HC Deb 16 November 1937 vol 329 cc343-66

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to authorise the giving of financial assistance towards the expenses incurred by local authorities in providing housing accommodation for the agricultural population; to promote the provision of new housing accommodation to replace accommodation which is occupied by members of the agricultural population and is unfit for human habitation or overcrowded; to amend the provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Acts, 1925 to 1935, relating to insanitary dwelling-houses; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid (hereinafter referred to as 'the said Act of the present Session '), it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament:— A. Of such expenses as may be incurred by the Department of Health for Scotland (hereinafter referred to as 'the Department') (1) in making contributions towards any expenses incurred by a local authority in providing under Part III of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1925, housing accommodation for the agricultural population, in so far as such accommodation is provided with the approval of the Department, in houses the erection of which has been, or is, begun on or after the third day of November, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, so however that such a contribution shall be of such amount, not being less than ten pounds ten shillings, as the Department may with the sanction of the Treasury determine, payable annually for a period of forty years in respect of each house provided with the approval of the Department: Provided that the amount of the contribution payable in respect of any house shall not exceed fifteen pounds unless the Department are satisfied that the annual expenditure likely to be incurred by the county council in respect of the house is, in consequence of the remoteness of the site thereof from centres of supply of building labour and material, substantially greater than the equivalent of nineteen pounds ten shillings per annum for forty years; (2) in making contributions towards any expenses incurred with the approval of the Department by a local authority in giving assistance on application made within five years after the passing of the said Act of the present Session (such assistance being given by way of payment of a lump sum not exceeding either (a) one half of the cost of the house; or (b) one hundred and sixty pounds in the case of a house containing three apartments, or two hundred pounds in the case of a house containing more than three apartments) for the provision of housing accommodation in new houses in replacement of— (a) houses or premises which, being unfit for human habitation are not capable at a reasonable expense of being rendered so fit, are to be demolished or closed under Part II of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1930, and which are— (i) houses, or other premises' situated on a farm and occupied in accordance with their contracts of service by agricultural workers employed thereon; or (ii) houses occupied by owner occupiers of farms who are of substantially the same economic condition as agricultural workers or by statutory small tenants, or by landholders; or (iii) houses in the Highlands and Islands occupied by members of the agricultural population who are of substantially the same economic condition as landholders; (b) houses or other premises situated on a farm and occupied in accordance with their contracts of. service by agricultural workers employed thereon, which are not in all respects fit for human habitation or are overcrowded and which by the execution of works of reconstruction will be combined with adjoining occupied houses or premises and will cease to he occupied as separate houses or premises; So, however, that such a contribution shall be made by way of annual payments for a period of forty years from the completion of the house in respect of which assistance is given, and shall be of an amount equal, in any case where assistance is given, in respect of any such house as is mentioned in sub-paragraphs (ii) or (iii) of the foregoing paragraph (a) which is situated in the Highlands and Islands, to seven-eighths, and in any other case in which assistance is given to three-quarters of the estimated average annual payments falling to be made by the local authority in respect of the charges on account of loans raised by them for the purposes of payments made by way of assistance, or which would have fallen to he made if the sums so expended by them had been raised by means of loans. B. Of such additional sums as may become payable under section twenty-three of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1930, or under section thirty of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, by reason of any provision of the said Act of the present Session amending section thirty-three of the said Housing (Scotland) Act, 1935, so as to apply to the contributions referred to in sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph A of this Resolution; C. Of such additional expenses as may be incurred by the Department by reason of any provision of the said Act of the present Session that the provisions of Part II. of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1930, relating to insanitary dwelling-houses shall have effect in relation to premises occupied by agricultural workers in like manner as if they were dwelling-houses notwithstanding that the premises are used for sleeping purposes only. For the purposes of this Resolution the expression 'agricultural population' means persons who are or in their latest occupation were engaged in agriculture or in an in dustry mainly dependent on agriculture, and includes the dependants of such persons as aforesaid; the expression 'agriculture' means the use of land for agricultural or pastoral purposes or for the purposes of poultry-farming or market-gardening or as an orchard or woodlands or for the purpose of afforestation; the expression 'Highlands and Islands' means the counties of Argyll, Caithness, Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Orkney and Zetland; and the expressions 'landholder' and 'statutory small tenant' have the meanings assigned to them by the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts, 1886 to 1931."—[King's Recommendation signified.]—[The Lord Advocate.]

