HC Deb 19 March 1946 vol 420 cc1818-34

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.

[Major Milner in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

" That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session (hereinafter referred to as ' the new Act ') to make fresh provision for the making of contributions out of the Exchequer and by local authorities in respect of housing accommodation provided for the working classes in Scotland and for the making of payments and advances to the housing association approved for the purposes of section two of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1938; to amend Part II of the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938; and for the purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient—

  1. A. To authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State in making to a local authority— 1819
    1. (1) in respect of each new house provided by them in accordance with proposals approved by him under the new Act or under the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1938, by way of housing accommodation for the working classes and completed after the seventh day of March, nineteen hundred and forty-four, an annual contribution for sixty years of the following amount, that is to say, twenty-one pounds ten shillings for a house of three apartments or less, twenty-three pounds for a house of four apartments, and twenty-five pounds ten shillings for a house of five or more apartments, and for each part of a hostel deemed to be a new house eleven pounds;
    2. (2) where, by reason of the costliness of providing housing accommodation in a redevelopment area, or in tenements on a central site, or the purchase of, or the payment of compensation in respect of the demolition of, houses or other premises which are neither unfit for human habitation nor injurious or dangerous to health and which are included in or adjoin or are surrounded by a clearance area, the total annual expenditure likely to be incurred by the local authority in providing housing accommodation is substantially greater than the aggregate of the annual contributions which may be made as aforesaid and the corresponding contributions payable by the local authority, an additional annual contribution for sixty years not exceeding twenty pounds in respect of each house provided by way of such housing accommodation;
    3. (3)in respect of a house in a tenement which, as to the whole or any part thereof, is at least four storeys high and which has a lift installed therein, an additional annual contribution for sixty years of seven pounds;
    4. (4)where the total annual expenditure of a local authority in providing housing accommodation is likely to be substantially greater than the aggregate aforesaid by reason of the remoteness of the sites of any houses from centres of supply of building labour andmaterial and the impracticability of obtaining for such houses higher rentsthan are ordinarily payable by persons employed in agriculture or fishing or by person sin the like economic condition, an additional annual contribution for sixty years of such amount in respect of such of the houses as may be sanctioned by the Treasury;
    5. (5)such contributions as may become payable by reason of any provision of the new Act amending the provisions of subsections(2) and (3) of section forty-seven of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act,1945 and authorising the payment in respect of any house provided on land acquired under that Act of the like contributions as would be payable under the new Act if the house had been provided on land acquired under the Housing (Scotland) Acts, 1925 to1944.
  2. B. To authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State in making to a local authority in respect of each new house provided by them in accordance with proposals approved by him under the new Act or under 1820 the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938, by way of housing accommodation for the agricultural population and completed after the seventh day of March, nineteen hundred and forty-four, an annual contribution for sixty years of such amount not being less than twenty-one pounds ten shillings or more than thirty-five pounds as he may, with the sanction of the Treasurer, determine, or, where is he satisfied that the expenditure of the local authority in respectof any house is by reason of the remoteness of the site thereof from centres of supply of building labour and material, substantially greater than the equivalent of forty-one pounds ten shillings per annum for sixty years, of such greater amount as he maywith the sanction of the Treasury determine.
  3. C. To authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State in making to a local authority—
    1. (1)in respect of a house or accommodation deemed to be a new house, the cost of which is enhanced by expenses attributable to the acquisition of rights of support or otherwise attributable to measures taken for securing protection against the consequences of a subsidence of the site, an additional annual contribution for sixty years not exceeding two pounds;
    2. (2)In respect of any house or accommodation deemed to be a new house which has been provided by the local authority in accordance with proposals approved by the Secretary of State on or after the first day of January, nineteen hundred and forty for the purposes of the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938, or the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland)Act, 1938, contributions not exceeding the contributions payable under the new Act in respect of a house completed after the seventh day of March, nineteen hundred and forty-four.
  4. D. To authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses of the Secretary of State attributable to any provisions of the new Act—
    1. (1)relating to the provision of housing accommodation in government war buildings;
    2. (2)increasing to two hundred and forty pounds in the case of a three apartment house and to three hundred pounds in the case of a house of more than three apartments the maximum amount of the assistance which may be given under section four of the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938;
    3. (3)enabling the Secretary of State to make contributions in respect of houses which have become vested in local authorities;
    4. (4) enabling the Secretary of State to make payments to the housing association approved for the purposes of section two of the Housing (Financial Provisions)(Scotland) Act, 1938, in respect of houses provided by them; and
    5. (5) providing for contributions by the Secretary of State in respect of houses con- 1821 structed otherwise than by traditional methods.
  5. E. To authorise the issue of money out of the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of enabling the Secretary of State to make advances to the housing association approved for the purpose of section two of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1938, and to authorise the Treasury for the purpose of providing such sums to raise money in any manner in which they are authorised to raise money under the National Loans Act, 1939.
  6. F. To authorise the payment into the Exchequer of all sums received by the Secretary of State under the new Act and any sums received by him by way of interest on or repayment of any loan made out of moneys issued to him by the Treasury under the new Act, and to provide that any sums received by the Secretary of State by way of interest on or repayment of any such loan and paid into the Exchequer shall be issued out of the Consolidated Fund and be applied, in so far as they represent principal, in redemption or repayment of debt, or, in so far as they represent interest, in payment of interest otherwise payable out of the permanent annual charge for the National Debt.— (King's Recommendation signified.)—[Mr. Westwood.']

