§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."Before dealing with the provisions of the Bill now before the House, the House will no doubt expect me— and I know my Scottish colleagues in the House will expect me— to refer to the progress so far made with postwar housing in Scotland. A Command Paper was published on 26th February reporting progress of housing in Scotland up to 31st January, 1946. That Paper shows not only global figures for the whole country, but also the figures for the area of each housing authority. It will, therefore, enable hon. Members to watch progress in their own constituencies. It is proposed to publish the figures each month so as to show the position at the end of the preceding month.
1699 No one with any sense of responsibility for the well-being of our people can afford to be satisfied, until the terrible blot of bad housing in Scotland has been removed, and until every family, now without proper accommodation, has been provided with a decent house. I prefer to use the word "home," the word to which we stuck in our Housing Advisory Committee reports. Nor do I seek to claim this afternoon that the progress already made since the war ended is as good as it could possibly be. The switch over from war to peace cannot be effected in a night. The building labour force engaged on housing, although already more than double what it was last July and still increasing, is still far below our prewar building strength. Production in our factories of materials and components is not yet in its full stride. We are still experiencing exasperating bottlenecks which cause delays and hinder the rapid completion of both temporary and permanent housing.
Despite these difficulties— they are many, but we are doing everything possible to remove them— substantial progress has already been made and the tempo is increasing every week. I am proud of the fact that I had something to do as Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with preparatory work during the war, seeking under the powers which were mine, and ably supported and encouraged by the former Secretary of State, to acquire the maximum amount of land we could to enable us to get ahead with the building of houses, as and when peace came. Thanks to that preparatory work during the war, we are well ahead of our immediate needs, both with the approval and acquisition of sites and preparation of site plans. Some local authorities have gone further than others, but, taking the country as a whole, it will not be the lack of land or of approved plans which will hinder progress, and we intend to keep the lead we now have in this respect. The figures are fully detailed in the Command Paper to which I have already referred, and there is no need for me to repeat them here.
A word about temporary housing. The figures in the report, I suggest reflect the difficulties which we have been experiencing. Progress so far possible has been disappointingly slow, due to initial production difficulties — so slow that many local 1700 authorities are labouring under a sense of frustration. The Government aim, how ever, is to press on and get this scheme, which we inherited from our predecessors —
§ Mr. Westwood
That is perfectly true, and then, as now, I was loyal to the Government of which I was a Member. The Government's aim is to press on, and get this scheme, which we inherited from our predecessors, completed as quickly as possible in order to devote our whole resources to permanent housing Scotland is to get about 32,000 temporary houses. When we took office last July, only 14 had been completed and progress was measured by additions of twos and threes each week. At the end of January, 726 had been completed and, on the average, the weekly addition is now over 100. The next monthly report will show that there has been a 60 per cent, increase with over 1,100 temporary houses completed at the end of February. Our efforts to increase production are now beginning to bear fruit, and we can confidently look forward to steadily increasing weekly additions to the rate of output as the year progresses. Indeed, when the aluminium house gets into full production in the late Spring, the difficulties may well be, not as in the past, to find houses to put on the sites which local authorities have prepared, but to have sites prepared fast enough to take the houses coming off the production lines.
The Joint Under-Secretary has recently seen most of the authorities concerned and has pressed on them to complete their site preparation work at the earliest possible date. I appeal to local authorities to forget their disappointments of the past, and to finish their part of this job with the vigour with which they began it.
Now a word about permanent houses. At the end of February tenders had been approved for 20,061 permanent houses of which 8,176 were under construction and 1,618 had been completed. Since we took office our aim has been 1701 to get contracts placed and building started in every local authority district in the country, and we hoped to have tenders approved for 20,000 houses by the end of March. Including prefabricated permanent houses, we achieved this at the end of February instead of at the end of March. We are deliberately approving contracts even though a start cannot be made with all the houses at once. It is better to have housing work ready for the men as they become available out of the Forces and otherwise, than to have men coming back with no work to go to. The actual building of permanent houses should accelerate with the coming of the good building weather, and the quicker we can finish off the temporary housing schemes, the quicker will it be possible to make more rapid progress with permanent houses. In the meantime, to ease the demands on men and materials required for traditional building, we are encouraging the building of houses by non-traditional methods. We have already authorised the building of 1,500 Weir steel houses, 1,500 Atholl steel houses, over 400 Orlit concrete houses and 2,500 Swedish timber houses. A total of 1,406 Swedish timber houses has arrived in this country, and these are now being delivered to the local authorities. Other types of prefabricated permanent houses are being considered.
This brings me to the problem of rural housing. Both sides of the House, and all parties in the House, will agree with me when I say that there are as bad slums and relatively as great a shortage of houses in the countryside as in our large cities. So far as I am concerned, and so far as the Joint Under-Secretary, who has been doing good work in dealing with this particular problem, is concerned, we are determined to see that rural needs are not neglected. I have been pressed to restore the assistance made available under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, on the ground that so much has been done under those Acts for the reconstruction and improvement of rural cottages. It has been suggested in more quarters than one, that we in Scotland were merely dragged at the tail of England, when we agreed not to continue the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. I can assure the House that such is not the case. The Acts had been in operation for 13 years before the war. In the minds of some of us there was the thought that there had been 1702 ample opportunity to complete what could have been done, if any good could have been done, under those Acts. But it is part of the Government's policy to reduce to the minimum "tied" houses in our countryside. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] I will give the reasons. There will be plenty of time for hon. Members to put their questions when they make their speeches, and any point I omit will be dealt with by the Joint Under-Secretary in his reply. It is, I say, the policy of the Government to reduce to the minimum the number of "tied" houses, and instead of having isolated "tied" houses, in our countryside, to try to build up village community life. Whilst we take that line, we admit that there are cases in which a "tied" house may be necessary. I will deal with that before I conclude my speech.
I wish to assure the House, particularly my Scottish colleagues on both sides, that when we agreed not to continue the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, our decision was based upon recommendations made, not by English committees, not by Welsh committees, not even by United Kingdom committees, or Labour committees, not even by committees I had appointed, or which the late Secretary of State had appointed. It was based upon the recommendations made by the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee— a committee not appointed by a Labour or Socialist Secretary of State. I will give a quotation from the Committee's report, in which it is revealed:
"That in the parishes surveyed only slightly more than half of the dwellings reconstructed or improved with assistance under the Acts have been satisfactorily reconstructed. If the conditions revealed by this report are applicable to the rest of Scotland— and we have no reason to believe that the parishes are exceptional— there has been a grave waste of public money in the administration of the Acts. In view of this, and since the Acts have already been in operation for a period of 10 years—"
§ that is when the Committee was reporting—
"during which owners have had ample opportunity to avail themselves of their benefits, we have considerable hesitation in recommending any extension of the Acts. We are impressed, however, by the very large number of dwellings in rural Scotland which are defective and which could be reconstructed or improved, and in order to give every encouragement to the improvement of rural housing conditions we recommend an extension of the Acts. We do so, however, on two conditions. First, the necessary changes in administration must be made to secure that 1703 the waste of money which has taken place under these Acts in the past shall not continue. Secondly, the extension should be for a limited period only."
§ In paragraph 55 of the report the Committee recommended changes in administration, namely, that, with regard to the period for which the Acts should be extended, county councils should be empowered to receive applications for assistance for two years after the passing of legislation extending the Acts and that, unless in exceptional circumstances, all works covered by such applications should be completed within five years of the passing of such legislation. The Committee added:
"We desire to make it quite clear that we are definitely opposed to any extension of the Acts beyond these periods."
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Will the Secretary of State remind the House of the date of that report?
§ Mr. Westwood
Too often the work done under these Acts has been of a makeshift character, and has left the cottages fundamentally little better than they were before. A property cannot be reconstructed and made damp-proof if there is no damp course. The policy of this Government is not to reconstruct "tied" houses but to build new houses, to enable the rural worker to have the same standard of housing and of comfort as is provided in our towns and industrial centres. I have a committee which is to report on the modernisation of existing properties. Exactly what that report will be I do not know. I am now awaiting it. Whatever is contained in it will apply equally to rural districts.
I am more concerned to build new houses in rural areas, than to patch up old ones. That is why tenders for 1,916 new traditional houses have already been approved in 22 out of the 33 counties in Scotland. That is why 500 out of the 1704 2,500 Swedish timber houses are to be built in rural areas. That is why we are now formulating a new scheme for the building of 1,500 partially prefabricated houses of the Airey concrete type, for occupation mainly by agricultural workers. Under this scheme the Ministry of Works are arranging for the production, at suitable centres, of supplies of concrete blocks. Local authority contractors will draw their supplies from "these centres. Alternative designs have already been drawn for the houses, and we shall shortly be inviting county councils to tell us how many they want, and to make surveys to determine where they are to be built.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
Can the Secretary of State say where the Swedish houses are going up in Scotland?
§ Mr. Westwood
I cannot. If a Question is put down, I will see that information is given. They have already been allocated.
I now come to the provisions of the Bill. Local authorities could not be expected to put their full weight into the housings drive, without knowing what subsidies are to be paid from the Exchequer, and what contributions they will be asked to make from the rates. The Bill gives the answer to this question. It contains the most comprehensive series of subsidy provisions for local authority housing in Scotland ever submitted for the approval of Parliament.
It is not confined, as previous Measures. In recent years have been, to the financing of slum clearance, and de-crowding operations. It covers the housing of all sections of the working population. For this purpose, it not only proposes to continue and substantially increase all the subsidies made available under the two Acts passed in 1938, but also introduces certain new additional subsidies. The new rates are to be paid retrospectively for houses com-pleted on or after 8th March, 1944, which was the date of the first statement of policy on postwar housing. They will be available for houses completed by 30th June, 1947. The increases in the existing Exchequer and rate contributions, covered by Clauses 1 to 6, are summarised in a table in the Explanatory Memorandum attached to the Bill. These increases were inevitable because prices have more than doubled since 1938. We 1705 are satisfied—when I say "We," I mean the Government—that the new rates are adequate to meet these increased prices. Incidentally, the three associations of local authorities, who have been consulted, have accepted them.
To illustrate the extent of the increase in the case of the ordinary housing subsidies, I need only mention the rates proposed for the house of four apartments, that is, a living room and three bedrooms. That is likely to be the typical house of the postwar period. For this house, the Exchequer contributions are increased from £ 11 15s.per annum for 40 years, to £ 23 per annum for 60 years, while the corresponding increase from the rates is from £ 4 15s.to £ 7. On top of the basic rates, we are continuing the additional assistance hitherto available for houses built in redevelopment areas, and on expensive central sites. Instead of the existing maximum addition of £ 15 for 40 years for this purpose, we are providing a maximum of £ 20 for 60 years. Similarly, we are continuing the extra assistance available to local authorities for houses which are built in remote areas, where costs are high. I am sure hon. Members who represent rural constituencies will agree with me that there are factors which jump up the cost, particularly in our remote rural areas. There might even be questions of high transport charges, and the rents which it is possible to obtain in these very remote areas are low. In this case, the Bill, as in the case of the Act of 1938, applies no upper limit to the amount of the Exchequer subsidy which will be determined according to the circumstances in each particular case, and no additional contribution will be payable from the rates.
For the housing of the agricultural population, corresponding increased subsidies are proposed. Here we have to take into account, as Clause 3 provides, not only the cost of the houses, which is usually higher than in the town, but the special difficulties of low rent, and the financial burden of the local authorities. Again, the Exchequer subsidies will be fixed, according to the individual circumstances, between a range of £ 21 10s.and £35 Per annum for 60 years. If there are substantial additional costs which may be incurred because of transport charges in remote areas, even the figure of £35 may be exceeded, with Treasury sanction. 1706 Against all this, the local authority will be expected to contribute only £ 6 10s. per house per annum. I suggest that I am entitled to claim that, besides being adequate, these Exchequer subsidies are generous. Whereas the Exchequer subsidies fixed in 1938 were, on the average, two and a half times the rate contributions, those proposed in this Bill are more than three times. This represents a concession to local authorities during the present period of exceptionally high prices, but these exceptional conditions must be removed as quickly as possible. I wish to make it clear that the contributions now proposed— this applies to the rate contributions as well as the Exchequer contributions— are maxima, and it is the intention of the Government that they shall be reduced it the earliest opportunity.
For this reason, Clause 14 of the Bill provides for a review of all the contributions payable under the Bill immediately after the beginning of December next, when I shall consider whether I can make an Order, the draft of which is to be laid before this House, providing for the reduction of the contributions for houses completed after a date to be named in the Order, not being earlier than the 30th June, 1947. I propose to open negotiations on the subject with the associations of local authorities later in the year with this object in view. In the meantime, I look to local authorities to drive ahead with their building as fast as possible. In addition to these basic contributions, the Bill introduces five new subsidies to meet special circumstances.
I am no great advocate of tenements, but there are cases where tenements require to be built. That will be a matter for the local authority. As a result of an inquiry carried out by the Housing Advisory Committee, we find that nine out of every ten people prefer the cottage to the "flatted" type of house, but there are circumstances where a case can be made out for, as we term them in the Bill, tenements. We carried through a recommendation, again made by the Housing Advisory Committee, that where there were to be flats or tenements, if they were more than three storeys high, they ought to be provided with lifts. We make an additional contribution of £ 7 per annum for 60 years, for houses built in blocks of at least four storeys, where lifts are 1707 provided. The provision of lifts, which would be a boon to all classes of tenants, was recommended, as I have already pointed out, by the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, of which at that time I was chairman.
The second new subsidy is the mining subsidence subsidy, in Clause 5. This is an additional contribution of £ 2 per dwelling for houses provided in mining areas where the local authority is obliged either to buy mineral support, or incur expenditure on safety measures, to protect the houses from the risk of subsidence. As an old local authority man in a mining county, I know full well that this gesture will be welcomed by local authorities, who have hitherto had to bear this additional burden unaided.
§ Mr. Westwood
There have been many people at this Box before me, and the problem was the same then as I see it today, yet none of them seem to have thought of providing the subsidy which I am suggesting. Incidentally, I may point out that the local authorities themselves never asked us for this, but we had here people who had been affected by this as housing administrators, and they thought of it, and it is in the Bill.
The third subsidy is that provided for in Clause 7, which will enable me to fix a special rate of subsidy for a small number of houses built during the war on a rising market for the accommodation of transferred war workers. The Government Departments at whose instance the houses were built contributed towards the annual charges but now that the houses are becoming available for the general population these contributions will cease and a sufficient subsidy must be paid to enable the authorities to let the houses at rents comparable with those of other houses in the district. The effect of the Clause is to enable me to pay subsidies according to the circumstances of each case at a point between the 1938 level which would be too low, and the level of the new subsidies, which would be more than is necessary.
The fourth new subsidy, in Clause 8, makes assistance available where this is required in connection with the conversion of army huts into temporary housing 1708 accommodation. Broadly, the Clause assimilates for this purpose the financial arrangements agreed in 1944 for the temporary housing scheme.
The fifth new subsidy is provided for in Clause 15, which relates to houses built under approved proposals by non-traditional methods of construction, when the cost is substantially higher than that of traditional houses. I am sure that, when winding-up, the Joint Undersecretary will give a case in point, in which the costs may be higher than those of traditional houses, and we want to try to meet these particular cases when we are dealing with this non-traditional type, almost in its experimental stage. It is likely that the cost will be substantially higher than that of the traditional type of houses, and it is likely to be so in the initial stages of development, since it is expected that, when these methods have established themselves on a large scale of production, the cost will compare with that of other types of houses. We contemplate the use of alternative methods to minimise demands on traditional types of labour and materials, especially where these are in short supply, and the object of the new subsidy is to keep the cost to the local authorities down approximately to the cost of similar traditional houses in the district.
The Bill provides for one more increased subsidy. I adhere to the view that the main emphasis of policy should be placed on the building of houses by local authorities to be let at reasonable rents, and the Bill does not contain any proposals for subsidising private enterprise generally. Unassisted private building is, however, not precluded and we recently authorised local authorities to afford some easement of the licensing condition that the selling price of privately-built houses should not exceed £ 1,200 by allowing this figure to be exceeded where the cost of land to the builders is high or where building costs are heavy because of the remoteness of the sites from centres of supply of labour and materials. But, apart from this general attitude, Clause 9 of the Bill deals with a special case. It increases the assistance available to private persons under the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938, for the replacement of unsatisfactory houses occupied by agricultural workers and others, 1709 in circumstance where it is not practicable for the local authority to provide accommodation in the ordinary way. The extent of the increase is from £ 160 to £ 240 for a three-roomed house, and from £ 200 to £ 300 for larger houses. This will enable agricultural housing to be improved without, however, multiplying the number of tied houses in the countryside.
I come now to the provisions of Clauses 12 and 13, which deal with the Scottish Special Housing Association. At present, the Association receives payments from the Exchequer equivalent to the sum of the Exchequer and rate contributions payable to local authorities for the building of houses in what are called the districts of greatest need. In this way, the authorities will be assisted in the solution of their housing problem without having to make a contribution from the rates. Clause 12 extends to the Association the increased contributions payable for local authority housing under the Bill. Clause makes additional loans available for an extension of the scope of the Association's work. For this purpose, the Association is being reorganised to in clude the appointment of a whole-time chairman with drive and organising capacity, and the whole set-up is to be strengthened. In particular a strong direct labour organisation is to be established, which will be based on two or three of the large cities to serve the surrounding districts. As so reorganised, the Association will undertake house building, not merely in the districts of greatest need as at present, but in any part of Scotland where this appears necessary or desirable. But, whereas the houses which the Association will build with Exchequer grants and loans in the districts of greatest need, will be their own property, the houses which they will build else where under the proposed extended arrangements will be built by them as contractors for the local authority and will remain the property of the local authority.
For example, the Association will be available to build as contractors for the local authority where the authority cannot obtain satisfactory tenders, either because the tenders received are too high or because they show evidence of a price ring. The Association will be available to build where it is difficult to get tenders at all or 1710 where, because of shortage of labour, the local authority find it impossible to make satisfactory progress. Such difficulties frequently arise in rural and remote areas. The Association will also be available to build as contractors for the Secretary of State, in any case where a local authority may default in the exercising of their housing powers and it becomes necessary to build houses for them. In all such cases, the cost of the houses would ultimately be borne by the local authority so that no local authority should think that they are going to get out of their responsibilities because of this new power, that they can ask for the Special Housing Association. The Association will be required to be financed for carrying out the work. Hence the provision of loans in Clause 13. I take this opportunity of expressing my thanks publicly to Sir Garnet Wilson, who, until recently gave his services as chairman of the Association on a part-time basis and to his colleagues on the Association, including two hon. Members of this House, for the help they afforded me in the early development of the Association's postwar work.
The Bill contains other financial proposals of a minor character, on which I need not enlarge this afternoon. It also proposes in Clause 18 to enable county councils, like town councils, to build outside their districts, while Clause 19 contains certain provisions adopted in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1945, in connection with the disposal of land by local authorities for the erection of church buildings.
In conclusion, I would say that under the Housing Acts which we seek to administer, and the financial provisions, for which we are now asking powers, it is possible for our local authorities to plan their housing schemes in such a way that they can provide for the aged, for the single woman and for practically all types of the population. This can be done by wise planning, and by the building of this better type of houses, because we are not going to lower the standard of housing. The main thing that we have in mind, so far as equipment is concerned, is to see that, instead of being a house of drudgery, it becomes a home of pleasure so far as the womenfolk are concerned. With the better equipment, with the better standard of housing, with the better financial arrangements we are making, 1711 and, with all pulling together, I am sure that within a very limited period we could solve Scotland's housing problem, and make our country a happier and healthier place than we know it to be at the present time.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I point out to him that he said he was going to refer again to tied houses later in his speech? He referred to them originally, but he did not come back to the subject.
§ Mr. Westwood
I certainly did. If any one reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that I pointed out that, so far as one type of tied house was concerned, we were increasing the subsidy for a three-roomed house from £ 160 to £ 240, and for a larger house from £ 200 to £ 300.
§ Major McCallum
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government's policy was to do away with the tied house. Does not he realise that if he does away with the tied house —
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I am sure we all hope that the last sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's speech will come true, but we must take a realistic view of this matter. We must start from the point that Scotland requires 500,000 new houses, and one of the main purposes of this discussion seems to me to be to elucidate how far this Bill is going to take us along the road towards achieving that great purpose. Money alone does not build houses. This is a financial Bill, and money is not the limiting factor in our housing programme. Therefore, I think I must necessarily follow the right hon. Gentleman in a little morn detail into the question of what is the limiting factor at the present moment.