9.47 P.m.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

In view of the full discussion which took place on the Second Reading of the Bill last Tuesday, the Committee will not expect me to speak in support of this Resolution at any length, but there is one point in regard to which I think the Committee are entitled to a brief explanation. It will be remembered that the Bill to which the House gave a Second Reading last week was deliberately drawn in such a way as to confine the benefits of Parts I and II to county councils, and that that limitation in the scope of the Bill was marked from its title right through to the last Clause. In the interval my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has been examining this problem and who has been in Scotland for some little time, has come to the conclusion that the question whether burgh authorities should or should not be brought: within the scope of the Bill is a question which might properly be made the subject of discussion in Committee if an Amendment appropriate to raise that issue is put down.

For that purpose, and in order to ensure that any such Amendment could be discussed, the Resolution now before the Committee is in a slightly different form from the Resolution which appeared on the Order Paper last week. I need not explain in detail what the alterations are, but they amount to this, that wherever in the old Resolution a reference was made to county councils, that reference has been deleted and there has been substituted for it a reference to "the local authority". As the Committee will see, the effect of that is still further to widen the Resolution and to make possible in the Committee upstairs a discussion which would otherwise have been out of order. I am sure that the Committee will welcome that widening of the scope of the Resolution, and will accept the Resolution.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. T. Johnston

I am exceedingly glad that the Government have accepted the proposition which we on this side put to them last week that there should be a widening of the terms of the Bill so as to remove the hardships which would inevitably have arisen had the Bill remained as it was when first introduced. Despite the fact that the Under-Secretary of State refused to accede to our appeals last week, it is now obvious that the Government, on second thoughts, have decided to give us an opportunity in Committee to bring in under the benefits of this Bill farms in the landward areas of the burghs. Under the Bill as it originally was, and indeed as it still stands, the benefits accrue only to farm workers and proprietors in the counties.

It is obvious that the city of Edinburgh, which has a large number of farms within its boundaries, would have found itself in the position that farm workers inside its area would not receive the benefits of this Bill, whereas farm workers on the other side of an imaginary line in the county would receive the benefits. A week ago we submitted that that was an untenable and unjustifiable distinction, and I am exceedingly glad that the Government have so drafted the Money Resolution that it will be possible for us on the Committee stage to make Amendments in the Measure which will enable farm workers all over the country to receive whatever benefits are possible under this Measure.

We are still waiting for an explanation from the Government—I am sorry that the Lord Advocate did not give it to us to-night—as to why they entitle the Bill in such a way as solely to provide better housing for the agricultural population. Doubtless the Lord Advocate will have turned up the definition that was given in the 1931 Act, the only rural housing Act of which advantage has been taken in rural Scotland. The Committee on Rural Housing reported that our Act of 1931, although it was on the Statute Book only for a few months before financial necessities caused it to be stopped, succeeded in having built nearly 500 houses and that—I speak from memory—about 1,700 or 1,800 applications were sent to the Department of Health by the local authorities under that Measure. Under no other Act have the counties of Scotland found it possible to build houses in any number at all for the rural population. The 1931 Act was deliberately defined as being an Act to provide better housing for agricultural workers and for persons whose economic condition was substantially the same as that of such workers.

I beg the Government, even at this late hour, to consider whether it would not be better to adopt our definition of 1931 rather than the limited definition which still remains in this Bill. As it now stands, the Bill will exclude from the benefits of this better rural housing such workers as rural postmen, roadmen, and so on, persons who cannot be said to be agricultural workers or to be in an industry mainly dependent upon agriculture. They will be excluded under this Bill, whereas under the 1931 Act all those classes of workers were brought in by the title and terms of the Measure.

There are other details in the Bill which we find it difficult to understand. Our experience prior to 1931 was that there were rural areas, particularly in the far north, where county councils, owing to high prices of material, cost of labour, difficulties of transport and so forth, found it impossible to get contractors to build houses for the rural working classes at reasonable figures. Particulars were given in last week's Debate of extraordinary disparities in prices. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) that a three-apartment house had been built, I think he said quite recently, in Sutherland at a cost of £680. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) gave figures to show that houses were being built in an English district at £352, while in the Midlands of Scotland the same type of house is costing £492.

In face of these disparities it is obvious that the provision which we imported into the 1931 Act, giving the Department power, at the request of the local authorities, to build houses, to purchase materials, to employ labour, and to go over the heads of the contractors, was a very wise provision. It was welcomed by most, if not all the county councils concerned. I regret that the Government have not seen fit to take advantage of that provision, having regard to experience prior to 1931. Before 1931 there were 14 counties in Scotland which had not built a house with Government assistance under any Act. They had been unable to do so. We created a graduated financial arrangement and the local authorities accepted it gladly. They built houses under it and it was only the financial crisis of 1931 which checked the operation of that Measure. Now the Government are offering subsidies to county councils varying from £10 10s. to £15 per house, but the subsidies which the authorities are already receiving average from £13 to £15 per house. On the average, they will gain nothing under the terms of the bill.

