended a subsidy for the purpose of reconditioning houses, but it also recommended precisely what this Bill does not do. It recommended that the application of these by-laws should be made compulsory. Of course, by making a house a little nicer, which we should all be in favour of doing, you do not do anything to affect overcrowding. If you convert a one-roomed house into a two-roomed house and improve its quality you do not affect the question whether the house is overcrowded or not.
The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) raised the question of agricultural housing. I agree with him that the provisions of this Bill as it stands are not likely to cover the 1911 whole of that problem, and from another point of view misgivings have been expressed that some of its provisions might operate to the great disadvantage of married ploughmen with large families. I think it is generally acknowledged that both the nature of overcrowding in the country and the methods by which it can be removed are so different from the conditions that exist in the towns that the two problems can hardly be regarded as the same. In the country the expenses of building are very much greater and the expense of installing modern conveniences, particularly in the more remote districts, are sometimes incomparably greater. As for overcrowding itself, although you may have overcrowding in some particular houses, you do not generally have congestion of the houses themselves and in certain counties, particularly the Highland counties, there are peculiar difficulties concerning the incidence of local rates.
The right hon. Baronet reminded us that he was responsible for the Amendment charging the Housing Advisory Committee to set up a special sub-committee to consider this aspect of the problem. I have always regarded this as an urban Bill except for those few Clauses which extend the provisions of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. I have always resisted any attempt to alter Clause 2, or the Schedule which is connected with it, but I have not concealed my opinion that it is unlikely that the appointed day under this Act will be applied within any measurable period of time by any local authority whose area is wholly or mainly rural in character. In these circumstances, it might perhaps be asked: "Ought you to support legislation which in this respect is likely to be a dead letter." In reply, I would say that, when we consider that the far greater part of our housing problem in Scotland is one of industrialism and that the agricultural part of it is of comparatively small dimensions, the provisions of Clause 4 are amply sufficient for the time being to meet the special circumstances of these areas without making it necessary for us to alter Clause 2 in a manner which might easily cause misunderstanding about our ultimate intentions.
I had hoped in Committee that it might be possible to amend Clause 34 in 1912 such a way as to make it plain that we were going to use this as our main instrument in dealing with the rural problem, but it proved to be impossible to do that without exceeding the limits of the Financial Resolution. I am not certain what view is taken by the Government on this point. If they hope that the Bill is adequate for all parts of the country, that can only be proved by the event. If they think that the earlier parts of the Bill are unlikely to have very much effect in those regions which are exclusively agricultural I do not think an admission of this kind would be in the least damaging to the Bill as a whole. It would not be in order now to ask whether any further legislation is contemplated, still less what would be the character of that legislation, but it may perhaps not be out of place that we should mark those distinctions which place the rural problem outside the main current of this Bill, and that we should consider in our minds what further developments of our policy may become necessary in future.
I hope that, whatever differences we may have about any particular features of the Bill, nothing will be said, either in the House or in the country, which would be likely to retard the immense expansion of building work which the Bill makes possible. Our primary motive in passing it is to improve the social conditions of the people, but we cannot be wholly indifferent to its incidental effects, to the increase of purchasing power, the renewal of monetary circulation and the impulse to the whole internal commerce of the country which will be brought about by an abnormally large expenditure on the building of houses. We may regard the Bill as a major part of the Government policy which began with the establishment of an abundance of credit, together with that confidence which is necessary to enable that credit to be used, and which is now proceeding to employ those advantages in the reconstruction of our country.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Sir IAN MACPHERSON
I should like to add my tribute to those which have been paid to the Under-Secretary for the ability and lucidity of his opening speech. I do not propose to take part in the domestic quarrel between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) and the hon. Member who has 1913 just spoken. I associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in the hope that his gloomy imaginings will never be realised, but the fact remains that he has delivered a very damaging speech, full of knowledge, and it was a speech which, in my judgment, requires an answer. I am not going to enter into the points that he raised, because they affect the urban side of the question with which I am not so directly associated, but I associate myself with the hope that we shall find that the Bill is a very great step in advance and a solution not only for the pressing urban problem, but also for the rural aspect of the housing problem. I think the Bill is indeed a great step in advance, though I should have liked to see it go very much further. It creates a new criminal offence, the offence of overcrowding. Overcrowding has two connotations as far as houses are concerned. Overcrowding in the urban sense is, in my judgment, a terrible crime. The problem does not exist in the same way in the rural districts. The problem there is not so much overcrowding as the habitability of the houses. There is fine open space and fine air and there are great opportunities of enjoying them, but it has to be confessed that in some of the burghs of the North of Scotland you can find individual houses as bad as any of the slums in the great city.