The Chairman

I think I should inform the Committee that the only Amendment on the Paper, which would appear to be in Order, is that to line 42, in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Dumfries (Major Niall Macpherson). Does the hon. and gallant Member wish to move it?

10.40 p.m.

Major Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

I beg to move, in line 42, after "as," to insert: seems to the Secretary of State to be just and reasonable and as Under Clause 1 (1, a) of the Bill the Secretary of State, if satisfied that the total annual expenditure likely to be incurred by the local authority in providing housing accommodation is greater than the aggregate of the appropriate annual contributions, has power to make an additional annual contribution for 60 years of such amount, in respect of such of the houses as may be sanctioned by the Treasury, as he considers just and reasonable. It seems to me, therefore, that these words should be included in the text of the Resolution. The Secretary of State does really pay the piper and in this case he is also calling the tune. All we ask is that the tune should be played a little faster.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)

On this matter I have a completely free hand. My own mind is against the proposal. Ever sinceI have been in Parliament one of the chief quarrels of the back bencher with successive Governments has been that these Financial Resolutions are drawn too tightly. The reason for leaving out these words was that they would draw the Financial Resolution tighter. If we included the words in the Amendment they would actually make the Financial Resolution even more restricted than it is. That is all against the view usually held on the back benches. I have been advised to accept the Amendment, but we have a very open mind. As an old Parliamentarian, I am always afraid that my past will catch me up, but I think, on the whole, from the point of view of making the thing less rigid, the Financial Resolution would be as well without the Amendment. I hope the Committee will not insist upon it.

Major Macpherson

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.45 p.m.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

I take it, Major Milner, that it is now in Order to discuss the Resolution in general. I had hoped to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the earlier Debate and consequently to have been able to range rather more widely over this subject than is now possible. I do not want to detain the Committee on this matter, but I have two points which I consider to be of substance and which I would like to put to the Joint Under-Secretary of State. The first is that there is a presupposition in all the arguments which have been adduced in favour of the subsidy being granted only to local authorities, that no private enterprise concern is prepared to build houses for letting. I would like the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary to know that I have in my hand an offer from a reputable firm who are prepared to build houses of the standard required for letting at three-quarters of the rate of subsidy that he proposes to pay to local authorities. If we assume that there are to be 10,000 houses, which I understood the Undersecretary at an earlier stage to say was his target for Scotland, and if we knock off a quarter of the subsidy which he is going to pay, we save the country a very large sum of money indeed. I consider that is a point of substance, and that the right hon. Gentleman, until this is properly examined, has no right to waste the moneyof the country in paying an unnecessarily large subsidy to local authorities, if private enterprise will satisfy his conditions and build those houses on three-quarters of the subsidy.

The second point I would like to make is this. The Under-Secretary said in reply to me, that the rate of interest upon which he had worked out his calculations was 3⅛per cent. I have taken advice on these calculations, and I have, with that advice and by own calculations, come to the conclusion that, basing on 3 per cent, per annum, there is in fact a gap between the subsidies, plus the amount of 8s.—12s. less 4s. rates —of something like £5 to £6. Therefore the burden that the ratepayers are to be asked to bear in the matter of subsidy is not the very small sum of £6 10s. to £7 10s., which represents not a very great increase on their present rating burden, but something considerably greater. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to promise that he would make available to thisside the calculations upon which he came to the conclusion that on 3⅛ per cent, on the interest, a sinking fund based on 3⅛ and a rate of 8s. in addition to the housing fund plus the subsidy in question, he could make ends meet. We should beglad to see those calculations because I believe they are fallacious. Those are the only observations I have to make upon this Financial Resolution, and I think the Financial Resolution should be amended to deal with those points.