I repeat what I said a week ago that it would be more profitable for an authority to build new houses under the 1930 Slum Clearance Act where it is replacing dwellings in which there are more than four units. If there are more than four units, it would pay a local authority to build under the 1930 Act instead of under this Act. I do not think that there is anything unjust or unreasonable in our request. We are at a loss to know how the Government propose to define the persons who are to benefit by this Bill. The questions which were addressed to the Government on this subject a week ago cannot be dodged. Will the Lord Advocate or any representative of the Government tell us what they mean by people who are mainly dependent upon agriculture or were so dependent in their last occupation? Is the auctioneer at the market, for instance, who is perhaps a wealthy man, to be given a subsidised house under this Measure? He is employed in an occupation mainly dependent upon agriculture.

Mr. McGovern

Or the Minister?

Mr. Johnston

I do not know about that, but I wish to put this point because it is rather important. Do the Government propose to allow such people as auctioneers into these new houses while they bar roadmen, postmen, small shopkeepers, and other people of that class? If so. they start out with a grave in- justice and it will do a great deal to wreck the good will which is necessary, if this Measure is to be operated successfully. I am amazed that the Government have not seen fit to state precisely and accurately what they mean by the words in Clause 19 defining "agricultural population"—that is, the population which is to benefit by this Measure. The Clause says: 'agricultural population' means persons who are or in their latest occupation were engaged in agriculture or in an industry mainly dependent on agriculture, and includes the dependants of such persons as aforesaid. What does that mean? We should not allow a Measure of this kind to go through without a very careful definition of what is intended. No one rejoices more readily than I do that the right hon. Gentleman has prevailed upon his friends and got the scope of the Measure slightly widened so as to bring in farms in the landward areas of burghs. But I marvel that the Treasury should have allowed a Clause to slip through which would enable auctioneers, middlemen, butchers and others to get new houses subsidised to the extent of 15 per annum, for 40 years it may be, while postmen and roadmen are barred. I trust that hon. Members in all parts of the House will reinforce our appeal for a full explanation before we part with this Resolution.

We asked a week ago and we ask again what about the other unanimous recommendations of the Rural Housing Committee which are not embodied in this Bill? Is it to be obligatory upon any proprietor who gets assistance under this Measure to put water closets in the new houses? That was a recommendation of the Committee, but as I read the Bill he is only to put in water closets if it is reasonably practicable to do so. We know what that means in the rural counties of Scotland. We know that county councils will discover innumerable reasons why it is not "reasonably practicable." You will be faced with a situation in which you are putting up public money for the creation of new dwellings, without having the minimum requirements of civilisation in those dwellings wherever a county council declares that such provision is not" reasonably practicable." It is true that the Department of Health has to be satisfied that it is not reasonably practicable, but the Department has found itself unable in the past to compel these county councils to adopt even the minimum sanitary requirements which have been provided in this country for many years past. I also regard the absence even of the panel of skilled persons recommended by the Rural Housing Committee to adjudicate or act as a buffer between the county councils and the Department of Health as a further blot upon the Bill.

We were told a week ago by the Under-Secretary of State that the Government bluntly refused to accede to the recommendation of the Association of Public Valuers that in future the owner of a subsidised house should get preferential treatment in rent over the owner of a house put up with his own money. Today, as things stand, the man who puts up a house with his own money may have his value jumped according to the amount of the rent, but the proprietor of the house that is subsidised with public money has his valuation strictly limited, and the contract is so grotesque, the injustice so obvious, that even the Association of Public Valuers has recommended that this distinction should no longer be permitted. We were told a week ago that the Government flatly refused to accede to that recommendation, and I think we ought to have a more reasoned answer given us on this point.

Again, why do not the Government put in a provision that a farm servant should not be evicted from a tied house unless for a breach of contract during his tenancy of service? That is the unanimous recommendation of the committee, but the Government have not implemented that recommendation and the other recommendations about which I have spoken, and I think they are remiss in their duty to this House, to the country, and even to their own Rural Housing Committee in not giving us an adequate explanation why they have declined to implement these very reasonable recommendations. We trust that if the Government cannot meet us entirely on the problem of the tied house, they will at least do something to bridge the difference between us.

We admit that there are cases of stockmen whose house must be near their place of employment, or, in other words, on the farm, and that when a man's contract of service is over, he must make way for a new worker who is going to look after the animals. We have argued that all these houses should be publicly owned, owned by the local authority, and no longer remain in the possession of a private individual. Such a proposal would have this great advantage, that the farm worker living in a municipal cottage, even if it were a tied house, tied to the farm, would then have his remedy, as every other citizen has, against a local authority which failed to provide him with the sanitary provision which every other citizen can demand from the local authority. As things are now, the privately-owned tied house means that the farm worker cannot look to the farmer for redress against leaking roofs, damp walls, lack of sanitary provisions, lack of suitable drainage, or lack of water supply. The farmer does not own it—it is the landlord who owns it—and where the farmer is one person and the landlord another, the farmworker has no redress.