We have a responsibility so far as these houses are concerned, and it is as important for us in many ways to attack an individual house in a small village as to attack a tenement in the large town. The principle is entirely the same. What we want in the Highlands is not so much these new subsidies as the right, under the Rural Housing Acts, to get a small subsidy to recondition houses. There are heaps of these houses in the rural parts of Scotland which require a little reconditioning. If new houses are necessary, let them be established, but the information that we get from county councils all over the North of Scotland is that with a little reconditioning of the existing houses the housing problem could be very adequately met. I am glad that there is a prolongation of the Rural Housing Act. It has been an enormous boon and, if it were only possible to differentiate between the urban and the rural sides and to get a permanent prolongation of the Rural Housing Acts, 1914 we should probably be ale to deal adequately with housing in the rural parts. I hope and believe that the Government will press forward with the Measure. If they do, it is bound to be a boon to the country as a whole, directly in that it will give homes to respectable citizens, and indirectly in that it will in some measure assist the Government in their struggle to overcome unemployment. I, therefore, hope that the Government will proceed wholeheartedly with the performance of their task.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Nearly every Member who has spoken, I think, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), has said that this is a good Bill. I do not think that it is a good Bill, and I have said so right through. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hill-head both called attention to the anomalous position that Government supporters were opposing the Bill and Opposition Members were supporting it. That certainly is not usual, though it is not the first time that it has occurred in this House. I believe the reason is explained in this way. While this is a very bad Bill, it has a very fine object. If the Government had set about designing a Bill that would not attain its object, this is probably the Bill that they would have presented, but it affirms, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson) has said, that overcrowding is an evil. It is terrible to think that it is only now that we are getting that outlook in the matter of human beings in Scoland. We have had it for pigs for some time. It has been well accepted among poultry breeders with modern ideas that it is a sound line to take towards hens and chickens, that it does not do to overcrowd them. But it is only now that we are deciding that it is bad business to overcrowd human beings. It is very late in the day, but I am not going to vote against a Bill which, however late in the day, makes the definite statement for the first time in the history of Scotland, that to overcrowd human beings in their dwelling-places is an evil.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Whatever was stated in the Act of 1875 on that matter it has failed to influence in any degree those who, are responsible for looking after the housing affairs of Scotland. I am glad that at last this statement has been made, and that it is going to be approved by the House of Commons. But I can see that, unless there is some change of attitude among the people of Scotland, this Bill will not produce the results that are desired. A big amount of freedom of action is left in the hands of the county councils. The county councils for at least a dozen years could have dealt with this problem quite easily without this Bill. They have not done it, largely, I think, because the majority of members of county councils in Scotland have a similar outlook on the subject to that which has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead, the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train), and the hon. and gallant Member for Glasgow Central (Sir W. Alexander). They are afraid that the Government should do anything about housing that would destroy housing as a field of investment for the investing population. That is what I gathered from the various speeches that were made on the Second Reading of the Bill, in Committee, and which are now being made. They are afraid that if the State starts to deal with housing and with the finance connected with housing, such as the feuing of land, the placing of mortgages and so on, it will lose its value as an investment.
That has been one of the fundamental things which have been wrong with housing in Scotland. If a man started a grocer's shop, he knew that he had to put brains, energy and activity, as well as money into it. In nearly every line of business, a man on entering it knew that to retain his customers he had to put his brains and initiative into it and keep up to date. In Scottish housing—and I charge my friends of the legal profession with a very big share of the responsibility in the matter—the people who put money into it did so deliberately for the purpose 1916 of getting an income without putting energy, initiative or thought into it. It was not a business but an investment for people in Scotland to put money into houses in the same way as they would put money into Government stock. They expected, as they expected with Government stock, that the asset was a non-wasting asset, and that, without incurring any expenditure on the house, they would go on drawing their undiminished dividends for all time. If a very decent old body in Scotland came to a member of the legal profession and said, "I have had £200 left me by my grandfather, can you advise me where I can put it? "The reply would be "Oh, yes, I think that I can get you a nice mortgage on a property that would bring in a sure 5 per cent.", or "There is a nice new house here with four tenements bringing in £30 or 40 a year." That is an illustration of the advice of a typical Scottish country lawyer, and the hon. and learned Member for Argyll knows it.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Was it not perfectly obvious to the hon. Gentleman that it could not bring in an income? It was a liability.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I know that it had certain disadvantages, and I will tell the hon. and learned Member what the big disadvantage was. Before a fellow who wished to buy it could occupy the house he had also to find £100 to pay the annual feu duty to the man who owned the property. That was the trouble and the snag, and that was in Pollokshields. That raises another question entirely. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that the housing of Scotland has its characteristics because of the feuing system. That does not raise the question as to whether housing should be tackled, but the question whether the feuing system in Scotland should be tackled. That is the problem which is raised there. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll has done it himself on a dozen occasions before he got into the higher flights of his profession, when he was a mere humble solicitor. In the days when his 1917 voice rang through the City chambers and even beyond, he would go up to his office and advise those people that that was where they could put their money. Admittedly that attitude has to be changed. If private enterprise is to have a place in housing, and if they want private enterprise to provide houses for the people, they will have to see that it produces the goods. Those who are manufacturing motor cars have a staff perpetually at work improving, adjusting, making changes and bringing out a new model every year. But houses, even if built 100 years ago, must be kept going and profitable, and the State must come forward to see that private enterprise is not a penny out of pocket. They call it private enterprise. That is the joke of it. Enterprise consists in the State shouldering all the losses, while it insists upon having the profits.
I have allowed myself to be dragged away from what were my original intentions when I rose to my feet. I think that this Bill is all false alarm. As soon as the Bill was mooted there was a great shout against it—I never heard anything like it before—from the property-owning or managing interests in the city of Glasgow, the house factors and property owners' associations and so on, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead like Sir Galahad said, "Here are people in distress. I am going to defend them and become their spokesman. I am going to fight the giants who are going to attack these poor people, the property owners." Yesterday I felt that he had really examined the Bill for himself, instead of merely reading the Circulars that they had sent out. He decided that he would not be a Sir Galahad or a Sancho Panza, and he withdrew out of the field with grace and dignity, but, none the less, he withdrew because there is no serious attack—and this is my big quarrel with the Bill—upon the existing property owners in Scotland. There is no atempt to provide the State or the local authorities with ample powers to alter the housing conditions in Scotland in a reasonably short time. There are years and years for adjustment and rearrangement, and the right hon. Gentleman and the Government spokesmen have attempted to make us believe that to get decent housing in Scotland is a matter of a long period of time. Remember that we have a population 1918 of only 4,000,000 in Scotland. It is not increasing at a very rapid rate; in fact, it is almost at a standstill. There is somewhere about 1,000,000 households. Supposing you were to face now the job of demolishing the whole of the houses in Scotland and rebuilding them, it would not be a big job owing to the fact that we have any amount of labour, skill and material available, and, I am told, any amount of money.
The Corporation of Glasgow went into the open market the other day to raise £2,000,000. The Glasgow Corporation is at present under the control of a body of councillors and one would not expect that they would raise a high state of confidence in the heart of the investing public, and indeed they should not be regarded as quite safe from the point of view of the investing public. But the Glasgow Corporation, with a Labour majority, comes into the market and asks for £2,000,000 and gets in within a, few days. So there is no scarcity of money. Therefore, I say that if you had to face the job of rebuilding the whole of Scotland it would not be a job of which we need be ashamed. It has been said that you must allow for any amount of time, year after year, and even at that, the Bill does not provide the necessary compulsions to compel local authorities and those who are responsible to get ahead with the job even in an extended period of time. I hope that there will be a great propaganda by the Government, and that the right hon. Gentleman will persuade his many friends on the county councils and local authorities in Scotland to take the matter seriously and to go much further and faster than the Bill compels them to go.