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

Should I be in Order, Major Milner, in moving a manuscript Amendment which I have handed in, namely, in line 22, after "redevelopment area or," to insert" any houses or "?

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman cannot discuss his Amendment. In the first place I have not seen it; in the second place, what the hon. Gentleman said is out of Order.

Mr. McAllister

Isaid I was raising a point of Order, and I was asking if the Amendment was in Order.

The Chairman

I am sorry; it is not in Order.

Mr. McAllister

If it is out of Order, Major Milner, may I say a word or two on the Financial Resolution generally The question that I wish to raise seems to me to be one that has a strict bearing on finance, and on the responsibility of the Government with regard to the wise husbanding of the resources of this country. I have always understood that one of the fundamental duties of Parliament was to examine every Financial Resolution placed before it, in order to see that the taxpayers money was being used in the best, wisest, and most economical manner, consistent with the provision of all those services that a Government ought to provide to the taxpayer. I find that it is impossible for me to move an Amendment to the Financial Resolution which would, on every 28,000 families rehoused in our large cities, save the taxpayers of Scotland £10,000,000. That does not seem to me to be a negligible sum of money. Yet to rehouse 28,000 families in tenement flats under the Bill, and under the Financial Resolution, costs in subsidy on a high-cost site, £31,000,000. To rehouse the same number of people at 20 to the acre in the town and at alower density outside the town—in mixed flats and houses in the centre, and in houses only outside—would save the taxpayers of this country £10,000,000 on every 28,000 families so rehoused.

I find that it is impossible for me to move an Amendment which, from the point of view of policy, the Secretary of State for Scotland might have been glad to accept. Equally, I understand that it is impossible, since it is governed by the Financial Resolution, to move an Amendment to the Bill when it goes into Committee.

May I say, as a new Member, that I cannot understand how Parliament can exercise its right of criticism if Bills are drafted in such a way as to make Amendments impossible. May I point out to the Secretary of State for Scotland that the English and Welsh Bills do not suffer from this disability. It is perfectly possible in those cases to move an Amendment to the same effect, without in any way interfering with the rules or practice of this House. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland may find some method of bringing this Bill into line, and thereby saving the taxpayers an enormous sum of money.

Major Niall Macpherson

In dealing with the Financial Resolution generally, I would like to draw attention to the words: remoteness of the sites of any houses from centres of supply. The Under-Secretary has just drawn attention to the desirability of having the Financial Resolution drawn as loosely as possible. This is loose enough to cover the point which I have in mind. The words, as they are drafted, are practically identical with those in the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, 1938, Section 1 (2, e.) But in the interpretation of that Act, it was ruled that only the Highlands and Islands were covered by those words. What Iwish to know from the Secretary of State is, whether in the interpretation of the words as they now stand, a wider interpretation will be given to them. I shall be very glad to have an explanation.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Certain Amendments have been ruled out of Order, but I think that it would be right that I should say a few words, which I hope will be inOrder, on the topics raised, particularly because of some misapprehension expressed at an earlier stage by, among others, the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan). On this matter of the Financial Resolution being limited to "the working classes," I gather from what the Under-Secretary has said that his interpretation of these words extends them to cover practically the whole population— and I think that that interpretation is right. Nevertheless, neither he nor I can be the ultimatearbiter in these matters. It is perfectly possible for some local authority to take a different view of these words, because, undoubtedly, a generation ago these words had a very different meaning from that which they now bear. Therefore, I suggest that we should take this opportunity—and it is a good one—to remove these words from our housing legislation. The hon. Gentleman admits that they do not limit the scope of the legislation in any way, and I think that they are an anachronism. It would be a much better job, and avoid all sorts of misconceptions, if the words were taken out of our housing legislation altogether. Technically, I understand from the Ruling of the Chair, it appears that it might increase the charge, but if the words mean the whole population, then in fact the charge would not be increased by their removal.

