§ 3.50 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
I beg to move, in page 7, line 35, to leave out from "Act," to the end of the Sub-section, and to insert:and in respect of accommodation deemed to be a new house in respect of which the Department have undertaken to make a contribution under Sub-section (4) of the said Section one, two pounds fifteen shillings:Provided that in respect of a house completed after the thirtieth day of September, nineteen hundred and forty-two, the appropriate sum shall beIn the first place, I must apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is confined to his bed with a severe cold. I am sure the House will condole with him in being deprived of the satisfaction of taking part in the concluding stages of a Bill to the preparation of which he has devoted so much labour, and in whose purpose he is so deeply interested.
whichever is the less.
- (a) the appropriate sum as hereinbefore defined; or
- (b) a sum equal to one-half of the Department's contribution including any such additional contribution as aforesaid
As the House is aware, my right hon. Friend attaches the greatest importance to consultation with the local authorities on matters of the kind now before us. As he explained, the local authorities, with whom he has been in consultation for many months, agreed to the financial provisions of the Bill, with one exception, which is the subject of the Amendment which is the only Amendment on the Order Paper. In the Bill as it stands, when the subsidy period expires in September, 1942, the rate contribution of the local authorities would automatically become one-half of the Exchequer contribution. But my right hon. Friend has already said that it is to be hoped that by that time housing costs may have 1388 fallen substantially and that the contribution from the local authorities, amounting to one-half of the Exchequer contribution that might be necessary, in those circumstances need not mean an increase of the present contribution, but might even mean a reduction. Nevertheless, there was unquestionably a great deal of anxiety expressed lest the rate of contribution should automatically be raised. That view was expressed in Committee by several hon. Members of all parties, and my right hon. Friend thereupon undertook to put clown this Amendment on Report, which provides that after the expiry of this subsidy period, the rate contribution shall be a sum equal to one-half of the Exchequer contribution or of the amount which they are paying under this Measure when it becomes law, whichever is the less. That is to say, the rate contribution in 1942, unless there is legislation to that effect, cannot be automatically increased.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
I join, and so will my hon. Friends, in the regret expressed by the Under-Secretary for the reasons which have caused the absence of the Secretary of State for Scotland this afternoon. We all trust that he will soon be restored to his normal health.
The Amendment which has been proposed in nowise meets the difficulties expressed by the local authorities in Scotland. It will be remembered that on the Second Reading of the Bill the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary both indicated that the local authorities had agreed to the financial terms of the Measure. Great surprise at that statement was expressed by myself and other hon. Members; but in view of the fact that a very substantial amount of the provisions of the Bill had undoubtedly been agreed upon by the local authorities in Scotland, in consultation with the Secretary of State, we found considerable difficulty in seeking to amend the Bill.
It was very difficult to ask for the Amendment of a Bill which appeared to be an agreed Bill with the people who are to administer it; but in the course of the Committee stage it transpired that there were at least one-half of the financial terms of the Bill to which the local authorities had not agreed, and against which they had protested. That was the part of the Financial Clauses which declares that 1389 after a given date in 1942 the local authorities' contributions shall be stabilised at the ratio of one to two, that is, two for the Government and one for the local authorities. That ratio has never been accepted by the local authorities. It has never hitherto been imported into an Act of Parliament. True, in the Act of 1924 there was a similar proportionate grant, but that ratio was amended and limited by the power of dealing with rents which the local authorities possessed. The two to one basis has always been objected to by the local authorities, and to-day some of us have received telegrams from Scottish local authorities protesting even against the concession which the Under-Secretary has proposed in the Amendment, and declaring that it is still inadequate. The town clerk of Edinburgh, for example, has sent a wire declaring that the Amendment is unacceptable as it secures for the Government the principle of the two to one ratio.
It is very difficult at this stage of the Measure for the Opposition to know precisely what to do. We know that the Government were compelled to have the Report stage and Third Reading two days after getting the Bill through the Committee stage. For that reason there has been no opportunity for consultation with the local authorities in Scotland, and we are faced this afternoon with the problem: Shall we or shall we not accept without further question the concession which the Under-Secretary, on behalf of the Government, has offered? My hon. Friends and I do not see our way to go into the Division Lobby against it, but we wish to register our respectful protest against the fact that the local authorities in Scotland are having something imposed upon them without their consent, without their good will, that has never hitherto been imposed upon them—something to which, altogether apart from party politics, they are unanimously opposed.
I am not blaming the Under-Secretary or the Secretary of State in this matter. It is doubtless a fact that they have fought as hard as they could with their colleagues. Perhaps Treasury necessities at the moment have beaten them—I do not know—but whether that be so or not, let us face the fact frankly that this is an added impost upon the local authorities in Scotland after 1942, despite the concession of the Secretary of State that the figures in the Bill will not be exceeded, 1390 and that at the worst all that can happen as far as the local authorities' contribution is concerned, is already specified in the Bill. I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends want to speak further on the matter, but I would say, in conclusion, that we do not think that the Government have given the people of Scotland any concession. They have only modified their impost. That is all that can be said for the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 4.0 p.m.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I would like, in the first place, to thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for the easy passage which this Bill has enjoyed and for the useful character of the discussions which have taken place upon it. While a number of criticisms have been directed at various points, there has been substantial agreement in all parts of the House, and I do not think it will be necessary for me to offer anything more than one or two very brief observations of a general nature in moving the Third Reading. This Bill, with one very substantial exception, follows the principle which has governed all our housing legislation since the end of the War. That is to say that the local authority is the body responsible for housing conditions in its own area, assisted by grants of money from the Exchequer. The exception to that principle is the provision that is made in the Bill for the work of the Housing Association, which is expected to build 20,000 houses inside and 8,500 houses outside the Special Areas. That work is not intended to be a substitute for anything which the local authorities might otherwise have been able to achieve, and the responsibility of the local authorities for the removal of slums and overcrowding is still continued as it always has been. So long as this principle remains, so long as it is the local authorities who build the house, who own the house, who determine the amount of rent to be charged and who decide who shall occupy the house, it is obviously right that some part of the expense should be borne by the local authority, that the ratepayer should bear some fraction of the burden as well as the taxpayer.
1391 When we were discussing in the Committee what the amount of these rate contributions ought to be it was suggested that even a moderate addition to the rates might furnish a reactionary local authority with an excuse, or at least with a motive, for doing very little indeed. I think that that is perfectly true. If a local authority lacks the real will to abolish slums and remove overcrowding there are only two kinds of pressure that can be brought upon it: There is the pressure from the Department of Health, which cannot, of course, amount to compulsion, and there is the pressure of public opinion which in a democratic country ought to be the most effective. If we find that public opinion in any area is not sufficiently alive to the urgency of our problem, the only course that is open to us is the democratic course of raising public opinion by speech or by writing or by any other legitimate means, unless or until Parliament should decide to deprive local authorities of this part of their function.
Let me now turn to that part of the Bill which does introduce some direct action on the part of the State. I said on the Second Reading, and I wish to repeat now, that the purpose of this Housing Association will not be fulfilled if it is thought that the work which they are about to undertake is intended to be a substitute for other work which the local authorities might be able to do in any case. It is intended to be an addition to the maximum effort which the local authorities are able to make. In the Special Areas this contribution from the State over the normal local authority programmes will amount to 20,000 houses, in addition to the 5,000 already approved by the old Special Areas Housing Association. That will cover a great part of the industrial belt of Scotland where the housing conditions are most in need of attention, and in these areas the provision of 25,000 houses will, I think, be a very valuable contribution to the whole of the problem.
Outside the Special Areas the number to be built by this association is 8,500. It is, of course, only a very small fraction of our requirements. Its value will consist in demonstrating to housing authorities all over the country the very great extent to which these new methods of building can be employed, the great rapidity with which large numbers of 1392 houses of the most excellent type, approved in all respects by the Department of Health, can be put up, and I hope, as most of us do, that every advantage will be taken of the opportunities provided by these new methods. If you exclude the Special Areas, unquestionably the places where the housing problem is most acute are the four large cities, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. Not nearly enough has been done in any of those areas. All of them ought to aim at least at doubling their present rate of building, and in the case of Glasgow at least multiplying it by three.