As I see it, there are four factors in addition to money which we have to bear in mind. They are labour, building materials, land and organisation. I agree with the right hon Gentleman that land is not the limiting factor. Already we have 170,000 sites approved. I have heard of no single instance of any local authority being held up in its housing 1712 programme because of lack of land, and I cannot see how they could be if they had reasonable foresight. Moreover, the price of land is not really material, because it has been made clear, time and time again, that the price of land does not add more than a very few pence to the weekly rent. Therefore, we may pass from that subject. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that labour was still a limiting factor. I very much doubt that, but, if it is so, perhaps the Joint Undersecretary will explain the provision. I have read the figures which have been published. I welcome their monthly publication, and I think the last report went a long way towards telling us what has happened. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has not full responsibility for the whole of the housing programme— in particular, the production of materials. There is a gap there, as I shall show in a moment.
As to labour, the report says that we have already, approximately, half our prewar labour force in Scotland. We have 10,800 men actually erecting houses, as against 23,000 prewar. If we take the building industry as a whole, we have, as against a prewar figure of 106,000, 31,000 plus a share of the 250,000 unallocated in the English return. Therefore, it remains true that we have, approximately, half our prewar force of labour. But we are getting only one quarter of our prewar output of houses, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us something about that. I know that we cannot make very adequate comparisons, because the winter is not a good time for the output of houses, but it seems to me to be a little odd, that we have not progressed more quickly in the course of the last six months. In January, there were only 421 houses completed, including the temporary houses. That means that less than 5,000 a year are being completed with half the prewar labour force. During the war, we kept up an average of 6,000 houses a year, and we have not yet reached the wartime average of production. There are explanations, no doubt, but I think, we ought to have them.
Now I come to building materials. I thought the right hon. Gentleman skated over this point very quickly. He simply told us that there were exasperating bottlenecks and left it at that. If this is the limiting factor, then I think we are 1713 entitled to a little more information on that question. Let me take the matter of bricks. The only information I have on this matter is from the Statistical Digest. I find that whereas the prewar output was 610 million bricks per month in the United Kingdom, that figure dwindled during the war to about 100 millions, and by December, 1945, it had only risen to 114 millions. That is less than one-fifth of the prewar output of bricks. We cannot start building permanent houses until we have the bricks, and I think we want some explanation of why this component is coming forward so slowly. We have some information about bricks, but we have no information at all about other components or about how many houses can be equipped with all the other things that go to make a house— timber, castings, and fitments of all kinds. We ought to have some indication from the Government about the output of all these components, because the housing programme of the country depends on them. We cannot get houses without them.
I come to the fourth head which I mentioned— organisation. From experience in the past, I do not believe we can get enough houses in Scotland if the production of houses is limited to local authorities, with a few from the Scottish Housing Association, and a very few from free enterprise. I do not believe it can be done, and I do not believe that, at the moment, local authorities are organising an adequate programme. We were given a figure which I had a little difficulty in equating with the published returns about tenders. I rather thought it meant that an extra 2,200 had been approved in February, but I may be wrong. At least, there were only 9,000 approved in the six months after the war, according to the returns. If we subtract those which had been approved before July, from the total approved by January, we get 9,000.
It is difficult to separate the figures for Scotland, but I did think it worth while looking at those for Glasgow. I find the position there alarming, and I hope the hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to give us some reassurance on this matter. In Glasgow, only 803 tenders have been approved, and the great majority— all except 64— were in respect of direct labour. Therefore, we have this position: There are only 27 1714 licences issued to private builders, so that less than 100 houses in a city of over a million inhabitants, are to be built by contractors, according to present arrangements. Can anybody say that that represents adequate use of all available building organisation? I know the rest of Scotland is not so bad, but that seems to me a most glaring example of what this will lead to, if we limit ourselves to the local authorities, and then, so far as possible, the local authorities limit themselves to direct labour. I was a little disturbed— and I hope we hear more about this— by the proposals for direct labour by the Scottish Housing Association. I think in due course, when we come to the Committee stage, we shall want to know a good deal more about those arrangements.
I said a few moments ago that I thought the output of houses was disappointing, looking at the labour force available. I give one other figure in that respect. Out of 3,832 houses which were under construction when this Government came into office, only 900, or less than a quarter, had been completed in the course of the next six months. If I understand aright the figures given this afternoon, less than another 100 have been completed in February, but I had some difficulty in following the right hon. Gentleman. That brings me to the first of the crucial problems which we are considering in this Bill— how many houses are we going to get in the next year or more? Turning to the Financial Memorandum, I find two statements which are valuable, but which do not disclose very much. I think we should insist on these statements being amplified. In paragraph 8 I find an estimate of £ 1,500,000 in respect of houses constructed by special methods up to 31st March, 1947. Obviously, that figure of cost must be based on a number of houses, and we ought to have that number. Similarly, when I turn to paragraph 10, I find £ 350.000 of additional subsidy. That, again, must be based upon a number of houses. Surely we ought to be given the numbers as well as the cost. I emphatically ask the hon. Gentleman to give us those numbers when he comes to reply. If he does not, I shall strongly suspect that he is afraid to give them, because they would compare so unfavourably with the programme which our party put forward.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
I will take anything from the right hon. and learned Gentleman except a charge of cowardice. I have been in this House longer than he has, and my record of courage will compare with his at any time. I am not taking a charge of cowardice, even from him.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
Let the hon. Gentleman give the figures then.
§ Mr. Reid
I was perfectly fair. I said to the hon. Gentleman that I would give him an opportunity before I made any charge. I asked him to produce the figures, and then I said, "If he does not I shall then accuse him of political cowardice." We shall see what happens. Looking at the way in which his English colleague has consistently fenced on this question, I thought it would only be fair to the hon. Gentleman —
§ Mr. Reid
— to put the point to the hon. Gentleman as emphatically as I could, because I did not want to be accused afterwards of not having put this in the forefront of my speech, so that the hon. Gentleman might say, "I did not think it was essential to reply on that point." If he replies to it, no charge will be made, but if he does not, I shall make that charge. I shall keep that in reserve for what I consider to be an appropriate time.
The right hon. Gentleman skated over the question of cost, which is the gist of this Bill. He was extremely guarded. He told us he thought the subsidy was generous. How can one estimate whether a subsidy is generous unless one knows what a house will cost?
§ Mr. Westwood
We do know what the costs are at present. These subsidies are based on existing costs.
§ Mr. Westwood
It would be impossible in an intervention of this kind to give them. The costs are, approximately, £ 1,200 a house.
§ Mr. Reid
Then I ask, is this subsidy really adequate? Let me refer to the figures, and I hope the hon. Gentleman, the Joint Under-Secretary, will be able to reassure us on this point. The subsidy amounted to £ 30— £ 23 plus £ 730— for a four-roomed house. Let me take the Glasgow figures. A figure of 10s a week has been suggested for rent. I cannot see any possibility of the accounts balancing, if rent is only 10s a week, and, therefore, I take 12s, to be on the safe side. If we take 12s a week, and deduct owners' rates, which amount to more than 4s, we find that the income to the housing account is about £ 20 a year, and if the rent is only 10s the income is considerably less than that, so that the total gross income will not exceed £ 50 a year. I notice that Clause 17 proposes to set aside only £ 4 for maintenance. With postwar prices, that seems to me to be an extremely low figure, and we shall raise that point when we reach the Committee stage. We have no estimate of management and other charges of that kind. I hope we shall have one. We are to be left with something more like £ 40 than £ 45 with which to pay the annual charges. I ask the hon. Gentleman at what price money is to be lent to the local authorities, and what will be the annual charge on £ 1,200. I think we ought to have that information in order to see whether the local authorities' account will balance with this subsidy, or whether there will still be a deficit which must be met out of the rates, in addition to the figure mentioned in the Bill. I hope the hon. Gentleman will tell us what are the annual charges for interest and sinking fund on the price of a house.
I said a moment ago that I doubted whether this subsidy was sufficient to make the local authorities' accounts balance, at least in areas where rates are high. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the subsidy is immensely greater than anything we have ever seen before; it is far more than the rent. Even if we propose to rehouse only a comparatively small section of the community by such a subsidy, the position would be disturbing. But the right hon. Gentleman tells us that, with this subsidy, he wants to rehouse all sections of the working population; that is to say, about 99 per cent, of the country. If we have to rehouse everybody who works, at this expense, then it seems to me the position 1717 becomes alarming. Therefore, I ask: Is it necessary that the whole work of rehousing in Scotland should be done by the local authorities? At the moment it is necessary in high rated areas, because in high rated areas free enterprise cannot operate. We saw that before the war when Edinburgh, which is a low rated area, was able to build two and a half times as many houses as Glasgow, per hundred of the population, at less cost to the community, because in Edinburgh it was possible to operate free enterprise on a large scale whereas in Glasgow it was impossible.
§ Mr. Reid
Accordingly, one must turn to what seems to me to be the main obstacle in the way of a proper housing development, namely, local rates. This, to my mind, is very near the heart of the problem. Let me take again the position in Glasgow, and let me take the rent of I2s a week which I suggested would have to be charged. If we add occupier's rates— another 6s — a tenant will have to pay 18s a week, or £ 46 a year. Of that £ 46 a year which the tenant pays in rent and rates, only £ 20 will reach the housing account, and £ 26 will be drawn off for rates. Did anybody ever hear such a crazy position: a tax of 130 per cent, on a prime necessity of life? Having a tax of that magnitude, is it surprising that housing in Glasgow is as dreadful as it is today? If there were no rates, the sum payable by the tenant, £ 46 a year, would just about pay for the house without any subsidy at all. It may be said, therefore, that the need for the subsidy is caused almost entirely by the presence of rates, and that the enormous subsidy is caused by the enormous height of the rates. It seems to me that there is a strong financial incentive to the Government to tackle this rate problem urgently and immediately.
As the rates are reduced, so the subsidy under this Bill can be reduced, and so the charge on the Exchequer can be reduced. The rates may be reduced at cost to the Exchequer, but a great deal of it will be made up by reduction of the subsidy. I apprehend it would be out of Order, in this Debate, to discuss methods of reducing the rates. Perhaps I may go so far as this. I recognise that 1718 drastic reduction of rates may entail changes in the structure of local government. If so, I do not shrink from that, because I regard it as essential that this rating position should be tackled, and tackled in a drastic way.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want it tackled the right way.
§ Mr. Gallacher
So am I. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to tackle it the right way, namely, by liquidating the heavy interest which the local authorities have to pay to moneylenders? That is the right way to tackle it.
§ Mr. Gilzean (Edinburgh, Central)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman compare Edinburgh and Glasgow on the basis of pressure per head of the population, rather than on the basis of the comparative figures of the rates of one city and the other?
§ Mr. Gilzean
It can best be explained this way. In Edinburgh there is a rate of approximately 8s. 3d. In Glasgow— I speak without authority— it might be about 17s. The comparative pressure per head is, Glasgow £ 7 is. and Edinburgh £ 5 15s.
§ Mr. Reid
My impression is that the disparity is greater than that, and that in Glasgow, the average inhabitant pays about 60 per cent, more in rates than he would pay in Edinburgh. Whether it is 50 per cent., or 60 per cent, is completely immaterial for present purposes. It is very large. I said before, I do not believe that the local authorities can make full use of all the building skill and all the building labour available in Scotland. In order that the rest may be properly 1719 used, it appears to me two other lines of approach must be pursued, if not immediately then in the near future. These are, the building of new houses by free enterprise, and the conversion and reconditioning of existing houses. If rates are not drastically reduced, these things cannot be done without subsidies. Therefore, this Bill ought to contain provision for subsidies for those two matters. I should not have objected if the right hon. Gentleman had said, "We cannot operate this full programme immediately," but I think he ought to have held out some prospect of a widening programme as time goes on. If he does not, then I do not think he will ever solve his problem.
Why should we not have subsidies for the private builder? We will get more houses if we do that, and get them cheaply. It is quite clear that a less subsidy will do for the private builder than for a local authority. That is quite clear. It is recommended, in the paper which was produced recently by the right hon. Gentleman on the production of houses for owner-occupation in Scotland. There really is not any fear of profiteering. We have rent control, and we can easily have price control. I do not see why we cannot build for sale. I know there is an idea that we must build only to let, but do hon. Members realise that if we build a house for sale, the man who goes into it, comes out of a let house and there will be an extra house to let, just the same?
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
Surely that is not always the case. The man who goes into that house might come from a sub-let, and there may be, in that very village or town someone who is very much worse off than he is, as far as housing conditions are concerned. In my opinion, such a person should be allowed to get the house first.
§ Mr. Reid
To some extent I agree with the hon. Lady that local authorities ought to build a very considerable proportion of our houses, and I agree that those houses ought to be available for the people who need them most. But if we are to make full use of our labour and materials, we cannot afford to limit ourselves to one method, and I think there is room for a considerable development of other methods at the same time. One 1720 of them seems to be building by private enterprise.
§ Mr. Reid
There are all kinds of ways of doing it. Some people are able to finance building directly, others deal with building societies, and there are also a certain number of non-profit-earning societies who would be only too glad to build houses, with the subsidy, to let to persons in whom they are interested. There are many different lines of approach. I think the building society is a very good thing, and might be encouraged very considerably.
§ Mr. Reid
Because that will be an extremely costly method. If my deductions from progress in the last six months and progress before the war are right, local authorities do not, in fact, get ahead as fast as free enterprise. I do not want to take too long, but there is one other matter I wish to raise, namely, reconditioning. I shall leave the whole of the agricultural side of this question to others, because I cannot trespass too far on the time of the House. But let us remember that reconditioning and conversion are not only agricultural problems. A great many people are living in old-fashioned, inconvenient houses in the cities, and somebody must go on living in those houses for a very long time to come, until enough new ones are put up. Is it fair to the people who must go on living in those houses that, with all these enormous subsidies for new houses, nothing is to be done for them? You can get good houses very much more cheaply by reconditioning many of those old houses, than by putting up new ones, and it seems to me that the result of the Government's policy of setting their face against any assistance to private enterprise is not to damage the landlords but to damage the people who have to live in the landlords' houses. I hope the right hon. Gentleman in course of time will come to realise that.
As I said, I do not propose to deal with the agricultural side of the question, and I limit myself to this comment. I 1721 think that this Bill does even less for agricultural housing than it does for urban housing. I do not say that the Bill has no good points. It has some that are fairly good and could be improved, but it has some bad ones. We shall want to examine the financial aspect of the Bill a little more narrowly when we come to the Financial Resolution this evening, and we shall want to examine other parts of the Bill very closely indeed in Committee.
There is one matter, however, to which 1 should like to devote a few minutes now, and that is Clause 2. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to take credit to himself for having increased the contribution from the rates, which are already beyond danger point. Why is it that in England, where the ratepayer is, generally, very much better off than he is inScotland, because the rates are not nearly as high, the ratepayer is only paying £ 5 10s whereas in Scotland he is being called upon to pay £6 10s or £7 10s.? In our view, there is no justification whatever for that. It is impossible to go on overloading the rates like that. A subsidy payable from the rates means that those who are unlucky and do not get new houses, and who are no better off financially than those who do get them, will have to subsidise their lucky neighbours who get the new houses. I cannot see any justification for that. There was a time when a subsidy from the rates was perfectly justified, when the rehousing done by means of that subsidy was the rehousing of the poorer section of the community, but, now that we are to rehouse the whole community, the case for a subsidy from the rates goes. I do not say it should be abolished all at once, but I do say that there is no justification for increasing the subsidy from the Scottish ratepayer beyond the figure which the English ratepayer has to pay, and we shall raise that matter in Committee.
I come now to my general attitude towards the Bill. I recognise that the position in Scotland is very different from the position in England. Not only is our housing situation much worse than it is in England, but there are underlying obstacles to progress in Scotland which either do not exist, or exist to a much less degree, in England. I mention only two. I have dealt with rating, which seems to me to be fundamental, and there
1722 is one other matter about which I would ask the hon. Gentleman to say a word. We were told by a committee of which the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) was a member, before the war, that, faced with a programme of 20,000 or 25,000 houses a year, the Scottish building industry was overloaded.
If we want very nearly double— and we shall very nearly have to double our prewar output— I would like to know what progress is being made in the expansion of the Scottish building industry, because very great expansion will be necessary. I agree that obstacles of that kind will prevent the full development of a proper housing policy for some little time to come, and I realise that local authority housing must come first, and I do not feel, therefore, that we should vote against this Bill, although I think it can and should be considerably improved. I regard this Bill only as a stopgap, until the Government are able to tackle these fundamental underlying difficulties and smooth the way towards a proper expanded programme.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take his own line on this question, and not be tied too closely to the ideas of his rather headstrong colleague in England. I think he can afford to say that the Scottish position is different from the English position and needs different remedies. I have not yet given up hope that the right hon. Gentleman will broaden his policy— I hesitate to say broaden his ideas— and I hope that we shall not find it necessary to take up an unco-operative attitude. We ought all to try to co-operate in improving housing in Scotland, and I think we on this side of the House have done our best to co-operate with the right hon. Gentleman and with the Joint Under-Secretary during the last six or eight months. I do not want to bring a question of vital national importance of this kind down to political disputation, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not, on ideological grounds, shut his mind to any method which is calculated to produce houses and, preferably, to produce them quickly and cheaply. With that hope in my mind I repeat that I regard this Bill as a stopgap, a comparatively short step on the road to progress, and on that footing, while I am not at all enamoured of it, I feel that we ought not to vote against it.
§ 4.40 p.m
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
I must say I am somewhat bewildered at the trend of the Debate. The speech which we have just heard seems to me rather like Satan reproving sin. I happen to be the unfortunate fellow who inherited the legacy left in Glasgow by the political supporters of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid) who, in 1933, declared that the housing problem was solved with the exception of slum clearance. When, in the city of Glasgow, there was land sufficient for less than 2,000 houses and there was a reduction in the housing staff, he said the problem was solved. That attitude was supported in this House by the then Government, who proceeded to withdraw the Wheatley Act subsidy and struck a blow at housing development in Scotland from which it has never recovered. There was the spurious thing known as the 1933 Act, under which it was supposed we could reduce the subsidy by £ 6 per house and reduce the rents from 10s. a week to 6s., though it was not explained how it was possible. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he should, at least, face the difficulties. He says we are to solve this problem apart from the payment of local rates. He has been riding this hobby horse for quite a long time. If local rates are such a terrible thing in Scotland, why have successive Secretaries of State for Scotland never tackled the problem? [An Hon. Member: "He was Lord Advocate."] Lords Advocate are only advisers to Secretaries of State. Sometimes they give good advice; sometimes they give rather doubtful advice.
Another hobby horse of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that of recon ditioning. I sat for months on the Whit-son Committee, and listened to witnesses being cross-examined at a time when the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead was not a Member of this House
§ Mr. McKinlay
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman advocates re- 1724 conditioning at this time, he can advocate no more wasteful method of housing the people. I am not speaking as a politician now, but as a building trade operative. You can never get a balanced squad in repair and reconditioning. In any case, why should we recondition property belonging to people who make no provision from their revenues for obsolescence? In case anyone suggests that the Rent Restriction Acts were re sponsible, let me say that 70 per cent, of the property in Glasgow was paid for before the last war—
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
May I interrupt for one moment, simply to ask whether the hon. Member refers to rural as well as urban houses?
§ Mr. McKinlay
Like the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead, I am leaving rural housing to others. Some of my hon. Friends on this side will deal with it later. Had I time I could deal with that subject, but we are rationed to 15 minutes each, and I do not want to overstep my limit. But the position of lettable property in Scotland up to 1914, and the financial structure surrounding speculative builders, was that the capital cost was returned to the speculative builder in 14 years— not the speculative builder but the man who bought from him. The speculative builder only let a house. I know speculative builders who built tenements and paid for the slating work by giving tenement houses to the speculative contractor. They were sold, and let on the basis that the purchaser got the return on his investment in 14 years. Any Member of this House who cares to do so can take a census of the property in Glasgow, the great bulk of which was built in the years round about 1886 and prior to then and from then until 14 years before the war. Then came along the Whitson Committee and suggested that the houses should be reconditioned, I am not opposing reconditioning as a practical proposition. It can be done. But I do not see any reason why State money 'should be used for the purpose of enhancing the value of property, when the owners, in the main, make no provision for obsolescence. Those properties were a paying proposition.