We stress very strongly the argument that new houses provided from public money should remain in public ownership and should not be given as a subsidy to private owners to increase the value of their farms, the selling value of their property, which they get subsidised to the extent of 87½ per cent., so that the rest of the community have to pay correspondingly more in local rates because some proprietors are getting away with this increased booty. We say that that should be stopped, and if the Government cannot meet us 100 per cent., surely they can agree that, before the owner of a rotten tied house which is to be knocked down and a new one provided gets a grant of public money, the Department of Health must be satisfied that there is no practicable or reasonable alternative by which the county council can provide the accommodation in an adjacent village. Surely that is a reasonable proposition.

The Under-Secretary told us a week ago that in the rural areas we might have tied houses dotted here and there along the roads and that they would be very difficult to manage. Let that be proven to the Department of Health, but do not allow the door to be opened for the spending of public funds for the further accretion of the value of private property. Do not let us open the door to the development of the system of tied houses under which the farm worker is regarded as a citizen who is forbidden to have the customary rights to sanitation which all other citizens have. We do not intend to divide the House on the Money Resolution because we are anxious that whatever benefits there are in this Bill in the provision of houses in our villages shall be speedily obtained, but we ask that the right hon. Gentleman or someone on behalf of the Government will explain fully and clearly the exact implications of the Bill and answer the points that I have made.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

The compromise suggested by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to tied cottages is an interesting one which opens up many possibilities. I am sure that everyone on this side would like to meet the right hon. Gentleman as far as possible in this Bill, which has as its object something we all desire. I think, however, that there will be practical difficulties, apart from those mentioned by the Under-Secretary on the previous occasion. Let the right hon. Gentleman imagine the case of a ploughman in a county-council-owned tied cottage. When the ploughman leaves his employment he will have to leave the cottage. Suppose the farmer does for a time without a man or uses his son or employs a single person. The house will be vacant all that time, and I can imagine the county council being unhappy about taking a responsibility of that kind. That is what makes me unable to accept the views of the right hon. Gentleman. warmly support him in the plea he made for a closer definition of the persons who are to be helped by this Bill, I raised the point in the Second Reading Debate, and the Committee ought to remember what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in reply to my remarks: I gave some examples exactly similar to those my hon. Friend has mentioned. I mentioned the village smith, the wheelwright, and the carpenter. I do not think that the shopkeeper would come in, as it would be very difficult to say that the shopkeeper was in an industry mainly dependent upon agriculture. Then he referred to the matter which has been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman: Although it may be difficult to define the phrase—all these phrases are difficult to define and like the phrase persons of substantially the same economic conditions 'would not be any less difficult…—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1937; cols. 1686–7 Vol. 328.] I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. I feel that the phrase, "persons of substantially the same economic conditions" is more readily understood than "agricultural population" when that is defined as meaning persons "engaged in agriculture or in an industry mainly dependent on agriculture." I urge the Government between now and the Report stage to consider amending the Title of the Bill so as to substitute the words" persons of substantially the same economic conditions "for the words "agricultural population." There is no dispute as to the kind of person we are all anxious to help. He is the person in the small country village, and it would be unfortunate and against the purpose of the Government if the words they used as a definition turned out to be such as to keep a considerable number of these persons outside the Bill.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I asked a question during the Second Reading of the Bill and I am rather afraid that the Money Resolution will not prove to be elastic enough to cover the point I then raised, which was concerned with sanitation. Before I deal with that I should like to emphasise the importance of getting a clear definition of rural workers, for road men, postmen and railway workers in rural areas often live under the most wretched housing conditions. The rural housing position was described by the Secretary of State for Scotland one evening as "shocking" and "a scandal," and that observation applies not only to the conditions for agricultural workers, although they suffer terribly, but to these other workers who follow a variety of occupations in the rural areas. Some of the railwaymen at small wayside stations have just an apology for a place in which to live, and I think there can be no objection to the proposal which has been made for a reasonable definition of rural workers in these cases.

Then I have just a word to say about tied houses. I cannot understand the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) playing about with the question of whether a council will be annoyed because it has been left with a house for which there is no occupant. Even if the man has left one employer it may be possible for him to remain in the house in his new job. But that is not my point. Members on the other side talk repeatedly about the need for encouraging sturdy independence in the people. If we on this side make any suggestion for helping the workers they say "For Heaven's sake protect their sturdy independence." Will any hon. Members tell me that a man can enjoy sturdy independence in a tied house? Let them look at the position in any agricultural or mining area where there are tied houses. How is it possible to get sturdy independence when—in some places—a man dare not say a word or he will find himself out of the house and his wife and children thrown out into the road? Inconveniences may arise at particular moments, and some houses may stand empty for a month or two, but that is better than having a house occupied by a man who does not feel that he is master of his own home and can be turned out at the will of some particular employer.