I also trust that when they are starting, as I hope they will start, to rebuild Scotland, they will try to make it look like Scotland. It is terribly distressing. I wander about Scotland a good deal, and look at it—after all, it is my native land; it is not responsible for that fact nor am I, but we have so much in common because of that fact—and I find, particularly about the new bits, the things that are supposed to be new and up-to-date, are so distressing. I do not want to pose as a far travelled man—I am not—but if I go into Holland I feel that I see Dutch houses. If I go to Bavaria I see Bavarian houses in keeping with Bavaria and its 1919 geographical characteristics. If I go into any country I feel that there is something distinctive about it, but if I go into Scotland I see something that has no character at all, nothing distinctive. It does not fit the landscape. It is just flung down. I hope to goodness that somewhere in Scotland we shall get some Scotsmen who can conceive of a Scottish architecture that will find expression in the development of Scottish housing. I think of Lanarkshire, or of my own constituency. I must give credit to the Glasgow Corporation for the fact that in my constituency a very large number of new houses have been erected during the last 10 years. Many pestilential slums have been swept away and new houses built, houses that are sanitary and that give a reasonable opportunity for rearing healthy families, but there is nothing distinctive or characteristic about them, or anything that makes them Glasgow. I do hope that in the development under the Bill the Secretary of State will call to his aid some really distinctive architectural skill which is Scottish in nature and inspiration.
In my view the Bill is a bad Bill, because it does not achieve the things that it set out to achieve, but if there were put behind it a tremendous drive by everybody who is genuinely interested; if the Government's supporters who have paid lip-service to the idea of abolishing overcrowding were to denounce and condemn any person who tries to be reactionary on this issue, the results could be better than the Bill. It is in that sense, and because I believe that by extraneous measures—I will do my very best to stir the minds of the Scottish working people on this issue—we could make the results better than the Bill itself. If that were done all round, I believe that something decent might be done for our country.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
This Bill has created more than one record. It occupied the attention of the Standing Committee for a period of 24 days-24 days of continuous clamour and strife. Yesterday it created another record. The Report stage was disposed of in the space of six hours. It was carried through in an atmosphere of the utmost peace and tranquillity. Do not let us be misled by to-day's proceedings. We know that the 1920 speeches to-day are merely ceremonial. What has occasioned this wonderful transformation? If the Secretary of State will permit me to say so, it is in large measure due to the statesmanlike manner in which he piloted the Bill through Committee, and the conciliatory attitude which he adopted. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) refered to the concessions which he made. Of course, he made concessions. He exercised a wise discretion. When the Bill was presented to the House it exhibited difficulties. There were obstacles in it which have been overcome. I should have been suspicious of the Bill if there had been no difficulties. The number of the difficulties are a true measure of the achievement of the Bill.
Some of us have from time to time animadverted on the drafting of the Bill. Those were merely criticisms of detail. The Parliamentary draftsmen have had their special difficulties. In the first place, many of the proposals in the Bill are entirely novel. There is the overcrowding problem. There we have a new field of legislation which has to be explored. There is another special difficulty which the Parliamentary draftsmen had to encounter. I had the curiosity before I came into the House to turn to Dod's Parliamentary Companion, and I learned this remarkable fact that the Scottish Standing Committee consists of 83 Members, of whom no fewer than 24 are either advocates or barristers, and in addition there is a member of the solicitors' branch of the profession. Therefore, the work of the Parliamentary draftsmen had to encounter the scrutiny and, if you will, the captious criticisms of 25 qualified legal gladiators; but it has emerged from the ordeal substantially unscathed. The Parliamentary draftsmen have done their task well. The foundations have been well and truly laid.
I have spoken of the Bill as novel. The part of the Bill which interest me most is that which deals with overcrowding. No Member for a rural constituency could read the report of our county medical officer unmoved. He states that in the Hill of Beath there is a case of three families staying in one house. Two rooms are sub-let, the number in each room being five and six respectively. In Cowdenbeath a family 1921 of six persons occupied one small dark room. In some quarters outside the walls of this House the idea still prevails that the proposals in the Bill are an invasion of the privacy of the family, that they interfere with the right of the owner of the house to do with it what he wills. The Bill prohibits overcrowding and stipulates the number of persons beyond which the house may not be occupied, but so long as the maximum number is not exceeded, the owner of the house can do with it what he will. The family, if they are so minded, can occupy one room in the house, provided always that the prescribed number is not exceeded. One member of the family can sleep on the kitchen dresser, one can sleep on the kitchen table and the rest can lie on the floor if they care to do so. They can do as they please. It is liberty hall. This Bill in no way interferes With the domestic arrangements of the family, but what it does is this: Clause 1 places upon local authorities the duty of providing alternative accommodation where alternative accommodation is required, and secures that when its provisions are in full force every working-class family in Scotland will have the opportunity, if it sees fit to avail itself of it, of living under decent conditions.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I congratulate the Government upon having at least two supporters from their own party. One of them to some extent qualified the speech of the right hon. Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne). In the Committee the Government had, in the main, the enthusiastic support of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), and they have had the more or less qualified and cynical support of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). The principal reason adduced by the hon. Member for Bridgeton for supporting the Bill was that therein overcrowding is acknowledged as an evil. He seemed to be unaware until the right hon. Member for Hillhead told him that there was a Bill dealing with this subject in 1875. I am surprised that the hon. Member did not know his own constituency well enough to know that there exists in that Division what are known as "ticketed houses." There is so much cubic feet of space for so many adults. I knew of the existence of these houses 50 years 1922 ago when I used to canvass as a Conservative in the election of 1885. I did not canvass in those particular houses because they had not votes. We have always known of overcrowding, but the difficulty has always been to get the people to stop it. Every now and again a case would be brought up in the police court, but the cases were very few.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton chaffed us in his speech, which we all enjoyed. We enjoy every speech that he makes. He is really a national institution. It would be a matter of profound regret if he did not speak. The oftener he speaks the better we are pleased. He always adds to the gaiety of the House, which is sometimes inclined to be dull. He spoke about the members of my profession in the old days, and said that they advised people to put their money into housing bonds for security. He complained that the man who lent the money did nothing for it. Of course, he did not. It was not his business as a moneylender to do so. It would have been keenly resented if he had gone to the proprietor of the property and found fault with him over anything that was transpiring. It was not his business. It is like the case of a bank overdraft. The bank does not interfere with the man who gets the overdraft. All that the bank does is to keep an eye on the collateral security and see that it does not sink in value. Those bonds were taken by hospitals, friendly societies, and trade houses. The Glasgow university, of which the hon. Member for Bridgeton is a distinguished graduate, has over £500,000 invested in this way.
