HC Deb 29 March 1938 vol 333 cc1902-4

Where the Department, after having caused a public local inquiry to be held in pursuance of Section thirty-seven of the Act of 1930, are satisfied that the local authority have failed to exercise any of their powers under Part III of the Act of 1925 to provide housing accommodation for persons of the working classes who are members of the agricultural population, or under Section one hundred and twenty-five of the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, in a case where these powers ought to have been exercised, the Department may, before making such an order as is mentioned in the said Section thirty-seven, make an order declaring the local authority to be in default and directing the authority to exercise for the purpose of remedying the default such of their said powers, and in such manner, and within such time or times, as may be specified in the order; and if the local authority fail to comply with any requirement of the order within the time limited thereby for compliance with that requirement the Department may make such an order as is mentioned in the said Section thirty-seven.—[Mr. Elliot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.4 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This is for the purpose of meeting an Amendment moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson). It was withdrawn on my pledge to look into the matter. I have done so, and I have set down this Clause. It is merely to allow an intermediate step between the local authority's powers being entirely taken over by the Department if the local authority is in default and a solemn warning being given to the local authority. I hope it meets the point that hon. Members had in mind and the pledge that I gave.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Johnston

As far as we can see, the right hon. Gentleman has implemented the promise that he gave us in Committee to move a new Clause which would more effectively and more promptly carry out our wishes than the one that we moved in Committee. There is, however, one point that I should like to be clear about. As far as the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, is concerned, dealing with the provision of proper sanitation, water supplies and so on, it is there that pressure by the Department on rural local authorities can be made most effective. Under this Clause a grievance has first of all to be notified to the Department and then there is a public local inquiry. After that there is a determination by the Department and they make an order declaring the local authority to be in default and directing it to proceed to remedy the default. Now the local authority is to be given a chance to do the work itself before the Department exercises its statutory power to do the job. I trust that this extra step that is being interposed between the local authority and the Department will not be used as an excuse for delaying applying the provisions of the Public Health Act in so many rural areas as has unfortunately been the case in the past.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. J. Brown) has been collecting information about the number of defaulting local authorities. I believe that about a third of the inhabitants of rural Scotland have no sanitary conveniences whatever in their houses, that is, if the two or three sample cases that have been taken by the Committee on Rural Housing turn out to be the average for all Scotland. They took three tests and, if they are a fair specimen of the picture, 29 per cent. of the inhabitants of rural Scotland are living in dwellings where there is no sanitary convenience of any kind. This is an admirable Clause, but I trust that it will not be used as an excuse for further delay in applying the principles of the Public Health Act to housing.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. J. Brown

I should like to emphasise what my right hon. Friend has said. These tests were taken in districts that were likely to give the average conditions throughout the country, and, as he has said, they show that 29 per cent. of the inhabitants in those districts were without any sanitary conveniences whatever. We trust that all these things will be taken into consideration and that we shall see a vast improvement very speedily in sanitation.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Macquisten

Unless the sanitary appliances that are put into these houses are quite satisfactory there is always a danger in them. I remember staying near a condemned village. It had been condemned for 30 years, but the people all lived to a great age and there was never any illness. I asked what the reason was, and I was told that it was because there were no sanitary conveniences. If the drainage is not good it is better to have none at all.

Mr. Brown

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman believe in a statement of that kind?

Mr. Macquisten

Conveniences should certainly be supplied where possible, but they must be very carefully supervised because, unless they are thoroughly first-class, they will be a source of danger. I hope that aspect of the matter will be taken into consideration.

Clause added to the Bill.