What are the obstacles to an acceleration of housing of that order? It would not be appropriate or in order on the Third Reading of the Bill to go again into the labour question; but, as the House is aware, in every area machinery does exist and can be used to relieve that shortage. As for materials we have been in close touch with the brick manufacturers for a long time. I am glad to say that the increase that has taken place in the last year has been very great indeed and is now fully up to any requirements that we may expect. But we have always made it plain that while we want to increase building by the existing methods to the greatest possible extent, we do not believe that that will be sufficient, and we are anxious and ready to give local authorities every help possible in supplementing their programme by the alternative methods which are necessary if our problem is to be solved within a reasonable period of time. We are ready to put the local authorities in touch with any firm that is capable of producing either concrete or timber houses. Many such firms are now established in Scotland; one which has put up the specimen houses at Dunlop, which is well known by local authorities; another which put up the specimens at Carfin, at the time of the Glasgow Exhibition; another one which began at Hull; another which is now starting in Dundee, and I hope that more will come into being. All of them are anxious for orders. I have already indicated that sources of supply in Sweden are almost unlimited. That is a source which can be drawn on to a very great extent in order to supplement any deficiences which may be found in home production, with a view to pushing on rapidly the completion of the programme that we want.
§ Mr. Stephen
The Under-Secretary has suggested that Glasgow ought to accelerate its programme threefold, and he said that the materials are now there in sufficient quantities, and the labour. Would there be material and labour for a three-fold increase?
I think there would be no difficulty about materials. The output of bricks has increased in the last year by something like 3o per cent., but I have said on many occasions in the House that I did not think there would be a sufficiency of labour unless you were to get the unions to agree to very nearly double the existing number of bricklayers, and since that is almost certainly impracticable it is an additional reason for pressing on now—not sitting down and examining possibilities, but pressing on now to the fullest extent with those alternative methods of construction that are to be demonstrated by this Housing Association, whose work is provided for in the Bill. I would conclude by saying that I hope every one in Scotland who has any responsibility or any concern with our very great housing needs will acquaint himself with these possibilities and will leave nothing undone which may assist in a very rapid acceleration of our present building programme in all parts of our country.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The Secretary of State went a little bit further and referred to the possibility of using the Housing Association to relieve the difficulties of small burghs which have heavy rating burdens. I imagined from an inclination of the Under-Secretary's head that he was going to expand that statement a little to-day. Can he say anything more about it?
I do not think it possible to promise now that the Housing Association will build houses in such and such a burgh. They have now the authority to build 8,500 outside the Special Areas for purposes of demonstration, and as there are a great many burghs which, owing to the fact that they are Royal Burghs, are their own housing authorities, although they are very small, that would obviously be a consideration to be taken into account by the Housing Association in determining in what parts of the country they will distribute these demonstration schemes.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
There are two points to which I want to draw the attention of the House. We have been told that with one exception the Bill follows the lines of previous Housing Bills for Scotland. The exception is that the Housing Association is to carry on the work of providing houses in the Special Areas and to some extent outside the Special Areas, whereas every other Housing Bill has left the problem of housing to the local authorities. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) has just drawn attention to the fact that a promise was given in Committee that the work of this Housing Association might be, could be, and with the urge of the Scottish Office would be, used in the smaller burghs and in the more impoverished areas with a view to solving the housing problem. I would urge upon the Under-Secretary to give the fullest possible interpretation to that pledge so as to enable the small burghs and the more impoverished areas to proceed with housing. It would partly meet the problem of the small burghs and the more impoverished areas if full advantage were taken of the work of the Housing Association and the pledge received the widest interpretation.
But I do not agree that there is only one exception to the general run of Housing Bills for Scotland. There is a second objection. I know of no other Act of Parliament dealing with Scotland in which a ratio of two to one has been set down. It is true that there is, apparently, a ratio of two to one in the 1924 Act, but that ratio was a maximum, and if a local authority could prove that it could let houses at rents similar to those charged for similar accommodation in the area, there was no compulsion on the authority to pay the£4 10s. rate contribution in return for the State contribution of£9. The only other case is the 1923 Housing Act in which there was a fifty-fifty basis for the purpose of dealing with slums, but no other Act of Parliament dealing with finance and housing in Scotland has laid down a two to one ratio. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has said that it has been made perfectly clear by the local authorities that they have always protested against this ratio, they have never accepted it, and although the House has accepted the Amendment moved by 1395 the Government on Report, there will still be dissatisfaction among local authorities in Scotland that the ratio of two to one has now been incorporated in the Bill.
The second point to which I want to draw attention is the apparent threat to local authorities. I am not sure that the Under-Secretary meant it as a threat, but very often words used by the Government convey a threat and then they attempt to get out of it. Dealing with recalcitrant and reactionary authorities which may not get on with the work of housing, it has been made clear that the powers for dealing with housing must remain with the local authorities until or unless Parliament determines to take these functions from them. There was a similar threat when we were dealing with the unemployed problem. Because of the generosity of some local authorities there was a threat to take away these powers. Later on the powers of local authorities to deal with this particular matter were taken from them and given to the Unemployment Assistance Board. There is now no real Parliamentary, and certainly no local control whatever. I am wondering whether it was a threat to local authorities in the Third Reading speech of the Under-Secretary of State that if they are dissatisfied with the financial provisions of the Bill and say that it is impossible to carry through duties which they are anxious to carry through, the Government are going to say that because they will not carry through the work with the financial arrangements which are made they will take these powers away and work on the same lines as the Unemployment Assistance Board and rate the people in the area to meet the case. I am wondering whether there was any such threat in the speech of the Under-Secretary.
There are one or two complaints I have to make. The Bill has had to be rushed through because it is necessary to have these financial arrangements on the Statute Book by 31st December to enable the new grants to be made from 1st January next. As a result of this rushing, it has been impossible for local authorities to get in touch with their representatives in this House and to put forward proposals for further improving the Bill, which every Member of the Scottish Grand Committee wanted to make a more workable Bill.
1396 The Bill has become necessary because of the higher costs of building, which have been created by the rearmament policy of the Government. The rearmament policy of the Government became necessary because of the foreign policy of the Government and, therefore, it is the policy of the Government which has created the increased costs of building materials and likewise of the buildings themselves. There is an old saying that the sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children unto the third and fourth generations. It is obvious that the mishandling of our foreign policy by the Government will be visited on the tenants of municipal houses for the next three or four decades, because the increased cost of buildings will have to be paid for by increased rents. The provisions of the Bill are altogether inadequate to meet the conditions which now apply. In fact, the financial provisions only stabilise the present State contribution while it increases the rate contribution. Let me read from a statement provided by one of the leading burgh chamberlains in Scotland:The new rates of grant will, as applied to some of our housing authorities, work out at about 11.23 per house, only a fractional improvement on the present situation.The town of Kirkcaldy has an average State grant of 11.03 in the£.The new provisions will give it 11.23, an increase of 4s. per house—with a rate increase of anything from 15s. 6d. to 18s. per house—to meet an increased cost per house of approximately £150. This burgh chamberlain has calculated what the increased cost will be in the way of rent. Borrowing money at 3½ per cent. he estimates that if we have a rate solely and wholly for the houses we are now building, at an increase of £150 per house, we should, despite the alleged increase in the State assistance which is 4s. per house, have to increase the rents by £6 per year. You cannot solve housing problems by finance of that character. You make it impossible for poor people for whom you are building the houses to occupy them; they cannot pay the rent. This burgh chamberlain also says:If the present rates of grant had been continued there might have been a gradual decrease in the average grant under the 1930 Housing Act.Despite that fact, the finance of the present Bill merely stabilises the infinitesimal amount which has been provided as additional State assistance to deal with a 1397 problem of housing created at the moment by the increased cost of building.