This Bill is only the finale of a number of Acts which the property owners have had inflicted upon them. For a century or more we have left is to private enterprise to provide the houses for the wage earners. The wage-earners could not, as a rule, accumulate sufficient money to buy houses for themselves, and so they had to take them from private enterprise, and the private enterprise man got the smallest possible return. Usually it was the little investor and not the large investor who invested in houses. The large investor is not interested in houses. It was the little man, the little shopkeeper, who accumulated £1,000 or £1,500 and bought a tenement or two and borrowed on mortgage perhaps two-thirds of their value at as low I have known as two and three-quarters to 3 per cent., and he had 1923 only about 5 per cent. over all which gave him a reasonable return. But he used to go and look at his property and say: "Well, at any rate, it cannot run away. There is no company promoter fellow who can get hold of it." Therefore, it was the investment of the small, thrifty proprietor. Many of these people did their own factoring and that established direct relations between the man and his tenant and perhaps was the better system. These property owners have had their property very largely depreciated through the Rent Restrictions Acts, but there was a final and residual value left, and now as a result of this Bill that is affected. It is all very well for the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) to say that these people should not have sent round a document declaring that they were going to be ruined. Why should they not do that if they believe it? There is no evidence that they do not believe it. No sensible man has bought heritable property since the beginning of the downfall of its value and none since the Act was introduced.
I believe in the purposes which the Bill sets out to achieve, and I hope that they will be attained. It is indeed sad to think that the wage-earners in Scotland have not been in a position to pay a rent sufficient to provide them with suitable accommodation. The real crux of the situation is the poor wages of the people of Scotland, and there is nothing in the Bill which will increase wages. You may chivvy them out of condemned houses, but there is nothing in the Bill which will give them larger wages, although the subsidy will help them to pay the rent of a better house. The hon. Member for Bridgeton was very anxious and called to his aid the utterances of the Secretary of State in an endeavour to allay the alarm of property owners, and he said that if they were going to be extinguished it would be a slow death, so slow that they would not notice it. The fact is that with this fate hanging over them they cannot realise on their property; they can get nothing out of it. The Whitson Report made the sensible suggestion that as the price of property has been so reduced property owners cannot be expected to spend any money on their property without some assistance 1924 being given them. Why has not that suggestion been acted upon?
My objection to the original Bill has been somewhat modified by the concessions which have been made during the passage of the Measure. It seemed to have been drafted under the delusion that you cannot have any reform without doing someone an injury. I do not agree with that view. Indeed, I think that you only carry real reforms with the good will of everybody; that is the true way to get reform. As originally drafted, there seemed to me to be an anxiety to injure the property owner. The Bill was redolent of malice to start with. Take Clause 8, that vicious Clause, under which the landlord had to be the "informer" against his own tenants. In the Bill as originally drafted the landlord had to be the informer against his own tenant—the most execrable figure in Irish history, and Glasgow is now full of Irishmen—he would have to peach on his own tenant, and if he went to his property and saw that a new baby had arrived he had to find whether the place was in consequence overcrowded, and if he did not inform the local authority he was liable to be punished. Take also the ridiculous provision in regard to the seaside landlady. Everyone knows that in summer time people want to get up in the morning early and go for a swim, and that in the evening they join up and overcrowd in great numbers. They only do so because they have not money enough to take a good-sized house. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) complained bitterly that seaside landladies wanted rent for the bathroom and the washhouse. If anyone wants to sleep in the bathroom or the washhouse why should be sleep there for nothing? But these seaside landladies had to go to the authority and take out a licence as though they were carrying on a dangerous trade or were members of the canine species.
The Bill as originally drafted was framed on these lines, and there are Clauses in it still which are capable of being used in an oppressive manner, although I hope they will not be so used. There is, I think, a good deal of truth in what the hon. Member for Bridgeton has said, that the county authorities will not be quick enough off the mark or keen enough to put up houses such as 1925 one might approve. But there may be occasions, on the other hand, when there may be something in the nature of oppression. There is also this further point. In the larger cities in Scotland there are a number of thoroughly good houses, old houses, which can be re-conditioned. I lived in a house in Edinburgh which was over 100 years old, with walls like fortifications, and I always wished when the Zeppelins came over here dropping bombs that I was living in that old house, because a bomb would have had no effect on those walls. You have these magnificent structures all over Scotland. Nothing that is being put up to-day can compare with them. If they were re-conditioned they would make far better houses than those which are being constructed now. I heartily agree with the hon. Member for Bridgeton that we really ought to have something Scotch in our houses. Scottish houses have been more or less severe and grim, and nothing fills me with more indignation, representing as I do a constituency which produces in Ballachulish and Cullipool the best slates in the world, slates which will last longer than the Pyramids, which will last longer than the houses upon which they are put, than to find all over Scotland Belgian and French tiles being used. I felt pleased the other day when I read that a picture house which desecrated the landscape was caught by a high wind and these foreign tiles and slates were swept away like leaves before the storm.