I come now to the real point which I wish to raise as being one which I feel may be affected by this Financial Resolution. In the Bill there is a reference not only to water closets but to baths. They have to be installed unless it is not reasonably possible to get the necessary water supply. I did not get an opportunity to speak on Second Reading, but I asked a question to draw attention to the fact that, no matter where a house is, it is reasonably possible to instal a bath and a water closet. It may cost money to do so, but we are starting to build houses for the agricultural population in order to bring them into line with what is recognised as modern civilisation, and if we are building a house—I do not care in what part of the country—we ought to put in a bathroom, whether it will mean an extension of the grant or not. Will anyone get up from the Treasury Bench and say "No, if it is going to be unreasonable—in the view of some backward county council or reactionary landlord—no facilities for baths will be provided"?

If no facilities are provided for bathing does that mean that the people will not bath themselves? You are not encouraging them, but the mother will bath her children. She may have to use a tub in an ordinary room, but no one will tell me that a family of children are never going to be bathed, in the new houses or in any houses. If you recognise the necessity for children to be bathed regularly as an essential factor in the preservation of health you have to provide the bathroom. The reports made by medical officers of health in the Fife area dealing with rural housing draw attention to the fact that much of the disease and the trouble that affect families arises from the fact that there is no proper sanitation and that the houses still have dry closets attached to them.

I made it my business when I went home during the week-end to consult a specialist in sanitation and to go over some of the important literature on sanitation. I studied how bathrooms can be put in. It is quite a simple matter. The method of heating the water, which might have to be carried, can be done through a boiler arranged so that there can always be hot water for the purposes of the mother and the family. On the question of the closet there is no need whatever for the awful and unspeakable relic of the past, the dry closet, in any new house that is being built. I discussed this matter, and had worked out for me the whole question of how to operate the water closet in rural areas. It is operated already by the well-to-do people who live out in some of the country districts where there is no drainage. Do they have dry closets? No, they have water closets and an effective filtering system for their sewage. This can all be worked out. it is absolutely essential that the provisions to which the Minister referred, which withheld bathrooms and sanitation, must be removed. No matter what it will cost extra, even if it means an extension of the Financial Resolution, it must be understood that the rural workers must have the same conditions as the workers in the towns and cities. The new houses must be started on right lines with a bathroom in every house and sanitation that will allow the maximum of health and cleanliness for all the people who occupy the houses.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Watson

I have no intention of covering the ground chosen by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston), but I would remind the Committee of a discussion that took place on the Second Reading of the Bill when it was maintained, not only on this side but on the other side, that before provision was brought forward for housing agricul- tural workers schemes should have been encouraged by the Government for water supply and drainage. If the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) expects that all the new houses to be built under this Measure will be provided with sanitation and a water supply, he is expecting more than is likely to happen for a long time. We have had no indication from the Government yet that they are prepared to assist the local authorities to provide water supplies or drainage systems in the rural areas. The county councils, in particular, will not be doing their duty if they do not erect houses speedily under this Measure, although in those new houses there is neither a water supply nor proper sanitary arrangements apart from dry closets or something of the kind. This Measure will enable farmers, landowners and county councils to erect houses in rural areas where at the moment there is neither a water supply nor a drainage system, and the houses will be built without either.

These, however, are matters that we can discuss when the Bill goes before a Committee. I merely rise to-night to express my pleasure at the announcement of the Lord Advocate. My main reason for intervening on the last occasion was to make a plea that burghs which had agricultural land within their areas should be brought within the scope of this new Measure. My constituency is not an agricultural constituency, but, as I said before, there is one burgh in the constituency that has within it a very large agricultural area. When, at the instigation of the Government, the burgh of Dunfermline extended its boundaries to include the part of Fife County known as Rosyth, it took in a very large agricultural area, and at that time we were assured by the Admiralty that there was to be built in Fife a second Portsmouth. That has not come about yet, and within the burgh there is a large agricultural area. It is not the only burgh in Scotland which during recent years has added agricultural land to its area.

I welcome the statement of the Lord Advocate that the Money Resolution has been so drawn that it will be possible in Committee on the Bill to move Amendments to provide that burghs shall be recognised as authorities entitled to take advantage of the Act. When the Under-Secretary of State wound up the Debate on the Second Reading, he said that no prospect could be held out that that concession would be given to the burghs, but it will be up to us on this side of the House to see that Amendments are put on the Order Paper for the Committee stage of the Bill to extend the advantages of the Measure to burghs that have within their areas agricultural land.