I would deal with the comparison which the right hon. and learned Gentleman drew between the prewar labour force and the labour force available at the moment. 1725 Why is it that the strength of the building industry is registered with the Ministry of Labour? Let me make a confession. When I worked at my trade, house building was the last thing in the world to which the craftsman would go. Why? Because private contractors made the conditions so appalling that the tradesman fought shy of building houses, if he could get employment elsewhere. If it is said that there were 120,000 builders in Scotland prior to the war, we should, at least, get the figures of the number of building trade workers actually employed on house building. I have some knowledge of that because I worked in the industry and was an officer of a building trade union. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about the position in Glasgow. I am not satisfied with the position in Glasgow, but please do not blame Glasgow too much. Where is the Minister of Works? [Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] I think it essential that he should be here, because I want to say, without offence to the Minister of Works, who is a good friend of mine, that the sooner his Ministry clears out of Scotland, lock, stock and barrel, as far, at least, as housing is concerned, the better for every one. We have had a legacy handed down to us. I want to ask the Government to get rid of that "phoney'" payment by results scheme, which is in operation, and which, in my submission, has demoralised the building industry. I wonder whether the figures referring to the tenders, mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, are correct.
What is the use of issuing schedules to contractors, asking them to send in a price, having the prices approved by the Department, and then having a claim from the contractor afterwards for delays because he could not get on with his job? You can issue as many schedules as you care, you can get a price schedule from every contractor in Scotland for every housing scheme that is ready to be developed, but that will not produce a single building trade operative more than is available at the moment. I do not believe in a totalitarian system, but frankly, I do not see how it will be possible to get houses built by traditional methods if there is not power to direct the labour force. We were told this was to be a military operation. I do not want to take up all my time in replying to the right hon. and learned Member for Hill- 1726 head, because we have had this out on previous occasions, but I would like to make an observation about this being a military operation.
What is the purpose of the Government reviewing this subsidy in 1947? It has been said that local authorities will say that there is just the danger that the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State will not be Secretary of State in 1947 and that some hardhearted fellow will be in office, and that if they do not gallop against time and get as many houses completed as they can by June, 1947, they will lose the subsidy. I want to say, with all due deference to the Scottish Office, although I can see the clammy hand of the Treasury here, that that is just poppycock. It will have an entirely opposite effect. If I were still convener of housing in Glasgow, I would project a programme which I thought I could complete by 1947— that, and no more. The whole story of housing in this country has been that local authorities have never known from two-year period to two-year period exactly where they stood. It is true that the Joint Undersecretary of State will say that there is no reason why the subsidy should be reviewed in 1947 if the circumstances do not warrant it. I do not think this is a military operation. It is more like a Boy Scouts parade.
Will the Joint Under-Secretary of State explain why it was necessary to fix a deadline? I always understood that the housing revenue account was an instrument that could be used for this purpose. I have always accepted the statement by successive Ministers and their officials that the purpose of the housing revenue account was not to return money to the Government; it was to create a fund which would exhaust itself building houses and more houses, and when the programme was completed, there would be no balance for anything. That was the purpose. Would it not be much better to obliterate that date in June, 1947, and use the housing revenue account for striking the balance, and when we get near to a solution of the problem, even supposing building costs have fallen, the effect will be that any balances in the housing revenue account will go up. Surely there is no reason why the housing revenue account could not have been used for the purpose of an ascertainment. I should be glad to know whether what I have said is wrong, 1727 but I still think I have outlined the simplest method.
Let me give an illustration. When the war broke out, there was in the housing revenue account in Glasgow a surplus on paper— it was not deposited in the account of the Chamberlain— of £ 303,400. It has gone. The Government did not collect it, nobody collected it, but the Glasgow Corporation continued to build during the war, with rising costs. The cost of a house built for £ 450 before the war rose to £ 900, exclusive of services. Those increases had to be met, and the housing revenue account fulfilled its purpose. I do not see why the Government cannot pursue the same policy now. If it is the intention of the Government to get ahead with the housing programme, I am satisfied that the best method is to let the local authorities know where they stand financially until they have broken the back of the problem.
There is one Clause in the Bill on which I want to say a parting word. There is in Clause 19 the following provision:
" Where a local authority in the exercise of any power conferred on them by any enactment in the Housing (Scotland) Acts, 1925 to 1946, dispose of land to any person for the erection of a church or other building for religious worship or buildings ancillary thereto, then, unless the parties otherwise agree, such disposal shall be by way of feu."
§ To my mind, that represents an unwarrantable interference with the prerogative of a local authority. This decision was taken without ascertaining what gave rise to the general resolution— let us be frank; this came from Glasgow, and again was not aimed at the churches— that no lands in the possession of the Corporation would be given on anything other than a lease, and that there should be no sale or feu. The churches have got away with it. I only hope that when they come to get feus for churches and schemes which have to be projected— not schemes already in existence— the Scottish Office will take steps to see that every religious denomination is given the same opportunity— the whole 66 of them. Sixty years afterwards, when Professor Abercrombie's successor comes along and says his planning was all poppycock and it is desired to replan the area, the local authorities will be confronted with compensation claims that will make replanning impossible. However, the Secretary of State, in his wisdom, has given way to pressure.1728
§ He has implemented a promise given, but not disclosed, when the Town and Country Planning Bill was going through the last Parliament. All I can say is that if this Clause is as much use to them as the last one was, they are very welcome to it.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
I was greatly disappointed by the speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He gave us no target figures, and indeed, the only mention of the word "target" was when he told us that the Government had exceeded the target which they had set themselves for permanent houses by the end of March, and that they had built up to that target a month ahead of schedule. Therefore, they have at least one target, and I think the House is entitled to know whether they have other targets, and if so, what they are. I want at the outset to add my humble voice to the powerful plea which was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reed) that the Joint Under-Secretary of State shall clear himself of the charge of political cowardice which will be hanging over his head if he refrains from giving us the Government's target in this housing problem.
It is well that we should take an overall view of the housing requirements of Scotland. In the ten years before 1914, we built an average of 7,000 houses a year in Scotland. At the end of the 1914-18 war we had, roughly speaking, 900,000 workingclass houses in Scotland. In the 20 years between the wars we added 313,000 workingclass houses to that total. In the ten years immediately preceding the outbreak of the 1939 war, we were building houses at the rate of 19,500 a year. We now require 500,000 houses. If we build at the average rate of the ten years preceding 1914, it will take us 70 years to build the number we require. If we build them at the rate of the decade preceding the 1939 war we shall require 25 years before the inhabitants of Scotland can be properly and decently housed. We must do better than that.
What is the labour situation? That is a very important point. Before the war, the number of employed, insured building operatives in Scotland was between 60,000 and 70,000. There were about: 1729 60,000 working in 1939. About 10 or 12 years before, there were about 75,000. Taking the figure of between 60,000 and 70,000 building operatives in Scotland before the war, we find that in January of this year fewer than half of that total were so employed. The labour force of 60,000 produced not more than 20,000 houses a year. I am told that people do not work as hard today as they did before the war and that men lay many fewer bricks than they did then. I hope that is not true, but in so far as it is true, we will need more building operatives now to build the same number of permanent houses as we needed before the last war. It looks to me as though we will need something like treble the figure that we have working upon building operations in Scotland at the present time if we are to achieve anything like the task which we have set ourselves. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us, when he replies to the Debate, what is being done about this matter. What steps are being taken now to encourage and train new entrants to the building industry? What is the labour force that the Government hope to attain, and by what date?l
I rose to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and was happy to do so, chiefly to speak about the problem of rural houses. Because there is a world shortage of food, because our economic situation makes it imperative that we should develop to the utmost possible extent our own natural resources, and because in two wars we have learned our dependance upon the farming industry as a fourth line of defence, we must grow as much food as possible from our own soil. There is no disagreement about that proposition, and there is a broad measure of support for the Government's agricultural policy. We have realised that that policy can only succeed if there is sufficient labour in the countryside to carry it through. Here is the difficulty. There is evidence to show that men who were employed in agriculture before the war are not now returning to the land. Only with difficulty have we been able to grow and gather all the crops that we need, with the aid of land girls, soldiers and prisoners of war. Unless the number of returning men balances the soldiers and the prisoners of war, who will no longer be available after a season or two, we shall not be able to grow and gather food in 1730 the required quantities. Nothing would do more to attract men to the land than the provision of decent houses. In the national interest we must tackle this job quickly and with imagination.
That is exactly what we are not doing. I greatly regret that no provision has been made in the Bill, the first Scottish Housing Bill that has been produced by the Socialist Government, for the conversion and the reconditioning of houses, which is the best and quickest way of improving rural housing. The Government raise two main objections to helping with reconditioning. They say that it is necessary to concentrate all our available resources in labour and materials upon the supply of new houses. Secondly, they say that they do not want to subsidise the tied house. I wish to deal briefly with both those objections. The great advantage of encouraging reconditioning is that it can be got on with by a number of local builders who are not all being used by the Government's chosen instruments, the local authorities. I was surprised to find in the White Paper which we have been given lately that, up to 31st January this year, no fewer than 36 local authorities in Scotland, including two county councils, had not acquired a single site for housing purposes. I cannot believe, knowing some of the counties, and those local authority areas as I do, that there is not a need for rural housing in those rural districts.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
They are Caithness and Zetland. While waiting for sites they could have got on with the job of reconditioning houses in those areas without interfering with the programme of the Government. Months have gone by, including, inthe autumn, months of good building weather, and have been wasted. They might have been used for raising the standard of rural housing without interfering one jot with the Government's housing drive. If it is said that there is a lack of building materials, I say that that ought not to be the case. These things are capable of being foreseen by prudent administrators.
I should like to quote an example of conditions before the war. As the Minister will remember, early in 1937 the Department of Health took a census of the output of Scottish brickworks and they reached the conclusion that the productive 1731 capacity of the industry would be insufficient to meet the demands for bricks in Scotland during the next years. They had a meeting with representatives of the brickmakers, and new works and extensions to old works were planned. As a result of the steps taken, the productive capacity was increased by 20 per cent., in 1937, and by the end of 1938 the shortage had been overcome, and the productive capacity of Scottish brickfields had been raised to 750,000,000 bricks per year. Has anything like that been done today? Secondly, in so far as the shortage of materials may be a bottleneck, there is all the more reason to encourage reconditioning, which provides new houses for old with the minimum of expenditure upon raw materials. I speak for a moment as a surveyor, with some knowledge of these matters, and I should like to ask the Secretary of State on whose advice he has stated that a damp-proof course cannot be inserted in a house which has not one? As a surveyor, I say that this is a complete and utter heresy, and that it is perfectly feasible, and not an unusual operation, to insert a vertical or horizontal damp-proof course, or both, in a brick built house. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to deny that.
§ Mr. Westwood
I said that it was impossible to reconstruct or recondition satisfactorily a house which had no damp-proof course. I did not enter into any other details, and I challenge the hon. Member to deny that there were not scores of houses on which money was spent on reconditioning, with no attempt to put in damp courses, which was a waste of good public money.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I do not for one moment say that, but on whose authority did the Minister state that it could not be done satisfactorily?
§ Mr. Westwood
I did not say such a thing. If the hon. Member will quote me correctly, I will defend what I said.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
It is difficult to catch words, but I shall see what the Official Report says tomorrow, and then, if it is necessary, 1 shall withdraw. So far as damp-proof courses are concerned, there is no technical reason why it should not be done. I have done it myself perfectly satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
It is very small. You have a bitumastic material which can be inserted between the bricks; it is perfectly satisfactory, and not at all difficult.
The second objection raised by the Government is that they do not want to assist tied cottages. The Secretary of State said that it is part of the Government's policy to reduce tied cottages to the minimum. I think that there is some danger of this question becoming a political issue. I do not think it ought to become that. Many industries provide houses for their workers in order that they may be close to their work. This is so, not only in the case of agriculture, but in the case of collieries and railways, and recently, in the Water (Scotland) Act, we provided tied cottages for men who attend the waterworks. The agricultural industry is not the only industry which suffers from this evil, and I have been reminded that id Downing Street is a tied house, and that we have tied houses within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) would certainly not dispute that stockmen ought to live upon premises near to their work. As 80 per cent, of Scotland's agricultural production consists of livestock and livestock produce, it follows that the proportion of farm servants requiring to live in tied houses is greater than in the South. Farm workers would prefer, I am sure, to live close to their work, rather than to cycle four or five miles from the nearest village, each day. Personally, I should like to see sufficient village houses to allow farm workers to choose between living in a village or on their farms. In the meantime, let us face the situation as we find it. What we need are thousands of convenient, well lighted cottages, with water laid on. These are required all over Scotland, and they are needed quickly. The Government is losing a great chance to secure them by its obstinate refusal to re-enact the Housing (Rural Workers) Act.
I should like to say a word about grants to private individuals, allowed in very limited circumstances as the Minister has reminded us, under Clause 9 of the Bill. The applicant has to satisfy 1733 three conditions. The assistance must be for a house to replace an unsatisfactory house for the occupation of a farm worker or someone in the equivalent state; the completed house must contain three compartments of specified size— it must include a water closet, a scullery, with a sink, and a fixed bath in a bathroom— and the local authorities must be unable to provide suitable alternative accommodation. In other words, before a rural owner can obtain assistance, he has to have an existing house condemned. I suggest that this is not the way to help solve the housing problem. Throughout the rural areas, a number of cottages were condemned before the war, and many of these are structurally sound. It would be a real help, if this unimaginative Government would promote and encourage owners to recondition these premises, in order to provide accommodation for old people, who want to finish their lives in the localities where they have lived throughout their working days.
I am really alarmed at the Government's abysmal ignorance of the needs of the countryside. There seems to be no co-ordination between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health. The Ministry of Food and the Department of Agriculture are urging maximum food production, but the Department of Health is promoting policies which can only lead to a failure to provide the houses upon which the success of the agricultural policy depends. All the eggs are being placed in one basket, and I am not at all sure whether that basket is a good one. How well have the local authorities done so far? I take the figures for the 11 Northern counties, which show that by 31st January this year, at least 58 housing authorities, including, of course, the City of Aberdeen, had completed only 162 houses, of which 148 were part of the wartime programme. A further 523 permanent and temporary houses were in course of construction. No figures were given of the total requirements, although sites for 17,000 houses had been approved at this date, and 12,000 sites had been acquired or were in the process of acquisition. That does not seem to be a very encouraging situation. I have no hesitation in saying that the Government cannot succeed unless it encourages private enterprise to build, 1734 and rural owners to recondition, country cottages.
As an ex-Service man I find— and I am sure that the men who served during the war are finding— that the big task which faces them as individuals is to reestablish their home life. As a commanding-officer, I had every reason to know the havoc which was wrought by absence from the home circle; the misunderstandings which distance always seems to magnify, the infidelities, and the tragedies of broken homes. I remember reading a newspaper article by Lord Elton, in which he said that many people were talking about building a new world. He said that he thought they were not really bothering so much about a new world as they were looking forward to regaining something infinitely precious in the old world— the recapturing of the joy of home life and making up for the lost years. But home life is scarcely possible without homes. I want to say to the Government on behalf of the men by whose side 1 was proud to serve, and to say with all the sincerity that I can muster, "For God's sake give us homes."
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)
The Secretary of State began his speech with a general review of the housing position in Scotland, and he indicated the deplorable conditions of housing in Scotland. We are only too familiar with that story. What we are trying to do now is to find a remedy. The right hon. Gentleman spent some time telling us of the attempts which are being made, through temporary and permanent housing, to meet that problem. I shall confine myself, in the 15 minutes which is now customary in these Scottish Debates, to trying to get some information with regard to housing in my area. A number of temporary and permanent houses are going up there. I understand that quite a number could be completed in a very short time, if certain components were obtainable. I would like the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us what steps are being taken to get those components.
§ Mr. Watson
Bathroom equipment, electrical equipment, and particularly metal window frames. Those are matters 1735 which have been brought to my attention, and I understand that in the case of metal window frames there is a considerable shortage I could give the Joint Undersecretary the dates of letters that have passed between Dunfermline town council and Messrs. King, in Glasgow, since last November. The earliest date which can, even now, be promised for the delivery of window frames is some time next month. The original promise was for February. There has been a postponement of two months, and there is no assurance that any of these components will be delivered within that time. I think that the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary might give more attention to things which are perhaps considered small but without which houses cannot be completed and occupied.
I understand that recently there was a conference in Scotland in connection with the manufacture of bricks, and steps were taken to ensure that more bricks would be manufactured. I am not sure whether the Joint Under-Secretary knows, but the Secretary of State certainly does know, that there is a new brickworks at Inverkeithing, which is being used as a store by the Admiralty. It was erected for the purpose of producing a high quality brick. There is no machinery in the place. The brickworks were constructed just before the war. The premises were requisitioned by the Admiralty and used as a store and workshop during the war, but, at the moment, they are being used only as a store. I wonder if the Scottish Office could use their influence with the Admiralty to get such equipment as the Admiralty have stored there, out of that brickworks, machinery introduced and bricks made.
There is a Clause in the Bill which I welcome very much. Once or twice 1 have been ruled out of Order in this House because I sought to introduce this issue in an Estimates Debate, during which one must not discuss matters that require legislation. I transgressed more than once, in order to draw attention to the fact that in my area we are affected very much by underground mining. I have lived for the greater part of my life in the mining town of Cowdenbeath, a place which has been undermined over and over again. All the latest improvements and the newest equipment were used for getting coal up quickly on the 1736 American style, and one result has been that a considerable amount of property in Cowdenbeath has been undermined to a very considerable extent. I therefore welcome Clause 5 of the Bill, although I question whether the cost involved should be borne by the State and the local authorities. In previous Debates, I have suggested that it should be a charge on the mining industry. The mining industry created the damage and I think the mining industry should bear the cost. Although this matter of support for sites has been before this House over and over again as affecting various parts of the country— because Lanarkshire and Fife-shire are not the only two areas which have suffered— here, for the first time, we have it recognised that property has some claim to be protected in this respect.
How is it to be protected in this Measure? It is to be protected by the local authority acquiring the minerals, so that we are not going to get the coal that is beneath sites upon which houses are to be erected. We can, therefore, make up our minds that there is a certain amount of coal which will not be worked in those areas where subsidence is likely to take place. This is a matter of considerable concern to local authorities. In Cowdenbeath there is not a single street which has escaped a certain amount of damage from underground workings. The local authority have been doing their best to counteract the damage. On two occasions the town council were compelled to go to the colliery company and arrange with them to leave the coal in, so as to give support to certain sites. The first time, I think, was in 1931 when the council went to the Fife Coal Company and acquired the minerals of the land under which they were going to construct sewerage works. A sum of £ 1,600 had to be paid to the Fife Coal Company, for the support for the sewerage works and £ 650 to the ground landlord. In a second case, in order to protect their housing site at Moss-side, they had to pay £ 1,600 to the Fife Coal Company, for the mineral support. Here in this Measure £ 2 per house is to be given for 60 years as compensation, or at any rate as assistance to the local authority which has to acquire sites likely to be damaged by underground working. In the County of Fife this is a serious matter, not only in Cowdenbeath, but in Wemyss where considerable damage has been done. 1737 Today we arc being told that, in future, Fife will be a great mining county. I believe there is a great future for mining there. Here is a nice little problem for the local authorities. New pits are to be sunk. I suppose round these new pits new colliery villages or towns, erected presumably by the local authority, will arise. Here we have this paltry arrangement— because I cannot describe it as anything else; it is simply an apology— of £ 2 for each house for 60 years. That is the maximum that is to be paid to the local authority acquiring mineral support for a housing site. I would have preferred the whole cost of acquiring sites to be borne by the Government. I think it should have been a charge in this Bill, just as other charges are being made. This is a charge which should not have fallen upon the local authority when acquiring sites.