With all these facts before me I am justified in claiming that the Bill will not materially help to solve the housing problem in Scotland. I am inclined to think it will throw bricks in the wheels. There is a need for a consolidation of the Housing Acts and for a great comprehensive housing scheme for Scotland. This Bill does not meet any of these requirements. It ought to be merely a stepping stone for a real measure, big enough and comprehensive enough, to enable this vital problem for Scotland to be dealt with in a statesmanlike manner. We are not going to oppose the Third Reading, but we shall continue to fight for a real, comprehensive measure dealing with Scottish housing problems in a businesslike and statesmanlike way, which this Bill does not do.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I wish to put a question to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in regard to the Housing Association. I was a little disappointed with his reply a few minutes ago, because it seemed to me to be not as satisfactory as that given by the Secretary of State. I hope I have misjudged him, but if he can, at the end of the Debate, reassure me, he will reassure also a good many anxious housing conveners in many parts of Scotland. The Under-Secretary of State stressed the experimental nature of the work of this new Housing Association outside of the Special Areas. One understands the vital necessity of that experimental work, but the Secretary of State went a bit further at the last meeting of the Standing Committee when referring to the admitted difficulties that are felt in many small burghs. I speak with feeling on this matter, because there are more small burghs in Fife than in any other county in Scotland, and I have nearly all of them in my constituency, which the Under-Secretary knows as well as I do. The Secretary of State recognised the particular difficulties and burdens of many of these small burghs, and that because of their rating burdens they would be handicapped in their further housing efforts, and, having recognised that, he said:I have in mind that we may be able to give some measure of assistance to certain of the small authorities placed in that particular 1398 difficulty by the proposals in that part of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills), 6th December, 1938; col. 46.]That phrase "some measure of assistance" seemed to indicate a second purpose for this new Housing Association, not only experimental and demonstration, but actual, direct assistance. I asked the right hon. Gentleman in the Committee what that undertaking meant. He said it was not a pledge. An hon. Member opposite described it as a promise. I wish that I had felt that it was, but when I put it to the right hon. Gentleman he rather hedged. I am most anxious about this matter. I put to my right hon. Friend three questions—three times I asked him a question—on this matter, and on each occasion he rather interrupted me and said that he did not want me to take this too exactly. What is the position? Is this an undertaking or is it not, and if it is, what kind of undertaking is it? For example, does it mean that the Department of Health, when this Bill becomes law, will instruct this Housing Association to seek opportunities, not only for demonstration work, but for direct assistance to these small depressed local authorities, or is the Department to inform these authorities that they may represent their claims to the Housing Association? In other words, where is the initiative to come from? Is it to be taken by the Government or by the local authorities?
I must emphasise that this is a matter of very great importance. You are going to erect 8,500 houses of this kind without any cost to the local authorities. It is admitted that the demonstration must be widespread. It would not do to have it all in the West or all in the East. All local authorities, or most of them, must see that demonstration, and if the demonstration is to be of any value in assisting these authorities—in the words of the Secretary of State himself, "some measure of assistance"—I submit that the Housing Association must be given instructions to operate in those areas where the financial need is urgent. Since there is between us some misunderstanding about the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, in that I myself did not regard it as a complete pledge, but hon. Members opposite did so regard it, let us be quite clear about it. The Under- 1399 Secretary has an opportunity to-day, which I beg him to take, of clearing up this misunderstanding.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
It is already evident from the speeches that have been made that in no part of the House is there a feeling that this Bill will deal materially with the housing problem in Scotland. Scottish Members of all parties realise how great is the problem that we have to face. The circumstances in my own constituency, every time that I visit it, make me feel ashamed of the efforts that have been made in the past. The people there are living under the most intolerable conditions, and yet, with another Housing Bill being put upon the Statute Book, with the Third Reading of that Bill before the House of Commons to-day, there is no feeling in the House that we are yet getting sufficiently to grips with the problem to remove these terrible conditions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), on the Second Reading, took a somewhat different line from that taken by any other Member who contributed to the Debate, and he expressed the view that this matter of Scottish housing could satisfactorily be dealt with only by the nationalisation of the house-building industry in Scotland. I agree with him profoundly in his view. Like the hon. Member above the gangway, I realise that one has to be thankful for small mercies and that this Bill will make some little contribution. The Under-Secretary of State has referred to the feature in the Bill of the introduction of a Housing Association on the new scale that is contemplated in the Bill, and I can see that it is possible that as a result of the demonstration houses that are to be built local authorities may be persuaded afterwards to do much more than has been done in the past with regard to alternative building methods. At the same time, I am convinced that at the kernel of the problem there is the question of finance.
As I understand this Bill, the bigger contribution to the local authorities with regard to their housing programmes will be the increased subsidy that they will get as compared with the 1935 Act. In the Committee it was pointed out that the contributions under the 1930 Act would now tend to become less, owing to the way in which many of the bigger families that 1400 had had a certain amount of rehousing provided for them had been dealt with, and what we can expect from this Bill in connection with the subsidy is whatever renewed efforts the local authorities can make as compared with the finance that was given to them under the 1935 Act. I am not in the least bit hopeful about it. In the Committee we wrangled over the difference between the £3 5s. and the £4 10s. of the local subsidy, and that increase disturbed the minds of many hon. Members of the Committee, but when faced up with it Members would agree that the £3 5s. of so many of the local authorities itself contributed a factor that made them hesitate in regard to big housing schemes The rate burden in so many of the places in Scotland, owing to the heavy unemployment problem there, makes even the £3 5s. contribution seem to them a contribution that would involve great difficulties if rehousing was to be carried through on a big scale.
I regret that the Government seemingly have not come to a proper realisation of the difficulties of the local authorities with regard to the burden of rates in connection with the rehousing of the people. It is true that a bigger State subsidy is being provided in this Bill, but even with that the local authorities will not have the encouragement to operate on a great scale that they would have if their commitments had been limited by a certah rate rather than by a block sum like £3 5s. or £4 10s. If, for example, the Government had come forward with their proposals and had indicated to the local authorities that they were prepared, say, to act on the basis that there would be a maximum 2d. rate or even a 3d. rate with regard to housing, I think the Government would be surprised at the advances that might be made by many of the local authorities. I must confess that I have the very greatest disappointment that we are now having another Housing Act for Scotland, with the general agreement practically of the House that it will not lead to any material improvement in the position. Nearly everyone who has taken part in the Debate has made that admission. The Government themselves have had to admit that, while they are seeking to do the best that is within their power, they are still thinking in terms of a programme that will not go to the roots of the problem.
1401 Why should we allow the position to continue? Why should we not, as Scotsmen, decide to put this matter right? I know there are very many other factors in connection with it, such as the increased cost of housing, but if an examination of the problem leads to the conclusion that the only way to deal with it is nationalisation of the materials and also centralised effort in co-operation with the local authorities, then surely any Government should be prepared to face up to that necessity, in view of the tragedy of the housing situation in Scotland. I am sorry that I cannot be very hopeful about what will come out of this Bill. I certainly think that it may lead to increased house-building on a minor scale in various parts of the country, and even for small mercies we are thankful, but I would press upon the Under-Secretary of State and upon the Secretary of State that as this Measure is put upon the Statute Book and as they carefully watch its effects, if my pessimistic outlook with regard to it is being realised by no great increase in the programmes, they will seriously con-skier the proposal for the nationalisation of the house-building industry in Scotland in order to solve the problem.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Young
It is an unwritten law in the House that Members in my situation should not address the House on matters affecting their own Department, but I feel so strongly on the subject of Scottish housing that I have asked the special permission of the Under-Secretary of State to be allowed to address the House on the Third Reading of this Bill. I hope I shall say something that will be of value.
There are not on this side of the House many Members representing the city of Glasgow who are able to speak on the matter of housing, for either they are Cabinet Ministers or Members of the Government, or are engaged in other important matters. I have spent all my working life in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and the constituency of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) is not very far away, and I know conditions there. Because of what I have seen in Bridgeton and in my own constituency of Partick, I have always been deeply concerned with the problem of improving the conditions in which so many of our citizens are com 1402 pelled to live. I do not intend to weary the House by quoting figures, for we all know the conditions with regard to housing in Glasgow. Our problem is that we have something like 61,000 houses to build in order to do away with slums and overcrowding, and the rate of building for the last few years has given an output of only about 2,000.