Within the confines of Glasgow, Edinburgh and other large burghs in Scotland, there are a large number of agricultural workers. There is no reason why a burgh authority should not be in a position to take advantage of this Act for providing proper housing accommodation for its agricultural workers. In all probability, it is either within or just on the confines of these burghs that we may have houses built by county councils. It may be possible, where a county council can take advantage of a burgh water supply or drainage system, to have these things brought into the new housing schemes. In a great many of the agricultural districts of Scotland, we shall be having these new houses built, under Act of Parliament, without a proper water supply or drainage system. However, I welcome the announcement of the Lord Advocate. It will be our duty to see that the proper Amendments are put down in committee to ensure that burgh councils are to have the same advantages as county councils if they have agricultural workers within their boundaries.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Westwood

I shall endeavour to avoid repetition of anything that has been said by any previous speaker. That will not be a difficult job, when we are discussing a problem of such interest to Scotland and of such complexity as the provision of houses for local districts in Scotland. There is no opposition on this side of the House to any legitimate or even generous, proposals for dealing with this problem of housing. If we have any complaint against the Financial Resolution, or the Bill on which it is based, it is in respect to their lack of generosity towards the local authorities in making the necessary financial provision. On the Second Reading of the Bill I emphasised the fact, which I must emphasise again to-night, that there are local authorities which are not facing up to their responsibilities in regard to the provision of houses in the rural areas. I emphasised that we still have a terrific problem in dealing with unfit houses.

Under the 1930 Act, far better provision is made than in the Financial Resolution we are now discussing. For a three-apartment house, £13 15s., I think, is the provision; for a four-apartment house, £19 5s.; and for a five-apartment house, £24 15s. I repeat what I said on the Second Reading, that financial provision of that kind will not induce the local authorities to do their duty. Financial provision such as is contained in the Resolution now before the House will not provide the houses for rural Scotland which are so desirable at present. I must emphasise, in dealing with the point made by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), that we are not opposed, when it is proved to be necessary, to the provision of the tied house. I can visualise positions in which it is absolutely impossible to avoid having the tied house, but that tied house can be owned by the public authorities, and there is no justification for handing out public money to the owners of private property for the purpose of maintaining the tied-house system.

I am justified in that conclusion by the fact that committee after committee that has been appointed by Government after Government has reported against the tied-house system being under the control of private employers, and in favour of public ownership, where tied houses are necessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston), on the Second Reading of the Bill, gave quotations from the reports of these committees. I would remind the Committee that 20 years ago a Departmental Committee reported that: The local authorities should build such houses"— I am dealing with houses for agricultural workers and tied houses— and let them to tenants. In any event we cannot believe that public sentiment will permit of public funds being used to erect houses whose occupation shall be in the absolute control of the employer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1937, col. 1645, Vol. 328.] That was not a Socialist committee set up by my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, but one that was set up by a Government that was not Socialist, and the committee was composed of in- dividuals who were not Socialists. They definitely reported against public funds being used to erect houses whose occupation should be in the absolute control of the employer. The Inter-Departmental Committee on Tied Cottages, Command Paper 4148, stated that there are 50 to 60 per cent. of agricultural workers in England living in tied houses, and in Scotland between 95 and 97 per cent. The committee went on to say: Landowners and farmers should not continue to be responsible for housing. Why should housing be a charge upon any industry whether it be the agricultural industry, the mining industry or any other industry? Housing ought to be the responsibility of the State and the local authority, and, to get rid of the private ownership of houses particularly in its application to industry, tied houses ought not to be under the control of private ownership, and if tied houses are necessary they ought to be under public control. On page 14 of that report it states in a footnote: A witness for the Central Landowners' Association in England came before the Committee, and said that tied houses were only essential in the case of stockmen. We want in the passing of this Financial Resolution, and when the remaining stages of the Bill are under discussion, tied houses to be reduced to the very minimum, and where tied houses are necessary, that they must be publicly owned and under the control of the county council. The Committee on Farm Workers in Scotland, under Lord Caithness, was set up in 1936, and reported in the following terms: We suggest that such houses"— namely, tied houses— should be retained under the control of the local authority and should be let at a rent sufficiently small to be within the reach of the ordinary farm worker. All the evidence collected from the committees that have been set up by the respective Government Departments justifies the attitude taken by His Majesty's Opposition in dealing with this particular problem. It is true to state that most of our housing legislation in the past has been inspired mainly by our urban needs, and we on this side of the Committee welcome any legislative proposals that will concentrate the attention of this House and the country on the need for dealing with the problem of rural housing. Housing is essentially a social problem of the first magnitude and many factors besides sanitary conditions of individual houses must be considered. That fact justifies the claim that we are making. Tied houses ought to be under the control of the local authority, because there are varying conditions in connection with agriculture. I am quoting from a document sent to the Members of this House from Dumfriesshire, in which they state that: A statement of the number and location of defective property is not a sufficient presentation of the problem, nor is the substitution of sanitary for insanitary dwellings in itself an adequate solution. In rural areas the relation between the number of people who can find employment in, and therefore should he housed in, a given area, is much closer than in the towns. Important changes in the conditions affecting that relationship have occurred in many rural districts in recent years. Chief amongst these, perhaps, is the substitution of motor for horse transport, which has largely removed the reason for the existence of some villages and hamlets, formerly useful centres of communal life. Changes such as that from arable to dairy farming necessarily affect housing. These are all arguments in favour of the line adopted on these benches, in which we object to the use of public money for bolstering up private ownership of housing.