I think it would be in Order for the Government to amend their own Resolution at this time, and I suggest that that should be done. If it is not done, we cannot discuss in Committee all sorts of questions which will arise. Must we rely on a pronouncement from the Box as to the meaning of these words? If that is all we can rely upon, then I suggest that the pronouncement should come from the Lord Advocate, as adviserto the Secretary of State on matters of law, because this is a legal question. What is the meaning of these words "working classes "? If the Government, on the advice of the Lord Advocate, take the view that, in law, "working class" means the whole population who work in any way at all, then I think that we should have that from the Lord Advocate himself, and it can be used to induce recalcitrant local authorities who do not take a proper view of their obligation to do so. It is not so satisfactory as taking the term out of the legislation, but, if it is the best that the Government will do, it is better than nothing.

The next matter I wish to raise is in regard to the limiting of subsidies to local authorities. All the arguments in this Debate have been to the effect that, in present circumstance, it is impossible to encourage free enterprise to take a hand on a large scale in connection with building. I know that there are two views about that, and I see the force in the Government's view that at the present time, before we get back to normal, there is a good deal to be said for so limiting the subsidy. But we are not going to remain in the present state of affairs for long. I hope that things are going to get a little better, even under this Government.I suggest, therefore, that, as the argument is short-termed, we might have some statement from the Government to the effect that their minds are not closed on this question, and that, when the situation permits, we can expand our policy. We are not proposing to vote against the Bill, because we recognise that there are great difficulties at the moment, and that this Bill, in some respects, is a reasonable way to tackle them. But having regard to the way in which the argument has been put, I think thatwe might have some statement from the Government, as I say that their minds are not closed on this question. I know that it is, perhaps, difficult for a Socialist Government to keep its mind open, but I hope that there are at least some Socialists in this Government who will find it easier to do so than others.

I too should like an answer from the Under-Secretary to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow(Colonel Hutchison). We are worried about how these accounts are going to be balanced. I do not see how there can be an income of more than £50, and I do not see how, if you have paid maintenance, management and the rest, you are going to have much more than £40 to pay interest and sinking fund. The figure has been reduced to £1,140, but we find it difficult to make both ends meet. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has taken an average of the rates in Scotland.

Mr. Buchanan


11.0 p.m.

Mr. Reid

That, of course, is another matter. That means that those areas where the rates are small will make a profit, but that is no comfort to the areas where the rates are large. They will show a loss. In particular, it is no comfort to the city of Glasgow where the rates are very large, and if the hon. Gentleman tells me thatthe accounts will balance when the rates are up to about 12s. in the £, then the accounts certainly will not balance when the rates are up to 17s. in the £. Surely the Government agree that we must relate the owners rates to the rating bill, otherwise it is just another form of subsidy from the other ratepayers. I do not follow the Government's argument, and further I do not follow the argument of the Under-Secretary when he said there was some reason in this. I do not see any reason why a section of the ratepayers should pay an additional subsidy. However, we shall have an opportunity to argue this out in Committee.

There is one point, however, that we shall not be able to deal with in Committee and, therefore, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to refer to it when he replies. I think we are at one, that the largely rated areas will, in fact, be the losers, and even this great subsidy will leave the ratepayers of Glasgow to carry not only £7 each, which is in the Bill, but another £5 in addition. I suggest to the Government that in imposing on the ratepayers of Glasgow a burden of £10 or £12, he is asking for trouble, and I ask him to think again about this very difficult problem, which will impose such an additional burden on the ratepayers of the city of Glasgow.

Finally, there is one matter whichsome hon. Members on the other side have raised during the earlier proceedings, namely, the question of the subsidy in respect of mining subsidence. I could understand theposition so long as the coal was privately owned, but now the coal is owned by the State, and has been so owned for some time. Therefore, I cannot understand why the National Coal Board, which owns the coal in the interests of the nation, does not meet the cost of keeping up the sites for the houses, which are in the national interests. Why should the National Exchequer, which is, in effect, the National Coal Board, be subsidised by the ratepayers for leaving unworked part of the national property, in thenational interests. Surely it is in the national interest, to put up houses for the people. Everyone is agreed about that. If the Government want to make a book keeping entry between the Treasury and the National Coal Board that does not matter so much. But surely what is being done here, is to say that the bookkeeping entry is to be limited to £2 and the balance is to be borne by the ratepayers. The ratepayers, therefore, are asked to pay the National Coal Board for leaving unworked, in the nationalinterest, part of the national property. I suggest that is not a proper sequence from nationalisation. Perhaps I do not understand very much about nationalisation, but if nationalisation, about which we have heard so much, is going to lead to consequences of this character, then it is an even more curious thing than F thought it was.