I want to say a word or two on the Scottish Special Housing Association. I wonder what this body is at the moment. I understood it was dissolved, and that the members of the Housing Association were properly thanked for their past services. I wonder if they are still serving, or whether the Scottish Special Housing Association is the Secretary of State for Scotland. I wonder is the whole power of that great organisation the Secretary of State himself. At any rate I have no prejudices against the Scottish Special Housing Association. It has done very useful work during the period of the war, and I believe it can do a great deal more useful work. It could, for example, operate in the two counties mentioned a few moments ago by the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), where the county councils have refused to build any houses. The Scottish Housing Association will be a useful instrument there to erect houses in the various localities. At any rate, it will be interesting to know what this powerful association is, and what it intends to do under the Measure we are now discussing.
There is a Clause in the Bill dealing with the conversion of "Government property which was in use during the war and can now be converted into houses. I am interested in that matter, because in my area there have been one or two camps erected by the Government. They are on the hut system, and they 1738 have been well laid out and have been most useful during the period of the war. I am wondering if it would now be possible for the local authorities under this Bill to acquire these camps for use as housing accommodation of a temporary character until such time as the permanent houses are built. I think if any of these camps happen to be empty I shall not need to go often to the Secretary of State for Scotland to know just exactly what can be done with them. They are well situated and near community centres, and they could, undoubtedly, be used to provide comfortable accommodation for people who would be willing to go into places of that kind if they were adapted. Many of them could be adapted, and I am pleased to see that provision is made for them in this Measure.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) raised two very interesting points in his speech, one of which dealt with rating. He did not, I gather, know that it was out of Order to discuss that matter on this Bill, but at any rate he did so, and we may just as well be frank about it. I know that on his side of the House there has been a desire to introduce into Scotland the English system of rating, whereby the rates on a house are to be borne by the tenant, with the owner escaping his share. I know that Members opposite have advocated that system for a long time, but I am afraid that before such a system is introduced into Scotland there will have to be some discussions, because it is not only a question of rates. The question of rents will also have to be considered at the same time. If there is to be a move in the direction of freeing the owner of property in Scotland from rates, then there will have to be an adjustment of rents. There will be a stiff struggle, not only here, but in Scotland generally, before the English system of rating is introduced in Scotland. I am not looking forward to that change being made. Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends may claim that the fewer houses built in Scotland, as compared with England, is due to the disadvantage of owners in Scotland having to pay rates on their own property, they will have some difficulty in convincing the Scottish people generally that the change they advocate is desirable. 1739 The right hon. and learned Gentleman devoted a good part of his speech to the question of private enterprise, and the need for it being given its head in Scotland and being allowed to carry on with the building of houses. The claim was made that a subsidy should be paid to the private builder, just as it is paid to a local authority, in order to encourage building. I have no particular antipathy to the private builder being allowed to go ahead with the building of houses; my objection is that the policy in the past has been for such a builder to build houses for sale, and not to let. If that is to be the policy in future, then this Government must insist upon all available labour, and all the drive that can be put into the building job, being under the control of the local authorities. Despite the right hon. and learned Gentleman's appeal for co-operation, and for us to drop certain of our ideas, so that we can join in solving the housing problem, there is a very serious difference of opinion between the two sides of the House about this question of private enterprise. Further, I thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman was rather unfair when he compared the rate of building before the war with the rate during the past six months. Surely, he knows that there were far more men in the building industry— in fact, double the number— before the war than there are today. It is impossible properly to compare the conditions which existed before the war with the conditions which exist today.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid
I said that there are half the number of building operatives today, and that they are producing only a quarter of the number of houses that were produced before the war. I did not suggest that it was possible today to produce as many houses as before the war, but I said I thought that a quarter was too small a figure.
§ Mr. Watson
I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon if I misrepresented him, but the impression I got was that he was comparing the number of houses built before the war with the number built since the war. But if the position is as he now explains, I agree that there cannot possibly be the same number of houses produced today, with the number of men we have at our disposal, as were produced before the war. We 1740 must wait until we can get more men back from the Forces, and until young men are trained for the industry. The Ministry of Labour have a training centre in my area. It used to be occupied by Bevin Boys, but Bevin boys are now rather out of fashion. They are disappearing, and in their place boys are being trained for the building industry.
I hope this Measure will add materially to the production of houses in Scotland where we badly need them, but I frankly confess that I do not like prefabricated houses. I have no particular objection to steel houses, which I think will be a good substitute for houses built by traditional methods, but for prefabricated houses, the fancy houses which have been and are being erected, I have no particular liking. I hope that before long, we shall be able to get so many men into the building industry that we shall be able to build the right type of houses, and no longer have to rely on substitutes for the real thing.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
This has been a very interesting Debate. The Minister was clear in his opening statement, and I was particularly interested to hear the argument that arose between the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) and the Under-Secretary, about cowardice. I admire the courage of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in speaking today, in view of the record of his party in connection with housing in Scotland When I think of my constituency, and of the housing conditions in Glasgow which are the outcome of the in efficiency of a Government formed from Members above the Gangway, I do appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentle man's courage in daring to speak today in the way he did —
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
If the hon. Member will look at the statistics for houses built in Scotland in 1930, when there was a Socialist Government in office, and in power, and will compare them with the figures for 1938, he will find that the number of houses built in 1930 was exactly half the number built in 1938.
§ Mr. Stephen
I know that the greatest contribution that was made to housing in this country was made by my late col- 1741 league Mr. Wheatley, and the Wheatley scheme was the foundation of housing development in Scotland made by the first Labour Government even in its minority position. When the Tory Government came back, one of the first things they did was to destroy the Wheatley housing scheme and to condemn people in my constituency to live in miserable slums. That is the record. Today we are faced with the problem of building 500,000 houses in Scotland. We need practically 100,000 in Glasgow alone. I can barely speak on the subject without losing my temper, because of the shocking housing conditions in Camlachie. Almost every post brings me a letter from someone imploring me to try and get him a house, because a boy or girl has been bitten by a rat, or a son is being demobilised and there are seven or eight persons already in a single apartment. Today I received a letter from a woman whose husband died in the service of the country in Burma. She and her children are living with the mother-in-law, who has kindly taken them in, but this means that there are about nine or ten in a house that is only meant for a few. When I think of these dreadful conditions, I can, as I have said, hardly keep my temper.
During the war I went to see the houses that were being shown at Northolt. The people who took my hon. Friends and me round asked us what we thought of this type or that type. It struck me while I was admiring the houses that I had been doing the same sort of thing ever since I came here in 1922, and yet the people never seemed to get the houses. The same thing happened in Glasgow. I went to Camlachie to see a certain type of house and was asked whether it would do. As far as my people in Camlachie are concerned, they would be willing to take any of these types if they could get them, but they cannot. Hon. Members opposite and their friends came along during the war with their nice little Portal house that so many people were supposed to be going to have, and we spent much time in this House in discussions on this type of house. I remember making a speech and asking what the rent was to be. I was told that in Scotland it was to be about £ 1 a week, which I said the people would not be able to pay. However, I could have saved myself the trouble, because the Portal house never came to anything either. 1742 Yet all the time hundreds of thousands of our people are living under the most shameful conditions. Five or six sons who may be in the Armed Forces may have to come home to a single apartment or a small house in Glasgow where there is not room for them to get inside the door. I hope the present Government are going to do something to solve the problem. This increased subsidy in connection with housing does give the local authority an opportunity for planning, although I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Mc-Kinlay) that the emphasis has been laid on 1947, and that that is wrong. I cannot reconcile the idea that there will be a drive in 1947 and that the local authorities will get so many thousands of houses in view of the trouble over manpower, building materials and so on. At the same time, I am not convinced that the Government are handling the matter properly from the point of view of the cost of the house.
Why is there this great increase in the cost of houses today? Why has there been this fearful increase compared with prewar days? I know that I shall be told something about wages having been raised— and they have to a certain extent — but I wonder whether all these increases in wages also bring with them an additional gain to the profiteers. I think that possibly the Government have acted soundly in trying to give the local authority encouragement by making the subsidy relate to the cost of the houses. In this Measure the Government are giving terms that will not put an impossible burden on the local authority in so far as the financing of the scheme is concerned. That is all to the good. I agree once more with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire in that I am a bit disappointed with the housing plan of the Government as a whole. We were given to understand that this was to be done as a military operation.
§ Mr. Stephen
That is the kind of twaddle we hear from hon. Members above the Gangway on this side. If they would take a word of advice from me, they would hold their tongues on this subject, because nothing could be more disgraceful than the Tory record in housing. 1743 Members of the Government did assure us that we were to have this made a matter of major importance and that the technique would be the same as that employed in connection with the provision of aeroplanes and so on. I do not want to be hypercritical but I do not think that the plans have just that note about them. There should have been a much greater appropriation by the Government of the brickworks and of the various factories and workshops. After all, 500,000 houses have to be provided. We know how many bricks are required for each house and we have a simple problem of arithmetic before us in deciding what has to be the factory accommodation to provide materials for the building of this number of houses.
No individual in the country should be allowed by the Government to come between them and the carrying out of their plan in the shortest possible time. That is what the Government did during the war. There were a lot of people in every constituency in the country in very important places carrying on their life work, but the Government simply came along and said, "Here, come on," and they were in the Army the next week. As I see it, this housing problem is just as important to the people of this country as was the winning of the war, and I say that the Government should take the same steps with regard to its solution. Every family is entitled to a decent home, and I hope that the Government will deal much more ruthlessly in the future with private interests, which I believe always get between the people and the homes they are entitled to have. That is the problem as I see it. There is a need for the Government themselves to create the housing organisation with regard to the provision of materials and manpower to supply the needs of the people.
I heard something about the difference between England and Scotland. I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Billhead talk about the rating system. This always crops up in connection with the housing question. If I took the opportunity to try to provide for the much more rational system of the taxation of land values as the basis of our rating system, I could be quite certain of having the opposition of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I would have his instant opposition, and it 1744 is the same every time. This great problem cannot be dealt with by an alteration in the rating system. It is a problem which involves the Government taking to itself the necessary powers to secure all the materials, the factories, and the workshops for the provision of the materials, and using those factories and workshops in order to solve the problem. I do not think it can be solved in any other way. I wish the Joint Undersecretary every success in his labours in this connection. I know he is very hard at work seeking to do his best to fulfil his lifelong ambition to help the people of his own country to secure decent homes, but I believe the Government have to be much more courageous, and to deal far more drastically than they are dealing at the present time with the private interests which are represented on my right in this House.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Gilzean (Edinburgh, Central)
May I say at the outset that we are not sufficiently alive to the seriousness of this question? We debate it far too mildly and indifferently, and until we recognise that homes are the places where we grow the future generations, we shall not make the progress that ought to be made? I want to say at once that I agree with the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) in thinking the Government's proposals far too modest. We have to use every means in order to ensure that the people get homes. It is not a question of cost because, believe me, it costs more not to give the people decent homes, than it costs to give them decent homes. Our health bill annually could be cut tremendously if it were not for the fact that so many people live in conditions that are a challenge to our civilisation.
I know of what I speak. I live in the corner of Edinburgh in which I was born, the most densely populated part of the city, a place where there are houses which you could not call ancient monuments, by any means, but which have actually been serving as homes for the people for the past 130 years. Yet to begin with, they were rushed up for the purpose of creating the beginnings of the industrial system. Actually, if you take one of them down at the present moment, the next one is ready to fall, because there are no gables between the buildings. Yet, curiously enough, the rents are higher today by far than they were 130 1745 years ago. If you buy a suit of clothes, you expect a certain definite limited wear out of it; some people, if they buy a house, expect rent in perpetuity, world without end, and that is exactly what is taking place all over the community.
Again I contend that it is cheaper to build houses, whatever they cost, than not to build houses, because you will get it back in the sort of generation you breed in the future. I know of what I speak. I have had a long connection with education and I have been very struck with the difference between not only the intelligence quotient but the attainments quotient of children reared in bad conditions as against children reared in decent conditions. It did not apply so much to the first as to the latter, the attainments quotient. These children could not get sleep at night because of overcrowding, they were not properly fed or anything else, but the housing conditions were probably the most potent factor in making them what they were.
So I argue unhesitatingly that perhaps it would be as well that the Department should go back and consider whether they cannot evolve a much bolder programme. I know there are difficulties. There is, for instance, the difficulty of labour. Yet surely that can be overcome. The houses are to be built by the people who will occupy them— at least it is that type of person who will build the house. Incidentally, the Government might encourage local authorities to a greater ex-tent in the direction of seeking to build up a labour corps. It is being done to some extent. Local authorities are now providing money for the purpose of encouraging boys to go into the building industry. They are even giving them a wage daring their training and every opportunity in order that ultimately they might enter the industry. The shortage in that direction is one of the factors that troubles us in Scotland.
Another factor troubles us in Scotland. Not very long ago it was necessary to do something in London to combat conditions caused by the blitz, and hundreds of building operatives came from Scotland to London. I do not know that any of them, have gone back again; the nearest they have got to me, has been in the Lobby of this House when they have asked if I could get them a ticket to go into the Gallery. But they are still in 1746 London on blitz work. I do not grumble about that, because it is necessary, but I might be forgiven for thinking that some might be doing something to help Scotland in this tremendous problem, which goes right to the roots of our being as a nation, if we can still claim to be a nation. I hope something will be done in that direction.
I would like to say a word about the Minister's proposal in regard to high tenements. I say to the Minister "For goodness' sake, do not build high tenements." When I hear people talking as he talked, about tentments with lifts, I wonder if they appreciate exactly what would happen if we erected that type of building. I know that a tenement with lift and caretakers and so on, is all right for comfortable people but I do not think it would be a success for workingclass purposes. There is a refrain we use in Scotland, "Happy we be all together," but that particular phrase does not always work out, where a huge crowd of people is huddled together in a single building. As a result of my experience between the two wars I am convinced that for workingclass purposes the cheapest and best method is four houses to the block. Each has its own door, and separate bit of ground. I consider bungalows are a sheer waste of ground, but four houses to a block constitute the ideal type of housing. Under no circumstances should we think in terms of tenements such as those indicated by the Secretary of State. I am persuaded they would not be a success, as too many people would be herded together and ultimately everybody's business would become nobody's business. We must build houses; we must build thousands of them. We must not count the cost, because the cost in public health and the development of our children is by far a greater cost than any expenditure we may make in this direction.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
In view of the many hon. Members who wish to take part in this Debate I hope the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Gilzean) will forgive me if I do not follow the line of his argument. I think the House has greatly enjoyed the method by which the hon. and reverend Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) so skilfully allied —
§ Mr. Stephen
I would appreciate it if the hon. and gallant Member would allude to me in a Parliamentary way. If he says the "hon. and learned Member," that is all right.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been here long enough to know Parliamentary procedure.
§ Sir T. Moore
Rather than disappoint the hon. Member, I shall refrain from referring further to his distinguished past. I think the House did admire the adroit way in which he trod between commendation and criticism. No doubt he was thinking of that faraway goal of affiliation, which has, so far, eluded himself and his colleagues.
I am not going to speak for many minutes on this Bill, for the simple reason that there is very little new to say on the Scottish housingsituation. We have had many Debates, and each one of us has placed his problems and views before successive Scottish Secretaries. Nothing much seems to have happened as a result, and so we find ourselves today in much the same situation as that which existed throughout the war. There has been no substantial improvement. The Secretary of State spoke today with great passion and power, with conviction, and even confidence, but it was always "jam tomorrow," just like the rest of the Government's policies.
I remember a couple of years ago referring to the fact that I had on an average 1,500 letters a year dealing entirely with the question of housing. During the last year, the emphasis has rather shifted. A great number of the letters formerly referred to demobilisation difficulties and problems. The emphasis has now gone back to houses and the demobilisation agitation is apparently over. We have come back to the urgent, crying, clamant need that exists in Scotland for more houses. In the years of shortage during the war, the excuses were labour and materials. Yet, when two or three million Americans suddenly descended on us, almost overnight, large camps appeared 1748 all over the country. Labour and materials were found for them, yet the workmen who built the camps could not have homes for themselves. What is the excuse now? The excuse is fear, fear of someone making a profit, no matter how infinitesimal. No one must make a profit in building a house. Rather let the house be scrapped or not built at all than that anyone should make a profit. I do not think that Scotland is greatly concerned with the amount of profits that are made. The people there are more concerned with the urgent need for houses.
In considering this Bill three questions arise. One is, Will it work? The second is, Will it achieve its purpose? The third is. Will it provide the needed houses? The answer to the first is that, of course, it will work as long as the Treasury and local authorities are solvent, because it is they who provide the subsidies. As to the second question, I think it will achieve its purpose if there is sufficient financial stability to enable local authorities and the housing association to get on with their job. They are the only two instruments concerned. But whether the Bill will produce more houses or flats is a problem upon which even the hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary will find it very difficult to assure the House. According to the figures which he himself gave me a few weeks ago, and which have been quoted several times today, 500,000 houses are required adequately to house the people of Scotland. Yet in Ayr alone, a town of which the hon. Gentleman has some pleasant memories, during the six months ended 31st December last, 921 permanent houses and 434 temporary houses in all were completed. That is a total of 1,355 houses in six months. In other words, it will, at that rate, take 150 years to house the people in Scotland. According to the figures I received the other day from the housing factor there are, at present, 1,900 families in Ayr who need houses. Therefore, it will take 150 years to do the job.
Of course, the Secretary of State has told us that progress has been better. He has given us, as I have said, the promise of jam tomorrow. This return he has published shows that a considerable amount of progress has been made in having sites chosen and preliminary preparations made. But, in my opinion, so long as he sticks to these two chosen 1749 instruments only and eliminates the private builder, these returns will go on showing us jam tomorrow. In dealing with this question of the actual provision of houses, there are two prerequisites which are necessary. One is the provision of skilled labour, and the other is the utilisation of existing house builders in their individual capacity. Skilled labour is undoubtedly in short supply in many categories, not in some cases but in many. That is due to the reluctance of the Service Departments to release them. The individual private builder is not utilised for the reason I have mentioned— the fear that he might make a profit.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I assume that the hon. and gallant Member knows the county of Ayr. Will he kindly state whether I have not assisted the private builder to build houses in that county?
§ Sir T. Moore
Since the hon. Member has asked me, I can tell him that two years ago a large private builder in Ayr, a man of some experience who had built two or three streets of houses in Ayr, wrote to me and told me that he could collect five or six men, all of whom were not directable, and were, therefore, avail able. All he needed was the bricks. He could even provide the necessary timber; he knew how to handle these things. I immediately wrote to the then Secretary of State, Mr. Tom Johnston, and I also communicated with the county authorities and with the town council. Two years have passed. That man has not been given the opportunity—
§ Mr. Buchanan
I really wish that before the hon. and gallant Member made statements, he would consult the county council and the people in Ayr county to find out the extreme steps I have taken in that county to see that even the smallest builder is brought within this scheme.
§ Sir T. Moore
I know the hon. Gentleman has tried. On occasion he has used his influence with the Minister of Works and the Service Departments to secure the release of labour. I have pleasant memories in that respect. But judged by the returns he has produced, I cannot see that there is anything to boast about or to feel in any way pleased about.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Will the hon. and gallant Member tell the House whether he took up the case with Lord 1750 Rosebery during the period of the "caretaker" Government, and if so, with what result?
§ Sir T. Moore
The time at the disposal of the "caretaker ' Government was not extensive. I am merely giving the facts. The hon. Gentleman can consult his Department, and he will find the correspondence I had with Mr. Tom Johnston on this subject, and many others connected with housing.
I repeat my assertion that due to this dislike of the private builder in his individual capacity, the whole housing programme of Scotland has been hampered and held up in the past few years. We deplore the pusillanimous attitude of the Secretary of State in dealing with the Service Departments. We could certainly have been more successful in getting the necessary labour out. As far as I am concerned, somehow, somewhere and in some way the houses must be built. This Government will probably stand or fall by their housing success or failure, and in their own interests I suggest that they should not alone confine itself to publishing returns which show a pleasant effect of jam tomorrow, but should do a job of work that will house the people of Scotland properly.
In dealing with this housing problem, I feel amazed at what the women put up with. I have been ashamed at what they have had to put up with. I do not want to quote instances, because we could all quote dozens that would drag out the guts of one's heart in regard to the housing situation. The other day I was intensely pained, moved and influenced by the appearance in my office in Ayr of a young woman with three children, all under the age of nine, all beautifully turned out, very clean and well behaved. I was able to help her in the matter she had come to see me about, which had nothing to do with housing. In the course of conversation I found, and subsequently confirmed it, that this woman and her three children came from a room and kitchen in which there were 11 other people. I cannot understand how the Joint Under-Secretary can sit in his place, and not feel horrified and shocked that such an instance should still exist, even after six months of Socialist. Government.