I also hope that architects—Scottish architects—who are doing so much to beautify England, because I suppose it is much easier to get money there, will come to the help of Scotland in this matter, and that local authorities will not grudge the architects' fees. Far too much of this work has been done by the speculative builder himself. He made one plan and got an architect to sign it for £1 1s., and hundreds and hundreds of houses have been built in that way. I hope that local authorities will take the hint which the hon. Member for Bridgeton has given, and, if they are going to build houses, that they will at least get the services of the best type of architect. I wish the Bill well, but I am sorry it still has some of these elements in it. Some have been taken away during its progress, and they certainly caused great anxiety. With a little additional expenditure we 1926 could have made this housing programme worthy of Scotland. When you think of the amount of money which is taken out of Scotland, even out of the diminished resources of the whisky duty, if the Government had only given us half of the whisky duty to build our houses we could have dealt with the whole of Scotland on the lines suggested. They take all these taxes out of Scotland, and they might have done something more to enable us to recondition many of our houses. In this way we could have provided 50,000 houses needing reconditioning whose tenants, in Glasgow, will probably have to wait for years for suitable accommodation, whereas it could have been provided within a couple of years' time. If that had been done, it would have been a really progressive Bill.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Reference has already been made to other Acts of Parliament of dealing with the housing problem and overcrowding. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) pointed out that in 1875 an Act was passed dealing with overcrowding, and he also referred to the ticketed houses. There is one promising feature, and that is that those who are strong supporters of the present Bill can learn from the experience and find out where previous Acts have failed. We are hoping that under this Bill the houses will be built and that overcrowding will be dealt with. In previous Acts which have been passed there was not sufficient machinery to secure the building of the houses and, therefore, I joined with those who urged upon the Secretary of State the importance of setting up an advisory committee which will make suggestions for the future organisation of house building and putting on pressure in order to get them built. Last week I asked a question as to how much of the slum clearance programme had been completed in Dundee, where the slums are so appalling that few people outside Scotland have any idea of their character. I was somewhat alarmed when I was told that so far only 69 houses had been completed. I hope that the advisory committee which is to be set up under the Bill will be able to give assistance and advice to local authorities, and that there will be an immediate preparation of schemes.
1927 As the hon. Member for Bridgeton has said, we are embarking on an enormous programme, starting a housing crusade, such as Scotland has never known before. The money is forthcoming, and the machinery has been set up, but I agree that we shall require continuous effort and pressure if the houses are to be built and the appointed day to arrive when the people of Scotland cease to live in the appalling conditions of to-day. Reference has already been made to the Whitson Report. The hon. Member for West Renfrewahire (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) mentioned the real reason for the recommendation with regard to reconditioning in that report. Some people outside the House of Commons have not realised that what the Whitson Report recommended was that there should be set up a severe standard for existing, as well as new, houses, and because of this severe standard they recommended that there should be a grant. In paragraph 71 of the report these words occur—Our recommendations involve the imposition of additional burdens and obligations on property owners, and in our view it is proper and right that the State and the local authority should pay part of the cost of carrying out improvements which are now to be imposed for the first time.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Why not make it a condition of giving a grant that wherever a subsidy is asked for this recommendation should be complied with?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I am not going into the question as to whether there should be a grant for reconditioning or not. I am pointing out that the Whitson report did not recommend a grant for reconditioning except on the ground that they had set up a severe standard for all houses. It was only because they set up a compulsory national standard that a grant was to be given. There was no question of a grant without setting up a national standard.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I am glad the right hon. Member has given that explanation, 1928 because it has been supposed that if conditions were complied with a grant would be given, and the Whitson report has been quoted in this connection. The Whitson report set up a national standard for all houses, and they went so far as to consider that many of the owners of property would not be able to bring their houses up to the standard and they suggested—a suggestion with which I did not agree—that there should be a housing corporation to take over the houses in Scotland which did not come up to this universal standard. That is a considerable difference. Another point of interest mentioned in the report is that consideration of what compensation should be given when the houses were taken over by this Corporation. After a great deal of deliberation and many meetings and discussions and much hearing of evidence, we came to the conclusion, which can be found in the report, that there was no better scheme than that of paying market value, which is the arrangement in the clearance areas under the 1930 Act for good property. The same scheme with certain modifications is in this Bill.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
Would my hon. Friend say whether she thinks that the proposals of the Whitson report could be imposed in addition to this Bill? Is it not possible, in other words, to get the benefit of both these proposals, the Government proposals and the Whitson proposals?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
My hon. Friend will understand that that would mean a separate Bill. There is nothing against any Government bringing in any Bill to deal with these things. If hon. Members will look at the terms of reference of the Whitson Committee they will see what it was we were set to consider. It was not how to deal with overcrowding, not what to do if subsidies for new housing were available, but if there was to be no subsidy what the possibility was of providing new houses. The only other thing is reconditioning, and we said it should take place, that as far as possible it should apply to the whole country, and that those who could not without a grant put their property up to that standard would have to be taken over by the Corporation.
There are one or two points of interest in the present Bill, apart from over- 1929 crowding. There is the subject of re-development. The improvement areas under the 1930 Act have not worked well, but under the new scheme of re-development we have far greater chances. Many of the houses in Scotland have reached the stage of being unfit for human habitation. I do not think that any of us, whatever our political point of view, wish to see people remain in houses that are unfit for habitation. Apart from those houses, the way that some houses are planned and arranged makes it absolutely hopeless to deal satisfactorily with the housing question unless we have re-development areas. Many hon. Members know the type of place that I have in mind—close behind close, stairs going up from the close, steep, dark winding stairs. You find a mother carrying a baby with young children behind her, trying to creep up the dark stairs. The houses are so planned that it would be a waste of time to try to deal with the housing problem there. I hope that under re-development we shall deal with those parts of our towns to the greatest possible benefit of the people of Scotland.