Mr. Buchanan

Perhaps the Committee will allow me to reply to the three speeches which we have heard. Let me say that all three bear relation to the Amendments on the Order Paper. The hon. and gallant Member for Dumfries (Major Macpherson) raised this question of a wider interpretation of the words as they now stand. He is asking that the Resolution ought to apply outside the areas as defined at present. I cannot offer him much hope in that respect. As he knows, we have got the ordinary subsidy, the subsidy for the agricultural population, and then we have the additional subsidy, to which there is no limit, for the remote areas. I cannot hold out prospect of any change inthe definition of remoteness. If "remoteness" is to apply to every agricultural district, then we could be hauled into a further argument because of the argument of my hon. Friend about Glasgow, where it would be possible to get a higher subsidy.

Major Niall Macpherson

Surely the Minister will agree that there are other parts which are quite as remote as those indicated.

Mr. Buchanan

That may be. The thing is that it is the burden on them that matters. If the Amendment stood we would have to carry agricultural communities that are next door to Glasgow, but with nothing like the same rating problem. We have to define remoteness in some form or another. It is always difficult to come to adefinition. On the whole, I think we work this fairly decently. This is meant as some contribution to the communities that are worst hit. We administer it fairly well, to give the maximum benefit to the communities that really are remote. As regards the point raised by the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) about flats, I have nothing much to add on that matter. The hon. Member raised a point about the Financial Resolution. May I say to him I have studied this a lot myself and felt aggrieved. He will have to battle, as I had to battle, to get reforms and to get Governments to agree to different methods. However, that is not my pigeon. I cannot control the working of the financial machine. I have got to accept the facts, and work with in them. I can only offer him this consolation. If he is to get his point of view raised, it will cost him a good deal of diligent hard work in the party machine. On the other point raised —

Mr. McAllister rose

Mr. Buchanan

No, I cannot give way. The hon. Gentleman is always interrupting.

Mr. McAllister

May I ask the protection of the Chair from offensive remarks?

Mr. Buchanan

I am sorry I said that. The hon. Gentleman is far too touchy.

Mr. McAllister

I have endeavoured twice to intervene with the Joint Undersecretary. I have attempted to do it with courtesy, andpoliteness, and to put my point of view reasonably. I gave way previously because of the offensiveness of the Under-Secretary, and I am not accepting it a second time. Would the Under-Secretary care to define the financial implications of the Financial Resolution which says to the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, "If you are building on expensive sites, then you must build flats, and you may not build houses "?

Mr. Buchanan

On the point about giving way, I gave way to the hon. Member and he abused my courtesy by taking much longer than a decent ordinary interruption required. He will have to learn in this House. I will take all that is coming to me from him. He must start to learn to take a little from, other people. I will take all, and a bit more, and not grumble. I will just say,with reference to the question he raised, that we take the view that the only thing, that can recoup the cost of these expensive sites, is to build flats. That is our view, and I think it is the view which any clear-thinking persons would take if they applied their mind to the problem.

I will now say aword about the two points raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid). The first point was with regard to the definition of "workingclasses." I do not deny that I would have tried to alter it if I had been free. But the facts are that it is much more difficult legislatively to do it than we thought. It is the term in the main Act, and I could not have altered it without altering the principal Act. That is my difficulty. I do not deny that there is a good deal—some of my hon. Friends say the same—in this term "working class." All I say as Undersecretary of State for Scotland is that it is an immense guidance to the local authorities, that they should have, in every sense, the widest and broadest interpretation of "working class." Most of the local authorities, with rare exceptions, use the term "working class" to make available accommodation to people in the widest sense of that term, and that is the best assurance that I can give.

With regard to the other point, the right hon. and learned Gentleman pressed me for an assurance about private enterprise. Under this Bill, the subsidy is to be reviewed at the end of a particular period. The Secretary of State for Scotland, viewing the situation as a whole, may see it in a different light in the days to come. I cannot say other than that the Secretary of State for Scotland will constantly look at this problem when the opportunity arises. I do not know if there is any other point.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

The mineral subsidies.