§ Sir T. Moore
That does not arise at all. It was a rather futile interruption. I suggest that it does not really matter very much if even illegitimate profits are made, so long as houses are provided. We all know that the well being and happiness of our people really rests on this question of providing proper houses. I am often met with the argument that the Government, and this applies to all Governments, are looking after the expectant mothers and the children. That is quite true. The children get their cod liver oil, their milk and fruit juice, meals at school, and so on, and the mothers undoubtedly do get their pre-natal care; but what good is it all unless they have got the foundation of a healthy, wholesome sanitary home?
In passing, I would hope that when the housing association and the local authorities get down to business they will be advised by the hon. Gentleman to concentrate more than in recent years on smaller houses. It is essential that these young men from the Forces who are now starting their married life, or contemplating marriage, should have suitable houses. That is very important. In the past we have been too prone to build the four apartment house. I hope that will be dropped in favour largely of the smaller house.
In conclusion, may I say 1 have considerable regard for the capacity and sincerity of the hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary. When he used to sit underneath me here, I imbibed a lot from his example. I also imbibed a method of approach to the Government in office. He tried every way. He tried violence at times, he tried persuasion at times, but always he gave the impression of sincerity. I shall be quite happy if I give the impression of sincerity. I could never approach the hon. Gentleman in violence, and I do not aspire to approach him in persuasiveness. I rely only on the quality of sincerity. I believe if the Government provide the houses which they have promised they will do more to gain the goodwill of all Scots, irrespective of any political complexion, than they could by any other single action.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I can endorse the statements that have been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) about the great 1752 shortage of houses in the constituency which he represents. I represent a neighbouring constituency. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the speech which he made had quite got to grips with the problem. He told us, for example, that he used to receive 1,500 letters a year about housing in his constituency. I know the towns which the hon. and gallant Member represents. I do not think that the last cause, the last explanation, of the shortage of houses, that he has adduced, can be attributed to any laxity or neglect on the part of a Labour Government. I should rather ask the hon. and gallant Member to consider the reactionary policy of the local authorities in the area which he represents.
I have every reason to remember that in Ayr, the principal burgh in his constituency, a Conservative town council had to be compelled by a public inquiry to take action under the Slum Clearance Act. It was only after a public inquiry that this reactionary town council, the majority of whose members supported the hon. and gallant Gentleman at his election, were compelled to move by the force of public opinion. I do suggest if the reactionary Conservative authorities in the constituency of Ayr Burghs had been as enthusiastic about housing as the hon. and gallant Gentleman is this evening, we would have faced the situation long ago and we would not now be in the grave position in which we are today. I represent a smaller town which before the war had largely solved its housing problem. In the years when we had the opportunities and the subsidies, in the 1930's, we went boldly ahead and used the powers that were on the Statute Book then. I suggest that the real reason why there is a lamentable lack of houses in Ayr Burghs today, is because the local authorities in. that constituency did not use the powers that they had. They did not use the opportunities that were given then in the way in which other local authorities did in that particular area.
I welcome this Bill as a comprehensive, bold, and imaginative attempt to face the housing problems of Scotland. I do not say it is a perfect Bill. I believe that the subsidies are too low, and I wish to point out to the Secretary of State for Scotland that the county council of Ayr believe that a larger subsidy should be given, that the subsidy should be substantially increased. The housing committee of the 1753 county council of Ayr has asked also that the interest rate on loans to local authorities for house building should not exceed 2 per cent. We agree with the Secretary of State that the subsidies are generous; but we do not agree that they are adequate. We point out that under the terms of this Bill the local authority has to pay in local rates and local subsidy an amount almost equal to the subsidy itself. The Ayr county council, for example, not only has to pay a subsidy of £ 7 but, in addition, the balance to be met by the local authority on a four-apartment house is £ 14 12s. The total local authority subsidy on a four-apartment house is £ 21 12s. as against the Government subsidy of £ 23. We suggest that there is a very heavy burden imposed upon local authorities. We would have welcomed a larger subsidy than is contained in the provisions of the Bill.
I certainly agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs— if I understood his argument correctly— when he said that we need to speed up the recall of building workers from the Forces. Last week the Minister of Labour gave the total figure of building workers still in the Forces as 250,000. I put a Question to the Minister asking him the figures for Scotland. I was told that the actual figures of Scotland, of building workers in the Forces, was not available. I suggest that is rather an injustice to Scotland. We should have these figures in order to know where we are. Judging by our mail bag, and judging by our interviews, we do know that there are building workers still in the Forces who should be released.
I give one glaring example. It is the case of a soldier from the Black Watch who is now home from India on leave. He came to visit me and I told him I was very glad indeed to see him back because he was the foreman joiner in our housing scheme. He told me, to my great surprise, that he was not being released from the Forces, but was only home on leave and was to return to India at the end of March. This worker has had 20 years' experience in the building trade, and he has been for eight years a foreman builder, experienced in furnace building in glassworks, and he is due to return to the Southampton transit centre on 28th March. At the present time, the Black Watch, he tells me, is engaged on internal security duties in India, which is more or less routine work, and I suggest that
1754 it is far more important for good building workers to be engaged on housing schemes than on operational duties or internal security duties in India at the present time.
That is one instance, and I believe it could be multiplied many times. Until we get the men out of the Forces, both on the building sites and in the ancillary trades, we shall be faced with one everlasting bottle-neck after another. We were told last week and the week before about our commitments in different parts of the world— in Malaya, the Middle East and everywhere else. I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs will agree with me that our first commitments are to the home front, to see that the men are brought out of the Forces, and put on the work that is urgently needed in Scotland at the present time. I ask the Under-Secretary to convey to the Government the desire of the people in Scotland, that these men shall come out of the Forces as quickly as possible, because their job is in the housing industry, doing the work which is so urgently needed.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Major Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I do not propose to follow the controversy which, if I may, I would describe as a conflict between "the auld brig "and" the new brig," but would like to emphasise what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Hughes) said about the necessity to get men out of the Forces. It does seem to me that it is on this problem that the Secretary of State has been tripping for a long time. It has prevented him, to a large extent, from even considering the possibility of using private enterprise. I have had several cases submitted to me where key men, small builders or men in ancillary trades, have been unable to get out of the Forces. The result has been that the father, who generally owns the business, partly owing to fatigue after the war and partly owing to the feeling that he was unable to compete without the assistance of his son, has simply not tendered at all. To a certain extent, they have covered themselves by putting in work on maintenance and repairs, but, undoubtedly, there would have been a very much greater building impetus if these men had been allowed out of the Forces.
The test of this Bill, which has received a very general measure of support, must 1755 be: What is the best method to get the best houses quickly? Hon. Members opposite have been complaining that houses were not built between the wars. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health complains of the houses that were built between the wars. We must get the highest possible standard of house. How are we going to get, first, the high standard, and, secondly, speed in construction? I submit most sincerely that the first things that we must have is a con tented labour force. First of all, there is a certain amount of disparity in the treatment of operatives working on various contracts. In some cases the Essential Work Order is operating; in others, it has never been applied. The result is that, during the waiting days, the men who are not covered by the Essential Work Order are not paid. They tend, therefore, to go away to jobs which are covered by it. There is also a feeling of injustice through the inequality of treatment. There is the question of bonus payments, particularly to bricklayers. I have been told that instructions have been issued to builders not to pay bonuses to bricklayers. Inevitably, the production of houses —
§ Major Macpherson
That, I an. sorry to say, I have been unable to find out, and I should be very glad if the Joint Under-Secretary could tell me. In any case, it is in the interests of everyone to restore it, because the public will get the houses more quickly, the bricklayers will get higher wages, and the builder will get out more quickly on the contract Certainly, there are so many more houses to be built— 500,000 has been quoted— that there is no danger that there will be no more work for a builder or a bricklayer once the contract is completed. I hope that, in a short time, with releases from the Forces, the labour position will permit the smaller firms to compete, provided always that the supply of materials is easier. I would like to ask the Undersecretary to say whether it is his intention to encourage the small builder, and, if so, is he going to leave the door open for a subsidy? Secondly, is it his intention that the small builder should concentrate upon maintenance and repairs? The figures in the White Paper show that, at the end of January, about 57 per cent. 1756 of the total labour force was engaged in maintenance and repairs, and that continues. Undoubtedly, there is lot of leeway to catch up.
If that is the policy of the Government, what is the justification for cutting out the operation of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act? Has the Secretary of State verified how many of the houses that might be covered have not yet been reconditioned? The right hon. Gentleman says— and he quotes the Housing Advisory Committee— that in 50 per cent, of the cases the repairs that were done were not satisfactorily carried out. Surely, it is better to introduce measures to deal with that situation and ensure that the repairs are satisfactorily carried out. What we need are houses as quickly as possible. In many cases, the houses are, there, and, so long as he can satisfy himself that the houses are repairable— unlike the houses the right hon. Gentleman referred to where there were no damp courses and it was no use putting them in order— then something should be done.
While on the subject of repairs and maintenance, I should like to know whether it is the Government's intention in a short time to remove the necessity for licences for work on repairs and maintenance. A comparison has been made already between houses existing and houses that are to be built. Surely, those that exist should be brought up to standard as quickly as possible without limit of cost. It is unfair that local authorities should be able to spend any amount of money on the maintenance of their houses whereas a private owner's property is allowed to descend and descend and then, when it has descended, the finger of scorn is pointed at him.
There is another point on which 1 should like the Joint Under-Secretary of State to give a reply. A good deal of the housing in the country areas is at present held up owing to the postponement of the decision for the apportionment of money under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act. I know I shall be told that there is nothing to prevent local authorities getting on with the job, but in fact there is a great deal. It was a question of the estimate of cost and of the actual scheme to be put into force. There is one very picturesque village in my constituency which is very backward in the matter of the supply of water and drain- 1757 age. The absence of any definite scheme at present is holding up, not only the reconditioning of houses, but also the new housing scheme. We know that the decision is to be made soon after 31st March, but I ask the Under-Secretary of State to make it on 31st March, or as soon afterwards as possible. I hope he will say when we may expect that decision.
I would like also to refer to Clause 9 of the Bill, which provides a 50 per cent, rise in the subsidy to be granted for the replacement of agricultural houses. The Secretary of State has said that the rise in the cost of materials and construction is 100 per cent. In that case, why should the subsidy be limited to 50 per cent.? We have heard a good deal of abuse or criticism of landlords in agricultural areas for not having done better in the matter of reconditioning houses. But let it be borne in mind that, between the two wars, agriculture was in a very depressed state. It should also be borne in mind that rents have not gone up at all, whereas costs have gone up tremendously. Owing to the change in agricultural policy, the tenants have benefited considerably, but the landlord has had no share in that benefit.
I referred to the necessity of building the best houses in the quickest possible time. I would like to emphasise the necessity of the houses being sound in structure and attractive in appearance. Otherwise, in my view, it would be better to get on with all speed in the building of temporary houses, until sufficient materials are available to build satisfactory permanent houses. There has been much criticism of the speculative builder and, as a result, there has been a demand for control to ensure sound construction and conformity of style and design with general layout plans. In other words, control was deemed necessary to maintain the standard. But we find today a most extraordinary paradox; we find, in fact, that control is lowering the standard. In many cases the specifications are being cut down. Let me give some examples. First, the sizes of joists and roof spans are cut down. Tiling battens and scarcements are cut out altogether. The use of stone, which is the traditional method of building in Scotland, is cut out or cut down very considerably. I submit that traditional houses should be traditional, that is, in keeping with the tastes, traditions and 1758 local economic resources of the locality. I do not mind in the least seeing new experiments by the housing associations.
§ Mr. McAllister
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the point about control, I wonder if he is aware that the speculative builders— and I am not using the word in any sense of contempt— are themselves Well aware of the need for control in laying down standards, whether it be Government or voluntary control. The better speculative builders have banded themselves together in the organisation called the National House-builders Registration Council specifically in order to maintain standards.
§ Major Macpherson
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has not caught the drift of my argument. Control should maintain standards, whereas at present control is being used to cut down standards. The reason that will be given, no doubt, is the shortage of timber and bricks. It is absolutely necessary to get the necessary labour on to the preliminary jobs as quickly as possible. There is a most extraordinary situation so far as bricks are concerned. There is a brick plant in Sanquhar which has closed down, because, it is said, its bricks are of too high a quality.
§ Major Macpherson
The prices are thought to be too high; the quality of bricks is considered too high. The extraordinary situation, so far as bricks are concerned, is that, with a view to getting brick plants into production; prices have been kept up by the Government, and yet there is going to be a shortage of bricks. In conclusion, I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary to let us know what the shortage of bricks and timber is going to be and how that shortage is going to affect the building programme.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Hoy (Leith)
I promise the House that I will occupy its attention only for a few minutes. First, I would refer to this awful inheritance by the Government. I was pleased to hear the confession of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) — I am sorry to see he is not in his seat— when he said this was not the responsibility of the Labour Government, but was something they had inherited from previous Governments. Perhaps he did not say it 1759 quite so bluntly as that, but he did say that he had failed to receive any satisfaction from previous Secretaries of State for Scotland. Therefore, I think we can take it as an admission that when his party were in power they did very little to solve the housing problem with which Scotland is confronted today.
I think that one of the bottlenecks might be in the organisation of building trade labour. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State, when he comes to reply, will tell us if any provision has been made for the interchange of building trade workers. I understand that this is being done at present with regard to the erection of temporary houses. I know that this raises a great bone of contention between the various tradesmen, but perhaps there have been some consultations on this matter and I should be grateful to the Undersecretary of State if he could give us an answer.
I have been surprised to hear this evening hon. Gentlemen opposite— including the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) — saying that we were not making sufficient use of the private builder. Surely there is no local authority which has refused altogether to employ private building trade labour. I would like to quote the case of Edinburgh, because the right hon. and learned Member for Hill-head referred to it. We made an offer last year to private builders to erect houses for the corporation with a view to letting them for rent, and the builders refused to have anything to do with the suggestion. One of the largest builders in Scotland, whose head offices are in Edinburgh, said it was impossible to build houses at £ 1,200 per house, but he has now secured a permit from the council of Edinburgh to build 198 houses for sale at £ 1,100. I think when hon Members talk about private builders, what they really mean is that the Government will not allow the erection of a tremendous number of private houses for selling purposes. I believe the Minister of Health, when speaking on this subject, said up to the beginning of the war we had practically solved the question of houses which were required for sale, but the problem with which we were confronted was that of houses for letting purposes. I ask the Secretary of State or the Joint Under-Secretary when he 1760 replies, to say whether the Department have laid down a ratio of houses built, as between houses for private sale and houses for letting purposes. It would be interesting to know if they have done anything on those lines, because I can see in the capital city of Scotland a position rapidly arising in which the number of houses for private sale, will outstrip the number of houses built for letting purposes.
I wish to deal with Clause 12, which concerns the Scottish Special Housing Association. I know this Association has been underreconstruction for some time, and I wonder if the Joint Under-Secretary is now in a position to state who will be the chairman and members of this Association, and when they are likely to start work, because I confessI am alarmed about the housing position in my constituency. In the borough of Leith before the war there were 1,916 houses— I am dealing with the last available date, which was 1938—which were condemned as unfit for human habitation. Today there are still 1,896 of these houses being used by families in my constituency, with the obvious, result that by comparison with the rest of Edinburgh, the death rate in Leith is very much higher, being 79 per thousand live births compared with 61 per thousand for the rest of the city. That figure of 61 per thousand is based not only on the remaining part of Edinburgh but on the inclusion of this abnormally high death rate in my constituency. In Clause 12 I observe that the Government propose to substitute the word "districts" for '" areas," and I would like to know if that will include an area such as mine, because we must have some special attention. The commission on distressed areas, which visited Leith in 1935 on behalf of the Labour Party, with the present Chancellor of the Exchequer as its chairman, said in its report that while Edinburgh could call for no special provisions, certainly in Leith there were exceptional circumstances and special provisions would have to be made with regard not only to trade but houses. I now ask the Joint Under-Secretary to do something for us in this our time of need, because the problem of housing in Leith is the one which overshadows all other difficulties in my constituency.
I wish to say a few words on the type of house which might be built. I say to 1761 my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) that my constituents are not against the building of tenements if they are of the best type, but they want decent houses, and they want them as soon as they can possibly be obtained. I know a lot of time has been spent on this subject; I only wish some of the hon. Members opposite had had the same fervour when they had power to provide these houses in the years between the wars, when labour and material were plentiful and, in fact, when the building trade workers of this country were walking the streets unemployed. The housing needs of the public were just as great as they are now, and I wish hon. Members opposite had taken advantage of the opportunities when they were presented. I appeal to the Joint Under-Secretary and all who are interested in this subject to put their shoulders to the wheel and get rid of this great slum which lies in our national home, Scotland.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
I wish to deal with that part of the Bill which concerns the rural areas, and I propose to follow the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dumfries (Major Macpherson) in requesting the Government to ensure that very high standardsare maintained for permanent houses. We in Roxburghshire have, for many years, maintained a very high standard in our council houses, and at the moment the county council are worried because St Andrew's House is asking them to put up houses of a type which they had ruled out as unsuitable many years ago. There may be reason why St. Andrew's House should wish us to revert to what we consider an out of date and unsuitable building, but in the Southof Scotland in the rural areas we have ample room on our housing sites for erecting proper buildings.
We believe that a four-apartment house should have both its coalhole and its wash-house in some place other than the kitchen. We do not intend to construct any extravagant coalhole or washhouse, but just a buildingone brick thick, not costing very much in materials, labour or money. But we have been told we must revert to a house the standard of which we abandoned many years ago, and in which the coalhole and the washhouse arein the kitchen. I can understand that in burghs and cities where there is not 1762 the same ample room, it may be necessary to include the washhouse and coalhole in the kitchen, but there is no need for it in the country. On wash days the steam is anything but pleasant in the kitchen, and whenagricultural workers return from work, in muddy boots and dirty equipment, it is much simpler to get their washing done in an outside wash-house, than to take their dirt into the kitchen. Very strong requests have been put forward by Roxburghshire, and not only by them but other county rural areas, that outside washhouses and coalholes shall be allowed to them.
The second point I wanted to make was the question of the neighbouring county of Selkirkshire. There we find that the greatest need for houses is that of the old people. The authorities of Selkirkshire are considerably worried, because they are being told by St. Andrew's House that they have to put up four-apartment buildings when three-apartment buildings would be far more suitable for that particular neighbourhood. They have been told that the old folk have to go into four-apartment buildings. In very many cases, the old folk have no wish at all to be forced into larger houses than they require. There is no danger in that particular area of too manythree-apartment buildings being put up. They are cheaper, they are quicker, and they are more suitable to that neighbourhood. I trust that the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary are not going to carry their military operations along a too narrow path and treat different areas in Scotland as a whole, paying no attention to local requirements.
The third matter I would point out is that the County of Selkirk, as indeed are many other counties in Scotland, are considerably worried over the fact that they have been told they have to put up these new houses in community centres. I know Selkirkshire pretty well. It consists largely of two very long valleys and one or two lesser valleys. Apart from the towns of Galashiels and Selkirk, there is reallyonly one village in Selkirkshire. I defy even the present Government to create a successful community centre in any of those long valleys which will provide a convenient centre from which agricultural workers will be able to go out to their farms, in most cases many miles distant. In providing these new houses for the rural areas in the form of com- 1763 munity centres, one must bear in mind the age-old Scottish custom amongst agricultural workers, that they return home to their midday dinner. Nothing that either this or succeeding Governments do will be able to persuade them to change from that custom. If they are to be housed in community centres many miles from their work, it will mean that they will be spending half the working day either on a bicycle or on their feet.
The fourth point I wanted to raise with regard to rural areas was that there is still a considerable amount of local building labour in the outlying country districts, very often elderly persons or those who have been living in the area fora considerable period. We cannot treat these old labouring men in the same way as we treat individual units of an army. We cannot move them backwards and forwards. When they reach a certain age, where they are, there they stay. If there is not work in theneighbourhood, they are not going to move to where there is work. There are few areas in Scotland, rural or otherwise, where there is not plenty of work: At the present moment, the difficulty is in getting the material. There is an immense amount of workin the improvement of houses within the permitted sanctions if only sufficient material was available.