I welcome this Bill because I think it will create—I hope it will create—a new atmosphere in regard to our housing problem. The housing problem is not merely one of money. To my mind, it is far more a question of willing co-operation between all the parties concerned. I often feel that the problem is clogged with legislation and red tape, and I make an appeal to all members of the community who are concerned with this problem, from the Department and the corporation committees down to the contractors and the trade unions, to co-operate in every way possible in tackling this terrible problem that we have to overcome.
There is another good feature in the Bill, and that is the provision which enables the Scottish Housing Association to operate outside the Special Areas. It is true that this provides only for 8,500 houses, but I hope that the Glasgow Corporation will see to it that they make application, and try to have as many as possible of those 8,500 houses built within the city area. We have in Glasgow a very energetic Lord Provost, and I understand that already he has some plans in operation for building houses by alternative methods. In conclusion, I would only say that, in my opinion, the housing problem ought not to be a political problem. Housing Acts have come from both sides of the House. Let us not discuss their relative merits—it is usually a question of who can get the most money out of the Treasury—but let us rather get together, with all the powers of our eloquence, and persuade all those who are concerned to tackle this problem and remove this great blot from Scotland.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
It is most depressing to those who realise the magnitude of the problem which remains to be solved to listen to the complacency of the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State about the part being played by the Government in relation to the part being played by the local authorities. I do not 1403 think anything in the record of the hon. Gentleman entitled him to come with phylacteries to the House, as though he was a great driver and stimulator of the local authorities to proceed with their plans. I must say that I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). This Bill will do nothing more than take another peck at the problem. The hon. Member for Partick (Mr. Young) knows well enough that at the rate at which we are proceeding now, the housing problem will remain for his children and his grandchildren after him to settle in this House. Slums are being created and overcrowding is developing at almost as fast a rate as that at which they are being cured, and even the Under-Secretary of State cannot deny that.
Why is it not possible to get a real grip on this problem? It is said that there is sufficient material; even the present Government say that finance is no longer an obstacle; and with regard to labour the Under-Secretary admitted that much remains to be done to make the available labour supplies larger and even to divert labour from unessential requirements to requirements which demand priority, such as the clearing of the slums and the getting rid of overcrowding; but the simple fact is that if there is one bottleneck other than finance, we always hear the Government stressing it. They are always glad if they can to find one excuse or another. I do not wish to make any sort of party capital about this. I think it is contemptible to compare the progress made in Glasgow, for example, with the progress made in Aberdeen. I believe that local authorities often compare what they are doing with, what is being done by the opposite party in some other Division. That does not get us any further. The fact remains that in practically every one of these large burghs in Scotland the problem is not being tackled at a sufficiently rapid rate.
I want to make one or two proposals. I think the Housing Association, such as it is, under the Bill, has got the germ of a good idea in it. I think that with the powers at present conferred upon it, it will achieve very little; but if it can be made the instrument of a survey and a drive for these problems, in order to bring to the notice of the Government the shortcomings and mistakes that are 1404 being made by the local authorities, with a much larger authority than that with which it is at present entrusted, then I think it may prove to be a very effective weapon. I do not share the apprehension my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) regarding what he termed the threat made by the Under-Secretary against the local authorities. I would complain at no amount of pressure put upon the local authorities, whatever might be the complexion of the Government in power, in order to bring home to them the magnitude of this problem.
I will give an example of what has happened in my own constituency, where the housing problem is a very severe one, in spite of the magnificence of that city in many other respects. There happened to be available in the middle of a city a small site suitable for building a number of houses, not a very large number, but a number that would be a useful contribution to the problem. The financial authorities of the city looked at the site, made some inquiries, and found that they could make a rent profit of £30 a year if, instead of building houses on it, they sold it to some private contractor for some other purpose. The sight of that£30 profit, as the sight of a profit so often does to those who believe it to be the criterion and test of all things, hypnotised that leader of local opinion, and he said, "It would be a terrible mistake to build houses on this site if you can sell it for some other purpose and get a profit of a year£30 for the city and build houses a couple of miles out"—at a much more inconvenient place. That is indicative of the type of outlook on problems of this sort which the Government could do a great deal to sweep away, and if they would utilise the Housing Association provided under the Bill for bringing facts and attitudes of this kind before the local authorities, it might do something to contribute at least to the psychological aspect of the problem.
I would like to suggest another thing. We all know that the Under-Secretary has a sincere desire, in the leisurely and unhurried way which is characteristic of him, to do something to improve housing in Scotland, but I wonder whether he would not act with a little more vigour and spirit if he fertilised his imagination 1405 by more frequent visits to what I would call the battlefront. I dare say that the hon. Gentleman gets, as does every hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency, a number of most poignant letters describing the conditions in which his constituents have to live. I get such letters by almost every post. At one time I used to spend a large amount of time in visiting each one of these houses, visiting the local authorities, begging them to do something in each individual case, until I really brought within my own understanding the magnitude of the problem, and recognised that, if I got 10 or 20 letters a week, they were only indicative of 300 or 400 other cases just as bad, if not worse.
I would like the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary to make visits such as I have described at least once every six months. It would not be a disproportionate allocation of their time if they spent one month in every six months in visiting the conditions which represent the gravest problem with which Scotland has to deal at the present time, with all its repercussions on the health and national efficiency of Scotland. I say that it would not be a disproportionate allocation of the hon. Gentleman's time if he spent a few weeks in every year in investigating these conditions with a view to stimulating and fertilising his own imagination to tackle the problem on a larger scale. I would like to see recited in the Preamble of every Bill that shameful figure of the number of houses which are overcrowded in Scotland as compared even with the overcrowding in England. I believe that 23 per cent. is still approximately the figure for Scotland, as compared with 4 or 5 per cent. of houses in England which remain overcrowded. I appeal to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary not to think that they have put the necessary instruments in the hands of the local authorities, for in 20 years time we shall be very little further ahead with the present rate.
I come now to a more detailed suggestion with regard to the types of alternative construction. The city which I have the honour to represent is constructed as to 95 per cent. of granite houses, and I believe that I should not have been too ready to advocate, a year 1406 or two ago, any departure from that scheme of building granite houses. Having seen the terrible conditions under which many of the inhabitants of that city live, my objections to the use of materials other than granite have long since vanished, and I am prepared to see every kind of alternative material in use, beginning with brick, and proceeding to cement and even to wooden houses. I do not share the objections which have been expressed to wooden houses, provided they are properly built, and I think the Housing Association will do a great deal of good. If some of my hon. Friends saw the wooden houses which I have seen in the United States and Canada, and compared the comfortable conditions in those houses with the conditions under which so many of our people are living in Scotland to-day, I think they would modify their views.
I would say, however, that there is a tendency to construct these wooden houses on certain systems of joinery and the adaptation of materials, which involve the payment of royalties to some person or other. Occasionally we get in a burgh a preliminary publicity campaign about the advantages of some particular form of patented timber construction. Anyone who knows anything about patents is not going to pay much attention to that form of propaganda. I would suggest that every type of patented house should be ruled out, and that authorities should proceed to build the best type, without the complications and additional charges involved in any kind of patent. If the Housing Association allows itself to be deceived about the advantages of so-called patents which, if challenged, are seldom sustainable, and, if sustained, are of very doubtful advantage over more commonplace systems, then I think they will not be carrying out their duty efficiently. As regards Aberdeen, I think it will not be long before there is a change in the composition of the city council of that burgh, and then, at any rate, I can promise hon. Members that that city will not be backward in utilising to the full the powers which various Statutes confer upon it.
§ 5.4 p.m
§ Mr. Allan Chapman
I was very interested in the observations of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro 1407 Jones) on the subject of visiting condemned houses, but I want to touch on that matter from a rather different point of view. There is the danger that when one goes round and inspects these houses the unfortunate people who are living in them credit their unfortunate Member of Parliament with powers which, unhappily, he does not possess. I confess that I have hesitated to make wholesale inspections of this kind lest I should raise false hopes. In view of the conditions under which some of them have to live it would be the refinement of cruelty to do so until there was some hope. Every Member of this House sitting for a Scottish seat in whose constituency there are industrial or mining areas knows perfectly well, despite what has been said and written, that the slum kitchen which was exhibited in the Glasgow Exhibition was no exaggeration. When I saw some of the observations which were made upon it in the Press I was anxious to take the gentlemen who made them to my own division where I could have shown them housing conditions almost as bad.