One other point that I should like to mention concerns the plans for the new areas. I hope that these areas will be well planned. People talk of the necessity for playing-fields and open spaces. I hope that in due time these new housing areas may not appear as rows of houses thrown down, but may have more the plan of a Scottish village, with all the amenities included, because some of these large housing areas are the size of towns in many parts of the country. I would remind the House that throughout Scotland in the last few years the Scottish churches have been very anxious that space should be left for them in the housing areas. I think most hon. Members have noticed how the different denominations of our churches in Scotland have been collecting funds. People have subscribed in order that new churches may be put up in the new housing areas. I hope, therefore, that all care will be taken so that space is left where these churches can be built, and that the people who are taken away from their own homes, forced away it may be, will have their welfare looked after. It is often not a case of people going to a particular area by choice, but going there because the local authority has sent them to that area. I am very doubtful whether it 1930 had been sufficiently considered that halls and other amenities for the young people ought to be included. Some of us are distressed at a great deal we have heard, not merely of juvenile crime, but of juvenile mischief, in some of these areas. You are taking people away from their surroundings and friends and interests, from the shops and streets. Many think that it is far better for them to go from these districts but let us remember that they are being taken away from their normal influences, and to areas where there is very little to interest them. In planning the areas we should not forget that there are Scouts and Guides and other societies working for the welfare of the young, and we should include halls and give every possible help for the social amelioration and spiritual welfare of the people.
I welcome this Bill. I think the housing of the people of Scotland is in many cases a disgrace. We are all anxious to see a really radical change. Government after Government has passed Housing Bills, from which we hoped for great things. This Bill is intricate and complex, and the problem is extremely complex, but I believe that, acting on the experience of failures in the past, we are now going forward with a bigger but concentrated scheme, and I believe we shall succeed. The scheme cannot succeed unless constant pressure and constant interest are continued. The scheme ought to go forward quickly. The people are living in these conditions, and one trembles to think of another winter with some of them living as they are. We cannot wait. Children are growing up under conditions that are bad for their health. Older people's health is ruined and they are continuing in misery and darkness in the centre of our towns. Speed is a necessity. The conscience of Scotland is awakened to a certain extent. I think it could be awakened more and the people of Scotland as a whole become more widely awake to the necessity of seeing the housing problem seriously tackled. We are giving them a chance to do it. One of the speakers to-day suggested that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would regret the passing of this Bill. I believe that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to look back on the passing of this Bill as perhaps one of the greatest things done for many years past for 1931 the people of Scotland. If by this Bill we get for the people good homes, we shall have done something for which the next generation will be thankful. We shall see the difference then.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. BURNETT
I would like to add my tribute to the Secretary of State, who has conducted this Bill through the long 24 days of Standing Committee and has brought it out at the end to what it is. Everyone in Scotland wants to see the appalling evil of overcrowding dealt with and dealt with drastically, as it is a threat to the health and to the morality of the country. We have been doing what we could with the clearance of slums. We have been considering the various areas, the demolitions and replacements, but in the meantime overcrowding has been going ahead. I do not know what other hon. Members have found in their constituencies but in the constituency of Aberdeen which I represent the houses overcrowded have increased from 1,340 to 1,644 within the last year. A part of this may be due to the agricultural depression, to the people crowding into the towns. Large numbers of families have been added from the country rolls and schools to the town rolls. But at the same time there is no doubt that we have not had from private building that help in dealing with overcrowding which we had hoped to have.
We have had the five-years plan going forward. Overcrowding will take time to deal with. We have had our building capacity occupied to the full. In Aberdeen we cannot get people from the south to work in granite. Bricklayers are scarce. Now, in addition to the remains of the clearances, we have to deal with overcrowding. We cannot expect to have the appointed day within a short time, and we have to consider what is to be done in the meantime. It was said that there is no provision laid down as to overcrowding until the appointed day comes. I do not think that that is quite the case, because our local authorities have gone on the model by-laws which were sent out in 1931, and those by-laws laid down for improvement areas a certain standard, and that standard has been adopted very largely in connection with the new houses which have been built to cope with overcrowding—two 1932 adults to a room and one person under five, and 40 superficial feet area for a grown person and 30 feet for a child. That has been the condition so far, and under this Bill no doubt new conditions, two for one room and three for two rooms, will be enforced.
Everyone wants to see the standard as high as possible. No doubt when we have all the accommodation that we want that can be done, but until we have that accommodation we are putting off the time when we deal with the grossly overcrowded cases of which we have so many just now. We have 34 people who are desirous of getting houses and are living in tents. If we can stretch a point and not make the standard more stringent we shall hasten the time when we can get enough accommodation. I wish we had been able to do something in the way of reconditioning, such as was suggested in the Whitson report. In that way we could have got on more quickly in dealing with the overcrowding problem. But it has not been included in the Bill in such a way that it can be financed by private owners. I am very glad that inclusion has been made of the cases of gross overcrowding, dealing with them first. Certain difficulties arise in this connection. There is the ease, for instance, which I have in mind, where large arrears of rent were due, say £26, rent owed by a family of husband, wife and six children, who were evicted from their house. Are those persons to be allowed, if they cannot get accommodation, to go out to accommodation in tents, or is the authority to take them over? This problem has been dealt with in Holland, where they have controlled settlements. I do not think we can manage controlled settlements in this country, but it is, certainly a serious problem as to whether a local authority can take over these cases. Something will have to be done sooner or later to provide for them.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) said about shops in the new settlements. I saw a settlement in Germany where there were church, bank, shops, a post office, and all requirements provided. The rents of the houses were advertised and so were the rents of the shops. That is a much better method of dealing with the matter than giving compensation to dispossessed shopkeepers, but at the same time, until 1933 we have some arrangement of this sort, we certainly have to do something in the matter of compensation. Under Clause 79 the matter is an optional one and it may not be put into practice, but the retail shopkeeper who has spent perhaps £60 or £65 in buying the goodwill of the property is losing this through the action of the local authority. Some provision should be made to estimate what the value of the goodwill was before the clearance was decided upon, and after, so that the compensation can be paid on those lines.