Lastly, I would thank the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary for having given us those excellent Command Papers to help us to study our housing problem. Although I am not very much addicted to this particular form of literature, I did study the Command Paper on the provision of houses for owner-occupatior When I came to page 6, I saw a very remarkable table on the number of houses that were constructed in Scotland prior to 1914. I confess that I am far more interested in the houses that are going to be constructed in Scotland after 1946. Nevertheless, there is nothing like refreshing one's memory on what happened before. I discovered, rather to my surprise, that in the 10 years of Conservative Government up to 1905 these much abused Tories managed, without any subsidy at all, during their period of Office, to produce in Scotland very nearly 150,000 houses. In fact, the average annual rate of construction was only just under 15,000. That was up to 1905. Then 1764 there was a change of Government. I imagine that at that particular period, at the beginning of this century, 15,000 houses a year were, roughly speaking, what Scotland needed. Conditions have changed a good deal since then. I realise that, even if there had not been the gaps after that and during the war, they would probably have had to go up to 20,000.
What astonished me—a fact I had not realised before—was the very rapid falling off in the building of houses in 1908. We find that, whereas there was this average of just under 15,000 houses a year up to 1905, by 1911 it had dropped to under 3,000 houses. One wondered what was the cause of that until one suddenly remembered that it was at that particular period that there was introduced what was known as the "People's Budget," with the various matters dealing with unearned increment. The effect —I had never realised it was so painful for Scotland—of this particular legislation of the Liberal Government was o reduce the average of 15,000 houses a year under the Conservative administration to well under 4,000 houses a year for the last four years of the Liberal administration, up to 1914. This table is well worth consulting, if anybody wants to talk about the heritage that was passed on to succeeding Governments by the wicked Tories. Once again, I would like to thank the Joint Under-Secretary for his share in giving me this very valuable little book.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I have been interested listening to the Debate and to expressions of opinion from Members on the opposite side of the House. They reminded me of an ancient saying:When the devil is sick, the devil a saint would be. When the devil is well, the devil a saint is he.''I do not think it would be unfair to say that the tendency of hon. Members opposite today has been to emphasise the good they would do if they had power, and rather naturally to forget the things they failed to do when they had that power.
I was specially interested in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S, C. Reid) to whom I took the liberty of saying that, if he had no objection, I would 1765 refer to his remarks. I mention that, because he said that possibly he might not be able to be in the House at the time. I was interested in his speech, in which he dealt with the problem from the physical and financial points of view. Incidentally, it was interesting to observethat he began as a somewhat vigorous venturer on behalf of private enterprise, and ended with an offer to my right hon. Friend to become a somewhat cautious cooperator. He emphasised the difficulties which present themselves to the Government, of which we are all fully aware, and without being unfair to him I think I can say that he sought to infer that if private enterprise were in control today these difficulties would not exist. I think I am quoting his exact words when I say that he pointed out, in dealing with the bottlenecks, that "money is not the limiting factor in solving this problem." We agree on that. It has already been emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh Central (Mr. Gilzean) that money should not be the limiting factor, thathouses can only be built of bricks, and those bricks must be used by human hands. In that respect, money is not a limiting factor, but when the charge for money which is placed by the central Government on the local authority is such as to compel rents to be charged which those who should go into the houses cannot afford to pay, money obviously does become a limiting factor in the provision of houses.
It is because of that very fact, that Tory Governments have failed, in spite of the apologetics to which we have listened today, to present any solution of the problem. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that land today was no longer a difficulty, and that the local authorities had all the land they needed. If it is true that land is no problem today, it is true because, in the words of a great Tory Imperialist,Lord God, we ha' paid in full.That is why land today is no problem. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to state that labour and materials were the two chief difficulties. If labour and materials are bottlenecks today under a Labour Government treating this problem as a public enterprise, they would still be a bottleneck under a Tory Government seeking to solve the prob- 1766 lem along the lines of private enterprise, and would be a greater bottleneck because of the treatment which Tory Governments have meted out in the past to labour, and because of the restrictive practices in regard to the production and control of materials. The right hon. and learned Gentleman finally suggested that the chief bottleneck would lie in organisation. This Government have made a fundamentally new approach to the problem of housing. We have changed the basis of organisation. Why have we done that? We have heard much today of what has been done by Tory and Liberal Governments in the past. I submit that it is because of the records of those Governments in the past that the basis of organisation has been changed by the present Government. When I was listening to some of the speeches this afternoon I recollected a description of the problems facing us today which came from a great and respected leader of the Party opposite. He said:Think of the physical conditions of the great mass of the people of this country. They are living, if living it can be called, in conditions of squalor, filth and pestilence, in conditions that would not be tolerated for an instant in the stables and in the kennels which are connected with the dwellings of the rich.Those are not the words of a Socialist agitator, or of any Member on this side, but of a past leader of the party opposite, the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, speaking on New Year's day at Sheffield in the year 1870. Since he described the housing conditions of this country in language which we could not improve upon today, 145 years have passed and it is perfectly true to say that those conditions still exist in our country after 145 years in which Members opposite, and Governments of which they or their predecessors formed part, had ample opportunity to change them. These conditions still persist and hon. Members opposite have obviously failed to change them because last year we were told that over 400,000 houses in Scotland still lack sanitary arrangements of any kind whatsoever, and that in Glasgow today there are 75,000 people who are either homeless, living in overcrowded rooms or are in rooms without any permanent home whatsoever. These figures, and the time which the party opposite has had to remedy those conditions, are sufficient condemnation of the methods of private 1767 enterprise, and adequate justification for the change in organisation that is now being adopted to deal with the problems with which we are faced today. I say to my right hon. Friend that we welcome the Bill and that we wish it a speedy passage.
There is only one other point to which I should like to refer before I sit down. We on this side recognise that there are two aspects to the problem that faces us today, the problem of quantity and the problem of quality. We rightly concede the fact that at the moment, because of the clamant necessity for houses, the problem is being approached purely in its quantitative aspect. But we do know that a Bill will come dealing with the problem in its qualitative aspect. I am not suggesting that in the quantitative approach at present there is a lack of quality in the houses, but I am suggesting that the solution to the problem lies not only in numbers but in adequate and proper town planning. We know that is coming, and because we know it is coming we welcome the effort that is being made today. We feel that with local authorities pulling their weight supported by Members on both sides a definite contribution will be made by this Bill to solving the most clamant problem in Scotland today.
§ 7.32 p.m
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
The main object of this Bill as laid down in paragraph 1 of the Explanatory Memorandum is to increase the subsidies payable to the local authorities and to the special housing association. That policy is all right upto a point, in that the higher costs of building have made the subsidies granted under the 1938 Act quite inadequate. But at the same time the new Bill and some of the omissions from it raise some important questions. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will answer them. Unfortunately, for the past three weeks I have been laid up with the prevailing complaint of influenza, but my enforced absence from the House has enabled me to study Hansard rather more closely than is sometimes the case; and Ihave been surprised at the number of important questions which have been raised in speeches by Members on these benches, which have not been answered by the Government. I hope that in this
1768 respect the Scottish Ministers will set a good example to their English brethren, and will deal with the cogent points put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr J. S. C. Reid) and other speakers.
As we understand it, the theoretical target for Scotland is 500,000 new houses for the wage earning population. Further, I understand from the answer given to the Question which I put to the Secretary of State last October, the initial programme of the Government is to have 20,000 permanent houses built or building by 30th June, 1946, and a further 30,000 built or building by 30th June, 1947. I assume that that continues to be the Government's immediate programme. Turning to practice, we rind that in the Housing Return White Paper issued the other day 1,560 permanent houses have been actually completed up to date, and some 7,361 are under construction. It seems to me fairly obvious that it is going to be rather difficult for the Government to keep to this initial programme, and that every possible effort ought to be made to accelerate building. I suggest that every agency should be used for the purpose. I would ask the Government to keep in mind that the main object must be the provision of the maximum number of permanent houses in the minimum space of time, and to remember above all things, that houses are built by men using mortar and bricks, steel and other building materials, and that they are not made by innumerable discussions in committees and by issuing streams of paper from Government offices. That impedes rather than helps.
A good deal has been said in the course of this Debate, and rightly so, on the position of the independent builder. I, personally, regret the fact that they are not eligible for a subsidy, because I do not think their services are being utilised, or can be utilised to the maximum possible extent unless they are able to come in on equal terms with local authorities and the special housing association. I know that numbers of medium-sized and small building firms will be engaged by large contractors, but, even so, Ithink, full use cannot be made of most of them unless they are given a chance to work on their own. I do suggest that potential output is being sacrificed in this way to political theory. I noticed that the other day the Minister of Health made some reference to the fact the Government had 1769 in view plans for better use of small firms, but he did not elaborate them. I wonder if the Under-Secretary would comment on this point, and say if there is any intention in Scotland to make better use of those small firms of, perhaps, half a dozen employees.
Naturally enough, in discussions on Scottish housing we come up against the question of rating, which was dealt with by the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead and also by the hon. Member for Dunfermline(Mr. McLean Watson). The Coalition Government appointed a Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Sorn, to look into that matter and the report of that Committee, which was duly signed by a Member of the present Government, the Treasurer of the Household, and which also received the assent of ex-Lord Provost Welsh of Glasgow said, among other things, that ownersrates should be stabilised. I commend that report to the notice of the present Government, but more especially I would commend to their notice the recent observations of Mr. Tom Johnston himself, the former Secretary of State, who in a broadcast in the Scottish Home Service on 15th February, as reported in the "Scotsman," said that the only cause he knew why our people North of the Border were soprejudiced in their housing conditions, compared with England, was that we had a rating system which manifestly discouraged the building of houses to let. I do think that the present Government ought to give great weight to the words of Mr. Tom Johnston, who knows the whole question from A to Z, and I regret that nothing has been done in this matter and that no provision is made in this Bill for dealing with this problem of rates.
Time is limited, and I will deal with just one other point, and one which, curiously enough, has not been covered by any other speakers in this Debate. It is the question of what should be done about the increased building costs which have necessitated the very heavy subsidies authorised in the Bill. Paragraph 2 of the explanatory Memorandum says that the high building costs in question had risen to their present level by 7th March, 1944. That is assumed to be the date at which they became unduly high. Two years have elapsed since then, and I think we are entitled to some sort of analysis or explanation from the Government of what 1770 is considered to be the reason for the perpetuation of these high costs, and what steps they intend to take to reduce them. I read the Debate on the English Bill very carefully, and found that nothing was said on this subject by the Ministers who spoke then. In his opening address today the Secretary of State for Scotland made no reference to what the Government intend to do about these heavy costs. This is a serious matter. The Minister of Health, in aspeech to the London Trades Council as recently as 23rd February, said that building costs had got to be reduced, and that if the costs were not reduced, the whole housing programme would be ruined. That is a very serious statement "from a responsible Minister. I remind the Secretary of State for Scotland and hon. Members opposite that they are pledged to do something in this matter by reason of their own election promises. There was circulated in my constituency, as no doubt in the constituencies of other hon. Members, a leaflet dealing with this matter. It said:We can give our Boys and Girls a Welcome, but can the Tories give them a Home?''That must forever be a matter of conjecture, because we are not in power, but I do note from the answer to a question which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) received the other day, that only 16 of the permanent houses laid down in Scotland since 31st July have been completed to date. In fact whether or not the Tories could give them a home, hon. Members opposite have not been able to achieve much yet, having so far built only one house for every two counties in Scotland. The leaflet went on:What Labour will do and what the Tories will not do is, first, to settle priorities inthe use of building material supplies in the public interest; second, to control the prices of those supplies; third, to organise through a reformed Ministry of Works the economical production of housing components and fourth, to stimulate the more efficient organisation of the building industry.I do not know what the Government have done, apart from passing the Building Materials and Housing Act, 1945. That Act certainly does give them fairly extensive powers. For example, it authorises the Minister of Works to purchase building materials and equipment for building, and it also authorises him 1771 to make and carry out arrangements for the production and distribution of building materials and equipment. Incidentally I would point out that the Opposition did not oppose either the Second Reading or the Third Reading of that Measure. The Government ought now to have the tools in their hands for dealing with this very important matter of costs.
It may be that they consider the Act is not very satisfactory. Possibly the Secretary of State holds the same view on the subject as was expressed quite recently by Alderman Lewis, chairman of the Birmingham Trades Council, who said that the Ministry of Works was a "great trouble" to his committee and that it ought to go back to the business it was doing before the war of looking after Crown buildings—not a very flattering remark. The House, the tax-payers and the ratepayers of this country are entitled to know what the Government intend to do on the question of high costs. We are entitled especially to know about this because reference is made in the Bill to a review of the subsidies being undertaken before June, 1947, and we must assume that the Government have in view some policy to reduce the costs before that time. I hope that this matter is receiving attention and that we shall this evening receive some kind of explanation of the Government's policy.stage some other important matters with which I had wished to deal, among other things, the higher rates contribution in Scotland than in England, but 1 will say now that this Bill, which deals with one very important aspect of housing, namely the financial aspect—the provision of the necessary money—leaves a good many things still shrouded in mystery. It is not a Measure about which we can become widely enthusiastic, and I warn the Secretary of State that we shall have a good many searching questions to ask on the Committee stage In the meantime, I hope the more general points I have raised will receive attention in the Under-Secretary's reply.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I want to say immediately, without any suspicion of sycophancy, that I very much welcome this Bill. I am relieved that it has come in good time and that 1772 to a large extent it makes the provisions which I had hoped would be made for rural areas, especially those in the part of the country which I represent. It is not an exciting Bill in the sense that hon. Members opposite would like it—partly because of the novelty of having such a Bill—to be; but, nevertheless, it is respectably adequate, and it serves largely to cope with the increased cost which, without the Bill, would prevent the housing which we hope to see go ahead under the Bill. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) went to some length in attacking the Government on the question of controlling private enterprise in building. Fuller reference to the records and our past experience in these matters would not have justified his attack. I rather felt, when he came to the question of rating, that it was a pity he did not combine with his versatility and highly respected ability a rather longer memory. I can very well remember that last year, on the Measure for derating hydro-electric undertakings coming into the Highlands, he advocated subsidies for almost every vested interest in that connection at the expense of the local rates. I think I am not unjust in saying that. He was not byany means alone in that, but he was one of those who made every sort of heavy demand at the expense of the local ratepayers.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid
Surely, the hon. Gentleman remembers that under that Bill the amount of any rates which any county council could get would very far exceed any concession asked from them.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I completely disagree, and I think that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman can find time to refer to the speeches that I made on the Second Reading and in Committee on that Measure, he will find that I gave the reasons very fully. There was no guarantee whatever of accruing rateable values, and there was a very definite taking away of the rateable values that should have accrued. The point is that, at that time, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends gulped down greedily everything they could get for private enterprise, and opened their jaws for more. On that occasion, as on this occasion, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was trying to get what he could forcertain private interests. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State has 1773 been challenged to produce certain figures, with the implication that if he did not do so he would be regarded as lacking in courage. One thing one can honestly say is not lacking on the Front Bench opposite is courage, when right hon. Gentlemen dare to expect self-righteously that we should be able, after six months, to do the things which they failed to do in as many decades. I am beginning to get tired of the flattering implications in the impossible demand that we should make up in such a very brief time for what they failed to deal with adequately when they had power for whole generations.
§ Sir T. Moore
Our complaint is that the promises were made, before and during the General Election, that houses, even to the extent of millions, would be produced almost by the wave of a wand.
§ Mr. MacMillan
At the moment we are discussing a Scottish Bill, and the figure given by the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead was 500,000 houses. The more one inflates the figure, if it is good for propaganda purposes to inflate it, the more the case is made out against the Tories, who left the figure at such an unsatisfactory level. Even if one is near in name, like the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) to the name of the great Utopian, Sir Thomas More, one can hardly expect to achieve in six months what the Tories regarded as being impossible in so many decades before the war. I understand that hon. Gentlemen opposite intend to move an Amendment to the Money Resolution, in which they want, in their own words, to "leave out ' for the working classes '." I think that phrase "leave out for the working classes ' "rather summarises and epitomises their Tory philosophy, history and party programme to a large extent; as well as their achievements in the past. "Leave out ' the working classes ' "is quite a nice little phrase. It is a final admission that they do not represent the working class, and certainly do not give the first priority to the most needy people in this country, because this is, to a great extent, a working class problem.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I was just about to ask for one myself, if the hon. and gallant Member had allowed me. 1 was going to 1774 ask whether he was not in some way prejudicing the future of his own party. I imagine that an hon. Member opposite might require a house for himself and might find himself badlydown at the bottom of the list, among the names of the people outside the working classes whom they claim particularly to represent. Perhaps the late Lord Advocate might find himself in difficulty, perhaps by being overcrowded. He might want to cover himself and, in order to show that houses should apply to people other than the workers, might like by this Amendment to include himself. I wonder exactly what would happen. I cannot imagine that there are many hon. Members opposite supporting the Amendment who would be likely to overcrowd any house except the one house that they have overcrowded for such a very long time—for far too long.
This matter boils down to the poverty problem of the people of this country. The war has to some extent aggravated the situation. Young people are growing up and the young men and women want to get married and set up house. There has been no building during the war. But before the war generally this was always a working class problem. The real indictment of the Governments of the past is that the nearest definition of "working class "was the depressed classes of this country who were unable to build houses for themselves. That is also the nearest I can come to the definition for which the hon. and gallant Member opposite asked me. In my constituency and in the area round about, the people correspond to the middle classes. The housing problem is a poverty problem among the poorer income groups, who were never able to build a house for themselves and who were left for long periods unemployed because no private profit employer was able profitably to employ their labour.
In the Isles and Highlands, no private builder has attempted to build houses for them, even from patriotic motives. This is an excellent test to show what private builders will do. Even the speculative builder with the Tory Party philosophy of "profit and risk," never went to those areas to build houses for the working class. The matter was left to the local authorities and the State. Building has been done by State assistance. The only private enterprise that entered into the matter was the practical enterprise of the 1775 man who built his house with his own hands. These people were men, in the economic sense, who undertook the "enterprise" to build a house. They were not so in the speculative sense. We were left in the past to rely upon men to build their own houses with their own hands, and there were plenty of them who are now unemployed and waiting to build their own houses as soon as they can come out of the Forces. That is one of the criticisms I have of the county councils of Inverness and Ross and Cromarty. There are many men there unemployed, yet no county building has yet been undertaken.
§ Major McCallum
Surely, the county councils to which the hon. Member has referred are not Tory councils but are either Labour or Liberal.
§ Mr. MacMillan
It is no use pretending that this is because there are Socialist councils in Ross and Inverness. The Tories will have to take their whacking.
§ Mr. MacMillan
We are asking that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should co-operate to the utmost with local authorities. That must be done by persuading, lecturing, hectoring and even coercing if necessary the recalcitrant local authorities in the Isles to get on with the housing of the people. No speculative or private builder will go there to build for profit. There are nearly 2,000 able-bodied men unemployed in that area, and many of them and their families are practically homeless, in the ordinary, decent definition of "home." Those men could be building now. Many men have built their own homes in the past. That type of man can turn his hand to almost anything and they resent being dependent upon public funds or upon anything which savours of social or private charity which they do not want. These men could build homes for themselves and their families now. For these county councils we have not managed to get a Socialist majority in order to co-operate with the Labour Government. They are not getting on with the job properly. 1776 I ask the representatives of the Scottish Office—I have had an assurance already—to confirm that the Joint Undersecretary is in touch with the county councils in my area. There is the important water supply question. There may be administrative and technical delays. I am anxious lest there should be a disjointed arrangement from any failure to dovetail; and lest it should be thought that because there is not a water supply simultaneously available houses cannot be occupied and lived in. We need not wait till the last chromium tap or enamelled wash basin is in the house before it is occupied. We should get the houses built and make surethat every house has the required installations for the purpose of water supply; but at all speed we should get on with the housing. It may be thought a very peculiar situation that for 10 years, I as a Scotsman, should have been coming to this House asking for water. But in all seriousness, any further delay after all that time can not be defended.