The suggestion of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary should inspect personally the areas where housing is particularly bad is like pushing at an open door. During the Recess I hardly picked up a Scottish newspaper without discovering that either the Secretary of State, or the Under-Secretary was inspecting houses or going here there and everywhere on other missions. But I agree that it is well both for the officers of State and the back-benchers of this House to keep in practical touch with the problem. My difficulty as I said is to do so without raising hopes which I know cannot be fulfilled for a long time to come. There are areas in my division where 88 per cent. of the housing needs have yet to be met, which shows the magnitude of our problem. To-day we are passing a general judgment on this Bill and I approve of it on the understanding that it is only to be regarded as one method of tackling the problem. I do not believe that by this Bill alone we can overtake this task; therefore I trust I am correct in assuming that the method of the municipal building is not to be the sole agency employed.
We must realise that the Bill will make a large call on rates and taxes and the test 1408 of the Bill for the taxpayer and the ratepayer will be, "Will it get the houses?" I believe that, to a certain extent, it will, but I reserve judgment on the question of whether or not it will provide the incentive for that great drive of which so many hon. Members have spoken. My hon. Friend the Member for Partick (Mr. Young), whose attractive speech we were all glad to hear, alluded to conditions in Glasgow. The great city of Glasgow is in a unique position to give a lead in this matter and I am sure there is a general desire in Glasgow to give that lead to Scotland. One knows the terrific problems of housing which, in common with other large cities, it has to face. I do not minimise the difficulties but a great city like Glasgow has the organisation, the resources and the experience to deal with the task. I do not think it can be said at the moment that Glasgow is giving us the lead which we would like to see and which would be followed by the rest of the country. That may be due to circumstances beyond its control.
Glasgow's problem affects neighbouring constituencies. A shortage of houses in Glasgow sends people out to my own division and other divisions to look for houses and thus the problem is accentuated. If we extend hospitality to refugees and numbers of them come to Scotland there will be a tendency for them to go to the large cities and the problem will be still further accentuated. Therefore the problem of Glasgow's housing is not a local one: it is, in a sense, a national one. That is why I allude to it and I do so in no carping spirit. But the fact remains that 6,380 houses were completed in 1929. I know there were special circumstances at the time but I do not propose to go into that in detail. The fact remains that the number of houses completed in the first ten months of this year was only 2,217. That is a big discrepancy. I do not doubt that Glasgow is planning a great many more houses in view of that fall. In 1936 the number of houses completed was 1,985 and in 1937 the number was 1,841. It is encouraging to know that there has been the beginning of a drive and that the figures are on the upgrade. There is need for all, whatever their political views, to join in getting this drive under way. As the Under-Secretary has said, one of the key points of the problem, and I was glad to hear that it is being tackled, is the question of labour. If it is dealt 1409 with sympathetically and understandingly I am sure we shall get that kind of team work by which alone we can solve the problem. Let us face the facts that Glasgow's need is 54,728 houses and as was said earlier, that is a 20-year or perhaps a 30-year task. At the moment, this Bill goes a certain way along the road but the Bill alone will never overtake the task before us. I hope, therefore, that other agencies will be used. One has a natural bias in favour of one's own division, and while there is still a great deal to be done in the Rutherglen division I would point to the fact that the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen, which got its charter 80 years before Glasgow is still leading Glasgow by a short head as regards housing. In Glasgow since 1929 132 per 1,000 of the population have been rehoused and in Rutherglen, though I agree that the proposition there is a much smaller one, the figure is 146 per 1,000. I suggest that that is a challenge to Glasgow, a challenge which, I feel, will be taken up in the near future. Glasgow is a great city with great traditions and great pride and a craftsmanship unequalled in the world. I decline to believe that Glasgow cannot carry out a tremendous campaign to show how this scourge of bad housing can be swept away. When we have our housing as it ought to be I feel that we shall then be justified in that toast which we hear so often in Scotland and which I rather hesitate to pronounce:Here's tae us; wha's like us?
§ Mr. Chapman
I was not going to give the answer. I thank the hon. Member for doing so. When we have our housing in such a condition as to ensure the greatest possible health and happiness for our people then I feel that that toast will have a little more significance in Scotland than it has at the present time.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
The Bill to which we are now asked to give the Third Reading is for the purpose of providing the 250,000 houses which we require in Scotland for the re-housing of our people. We are given two agencies for the provision of these houses, namely, the local authori- 1410 ties and the housing association. As far as the local authorities are concerned, I dare say they will, to the utmost of their ability, take advantage of this Measure. Certain local authorities however will be under a handicap, because owing to conditions in their areas they will not be in a position to take advantage of the Measure, and I venture to say that when we come to discuss the next Housing Bill, we shall find a considerable problem still waiting, to be dealt with in Scotland. The local authorities, particularly the burgh councils, will, I dare say, take immediate advantage of these new arrangements, not that the financial provisions will place them in any better position than they have been in up to now. We simply have the two grants merged into one, and, as far as they are concerned, there will be little difference in the position.
The Under-Secretary devoted a great part of his speech to the Housing Association, and, in spite of what has been said on Second Reading and in the Committee, he still hopes to get great results from it. It was a good thing for the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) that he happened to be out of the Chamber when the hon. Member for Partick (Mr. Young) was making his speech, for I am not sure that he would have enjoyed the hon. Member urging that Glasgow Corporation should get as many of these 8,500 houses as they possibly could. If the Housing Association is to devote its time building experimental houses in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, the large burghs and some of the small burghs, without touching the smallest burghs, I do not see how any experimental houses can be built in East Fife. The Housing Association which is to undertake part of the work planned in this Measure is to engage in experimental building. Timber and concrete houses have been mentioned as alternative types of building, and it is evidently in these two directions that the Association will carry on its work.
In the Committee stage I drew the attention of the Secretary of State to the fact that local authorities which had already planned the building of timber houses had cancelled the plans because the timber houses were more expensive than brick. It may be that, despite the slightly increased cost, the Housing Association may go on with building timber houses. I 1411 dare say that a comfortable timber house can be built, even in Scotland, but it is evident that at present prices it cannot be built as cheaply as the ordinary brick house. I would like to hear whether it is the intention of the Housing Association to go on building timber houses in view of that fact. Concrete houses will certainly not be suitable in certain areas. They may be suitable in parts of East Fife, where they are not troubled with undermining, but wherever there is danger of subsidence they are not advisable. A considerable part of our housing problem exists in those areas, and concrete is not the type of building that can be undertaken there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Welsh) emphasised that the Housing Association which is operating in the Special Areas in Scotland had been able to build a considerable number of concrete houses because they were building a large number on one given spot. It may be possible to build concrete houses at something like the present cost of brick building, or even less, if they are erected in comparatively large numbers. Where small burghs require only half a dozen or so, building with poured concrete may not be very economical. I am not looking for any great result from the Housing Association, which is so elaborately set out in the Measure we are discussing.
§ Mr. Watson
I dare say they could be erected in mining areas. As a matter of fact, Fife County Council had planned to erect timber houses in one part of the constituency represented by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) because of the undermining, and in the opinion of the local authority such houses would resist undermining better than concrete or brick houses. As I have pointed out, however, local authorities which have planned to build timber houses have abandoned them because the price of timber rose enormously. I dare say the hope of the Secretary of State is that the Housing Association will be able to erect a considerable number of concrete houses, but he has yet to convince us that these houses can be built at something approaching the cost of brick houses.
The Under-Secretary has told us that in his opinion building materials will be 1412 available in sufficient quantities to allow the local authorities to go on with a considerable drive in the provision of new houses. I do not know whether that applies to all sections of the building industry, or only to bricklayers and joiners and one or two other tradesmen. I would like the Under-Secretary to tell us what is the position in regard to plasterers, because my information is that some of the local authorities have the greatest difficulty in getting the necessary number. There appears to be no shortage of bricklayers at the moment, and the joiners seem to be able to carry on the work they are required to do, but beyond that there is a hold-up on a number of housing schemes owing to a shortage of labour in some of the other trades.