Mr. Buchanan

May I say about the mineral subsidies that we agree that is a thing that the Government will have to watch. We must not do things for peoplethat we are not asked to do. The funny thing about the mineral situation was that no local authority asked for the subsidy. We could have got this Bill through without granting it, but we were not criticised until, out of the goodness of our hearts— that is not common to Governments—we gave them a £2 subsidy. At the time we were negotiating with the local authorities, the Coal Nationalisation Bill was not on the stocks. The Bill has not yet passed the Committee stage and has not yet become a working machine. In years to come, when nationalisation goes on, it may be that a different relationship can be forged, but in the meantime we were very anxious to get this subsidy at the beginning. We thought we ought to take the local authoritiesinto it, and we think it is a considerable improvement.

Colonel Hutchison

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the other point which I raised?

Mr. Buchanan

May I say that there is this other question, and I will repeat the formula we have, so that you will understand.

Colonel Hutchison rose

Mr. Buchanan

I do not say this sarcastically. Really, new Members here will learn one day how to take these things. This is the position. The figure for the house is approximately £1,140-£950 for estimating costs, £90 for rates and loans; and other matters like essential work make the cost up to £1,140. Loan charges for 60 years on a 3⅓ basis is £42 6s. Supervision, management—the hon. Gentleman said we were allowing nothing for it— is £6 10s. Owner's rates £7us. It makes a grand total of £56 7s. Estimated annual rent £26, 10s. per week. Annual loss to be assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the local authority over 60 years £30 7s. Exchequer money £23; local rates £7, a total of £30, the only difference being the seven shillings. I have given the figures; there is no mystery about it. I have given the facts freely, and that is all I have to say.

One last point was raised, with which I may deal in a sentence. That is the question about private contractors. I get a lot from private contractors, and from other people as well, but I am not going to discuss over the Floor of the Committee with the hon. Gentleman facts about a particular contractor. I only wish I could get the contractors not so much to carry out the job, but to keep to the times they fix. I cannot argue about a hypothetical contractor whom I have not seen.

11.15 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Were it not for the geniality of the Under-Secretary, who has twice twitted me today, I should not have risen. The Under-Secretary has criticised the hon. and gallant Member for Glasgow Central (Colonel Hutchison), and the hon.Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister), and if I succumb to his geniality, I shall not be the first who has done so. I should like to speak for a moment about the Scottish Special Housing Association which is a subject in which I am interested. It is a unique experiment about which I should like to learn some more. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) had a word for it, but while not understanding the weird mysticism of the hon. Member for the Hebrides, I should like to draw attention to the actual provision of Clauses 12 and 13 and to suggest that there are grounds for some anxiety.

This Scottish Special Housing Association is a unique quadruped, and something new in the zoology of politics. I do not think many of us in Scotland like it a great deal. I am not sure that the Secretary of State was very fond of it, and I do not think the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) liked it at all. It is not at all a happy or fortunate thing. How much money does the Secretary of State propose to let it have? He proposes to make special payments in respect of houses provided by it, but I should like to know how much. The right hon. Gentleman must have some plan, but whether it is of a military or Socialist character I do not know, nor haveI discovered how much money he proposes to pay. How many houses does he propose to allocate to this important agency for house building? Can we hear from him what exactly is his view? He is consulting with builders and other practical men. Can any building organisation really plan well and successfully, when under Clause 14 its operations are to come under review; when the Secretary of State is to make payments, either reduced or otherwise, on new houses provided up to that date? This Association is to undertake under his sole direction and not by popular vote the building of houses.

Even if such an organisation were highly inspired and adequately led, it has only 14 months in front of it; and its work is subject to review, and subject to a review of the payment. Here is a very important long-range policy which requires the assembly of materials, the preparation of sites, the purchase of land, and the organisation of labour. This is to be done by a company which has only recently come into business at all. So far as I know, the company was only within the last four weeks advertising for its general manager. The Undersecretary of State is asking that public funds be given to this fledgling association. It is making a new start, it is looking for a general manager and it is to be in business for only a matter of 14 months when all its works are to come under review. I take it that if it is not successful the loss, if loss there be, will fall not on the ratepayers or the local authority, but will fall entirely on the Government. I know that the Undersecretary is a little anxious about the Scottish Special Housing Association. It is an anxiety which many practical and experienced local government Members of this Committee and people elsewhere share. I raise this point about the lack of tightness in the financial arrangements in connection with this Association not by way of discouragement, but by way, I hope, of encouraging the right hon. Gentleman to look closely and narrowly on this somewhat difficult experiment to which he is committing himself.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.