There is a further point on the Bill about which I should like to complain. One of the big difficulties in administration is the great number of Acts that local authorities have to use. The time has long past for a complete codification of the laws affecting health administration. Here is a new Housing Bill, and there is no provision made for codification of the Housing Acts to enable local authorities to read and understand them thoroughly when they are dealing with the problem of administration. Financial provision is only made for dealing with houses as such. Unfortunately, no reference is made to the need of grants for drainage and water supplies, questions which have been discussed repeatedly. The County Council of Dumfries say that This council recognise fully that there is a large number of houses in the landward area of this county which, if not demolished, ought to be reconstructed or improved very materially. They are also quite definitely of opinion that houses of the present-day standard of habitability cannot be provided by erection or reconstruction or improvement in any area in which an adequate, water supply is not available. They also say: The housing difficulties are largely increased by the want of drainage in villages. Village after village is affected. As I said on the Second Reading, we shall never be able to solve the housing problem in rural Scotland unless or until we not only have a Financial Resolution of the kind we are discussing to-night, but a Financial Resolution that will make adequate provision in our rural areas for proper water supply and for an adequate drainage system, to enable us to house our people in rural Scotland as well as we are trying to house them under the Housing Acts in the urban areas.

10.49 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

The Debate has made two things abundantly plain. The first thing made plain is that in their heart of hearts everybody in all parts of the House wants this Bill on the Statute Book as quickly as possible. In the second place, when the Bill goes upstairs the Standing Committee on Scottish Bills will fully maintain its reputation for ingenuity and resource in the way of Amendment. Quite a number of the topics alluded to by hon. Members and to which I was invited to direct my attention do seem to me to be essentially Committee points, appropriate to be debated and discussed there and, if approved, embodied in the Bill. There is one exception to that to which I shall come back in a moment, which affects the topic raised by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) because he suggested a widening of the definition of agricultural population which, while it is not for me to say, seemed to me of very doubtful competency. Certain points raised by the hon. Member for East Fife and the hon. Gentleman who opened for the Opposition seemed to me to be entirely appropriate for the amendment of the Bill but not, if I may say so with respect, wholly appropriate for discussion on the Financial Resolution with which the Committee is concerned at the moment.

Mr. Gallacher

Suppose we moved an Amendment directed towards conditions where there is the greatest difficulty in drainage and water supply, and where very considerable cost would be involved. Would that be permissible under the terms of the Financial Resolution?

The Lord Advocate

As I understand the hon. Member's point it would be competent for him in my judgment to raise that in Committee, and I think that on page 1717 of the OFFICIAL RRPORT of the proceedings on Second Reading my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary so informed the hon. Member. But to proceed with one or two of the points which were raised in the shape of questions, and which I should like to answer, let me take in the first place the question of the definition of agricultural population. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. T. Johnston) was concerned to limit the definition of agricultural population with a view to excluding such persons as auctioneers or even ministers and certain other types of persons, who, he thought, no doubt with justification, ought not to be included. On the other hand the hon. Member for East Fife, as I understood him, was concerned to expand the definition with a view to making it more or less co-extensive with the occupants of the typical small country village in Scotland. Obviously, these are two quite contrary views.

Mr. Johnston

No, the point I was trying to get at was that we had a definition in the Scottish Rural Housing Bill in 1931, and it seemed to me to be wide enough to bring in everybody who is engaged in agriculture. That is what I am trying to get at. Whereas what the Government have done now is to wipe out the economic stake and to keep agriculture to mean anyone who is or may be dependent on agriculture, which might bring in very wealthy people, but would exclude people like roadmen and postmen.