I do not expect great things from the Housing Association. It may be able to give us houses that will be satisfactory, but we will wait and see. I hope that, without spending much time with the Association, the Under-Secretary will encourage the burgh councils and the larger corporations to go on under this Bill with their housing schemes, and whatever assistance can be given to county areas or the smaller burghs by the Housing Association will be welcomed. I must confess, however, that I am not expecting great things, especially from the Housing Association, but I believe that with the necessary encouragement the local authorities will go on with the building of houses under the provisions of this Bill.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Fildes
I would like the Under-Secretary of State to give us some explanation why private enterprise in the building trade does not try to render the same service to the community in Scotland as it does in England. Private enterprise has gone a long way without the aid of subsidies greatly to improve the position of affairs in housing in England. It is a mystery to me, and I am sure the House will be interested to know the circumstances in Scotland which cause private enterprise to languish and to lead nowhere in the solution of the housing problem. I agree with one of the previous speakers who mentioned matters in regard to labour difficulties. In my constituency, for 16 or 17 weeks, housing has been held up because there 1413 is a dispute in the plumbing industry about one halfpenny per hour. Surely it should be possible to come to some arrangement with the trade unions to let the men go on working at the old rates and, when the difficulties are settled, if it is agreed that the additional halfpenny shall be paid, to grant it to the men. The housing problem is urgent, and it is a sad mockery that weeks and weeks are being wasted over a petty dispute about a halfpenny per hour. I feel that the urgency of the housing problem is such that steps ought to be taken to make some arrangement for the men to go on with the work, and, when the dispute is settled, either to pay the extra sum or to leave the matter where it stands if the extra sum is not agreed upon.
If we are genuine in our expression of horror at the housing conditions that prevail in a great part of Scotland, it is the duty of the local authorities to make the most of this Bill. They get better terms in the next four years, and at the end of that time the amount of money that has to be spent on armaments may have been reduced, and the Secretary of State may then be able to give the municipal authorities a little better terms than the Treasury are able to give to-day. In view of the urgency of the problem let us get right into this job now, taking advantage of the next four years during which we are getting better terms. An old man whom I used to know always said, "Never take your hat off to the devil till he speaks." Four years is a long time ahead, and let us get on with the job because I feel that under this Bill there are opportunities to relieve the distressing conditions in which Scottish housing finds itself now and has found itself for a considerable number of years past.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I am intervening upon the Third Reading of this Bill from the most disinterested motives. I do not represent a Scottish division, but I was born and brought up in the City of Glasgow and I know Scottish housing conditions at first hand, and I have been asked to say something by a number of Scottish people whom I may define as being of strong Scottish radical opinions. This Bill embodies all the heresies and fallacies and economic nonsense which have marked all the Housing Bills since 1414 the War, and I am amazed at the complacent way in which Scotsmen are accepting it. If there was anything upon which Scotsmen once prided themselves it was that in the science of economics they were usually about 250 years ahead of the English, but of recent years, from what I have observed in this House, that superiority in the Scottish understanding of economic problems seems to have evaporated. Scotland is being dragged behind England in housing, in unemployment and in this, that and the other thing. Here we have the same recurring chorus, almost like the Greek Trinity, that the only way to overcome the housing problem is by some form of State subsidy. That is provided for in Clause 1, and we get the same charming device when we come to page 2 of the Bill, which says, in effect, that in the event of a town having to find building accommodation upon a site which is rather expensive, the State will come in to assist by giving an extra grant to cover the cost of that site. One would have thought that after all the years of radical campaigning Scotland would have been far ahead of proposals of that kind.
When I was a boy the idea that we could solve the housing problem by subsidies was laughed at. We always said, "That is what the English do," because we had seen in Glasgow that all the devices resorted to there in order to mitigate the housing difficulties, such as building tramways and taking the people away from the slum areas to the outside districts, the provision of health services and all the rest of it, did not cure Glasgow's slum problem. I do not know what the position may be now, but in those days Glasgow could boast of having the finest slums in Europe, although it had its tram system and had tried all means of getting the poor people away from the congested areas to more spacious surroundings outside. But what had happened? What any Scotsman would have expected. Boards appeared proclaiming, "Highly valuable building land for sale. Trams will be here next week or the week after." We knew all that then, and it is mystifying that the recollection seems to have evaporated from the Scottish mind that the explanation of the housing situation is to be found in the land system, in the rating system and in low-wage conditions. It is hoped to cure this big problem by dishing out State subsidies, 1415 but of course we shall not cure it in this way.
What has happened in this country since the War? Fortunes have been poured out in subsidies for housing is it curing the problem? What have we heard to-day about Glasgow? That Glasgow needs 60,000 houses. And what is the rate of progress in providing the houses? Something like 2,000 or 3,000 a year, even with enormous subsidies. You will never cure the problem in Scotland by subsidies—never on this earth. Even hon. Members opposite have to confess that despite all that has been done the present rate of progress must make them distrust whether they can ever hope to see a solution of the problem in their lifetime. Therefore, if I am doing nothing more by intervening in this Debate, I am sounding the clarion call of those who did understand the housing problem and knew that this was not the way to cure it.
The Under-Secretary did his best to-day in the circumstances, but he did not once suggest that this Bill would cure the housing problem. Like so many other Measures before it, this Bill will have this net economic result—I predict it and I defy any challenge—that the people in control of vacant sites will enhance site values because they know there is to be a demand for housing. That is point No. 1. The next point is that those who have created "rings" in all the ramifications of the industries supplying house-building materials will, now that they see this housing subsidy coming, advance prices. The economic result of subsidies is to make the case still more difficult. What have I listened to to-day from almost every side of the House? The complaint that despite the subsidies, despite the devices within the four corners of these petty Measures, rates will still become heavier in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Dundee as the result of the Bill. We get into this vicious circle—subsidies to rehouse, as a result of the subsidies a "skying" of the prices for land, and then more rates to pay a contribution to the housing subsidies. More rates will be levied upon the houses we have been building. You increase the price of the basic thing, the land you need for the site of the houses, and then you have to put extra rates on to the users of the houses.
1416 Rates will be rising and then we get this sad story from the Government Front Bench—it was almost naive of the Under-Secretary to talk as he did—that the local authorities must clear away the slums and the ratepayers should pay a little. They are always paying a little. He said that reactionary councils do not move quickly owing to the rates and that public opinion ought to drive those reactionary bodies. How can you enthuse people who are paying high rates in the housing problem if they know that its solution will rebound upon them in the shape of higher rates? More especially should I like to know how long it will take an Under-Secretary to convince Scotsmen that they should pay more and more rates for ideal houses for somebody else. It is going to take a lot of doing. And to think that it is all unnecessary.
I hope that to-morrow the Scottish people will read this Debate and that they will think back upon the days when Alexander Ure and a few more of us were in Glasgow, not dealing with housing in this pettifogging manner, but dealing with it radically, realising that bad housing in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere was due to the rating system and to the land system. We argued then, and it is just as true to-day, that you must abolish the system whereby you rate people on their houses and instead put the rates upon site values, so as to break open the land and enable people to build houses without a subsidy. By rating site values you will throw open more land and create more opportunities for men to employ themselves and wages and bound to rise. As we are acting now results will run in the opposite direction, and how long Scotland will go in that way I do not know. I sometimes think that after the War there was a snap in the intellect of the Scottish people, and that all that Adam Smith had told them, all that the great Dr. Anderson had told them, all that the Physiocrats had told them from the writings of the Edinburgh philosophers, has evaporated, and that now Scotsmen have no intellectual conceptions or understandings of these matters, and must run, like the old Fabian Society, to the Treasury to see if there is anything to be got out of it.
These subsidies pass right through the hands of the people whom we would like to benefit and go back into the basic fund of rent, and the position of the 1417 people is just as bad as it was. Every housing site which is developed in Glasgow, Edinburgh or elsewhere is advancing the value of contiguous land, and then we have to come back for more subsidies and there is more talk about so much being found by the rates. After all, why should the rates pay one portion and the State pay two portions? Rates and taxes are a common penalty upon the industry of this country, and whether the subsidies are paid out of rates or taxes matters very little in the long run. Both of them are only different parts of the same dead weight. I hope that the Scottish people will read this Debate to-day and I am hoping, in all humility, that they will read what I have said, and that it may have some effect in driving the Scottish mind back to a basic understanding of these problems, so that we shall stop this tinkering, this burning of public money in ways which solve no problem and only create more difficulties in connection with the problem.