I do not want to be charged by the Joint Under-Secretary with saying that I am at all happy till a supply of communal water is available. That is the last thingin the world I want to be thought. I expect I am again boring this House now as I have so persistently bored it previously, asking for water supplies to be installed to benefit our women folk as well as for agriculture and dairy farming; but I do not wantto see housing held up because we are waiting upon little extravagances of enamel-ware and the general chromium decorations on the sanitary side. I would ask that we do not put houses, if at all avoidable, where there is no electricity supply possible. It is unfortunate that we should have to compromise upon these matters of relative necessity. It is also unfortunate that we cannot command sufficient supplies. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could deliver a lecture to the Board of Trade that, as far as possible, matters should be so arranged as to expedite the supply of electric fittings. I would like to know from the representatives of the Hydro-Electric Board why we do not hear more about electrification under the Board's schemes. I want information in some detail about what is being done, or is likely to be done within a reasonable time, to help the Outer Islands.
§ Mr. MacMillan
That is a most unfortunate interruption. Just because the Hydro-Electric Board have not got on with their job in the Outer Isles, the hon. Gentleman cannot blame the local authorities for that.
There is another subject which I have not stressed, and that is temporary housing. I have always been against temporary housing in the Islands. The town council of Stornoway, which is the main burgh, has a first-class permanent housing programme. They are building 74 houses and we hope they will be ready by the middle of the summer. That is not a bad figure, especially when compared with bigger authorities elsewhere, nearer supplies. As I say, I have always been against concentrating in the Isles on temporary housing, and I think the local authorities were right in opting for permanent building. At the present moment, however, we have men coming back from the Services and find they have nowhere to live. There are cases of men having to live with families in Service huts. That is not good enough. We consider that Service hutsshould be put into condition for the use of strictly temporary housing. I have an example in my constituency of a woman with three children, who has tuberculosis of the lung. Her three brothers are victims too. It is not possible, for obvious reasons, forher to share accommodation with them. That is the sort of difficulty which is arising now. It is not a question of waiting, but of immediate urgency; and I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will go to the county councils, and have no hesitation in saying that they must get on with the job of housing now. There is no insuperable difficulty about it at all, because we have the men and sites; the sand, the shingle and most of the materials, required; and the people are anxious and willing to do the work. At the moment little stands in our way, except administrative delay. Therefore, as I say, we now hope to see something done immediately in the matter.
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask leave of the House to correct an arithmetical error?
§ Mr. Rankin
I wish to correct an absurd arithmetical slip which I made in the course of my speech and substitute "75 years" for "145 years." I withdraw my original statement and apologise for it.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) seems to me, from his experiences in his own constituency and that part of the Highlands neighbouring, on the mainland, to rage about the crimes of the Tories. It always surprises me, because I understand that historically the Highlands and the Islands have been strongly Liberal and have always been represented by Liberals, until now when they have a Socialist.
§ Major McCallum
It would be much better if the hon. Member would be more careful in his wording, when he alleges all these frightful things about what has been and what has not been done by the Tories, because they really concern his Liberal friends.
§ Major McCallum
I should like to refer to a slashing attack which was made on Tory building achievements in past years by the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin). My noble Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord W. Scott) took the words out of my mouth when he quoted the achievements of the Tory Government in regard to their housing policy. When this Government collapses, hon. Members opposite will be able to see whether it had done better than the Tories, and if it has done so, then they may wear haloes on their heads, and I will order them for them. Meanwhile, they had better wait and see whether their achievements are as good as their Tory predecessors.
I will now turn to theBill, and say a word or two on the question of rural housing. In his opening speech, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of reconditioning houses which had no damp courses. He said that these houses were not worth reconditioning. I ask the Under-Secretary to reconsider this question of reconditioning old houses, even though they have no water laid on, 1779 sanitation or damp courses. I know of three houses in my own neighbourhood which could be reconditioned at far less cost than would be required to build new houses. These houses would be infinitely better than any house which could be built today. The walls are made of stone, and are 2 ft. to 2ft. 6 inches wide, proof against any kind of weather. This type of house cannot be built today, butif they could be built, they would cost thousands of pounds. Therefore, why not make use of them and encourage the owners to put in bathrooms and damp courses? It is quite easy to do this work, and the total cost of reconditioning, which would make the houses magnificent and a pride to the people who live in them, would be far less than £1,200 or whatever the sum is which a new house is costing at the present time. As I have said, I hope that the Scottish Office will reconsider this question.
I should now like to refer to the bogy of the tied house. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he hoped he would be able to reduce to a minimum the number of tied houses in Scotland. I suggest that that minimum has to be pretty high, particularly in the Highlands. Can anyone conceive the shepherd, or the cattleman, of a hill farm in the Highlands living in the village at the foot of the glen, travelling miles each day to do his work? The result will be, of course, that the farms will shut down, and again we shall have an outcry about the depopulation of the Highlands. As has been stated, in other walks of life we find tied houses. I would quote the case of the railway workers.
§ Major McCallum
I gather, but I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary will correct me, that local authorities cannot give permits to anyone for building a house, whether there is a subsidy or not, if it is to be a tied house. It is an impossible situation.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The hon. and gallant Member's statement is wrong. The answer is that permits can be obtained.
§ Major McCallum
If that is correct I will send to the hon. Member information which I have, and if I am wrong he will> 1780 no doubt correct me. In the meantime his advice is that I am wrong. I can only say that I know of two cases in which permissionhas been applied for to build houses, and the only grounds on which permission will be given is that they shall not be tied houses. This will be recorded in Hansard, and it is a decision which will be read and much welcomed. This tied house bogy, like the deerforest bogy, is constantly with us. I am glad to hear what the hon. Members has just said, and I was glad to hear in the Agricultural Debate what the Secretary of State said about deer forests.
I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary if the subsidies to be paid to local authorities mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum and Clause 2 of the Bill are to date from the houses completed after 7th March, 1944.I want to ask him, on behalf of my own local authority, if there is any particular reason why that date should have been chosen, and whether the cost of building was much higher on 7th March than on the 1st January. It has been indicated to me that it would be fairer to the local authorities all over Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, if the date could be made 1st January, 1944.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
The few points on which I am going to touch, are those to which the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) has just referred. I am, however, going to approach them from the opposite angle. I welcome particularly the remarks on tied houses made by the Secretary of State for Scotland. This is a problem which occurs not only in rural areas, but in the mining districts and perhaps in other districts of Scotland. In a previous Debate, I spoke of the appalling housing conditions of the majority of the people in my constituency. In 1939, in my own town, overcrowding was about 70 per cent. It does not take any great stretch of imagination to realise how very much greater the, overcrowding is today, and yet at this very time, when one can scarcely get a sub-let room in that town, Shotts Iron Company is trying to evict people from tied houses.
I was in court, for the first time in my life, on Friday, and I went there on behalf of two of my constituents. They were living in service houses owned by this company. In one of these cases, the hus- 1781 band had worked until two years ago, with that company. He met with an accident. He was compensated and, although he is now fit for work, he does not feel that he wants to go into a coal mine to risk his life again. The son of the house, who is the only member of the family able to work, is with Shotts Iron Company, employed in one of the coal mines. That is one of the families which the company is trying to put out of a service house. The time has passed when people should be forced to go out of houses, because they are not working for the people who own the houses. I think that is particularly so today, when houses are so scarce.
§ Major McCallum
Surely: it is the case all over Scotland, that a teacher leaves the school house when no longer working at the school.
§ Miss Herbison
I grant the hon. and gallant Member that. I have been a school teacher myself, and the wage I had is much better than that which most miners have. I, possibly, may have made some provision for a house when I went out of the school house. The miners have not been able to do that.
Far too much play has been made by the Opposition with the reconditioning of houses. I live in a reconditioned house in which my father was born. I say to the Secretary of State, "Stick to the point which you have made, and be careful about using manpower today, when it is so scarce, for reconditioning houses, because reconditioned houses are rarely, if ever, a success." Clause 5, which I greatly welcome, deals with subsidies for those areas where subsidence due to mining operations may take place.Lanarkshire county council has paid an enormous sum in buying the mineral rights in order to find ground on which to build houses. They have paid £61,831 8s. 3d. in relation to only 1,190 houses. It is not surprising that, in the town in which I live, we cannot stress sufficiently the dreadful conditions of the people. We have not a single site chosen on which to build houses. Why is that? [An Hon. MEMBER: "A Tory council."] It may be because we had a Tory council, but I would say that the most important reason was because of the mineral position. Every site suggested by the local council was turned down because the mineral report was bad. I think that 1782 this Clause is going to help Lanarkshire County Council. I should like to have seen a much greater subsidy, since a Subsidy is to be given. Sites in some districts are to be far more expensive than in others and this ought to be made a national and not a local charge. I say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I welcome very much that the Secretary of State for Scotland should have been the first person to introduce a subsidy for subsidence; I am not surprised. When we look at housing in Scotland we find that it took a Labour Government, in a minority, to lay down something never laid down before—that the housing 0f the people was a public responsibility. The Wheatley and Greenwood Acts were those under which local authorities in Scotland provided houses for their workers.
I was interested in the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid). He seemed to be rather worried that private enterprise was not being encouraged. I say that so long as housing conditions exist as at present, complete control must be in the hands of local authorities. If I were Secretary of State for Scotland, I would not give a single permit for any house to be built for sale. Only the local authorities can possibly allocate houses to the persons who have the greatest need. Indeed, I would say that no one in our country at the present time should have a house because he or she has the money to pay some private builder to build it. The ability to purchase should not be the deciding factor in getting a house today.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has proved a great friend to me and to my housing problems. I would say to him, that since houses are so badly needed, he should take the greatest care that the local authorities, who are willing to build, should get all the help he can possibly give them, and where he finds local authorities who are not going to give of their best to the solving of the housing problem, then he must take other means to prod them so that houses will be provided for the people. That can only be done by the people we have in authority today, who have shown quite clearly that their attitude towards the housing of the people is completely different from the attitude of previous Conservative Governments. Under private enterprise, in 1938, the peak year for building in Great 1783 Britain, there were 13,000 building operatives idle, walking the streets of Great Britain. Private enterprise had the material, the manpower and everything that was necessary to provide houses, and they failed. I laughed when an hon. Member spoke about the people losing theirfaith in this Government. That is rather funny to us on this side of the House, because we know from our own people, from every election, local or national, that has taken place in recent months that the people of Scotland and the people of Great Britain have demonstrated their faith in the Government today, and the Government will not in any way destroy that faith.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
The hon. Lady who has just spoken has done so with great sincerity. She mentioned rural cottages and the reconditioning of them, and I hope I shall be able to speak with equal sincerity when I try to put the opposite side of the case from the point of view of the rural areas. I feel that this is a most important Bill because it gives expressionto the Government's policy for housing in Scotland, and however short the period of office of the Government may be, it will decide the future of Scottish housing for a long time to come. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance not only to the Members who represent the great industrial constituencies of Scotland, but also to those who represent the more thinly populated rural areas. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) effectively dealt with that part of the Bill which deals with the urban areas. It is not my intention to reinforce anything he and others have said. I should like to confine myself to the provisions or, to be more accurate, to the lack of them in this Bill as regards rural housing.
According to the 1931 census, quoted by the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee in their Report, I think on page 8, the total number of persons living in five-apartment houses in Scotland was 1,191,655. In other words the question of rural housing affects a quarter of the entire population of Scotland. Unfortunately, that quarter has in the past been the least vocal section of the population, and in consequence their needs and circumstances have received 1784 less publicity. Therefore, they have received less consideration than thosewho live in the urban areas. I think it is also true to say that this condition has been greatly aggravated by the general state of agricultural depression that existed in the industry between the two wars. The drift to the towns was probably mainly due to the state of agriculture, but the low standard of housing in the rural areas has certainly been a very important contributory factor. We in the country fear that once more our claims are to be pushed into the background. We feel that they are to be subordinated to those of the urban districts in spite of the fact that conditions have very greatly changed—and they have greatly changed. Today food has become priority No. 1. Food is upsides with coal in the struggle to solve this country's ills.
If weare considering any long-term policy for rural housing it seems to me that we must examine first the circumstances, and, second, the needs of the rural areas, and then consider whether this Bill (1) takes into account the circumstances; and (2) finally satisfies those needs. After a close examination of the Bill I suggest to the Under-Secretary, whose sincerity I do not doubt in the work he is trying to do which is a very difficult job, that for the rural areas this Bill does neither. Let us look at the circumstances of the countryside and consider what are the essential facts affecting rural housing in Scotland. I am sure he will admit that rural housing cannot be set aside into a watertight compartment. It cannot be separated or treated merely as a branchof housing as such because rural housing is inseparable both in fact and in consideration from the industry upon which it depends, which industry is the very foundation of rural housing. Secondly, in Scotland our rural houses are widely scattered all overthe countryside. We have not as in England hamlets and villages consisting of farms and houses clustered into groups. The very nature of Scottish agriculture is entirely different from the nature of English agriculture. It is far more widely dispersed andunfortunately we suffer from a far more rigorous climate. Moreover, our Scottish agricultural economy is based upon the livestock industry. Eighty per cent, of our total agricultural output comes from livestock and livestock products. I think it is logical to argue that 1785 our agricultural system cannot suddenly be changed to fit into any housing scheme we may conceive.
To be effective, a housing scheme must adapt itself to the needs of the industry upon which it depends for its existence. From my own personal experience of over 25 years active farming—andby active I mean really active—I have no hesitation in saying that in Scotland there is no pronounced demand amongst those engaged in agriculture to be assembled into communities and villages. It is quite true if you go to a county town you will get a public meeting to pass a resolution against the tied cottage, but to say that agricultural workers want to see the abolition or the death of the tied cottage to me is an exaggeration because I know it is not true. So long as the houses are good I am quite certain that if you took a referendum of the agricultural workers of Scotland you would find today that the vast majority of them want to be either on the farm or very near to it.
§ Mr. Snadden
The farm worker would far rather cross a couple of fields for his hot meal than cycle four or five miles through sleet, rain and snow with a piece in his pocket for his lunch. Of course he would.
I want to put another point to the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) as well as the Under-Secretary and I think that it is a point which is very often forgotten. It is the question of the future of the agricultural workers of Scotland. In this business of the location of rural housing, what should be uppermost in the minds of agriculturists and the Government—and I regret that the Minister responsible for agriculture in Scotland is not here to listen to what we have to say—is thefuture supply of agricultural labour. This is a very serious question. When prisoners-of-war, who are today living in hostels, have departed, and the Women's Land Army has also gone, what shall we do about the reservoir of agricultural labour, which must produce our food if we are not to starve? Where does this labour come from? Most certainly, it comes, in the main, from the children of existing farm workers. The children of today are our future farm labourers. What happens? When they 1786 come home from school they go into the byres at milking time, or go with the sheep in the afternoon, and into the fields, and learn even how to set a plough. They absorb farming knowledge in their daily contact with their jobs on the farm, with the result that long before they leave school they know all about mastitis in dairy herds, and about foot rot in sheep. They need no Government training. If they are to be taken away from active contact with the land, as the Government appear to be out to do, then they are lost toagriculture for good. I do not think that that is any exaggeration.
This question is of vital importance to the future of the agricultural industry, and to the Government's post war agricultural policy. What are the needs of the countryside? We want, firstof all, good houses on the farms for the people who are already there, if we are to retain the skill which is there now. We want to bring back to the land, indeed we must bring back, the workers who have gone into the Forces—and there are 18,000 ofthem. Many of these young men, since they went into the Forces, have married. They are coming back with families, and we cannot expect them to live with their parents. We must find new additional houses for them in excess of what we already have. We facea world shortage of food. I have studied this question long enough to know that that is true. All the evidence before us today suggests that it will be a long time before we are out of the wood. We are asked by the Government to maintain a huge tillage acreage and increase it, and, at the same time, to step up our milk production. Even after we get out of the period of scarcity we shall find that 80 per cent, or more of our total agricultural output in Scotland is based on the livestock industry. All this means a very substantial increase in manpower over prewar days, and a far greater concentration of farm worker than we have ever known. Because of the specialisation necessary in milk production, and to meet the needs of the livestock industry in general, the labour required must be on the spot. I have never encountered any difference on that point among farmers or agricultural workers; the only people who differ about it are politicians.
Does this Bill provide the means which will satisfy these essential needs? If it 1787 does not, our food production must be jeopardised. I do not think it does. The Bill increases the amount of the Exchequer subsidies to local authorities for rural housing, and increases the amount of grant payable to private persons for building houses, but only in replacement of unfit houses. It will not improve one cottage on one farm in the whole of Scotland, nor will it put one new additional cottage on one farm in Scotland. It even insists that houses should be allowed to become unfit for human habitation before they can be replaced by new houses. On the question of improvements, the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts provided grants in aid of reconditioning cottages. Those Acts have been allowed to lapse, and a lot has been said about that today. The Minister of Health said on 17th October that he was not against these Acts, and that he would later give us a better Act. I would like to know where is that Act? Is it coming along later? Is this a hope deferred, or has the Bill been relegated toa pigeon hole in St. Andrew's House? The Acts would have made a valuable contribution to the rural housing problem. I am aware of the recommendation of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, but why did they turn down those Acts?
Let us deal with the argument. The Secretary of State said today that they did so because of the lax administration of the Acts in Scotland by certain local authorities, and that the Committee further recommended certain changes in administration to meet the case, and the continuance of the Act in Scotland for a further period of two years. If amended administration of the Acts by local authorities in 1937 justified their continuance for a further two years, surely today, when we are faced with conditions of world famine, and a food shortage the like of which we have never known, we are justified in continuing that Measure. I regret that there should be no provision at all for improving existing houses. In the county of Perth, 3,000 houses have been reconditioned. I took advantageof the Act myself, and I am not ashamed of the result. The average cost in the county of Perth was less than £100 per house from public funds.
That was during a time of acute agricultural depression. Even in the war years, with all their difficulties, no fewer 1788 than 346 houses were improved under the Acts. Now that agriculture is more prosperous, and has more confidence, we could double the rate of reconditioning if we were still able to use the provisions of those Acts. If we are to rehouse the existing population and the men who are coming back from the Forces—and we shall never do it with new houses; that is an impossibility—the only thing to do is to recondition when new building is being carried out. Rural housing, as everyone knows, is required quickly if we are to cope with an urgent and critical situation.
There are two other points I should like to raise in connection with the building of new houses. This Bill gives assistance for new building to local authorities only, but local authorities are not going to build houses on the farms where they are required. If they build them at all they will do so in villages and hamlets. I have tried to point out that, whether we like it or not, that is no good for Scottish farms. In my ownarea we had great difficulty in finding tenants for the two cottages built during the war because they were too far away from the farms. Under the 1938 Act grants were made to encourage the replacement of houses if no alternative accommodation was available locally, and that provision is continued in the present Bill with increased grants if the local authority cannot provide accommodation. The houses to be replaced, however, must be unfit for human habitation. Why must they be semi-derelict before a new house can be built? Why are the occupants to be condemned to live in these houses until they become stables? If they cannot be adequately reconstructed because of the discontinuance of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act surely the Government should introduce a special provision into this Bill to include houses scheduled as being likely to become unfit for habitation if no remedial action were taken.
Finally, I would ask the Minister if he can tell us what is the target for the rural areas. I know he has been asked many questions today on costs and numbers of houses, but I think we who represent country constituencies are entitled to know just what is the estimate for Scotland in terms of rural housing. It is very important and will affect our food production for many years to come. I am bound to say that from the point of 1789 view of rural housing this Bill seems to me to be of little use. It does not take account of the circumstances of the countryside as I see them, nor of the critical needs of the present food shortage. I am driven to the conclusion that the Government are unable to conceive anything other than a rural community organised on an urban basis. If I may say so, with all respect, I am afraid that this is only an expression of ignorance of the conditions of rural Scotland. The Bill will not improve one existing house, it will not provide one additional new house where it is wanted, and it leaves people in unsuitable houses until they are unfit for human habitation. This may be Socialism, but of one thing I am certain —it is not housing.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
As I listened to hon. Members on the other side of the House today I was reminded of an occurrence here a week or two ago when the sister of a friend of mine paid a visit to the House. She went into the Gallery and when I met her afterwards in the corridor she said, "I never laughed so much as when I heard David Kirkwood say that the people on the other side had the brass face for anything." The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) has said that those with whom he is associated do not want a new world. They say they want to recapture something very valuable—home life. I remember a colleague of theirs, Mr. Walter Elliot, standing at the Despatch Box, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, and declaring that housing conditions in Scotland were absolutely shocking and a disgrace to civilisation. Is that what the hon. Member and his friends want to recapture? Conditions in Scotland before the war were absolutely deplorable.