With regard to what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said about amenities, under the Bill there is to be a committee which will give advice on this subject, and I hope they will do something to remove what is certainly a blot both on our Scottish and English houses. We approach many of the towns in Scotland and see drab houses, all built on one pattern, and the whole character of the country is being changed. I hope that Clause 72 will have some effect. These are the main points which I wanted to bring out in connection with this Bill, which I support very heartily, and I hope it will have the effect of doing away at a very early date with overcrowding in Scotland.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
The Under-Secretary of State seemed to be quite pleased to have settled this Bill and congratulated himself that it was going to solve the overcrowding problem. I think he will be somewhat disabused as to that hopefulness with regard to the Bill after hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). It is suggested that we on this side have failed to perform our function as an Opposition. There are one or two small points in the Bill with which we agree. There is probably nobody in this House more directly concerned with, or who have a better knowledge of the conditions of the working classes than the Members on our side. I was much interested in the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead correcting the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and reminding him that overcrowding was legislated for in 1875. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) told him that 1934 there were such things as ticketed houses. The Act of 1875 did not prevent, overcrowding even in the ticketed houses. Apart from that, I wish to draw attention to the fact that overcrowding is not so much an argument between legal individuals, but is much more a question of whether the Government intend to find out the defects of the present Bill, and when they have found them, to have them remedied.
Like the hon. and learned Member for Argyll, I believe that the real problem lies in the fact that people are not paid sufficient wages. There is no difference between a man who has had a university education and the man who has been brought up as I have been. Their ideals are no higher because they have been given a university training. A man and woman living in a colliery row are as moral as people living in houses, and whose sons have had a university training. The only reason why the woman who lives in the colliery row has to put up with the existing conditions so far as housing is concerned is because her husband does not earn sufficient wages to enable her to get into a higher-rented house. When she does get into a higher-rented house in present conditions in Scotland, she finds herself running into arrears of rent. Then she is brought before the sheriff and evicted, and after eviction there is nobody who will offer that family a house—no private landlord and no local authority, because they cannot produce their rent book to show that they are clear in the payment of rent in the last house they occupied. I have no objection to that. I quite appreciate the position of the private landlord or the local authority, but as a consequence there are some thousands of people living in Lanarkshire in overcrowded conditions for whom this Bill does not provide.
I should have liked the Government to have made themselves much better acquainted with the actual conditions of overcrowding in the industrial centres, and to have been less afraid of criticism and of the more or less corrupt letters of the people for whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead has spoken to-day. He referred to the possible corruption that would result from local authorities becoming to a large extent owners of houses and quoted a circular he had received from a housing association which is asking for a reduction 1935 of rent. They are rightly asking for a reduction of rent, because the rents were fixed at the time these houses were built far beyond the accommodation provided, and the fact that a housing association has sent out such a circular is nothing in comparison with the innumerable circulars that have come from lawyers, factors, accountants, surveyors and more or less every individual who is living on the rents that are paid for these houses. Many of them are mere parasites living on these houses. All of them have been, continuously for months past sending in circulars asking us to vote for the particular proposals that they were supporting, which in effect meant putting money into their pockets. Anything nearer to corruption I do not know, but I have no time to go into the matter in more detail. We have accepted this Bill, we have supported this Bill in Committee, and we are supporting it to-night because we believe that it contains the germs of something that will be of real value at some future time in solving, or attempting to solve, the housing problem of Scotland in a much more reasonable way than in the past.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham), in his opening sentence, asked the Government when the Bill becomes law to find out any defects in it and to remedy them. I can give him that assurance. The junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) made an appeal to the Government that in new housing areas there should be adequate space for the provision of churches. I very readily give her an assurance that this point will be kept in mind, and I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the hon. Member for the practical knowledge and experience she has given to the Government with regard to this Bill in its long passage through the Committee stage.
The Debate this afternoon was opened by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) who asked me two or three specific questions. He made an appeal that in regard to the compensation to shopkeepers we might consider offering shopkeepers, who are dispossessed of their premises and trade through the redevelopment areas or some other activity, 1936 alternative shops. It may not be possible to secure that object in the Bill, but I will direct my attention—without giving any undertaking—as to whether it would be possible by some circular from the Department to local authorities to give the first claim to shops in these new areas to those who have unfortunately been dispossessed of their shops and trade in the other areas. Then he asked me to tell the House, in pursuance of an undertaking I gave in Committee upstairs, about the meeting of the local authorities which took place in Edinburgh some fortnight ago. I am sorry there was no opportunity yesterday, but, as he knows, we got on rather quickly. My hon. Friend and I met the 29 local authorities—and not only the 29, but many other local authorities in Edinburgh—on a particular point which came out during the last few days of the Committee stage of the Bill.
It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that some local authorities had been rating themselves on a smaller contribution than what was thought necessary, or had been laid down in the 1930 Act. The 29 authorities had received permission from the Department to do so, and although no special time was announced, it was thought to be for one year. Since that meeting the Government have given very careful consideration to the question, but I deeply regret that we are unable to accept their plea. What are we doing in this matter? We asked these local authorities to pay into the pool the rate contribution which Parliament laid down as normal, in order to secure that the proportion of State and local contributions should be maintained. That is the policy of these Acts, and therefore I regret that I have been unable—and I do not want to shirk this matter—to agree to the claim pressed on me in Committee, and pressed by that meeting of local authorities to meet their case. Since that meeting we have addressed a long memorandum to local authorities explaining the details of the proposals which are rather complicated. I do not say that we have satisfied all, but I know that the fears of some, who came to that meeting under a certain misapprehension, have been modified. Do not let me, however, create the impression that the fears of all have been removed because that would not be accurate. I think I have now dealt with 1937 the points raised by the hon. Member for Govan.
Then the House listened with attention, as it always does, to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne). He expressed regret that the Government were relying on municipalities and local authorities in Scotland in their campaign for better housing conditions. Let me remind him that the Act of 1919, which was the first post-war housing Act, gave large powers to local authorities. Having studied the work of those local authorities throughout Scotland, since that time, I am satisfied with the manner in which they have discharged their duties. The local authorities, who were entrusted by Parliament at that time with this large power, have revealed clearly by their actions since that they are well entitled to further confidence and that they will push forward this matter efficiently.