I am speaking with some feeling, because I can never look back upon my time in Glasgow as a boy without a feeling that is a veritable nightmare. The conditions under which people lived there then and live under now make me wonder that men can be complacent, that men will continue to put up with them for so long. There are districts in Scotland which are veritable wens, disease dens, and yet we cannot clear them, and we never shall so long as we proceed along these lines. I invite Scotsmen to go back to the Commissions of 1880 and 1883, to read some of the findings of the very able bodies set up to make inquiries into local rating, the last one presided over by Lord Strathclyde, and they will find that they had an advantage then which will be lost if we continue along this line of subsidies, more subsidies and more bureaucratic control. The crux of the housing question is a matter of the distribution of the wealth of society and of stopping the encroachment of vested interests that paralyse every attempt that is made either to house or to feed men.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
I will not follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren). His speech takes my mind back to the time when I, too, sat at the feet of the late Alexander Ure. I 1418 intervene as an Englishman because this is an unopposed Bill. On the face of it, it therefore has the good will of this House. I would, in passing, remind the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) that he is wrong in thinking that English municipal authorities have solved their housing problem in any way by means of private enterprise in our great boroughs arid county boroughs. The private enterprise business firms erected houses, and still erect them, to own. I presume that the purpose of the Bill is to build houses to let. In England we have set about building these houses to let, and we have had to do it through the public authorities. We received our inspiration at the beginning from an Irishman sent to us from Glasgow, who was Minister of Health, the late John Wheatley.
I intervene also because the Under-Secretary of State has mentioned that there must be an enlightened public opinion as one of the levers to try to bring about housing reform in Scotland. In these Debates, but especially during the speeches from the Front Bench opposite on the Second Reading, I, as an Englishman, and I emphasise the word "Englishman," was absolutely horrified at the condition of affairs obtaining in some of the large burghs in Scotland. A well-brought-up Conservative once told me that if he lived in Motherwell he would join the extreme of extremist political parties as a protest at the conditions existing in cities like Dundee and Glasgow. Here we have a Bill. I agree that it is a half-measure, but I would remind the benches opposite that they have been in control of the Scottish Office for 17 years out of the last 20 years, and that they cannot get one scrap of consolation for their efforts in the past. There seems to be something lacking in the Scottish mentality.
My final word is that I wish Scotsmen would try to catch the grit, the determination and the thrift which obtain South of the Tweed, to catch the glow from Englishmen and to put their house in order; not let Scotland be, as it is to-day, a blot upon our fair fame, so far as housing is concerned.
§ Mr. A. Chapman
Would the hon. Member tell the House how many houses were built when the Government represented by those benches was in office?
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I would like to tell the House that the Scotsmen of to-day have not the slightest intention of listening to the clarion call from the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) to go back. Scotsmen of to-day desire to go forward, and in that desire we will contemplate the Bill that is before the House. Houses must be built, but the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland informs us that the local authorities should contribute their share from their rates towards the cost of doing so. That is the spirit that can handicap, and has handicapped, the race which local authorities are engaged in against overcrowding and slums. It is the spirit that should never prevail. The question is not whether the local authorities should pay their share but that a great evil stands before us, in the housing conditions of Scotland—an evil that cannot be exaggerated. The responsibility of the Government is not to consider how much they can get out of the local authorities, but how quickly the evil can be got rid of.
The problem has two sides: the necessity of building houses at the most rapid possible rate—houses for the people—and, secondly, to ensure that the rents of those houses come within the budgets of the people who go into them. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to face this question: What would he do if, week after week, he had to face the problem whether he should buy food for his children or pay the rent? In view of the fact that the rent must be paid, he would be left in the position that he could not buy food for his children. That problem faces thousands of families every day in these new houses. Did hon. Members hear how easy it was for the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) to talk about a halfpenny an hour? It was such a trivial thing, he said. Of course it is a trivial thing for the hon. Member for Dumfries, but when a man and his wife have to face the question of whether they will buy food or pay the rent, a halfpenny 1420 an hour is an entirely different proposition. In facing this problem the Government should not concern themselves with how much they can get out of the local authorities, but with how rapidly they can build houses, and the first thing should be that the Government should take responsibility for providing the full subsidy.
After the various reports that have been made and the discussions that have taken place, this serious problem now comes before us in all its evil meaning for the people of the country. Bill after Bill has been introduced, but to-day we are faced with the problem in a way in which we have never been faced with it before. The Government should come forward prepared to pay every halfpenny of the subsidy, sufficient to ensure that the houses would be built in the most rapid manner and that people would be able to pay the rents. In a pamphlet I have just read there is an instance in which one authority in London had to pay £6,000,000 an acre for land. It sounds almost unbelievable.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The same thing is going on to a lesser extent in Scotland. It has to be dealt with, but we do not say that you cannot build houses until you deal with it, because that would be madness. You can go on building houses and dealing with these questions as you go along. The great thing is to get houses. The Government should pay the full subsidy, take control of materials in order to ensure that there is a plentiful supply of them and, as was suggested in Committee, come to an understanding with the building trade unions to bring more men into the industry in return for guarantees from the Government that their trade union rights would be protected.
The other point on which I wish to insist also came up on the Committee stage, and relates to experiments to be carried out by the Housing Association. There is a tendency to treat this problem in such a fashion that, because people—working-class people—are living in slums and are overcrowded, anything is good enough for them as a substitute for the slums that are overcrowded. You can easily get a type of mind on the Government Benches, and even in sections of the Housing Association, that would stick 1421 up any kind of house, since they are only for workers, and the poorest workers, to live in. Anything is good enough. No experiment should be made by the Housing Association unless it is for a superior house to those which are already up, but never for an inferior house.
Wooden houses were mentioned by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), but that may mean any kind of house, even an old hut. Later on he referred to timber houses, an expression with a somewhat different meaning from the general term "wooden houses." What is recognised as a timber house is the type of house that exists in Canada and America. I have lived in those houses in Canada and America and I would not mind living in one here, but I am certain that that type of house would cost half as much again, and perhaps twice as much, as the present brick house. I have no objection to such timber houses or to log houses. You can get some beautiful ones and some splendid architectural designs, even with the logs. If experiments are to be made in such superior types of house I am all in favour of them, or even of concrete houses; but if the Housing Association are to experiment with them in order to encourage the erection of inferior houses to those that are being built now, I am against it. I am against the Housing Association being used to provide that sort of substitute.
The Government should face the problem in the way in which it should be faced, supplying all the subsidy and with Government control of materials to ensure continual supply, control of building sites and an understanding with the trade unions that will bring new labour into the building trade unions. I believe that if that policy were followed a terrific acceleration could be given to the building of houses and that we should take at last a real step towards solving the problem of slums and overcrowding.
§ 5.59 P.m.
I do not propose to make another speech, but perhaps I might, by the leave of the House, reply very briefly to a few of the questions that have been put to me in the course of the Debate. On the subject of the contrast between English and Scottish conditions, I always like to see English Members taking part in our Scottish Debates, and 1422 I was particularly glad to hear the observations of the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff). The real difference is that Scotland started a long way behind England in this business of rehousing. Since the War, practically 300,000 new houses have been built in Scotland—a number sufficient to house the whole population of Glasgow. In fact, we have built the equivalent of a new Glasgow since the War. The reason why we are so far behind is that, both during and before the industrial revolution, people in Scotland were accustomed to inhabit a type of house which was very much more below our modern requirements than the type of houses that we are now building. The fact that we have 22 per cent. of overcrowding as against only 3.8 per cent. in England is an illustration of that. The difference is not that we are doing less, but that we start with about six times as much to do. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) had no wish to go back to 1883 and the laissez faire Governments of that time, who refused to entertain the idea of subsidies—
§ Mr. MacLaren
I do not mind the hon. Gentleman referring to that, but I think he ought to give a fair representation of what I mean. You may go back to the Ten Commandments, which are very much older than that, but which are very much up to date if they are put into practice in accordance with modem ideas. I was suggesting that there was more profound thinking done in those days than there is now.
