HC Deb 23 March 1937 vol 321 cc2738-41
34. Mr. Mathers

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is now in a position to make any statement with regard to the discussions about the housing situation in Scotland in which he has recently been engaged?

Mr. Elliot

Five meetings have been held with representatives of employers and operatives representing practically all the organisations in the building industry in Scotland, at the first three of which I was personally present. The subsequent meetings have been held under the chairmanship of an official of the Ministry of Labour. In the course of the series of meetings information has been placed before the building industry showing the approximate amount of public work (including houses, schools, hospitals, etc., and building for Defence requirements) that it is desired to carry out within the next few years. The representatives of the industry were asked to examine this information and consider whether the available supply of skilled labour in the different trades is sufficient to enable the various programmes to be carried out; and, if not, to make suggestions as to the methods by which the supply could be increased. I am glad to be able to say that the representatives of the industry have considered the question in a public-spirited manner and that they are prepared to make recommendations designed to secure such progressive increase in the number of skilled operatives as may be necessary, provided that assurances are given of reasonable continuity of employment.

Under the provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, the Exchequer contributions at the present rates are payable fort houses completed by 31st March, 1938, and the question of the rates for the three years immediately following that date must be reviewed, in consultation with the Associations of Local Authorities, after 1st October of this year. In view of the importance to local authorities of knowing what their financial position will be after 31st March, 1938, I have been giving preliminary consideration to the question, and it is my present intention to submit proposals to Parliament at the appropriate time for the continuance of the present rates of Exchequer contributions under the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1930, and the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, for the three years beginning on 1st April, 1938, that is, to 31st March, 1941.

The Government are closely watching the position in regard to supplies and prices of materials, and will keep in touch with local authorities and producers in the matter. I am arranging for meetings with the Associations of Local Authorities to discuss the question of planning their building programmes so as to ensure the maximum degree of continuity of progress. A preliminary meeting was held in Edinburgh this morning. A further meeting with the representatives of the building industry is being held in Glasgow to-day. I have every reason to think that when the negotiations are concluded there will be made possible a marked improvement in the recent rate of house building by local authorities and that as further operatives become available, the rate can be progressively expanded.

Mr. Mathers

May I ask whether this arrangement involves the abrogation of certain trade union rules, and, if so, whether the trade unions have agreed to it?

Mr. Elliot

I do not think it involves the abrogation of trade union rules, and everything is being done in close cooperation with the operatives' union as well as with the employers.

Mr. Johnston

Do we understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the operatives asked for assurances of a reasonable continuity of employment, and are we to understand that that means a statutory guarantee or a mere verbal guarantee from a Secretary of State who may not be in office at the end of the period?

Mr. Elliot

The guarantee we give is a guarantee, as I have explained, that we propose to extend the present rate of Exchequer contributions for the three years up to 31st March, 1941, which goes beyond the lifetime of the present Parliament.

Mr. Johnston

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question? I asked about reasonable guarantees of continuity of employment, and whether such guarantees were given verbally in 1924, and subsequently broken?

Mr. Elliot

I do not think I can do more than say that the statutory guarantees are that the rates of assistance will be maintained over the lifetime of this present Parliament. I do not think there is any stronger statutory guarantee which can be given, bat if the right hon. Member has anything in mind I shall be glad to consider it.

Mr. Stephen

Is the right hon. Gentleman making any representations to the local authorities that they should increase their building programme under these new provisions?

Mr. Elliot

Yes, as I have said, we are arranging for a meeting with the association of local authorities to secure the maximum degree of continuity in house building, and a preliminary meeting on this subject was held in Edinburgh this morning.

Mr. Denman

May I ask whether the discussions have any regard to the employment situation after the rearmament programme has passed its peak?

Mr. Elliot

All these things are taken into consideration by the building industry, when they are considering whether they can reasonably increase the housing programme.

73. Mr. W. Roberts

asked the Minister of Health whether a final decision has been reached as to whether or not housing grants for slum clearance will be payable after 31st March, 1938; and whether only houses actually completed by that date will be eligible for Government grants?

The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood)

Under Section 109 of the Housing Act, 1936, I am called on to review after 1st October, 1937, in consultation with the local authorities the Exchequer contributions payable for slum clearance and the abatement of overcrowding. The Section provides that contributions at the existing rates will be payable for houses completed by 31st March, 1938. Local authorities will soon be letting contracts for houses which will not be completed till after that date, and I have received a number of representations on the matter. The completion of slum clearance and the abatement of overcrowding are vital elements in the health services of the country. I am anxious to preserve continuity in this housing programme, and to avoid the disturbance which might result from a position of uncertainty. I have therefore given some preliminary consideration to the matter. I cannot under the Statute carry out my review or submit proposals to Parliament till after 1st October, 1937, and these proposals must be made in the light of the facts as they then exist. When I do submit proposals it is my intention to include among them provisions under which the now existing rates of Exchequer contribution will continue without alteration for houses built in replacement of unfit houses or for the abatement of overcrowding which are completed by 31st December, 1938.