The Lord Advocate

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I was endeavouring to put the same idea. But in a sense I am right when I say that he wanted the definition to be so restricted as to exclude certain categories mentioned just now, whereas the hon. Member for East Fife is more concerned with securing that the definition should be expanded so as to include people in villages. But be that as it may, how does the matter stand? While the decision necessarily does not and will not rest with me, I know of nothing in the Financial Resolution which will prevent any hon. Member on the Committee stage from proposing an Amendment to narrow the definition of the Bill. I do not think a proposal to extend the definition would be in order, as that would mean an increased charge on the Exchequer.

But the wider answer is this. Rightly or wrongly—I of course say rightly—the conception which underlies the Bill, as of all Housing Bills, is that it is an instalment towards the solution of a wide problem which has been attacked from many angles, and which will always have to be attacked step by step, and stage by stage. This Bill is an instalment designed to deal with the agricultural population, and it is designed on an occupational basis. It is not intended for the benefit of miners or railwaymen. It is intended for the benefit of the agricultural population; this is clear from the design of the Bill, from its long Title to the last Clause it contains. The idea which justifies the selection of this area for benefit is that the agricultural population of Scotland is found not in aggregations, whether of villages, towns or cities, but in sporadic dwellings which cannot be dealt with by the ordinary machinery of the Housing Acts. That is the broad justification for the scheme of the Bill, and while I do not wish to commit myself nor could I commit myself, I think the Bill is capable of amendment in the way of restricting the definition in the Bill—to that extent the matter is open for discussion—but it would be outside the scope of the Bill to make it cover not only the agricultural population but some wider sections of the population for whom provision is made or ought to be made in one or other of the existing Housing Acts or in some future statute.

Some hon. Members have complained of the inadequacy of the subsidy as contrasted with that under the 1930 Act. I have been looking into that question, and it is important to note that the figures which have been suggested by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) as being capable of being earned under the 1930 Act can be earned only if a relatively large number of persons are being displaced by rehousing effected under the Act. For example the figure he gave of £24 15s. for a five-apartment house can only be earned if a large number of units are displaced. As a matter of fact, the average subsidy actually earned under the 1930 Act has been £13 15s. Theoretically you can get the fancy figures of which the hon. Member spoke but the actual subsidy earned on the average has been £13 15s. and hon. Members will bear in mind that after the Bill has reached the Statute Book it will still be open to a local authority to operate the Act of 1930 so that they can earn a subsidy under both, thereby increasing the total subsidy which they will be given.

Mr. Johnston

Would the local authority, under the 1930 Act, be able to provide a tied house?

The Lord Advocate

No, not under the 1930 Act.

Mr. Johnston

Does the right hon. Gentleman see what follows from that? If there are more than four units in a dilapidated house which is to be destroyed and a new house built in its place, the local authority will be the loser.

The Lord Advocate

The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the reference to the tied house, is thinking, is he not, of Part II of the Bill, and not of Part I? Under neither Act would the local authority provide a tied house, although under this Act a grant will be made under which private enterprise will provide a tied house. I want to correct the suggestion that there is to be any direct building of tied houses by local, authorities. Two hon. Members referred to the absence from the Money Resolution and the Bill of references to water and drainage, the provision of which is so essential as a basis for housing in many rural areas in Scotland. Again, the answer is very much the same as the answer I gave on another point. It would be entirely inappropriate to include such provisions in this Measure, which is an instalment of the housing programme, and to describe as a housing subsidy what is truly a water or drainage subsidy. A Measure for the provision, whether with Exchequer assistance or not, of regional water supplies or regional drainage belongs to a different chapter of legislation, and not to housing legislation. When an hon. Member complained that provision for that is not made in this Bill, what he really complained about was that another Measure has not been brought before the House to deal with that.

On the Second Reading Debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House that this problem is one which is receiving his active consideration, as I know it is; and while no pledges or undertakings of any kind can be given as regards the future, the Committee will appreciate that that problem will be necessarily very much in the minds of those responsible for the administration of public health in Scotland. I think I have answered all the points which can be answered and which are not likely to be raised in a suitable form for discussion in the Committee upstairs. In view of the very full consideration which the Measure and the Money Resolution have now received, I hope the Committee is prepared to accept the Resolution.

Mr. Mathers

Although strictly this point does not come under the Money Resolution, cannot the right hon. Gentleman say a word in response to inquiries that have been made as to the Government's intention with regard to a codification of housing legislation in Scotland, a point which was raised on the Second Reading and on the Money Resolution?

The Lord Advocate

The Committee are doubtless aware that during the last few years a good deal has been done in regard to the codification of various groups of Statutes. I am not in a position to give any kind of assurance, but I have not the slightest doubt that the codification of housing Statutes is bound to be a matter which will be taken up by my right hon. Friend in a comparatively short time. It is in the natural course of events that a codification of housing Acts is bound to be undertaken soon, but I am not in a position to give any assurance.

Resolution to be reported upon Thursday.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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