It may be that there was more profound thinking, but there was very little slum clearance. In reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) about site values, I do not want to enter into an argument on land values, but in the case of the working-class houses that are being built in Scotland the average site value is only about £;15 a house. That is a very small fraction—only something like 3 per cent. or a little more—of the total cost. There was, I thought, some contrast between the remarks of the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) and those of the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) and of the hon. Member for West Fife. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk was a little afraid that my entirely well-meant and, I hope, harmless observations might 1423 involve some threat of what he called Fascism, by which he meant the assumption by the State of the whole business of housing, and the taking of it away from the local authorities. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Camlachie and the hon. Member for West Fife went to the very extreme of Fascism which was so much deprecated by the hon. Gentleman opposite. They thought that the only solution was for the State to build all the houses, to take the matter out of the hands of the local authorities—
§ Mr. Gallacher
I said that the Government should supply the whole of the subsidy and should control the materials in order to make sure that the local authorities would have a continual supply, but I made it quite clear that it would be the local authorities who would build the houses.
§ Mr. Westwood
Does not the hon. Gentleman misunderstand the whole position? Surely, it would be quite competent for the local authorities, if there were complete Government control of the building of houses, to act as the agents of the Government and to build the houses for the Government, who would provide the finance.
Surely, if the Government were to pay the whole cost, and if the Government were to supply all the materials, the Government would then have to say exactly what type of houses should be built, and would have to control every item of expense throughout, to determine the rents of the houses, and to allocate them among the different people who applied for them. There would be no difference at all between doing that and putting the whole thing under a national housing board, which I believe was suggested by some hon. Members a few years ago.
The hon. Member for Camlachie thought that the expense to the local authorities ought to be kept down to a 2d. rate, but I think that that would come, in the end, to very much the same thing, because any local authority which has been doing this job properly must have at least a 2d. rate by now, although there are some authorities, I believe, which have less. I have every sympathy with the rating difficulties of the local 1424 authorities; do not let anyone suppose that I have not; but I think that, if a community is really anxious to get rid of the slums in its midst, and if it undertakes, through its locally elected authority, that responsibility, it ought to be willing to bear a few pence on the rates for the purpose of achieving that end.
The other questions I have been asked have all been about the Housing Association. I was asked about the quality of the houses, about the different types, about the expense, and whether I could give a more specific pledge about the distribution of those built outside the Special Area. I was glad to hear the support which the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) gave to the new types of houses, about which some hon. Members still seem to be suspicious. By timber houses, we mean prefabricated timber houses such as are now being produced, not only in Sweden, but by a number of new firms in this country, and which are approved by the Department of Health in all respects. I am not sure which of the types, if any, are produced under patent, but the Department of Health always bring to the attention of all local authorities every suitable type that is being produced, and encourage them to choose between them and to take offers from all of them. Other things being equal, they would, of course, accept the least expensive, but, in order to be approved by the Department, the houses must reach the same standard of quality as the other houses which are being built for the same purpose.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) asked me whether it was the intention of the Housing Association to build timber houses if they were more expensive than brick houses. I have a table here, though I do not want to take up time by going into it, showing the average costs of three types—brick, timber and concrete—which have been approved during the period from 1st January to 31st October of the present year, 1938. Of course, the hon. Member will understand that the price of brick houses varies enormously from one area to another, and so also does the price of different types of timber houses, but, on the whole, there is not, and there ought not to be, very much difference between 1425 timber and brick, and according to this table the level of costs in the case of timber houses is generally lower.
§ Mr. Stephen
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us why the price of brick houses varies enormously from one area to another?
I do not think it would be in order to pursue that point on the Third Reading of a Bill, but I did go into it at length on the Estimates last summer. The main reason is that in some areas the labour shortage is very much more acute than it is in others. I find that in the industrial districts the average prices of houses of ail types in brick has been £471, and in timber £424. In the Special Area the average prices of houses of all types in concrete is £519, and in timber £462. I do not want to go at length into these figures, but certainly there has been no marked increase in the cost of timber houses as compared with brick houses, and there is no particular reason why they should be much lower, because they are of equally good quality. It is our hope that, if the construction of these timber houses is encouraged on a large scale, not only may the cost of the timber houses be reduced, but that that may tend to bring down the price of brick houses also.
§ Mr. Watson
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that several local authorities have cancelled the building of timber houses, schemes for which they prepared some time ago. Why did those local authorities cancel the building of timber houses if the figures given by the hon. Gentleman are correct? I am not challenging them; I daresay they are perfectly correct; but there must be some other reason why the local authorities are cancelling the building of timber houses.
If a local authority contemplate the building of a number of timber houses, and if, when they get their offers in, they find that they are more expensive than a similar quality of brick houses, and if they can get those brick houses built, naturally they would choose the brick houses for their scheme. There is nothing difficult to understand about that. On the other hand, there are other local authorities who have accepted contracts for timber houses. Of course, our intention is that they should go in for 1426 both, because, however much we increase the building of brick houses—and we want to increase it as much as possible—we wish local authorities, in addition, to contemplate as extensively as possible schemes involving alternative methods of construction.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) was very anxious to extract from me a more specific pledge regarding the kind of places in which some of the 8,500 houses which are to be built outside the Special Area will be put up, but I am afraid he did not greatly increase his chances of getting such a pledge from me by explaining that he had already on three occasions unsuccessfully attempted to extract one from the Secretary of State. I am afraid cannot add anything to what my right hon. Friend said in Committee. I happened to say on the first day that there were some small burghs which only needed 20 or 30 houses to solve their problem altogether, but where a 1d. rate would only produce an exceedingly small sum, and I said:I do not know whether it would be possible to bear that fact in mind when considering whether any small lots of demonstration houses might be put under the proposals in another part of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee on Scottish Bills), 1st December, 1938; col. 29.]In the course of the second day's proceedings my right hon. Friend said that I had mentioned the point, but that he would mention it again, that there is pro-vision in the Bill for the building of a certain number of houses outside the Special Area, and he said:I have in mind that we may be able to give some measure of assistance to certain of the small authorities placed in that particular difficulty by the proposals in that part of the Bill.He went on to say:I cannot put it higher than that, but it may be found to be helpful.My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife interrupted him twice, by my right hon. Friend replied:I would rather my hon. Friend did not put it too specifically, because it is the aim of the Association to build in many parts of Scotland, and I could not accept the view that it would be particularly directed to small burghs. But their problem would be borne in mind. and the machinery would be used to help them where necessary."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT (Standing Committee of Scottish Bills), 6th December, 1938; cols. 46–48.]1427 I think it would be impossible to give any sort of undertaking specifically as to where these houses were going to be built, and I think that in Committee my right hon. Friend said as much as could be reasonably expected at that time. In conclusion, I would like to say that I very much appreciated the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. A. Chapman) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Partick (Mr. A. Young) to the Debate, and I was glad to hear their appeal for unity on this subject among all sections, whether political, local or industrial, who are engaged in or have any responsibility for this subject of housing. I am confident that, if all interests and sections in the country are prepared to co-operate, we shall be able to accelerate our progress and bring about a speedier solution of this problem, which it is the desire of all of us to do.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Leonard
I want to press one point on the Under-Secretary. It is a matter which came to my knowledge since the Committee stage of the Bill. It is with regard to the Maupang system of fabricating concrete houses, which is popular in Paris, and in France generally. I was of opinion that that had already been tried in this country, and that it had not been successful. Because of that I did not press the matter in Committee. But since then I have received guidance to the effect that the way this system was carried out in this country was a travesty of the method in France. I am informed that some investigation has been made into the position in the hon. Member's Department, and I would press upon him the desirability of reopening the inquiry into this system, and investigating the method which is adopted in Paris, which, I am informed, is not to use wooden shuttering but to use highly burnished steel patterns, which turn out sections with surfaces like glass, together with other unique features of proved worth. Will the hon. Member see whether it is not possible to try this method in Scotland as well?
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.