My right hon. Friend's second point was that this Bill had been shaped too much on English lines. He pointed out, with truth, that the concession to the owner-occupier, which I had refused in Committee, had been granted in the case of the English Bill, and he rather twitted me with having had the Bill re-committed yesterday for the purpose of inserting a similar provision. I can only say that where any concession, on any Bill, at any time, is given to England I shall do my best to make sure that a similar concession is at once granted to Scotland. The kernel of a, Bill of this nature must be its financial provisions. My right hon. Friend, I am sure, has studied the financial provisions of this Bill, and I think he will agree with me that they differ fundamentally from those of the English Bill. Let me also remind him of certain provisions contained in this Bill which are not in the English Bill. There is the provision that all inquiries under the 1930 Act should be held by independent commissioners jointly appointed by certain authorities in Scotland and the Department. In that respect, there is a fundamental difference from the practice which is to obtain under the English Measure. Then I need scarcely remind him of the 16 weeks which has been granted under the holiday resort Clause. That marks another difference between the Scottish Bill and the English Bill. Throughout the proceedings on this Bill, we have 1938 endeavoured, I hope successfully, to view this problem as a Scottish problem, and we present this Bill to the House as a, considered Measure based on Scottish conditions, to deal with Scottish problems in a purely Scottish manner.
My right hon. Friend referred to differences of opinion which existed in the Committee upstairs. Throughout the long-drawn-out Committee stage, on every Division that was taken, a majority of the Government supporters voted in favour of our proposals, whatever differences of opinion may have existed in the Committee. Although the Bill was so closely examined, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) pointed out, by those well competent to judge and analyse its wording, it stood the test, and, as I say, there was always a majority of Government supporters in our favour, although I admit that, at times, a certain number of Government supporters voted the other way.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I did not touch on that incident, but I have a complete answer to my right hon. Friend's remark. He was present and he will remember that the Government in that case left the question at issue to the free vote of the Committee. We did not press our point of view. We realised that there were differences of opinion and we were anxious to secure the common mind of Scotland on all these issues—so much so that when the Bill came down again to this House we did not seek to alter a single decision taken by the Scottish Grand Committee.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I think I know to what the hon. Member is referring and I think I have made that right with him. For any responsible Minister to run counter to the common feeling and opinion of the Scottish Grand Committee, drawn as it is from all parties in the House, is to run a grave risk of upsetting the legislative programme of His Majesty's Government, and rightly so. When hon. Members and right hon. Gentlemen gather in Committee upstairs to discuss these Measures, they treat that business, apart from politics and 1939 party prejudice, and apply their minds to the problems before them. My right hon. Friend dealt also with the problem of decrowding. Let me repeat what I have, I fear, said very often in the past, that this is a Bill conceived, drafted, planned and driven through with the whole force of His Majesty's Government in order to cope with the problem of overcrowding. That is the problem we set out to solve. During the last few years the Government have directed the local authorities in Scotland to concentrate on the problem of the slum. Now when our slum programme is well under way, when we can see the fruition of their labours in that respect, when it is possible to see on the horizon the complete abolition of slums in Scotland, we ask the local authorities this afternoon to direct their attention to the second problem, that of overcrowding.
Several hon. Members have with some force suggested that the Bill does not deal fully with that problem. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir Ian Macpherson), my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) and others have urged the importance of the rural housing problem in Scotland. We indicated upstairs that this Bill was not a complete solution of that problem. We hope to get valuable advice from the advisory committee on rural housing, and when we get that report and are able to direct our attention to its recommendations, we may be in a position to come forward with a fresh Measure to deal with that long standing problem. I take this opportunity of thanking, most sincerely, Members in all part of the House for their assistance in moulding this Measure and making it a better one. I am conscious that it had many imperfections and blemishes when it was introduced, but thanks to the active assistance of hon. Members of all parties, I think we can now claim that the Bill is a very much improved Measure compared with what it was when it was sent upstairs. That is not to say that its fundamental features have been altered. For the first time in the history of the world a minimum standard of accommodation has been laid down for the working class as a standard which they are entitled to enjoy.
1940 My mind goes back many years to the days when Parliament for the first time decided not only that there should be Old Age Pensions, but that there should be a minimum standard of subsistence for those laid aside in the struggle of life through sickness, unemployment or any of the other tragedies of existence. This Bill lays down a standard of accommodation. It may not be perfect. It may not be as high as some would like and it may be, in the opinion of others, too high, but the standard is so drawn and the financial provision in the Bill is such that it is a standard which can be secured in our lifetime. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) spoke of the time which might be occupied in securing the results we all desire. My last word on this, the final stage of the Bill, after our long proceedings upon it, will be an appeal. This Bill is simply a piece of machinery transferred by Parliament to the local authorities in Scotland. I make this appeal to the local authorities. I thank them first for the energy and drive they have shown in the great slum clearance carried out during the last few years. I ask them during the next few years in the operation of this Measure to show the same energy and determination, supported as they will be, I am convinced, by the common conscience of Scotland and even by the ratepayers who will have to find the necessary sums to make the Bill workable. If they do, it is possible in our lifetime and even in the next few years, that not only will the slums be destroyed but the overcrowded tenement of Scotland will be removed for ever.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I refrained from expressing my views last night because I understood that the Debates on this Bill were to occupy three days. The time available has been shortened by the fact that the Report stage only occupied one day. I do not think, however, that any Member of Parliament should be prevented from expressing his opinions on a Measure of this kind because certain arrangements have been made for closing down the Debate. I regard this Bill as one of the most important Measures that could be presented to the House. I certainly believe in affording every opportunity for improving the housing standards of the people in Scotland, but 1941 I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to the effect which this Bill is going to have. Since 1918 there have been many Housing Acts—
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Perhaps the hon. Member will excuse me for intervening, but there was a general understanding, though I do not say a complete understanding, that we would get the Third Reading of the Bill before half-past seven o'clock. The hon. Member knows that we have had a very long Committee stage, and, although I know that he is anxious to speak, I would appeal to him to allow us to get the Bill before half-past seven o'clock, because at that hour our proceedings will be interrupted.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I have made a good many appeals to the right hon. Gentleman which have fallen on deaf ears. I, like him, retain my right as a Member of the House to decide my own course of action. On many occasions, I have attempted to speak but have been denied the opportunity. To-night I desire to assert my right in this House to express my views on this Bill.
§ It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 6, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.