There are so many things I could discuss—the question of land for instance—but I have not sufficient time. I want however to raise the question of the mobilising of an army of workers which is essential if houses areto be built. We should have before us an idea of how we are going to mobilise these men and women. I agree with the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) that there should be no fancy houses of any kind until every working-class family has a home.That is the position some of us have always taken up. Another question 1790 with which I am very much concerned is finance. Unless this is dealt with in real earnest, by methods different from the normal orthodox ones, we shall not get the houses. There isnot a local authority in the country that is not heavily burdened with interest payments. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) was concerned about rates. I am concerned about rates, and about rents too. If, by some means, thelocal authorities were relieved of the burden of interest payments, rates would go down with a rush, and so would rents. Therefore the question should be approached by the Scottish Office with a view to devising a method for supplying the local authorities with very cheap or interest-free money to enable them to get rid of the burden of debt and of the moneylenders. There could then be a big reduction in rents and rates. But such a method of tackling the problem would not meet with approval from the other side of the House. I am anxious that this matter should be tackled. My own county council have written to me on the subject and have asked me to draw particular attention to the question of finance. They say:DEAR MR. GALLACHER,I write to inform you that the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill has been considered by the Council's Law and Parliamentary Bills Committee and I am directed to write to you as follows. -Government Subsidy: The Committee is of opinion that the suggested subsidy is too low and that a higher subsidy must be pressed for. In introducing the English Bill, the Minister of Health stated that the subsidies provided ought to enable Local Authorities to limit the average rent to 7s. 6d. per week. Taking this figure and the cost of a 4-apartment cottage at £1,200, the loss to the Local Authority per house would be £6 15s., as follows:Outlay: repayment over 60 years at 3 per cent., £43 5s.; Management, £6 10s.; Owners rates (one third rent), £6 10s.; Annual cost per house, £56 5s.Income: Subsidy, £23; Local authority contribution, £7; Rent (suggested in Government publicity at 7s. 6d. per week) £19 10s. Annual revenue per house, £49 10s.That shows a deficit of £6 15s. per house. I do not agree with the local authority that it would be possible to get over this by increasing subsidies. In the first item —repayment over 60 years at 3 per cent.— there is a heavy burden of interest which is the cause of the inability of the local authorities to meet their obligations and at the same time provide an abundance of houses at cheap rents. I say to the Scot- 1791 tish Department that they should ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to work out a new method of finance and through it control the output of houses,
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Captain MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, thank you for giving me these three minutes in which I am allowed to make one or two points. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) said he was proud of the private enterprise of the man who built his house with his own hands. I would ask the Secretary of State to make sure that he gives the crofters the opportunity to improve their own houses with their own hands, which they are prepared to do to-day, but, because of the hundred and one restrictions which the Government have put in their path, they are unable to do at the present moment.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland say that he would see that preconcrete blocks were made on ground where building was to take place, because it appears to me that many of the local authorities have it firmly rooted in their minds that there is nothing but bricks. There must be a greater incentive to use other materials. Take, for example, my own constituency of Ross and Cromarty. Many houses in that area can be built on preconcrete blocks being laid on the ground where the houses are to be built. There are thousands of tons of material for the purpose in therivers and on the beaches. Transport charges are so exorbitant in the Highlands of Scotland today that the saving of transport should always be very carefully taken into consideration. With regard to tied houses, the Secretary of State for Scotland appeared to imply that we can only have a community spirit in the villages. Surely, on a progressive farm today, there can be a community spirit if there is happy co-operation between the employer and the employee? I am glad to learn that he is not abolishing the idea of the tied house.
The last point I want to make, which does not appear to have been mentioned in the Debate, is that of traditional houses. Surely, one of the greatest assets the Highlands of Scotland has is scenery. Why must the local authorities build such houses as one finds in, say, the Kyle of Lochalsh in my constituency 1792 which mar their environment? They build houses in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland which are to be found in the suburbs of Glasgow; they are very suitable for the suburbs of Glasgow, but they are not suitable to these parts. Today, we have been criticising houses that were built in the industrial areas during the last century, so I would appeal to local authorities to build houses fitting to the local landscape, and also to encourage the use of the local material. By all means, let us have utility, but why neglect the aesthetic side? After all, people have to live their lives in these houses, so let us build worthily for future generations houses that are architecturally beautiful, blending with the great natural beauty of our native country.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
I would like to join with the hon. and gallant Member for Ross and Cromarty (Captain MacLeod) in pleading that in housing development there should be the greatest regard for architectural beauty, distinction and amenity. I am glad the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised that point, because it has brought this discussion back to the relationship of ends and means. This Bill is primarily a Bill of means; it is a method whereby we expect to produce houses for the people of Scotland. I can congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on a Bill which, taken by and large, is a very excellent Bill indeed. However, it has one very bad defect which it shares with the English Bill, that it gives special subsidies for the building of high tenement flats on expensive sites in our cities. I did not expect to have to reprove the Secretary of State for Scotland on a matter of that kind. I think it was he whoinvented the term "warehousing" as applied to tenement houses. Warehousing is a good term. Ido not know if it is any better than my own, which was "birth control, barracks," but at any rate it is the same idea, and when in Clause 2 the Secretary of State gives these enormous subsidies for expensive sites for tenements, and denies the same subsidies to houses, then the Secretary of State is going against everything that he taught and preached before he came into Parliament.
We can congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland on some of the excellent things he has done, both inside and outside this House. His little housing 1793 scheme at King Street, Kirkcaldy, is one of the models for Scotland of what decent workingclass housing development ought tolook like. However, when through this Bill he and the Joint Under-Secretary perpetrate tenement block of flats on the citizens of Glasgow, then my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary may be transforming. Gorbals from an area of slum houses, insanitary dwellings, and squalid overcrowding into an area of shining, gleaming, tenement flats with chromium plating and all kind of modern gadgets, but I want to suggest to him and to the Secretary of State that to provide first-rate equipment in fifth-rate living spaceis not the basis of a good housing policy. For that reason, I do not complain that this Bill has a termination in 1947. It may be, that by that time, the Secretary of State for Scotland will feel that it is possible to get back to the housing principles and the housing ideals that he has advocated for so long.
He said in his opening remarks, "Iam no great advocate of tenements." That is more than true, he never has been, and he admits that the Housing Advisory Committee said that nine out of ten of the people of Scotland want to live in houses and not in flats. This Bill, however, does not allow the Glasgow town council or the Edinburgh town council or the Dundee town council to say, "We will build houses on expensive sites." It says that they must buildtenements, and that they must build them high. I suggest that is a completely wrong principle, and it is a great pity that the Secretary of State, with his very distinguished record in this field, and his profound knowledge of all the issues involved, should have allowed Scottish housing, in that respect at any rate, to take the wrong turning.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I do not propose to follow the line taken by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) for I feelthat there are occasions, as the Secretary of State said, when high tenement buildings are essential if people are to be housed near their work, and also if certain sites of which I can think in Glasgow are to be developed as they ought to be.
There has been during this Debate more criticism of this Bill than I had anticipated, but whatever we may think of 1794 the details, no matter how much we may deplore the many important aspects of housing which are omitted from the Bill, I feel that it will be received with general satisfaction by every local authority in Scotland, because it brings to an end a period of suspense which must have had some effect on their housing programmes. Hitherto, let us recognise the fact, they have been working on the faith of a promise given by a previous Government that assistance of a financial nature would be forthcoming in the future. Until this Bill was published, they did not know either the form or the amount of that assistance, nor did they know what contribution they would be required to provide from the rates.
It is satisfactory that these uncertainties have now been resolved, and that in the matter of finance the road is now open. Let us hope the local authorities will get along that road with the greatest possible speed. They have been given a great task, and a great opportunity. Although there may be some of us who doubt their ability to seize that opportunity, I am certain every one of us hopes that they will rise to the height of the opportunity given them.
The serious burden which is today borne by the ratepayers in Scotland has naturally created a note of anxiety in many of the speeches to which we have listened today as to the effect which this Bill will have upon ratepayers. I, therefore, propose to do a sum aloud.I may get the answer wrong, but if I do, I am certain that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will correct me. If I happen to get it somewhere near right, then I think it will be helpful to hon. Members in enabling them to assess the burden which will fall on their local authorities. The Financial Memorandum which accompanies this Bill states that the Exchequer contribution for the year which will end on 31st March,1947, will be of the order of £350,000 additional to what would have been payable under the 1938 Act. Like the Secretary of State, I take the four-roomed cottage as an example. The additional subsidy which will fall to be provided for that house, will be £11 5s. a year. Therefore, it seems, if my arithmetic is right, that the number of houses which the Government anticipate may be built in that year will be 30,000. If that is the target which the Secretary 1795 of State has set himself, I congratulate him. I would even congratulate him if it is a few thousands less. I have no patience whatever with those who set themselves no target. If one is to achieve anything, one must have something at which to aim. I hope that if that is the figure which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, at least 10,000of these houses may be provided in Glasgow. My hope in that connection is some what raised when I find that the number of sites already developed in that city is over 5,500, and an additional 5,000 are in course of development.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid)was in some doubt whether the subsidy would be the only charge which would fall upon the ratepayer. He asked whether the income from these houses would be sufficient to meet the expenses. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr Gallacher) has just given us theanswer. Many of my figures were similar to those he used and there seems to be a danger of the income failing to meet the expenditure by some £2 or £3. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might assure us on that point when he comes to reply. Whatever addition this Bill may make to the burden on the rates, we have to keep constantly in mind the cumulative effect of these various additions. There are many increases in prospect, and it is the last straw which breaks the camel's back. We all realise that the burden of rates in Scotland today is almost intolerable. If these increases are to continue£and who can see them coming to an end in the immediate future?—then the whole rating system will break down.
I understand that the Government's view of housing is that it is a national responsibility. If indeed it is, why should it not be financed by national funds? Why should the old distressed areas be further depressed by being called upon to bear a disproportionate charge in regard to housing? Why, as my right hon. and learned Friend has asked, should the Scottish ratepayer be asked to pay a sum between £6 10s. and £7 1os., when only £5 10s. is asked from his English counterpart? I repeat, and I say to the right hon. Gentleman, that if housing is a national responsibility, it ought to be a national charge, shared by the entire United Kingdom. 1796 I have always believed, and I still believe, as do many other hon. Members who have spoken today, that if we are to solve the housing problem economically, and within any reasonable period of time, it is essential that we should induce every agency that can provide houses to play its full part. There are the local authorities, whether they use direct labour or building contractors, ora combination of both. There is the Special Housing Association, there is the private builder and there is also the private individual. This Bill encourages the first two of these agencies. That it does nothing to encourage the private builders is to be regretted. They have a wealth of experience, they played a great part in housing in the inter-war years, notwithstanding the handicaps of our absurd rating system.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead quoted certain figures which proved to me the value which could be obtained from the private builders. I wish to repeat those figures. As I understood them, they were that private builders in Edinburgh, in the five years before the war, provided two and one third houses per 1,000 of the population— [An Hon. Member: "Per 100 of the population."]—whereas the local authority in Glasgow provided only one house for the same number. May I also remind the House that this agency, the private builders, without any assistance whatever, provided more than 58,000 houses in the interwar years—58,152 houses without any State assistance. Included in that number were 9,000 in 1934, and more than 6,900 in 1938. In that latter year they provided more than a quarter of all the houses that were built in Scotland.
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy), I thought perhaps inadvertently, paid a tribute to the efficiency of these private builders, when he told us that last year they were unable to build at £1,200 a house, but that this year they were willing to build for £1,100. That is a high tribute to their efficiency.
§ Commander Galbraith
I think all those who have the interest of the people of Scotland at heart, in the light of the figures which I have quoted, must deplore that no encouragement whatever has been given to this class of builder. The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) blames the Tory Government for what he called the dreadful situation in regard to housing. Might I remind him we had 19,000 empty houses in Glasgow in 1914? Let me further remind him that had the Moderate majority on the town council had their average of building continued since 1933, there would be no homeless people in the city today, whereas at thismoment there are 75,000. It may be said in the main that the private builder builds houses for sale. I do not think that it is very material whether a house is built for sale or rent, so long as houses are forthcoming. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] Let me develop my argument and perhaps hon. Members will agree with me later on. After all, there is a very stringent control both in regard to size and price which none of us on these Benches would seek to remove at this time, though we might desire to have it lightenedto an extent which would enable private persons who wished to build houses to be in at least as favourable a position as local authorities. I would remind the House that Mr. Thomas Johnston, when he was Secretary of State in the Coalition Government, invited the Housing Advisory Committee to provide him with a report as to the provision of houses for owner occupation. No doubt that report has been studied by every Scottish Member of the House.
The fact that that report was called for by a Socialist Secretary of State seems to me to infer that at least some Socialists have an open mind as to whether or not owner occupation stimulates civic virtue. The Committee was certainly of that opinion. I want to quote certain of the Committee's findings, because I think they are relevant to this Debate. Speaking of psychological factors, they say this:We should like to stress the importance of the psychological aspect of investment in house ownership. The instinct of possession is strong, whether it be of a house or other forms of personal property. … If the choice falls upon a house a man will work hard to 1798 retain it and pay for it, and his efforts will serve as an example to his family Pride in the house will be reflected in the care taken by the children of something worked for and enjoyed.Then they make this observationWe do not think that State subsidy forhousing for the working classes can reasonably be confined to houses to let…It is clear that in the first ten years after the war individual savings could be put to few better uses in the national interest than by investment in the erection of houses for owner occupation.''There is one other reference that Iwould like to quote. It refers to the advantages to the local authority of owner occupation. The Committee had this to say:The spirit of independence and the sense of responsibility which have impelled the owner occupier to become the owner of a plot of land and of a house are likely to bear fruit in a healthy and well-balanced attitude towards public affairs.Finally, the majority report recommends a subsidy of not less than two-thirds of the capitalised value of the contributions payable for assisted local authority houses. The value of that subsidy, at £30 a year for 60 years at 3 per cent., is £830. So the recommendation of the committee really comes to this— that there should be a subsidy for owner-occupiers of £550. If we take the cost of a house at £1,200, which is generally agreed, the amount which a man would have to find himself is £650, and I suggest that such a figure would bring owner-occupation within the reach of many in the lower income limits. Further than that, the reduction in the subsidy would be a great relief, both to thelocal authorities and the Exchequer, and I suggest that this would provide for the more economic use of the building organisation, and would also provide an outlet for the private builder, who would bring another agency into operation and get greater output in a shorter time. In the light of that report, I regret very much that there is no provision in this Bill to assist or encourage those who would care to own their own homes.
I do not know whether it is the fact, but it seems to me that every committee report which was produced as a result of something done in the last Government is being thrown aside. This report has been thrown aside; the Sorn Report has also been thrown aside. The benefits of this Bill go to provide housing for the working classes. Ido not know exactly 1799 who are included in that term. I do not think it has ever been defined, but I do know that, when most of us talk of the working classes, we think of people who have to work with their hands. I am going to ask the Joint Under-Secretary to tell us just who is included in this term "working classes." I have the strongest objection, at this time, and in these circumstances, to houses being provided for any particular section of the community to the detriment of other sections of the community. It is my view, and it is also, seemingly, the view of the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) that houses should be provided to meet needs. Houses which are provided at the public expense should be allocated to those whose need is greatest. Today, the whole housing situation is being telescoped. People who lived in large and middle sized houses before the war have, as a result of heavy taxation, and of being unable to find any domestic assistance, moved to smaller houses, and theresult of that, together with the cessation of building for these last six years, is that there is a shortage of houses in every income group. I do not think it is any answer to say that the working classes cannot afford to build houses for themselves. No matter what the cause may be—whether it is money or otherwise— we do know that only 451 licences have been applied for and granted up to 31st January this year.
The point I wish to make is that the local authorities are, for all practical purposes, the only people who can build houses today. Their operations are, seemingly, restricted by this Bill to providing houses for one section of the community. In view of the acute shortage of houses, it seems to me that that is an injustice to other sections. Let me give an example. Let us suppose that two young men got married almost immediately before the war, that each now has a family of three children, and that both are living in lodgings because they cannot find a home for themselves. One of them is a skilled tradesman who has been employed on work of national importance; the other has been serving in the Forces, has now returned and is endeavouring to pull together a small business.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am very glad to learn that, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will explain it still further, because it would seem to me to be entirely wrong that there should be discrimination where the need for all practical purposesis the same. That should apply even if the man has money in his pocket. But the Bill refers to the "working classes." That is something which has never been defined, and we badly want a definition of it.
In. this Debate there have been several able speeches on the position in regard to housing in rural areas, and the effects that this Bill is likely to have on that position. I hope that when the Undersecretary replies he will deal with the serious criticisms which have been offered in that connection. I would particularly refer to the able speech of the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). Although it has been done already by many others, I stress the need for assistance inreconditioning. The omission of any assistance for reconditioning of local rural cottages, it seems to me, can only arise through a complete failure of those concerned to realise the circumstances and the urgency of the matter. The housing authorities cannot possibly deal with the rehousing of the agricultural population within anyreasonable period of time. It is not only that houses are required in the villages; there is the problem of dealing with those who reside at a distance from villages, on lonely farms and elsewhere.
I say without hesitation that the local authorities are quite unable to deal with these cases for many years to come, and I do not think it would be right for them to attempt to do so. It seems to me that it would be an uneconomic use of labour, when that labour could be used, in more convenient localities, withmuch greater effect on the existing distress. If I am right, and if it is impossible for a long period to provide for those who live in remote areas, I would ask the question which has been asked already: Are they to be left with no alleviation whatsoeverof their housing conditions and are they, at the same time, to be called upon to contribute to private houses with modern conveniences for persons rather better offs 1801 financially than themselves? I believe that that is an unthinkable proposition.
What does this Bill do for them? Clause 9, as the hon. and gallant Member for Dumfries (Major Macpherson) has said, makes the most niggardly provisions. It gives an increase for the replacement of unsatisfactory houses of 50 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman admits that the cost of houses has gone up by 100 per cent., but that Clause only proposes to grant 50 per cent, to that part of the agricultural population although it is giving 200 per cent, and more to other sections of the community. I do not think that those concerned will consider these proposals either just or adequate. The Bill does nothing whatsoever, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Perth has stated, to alleviate housing conditions in other directions and nothing in regard to reconditioning
Let us recognise the facts. There are many cottages in rural areas which are comfortable and of sturdy construction, but which still lack modern conveniences. With a modest expenditure, even if they could not be brought up to the standard of modern housing, they could be made much more convenient and even more comfortable. As the Noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Lord William Scott) has said, there are independent tradesmen scattered throughout the countryside who will never be brought into do building, but who would be available for reconditioning houses if only the owners of those houses had the means to carry out that reconditioning. Going back over a long number of years, successive Governments have burdened with taxation the owners ofrural land to such an extent that today, even when taking nothing for themselves, they find themselves fortunate if, out of their income, they can keep their buildings wind and water tight. They have not the money to reinstate without assistance. The Housing (Rural Workers) Act was used in Scotland, as the Lord Privy Seal himself admitted. He gave a promise and I want to quote his words. He said:
I agree about reconditioning. I am not turning it down at all. It is vital, it is an immediate contribution. I agree about that. I say that we must take it in our stride as part of the general housing programme and housing campaign.Later on, in reply to a question which was put to him by the hon. Member for 1802 East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), he said:The Secretary of State for Scotland hopes to supersede it by something which will be more fruitful than that Act has been in Scotland. We can be held to that promise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 257.]Why the sudden change of heart on the part of the Secretary of State? Did he not form part of a Government which, less than a year ago, introduced in this House a Bill for the extension of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act for another two years, with increased assistance—a Billwhich was backed by his chief, Mr. Thomas Johnston? Why is it that he suddenly changes in this way? Is it that the Cabinet are getting busy with him? Is it that he has got to conform to what the Lord Privy Seal said—
Scotland cannot always continue to have special advantages. … I think we have been excessively generous to Scotland."— [Official Report, 17th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 256.]Some of us do not think they have been excessively generous, and we desire to see this Act continued. The Government are evidently now not going to implement their promise. I was not altogether satisfied with the reasons given by the Secretary of State, and I hope we shall have more convincing reasons from the hon. Gentleman who is to reply.
While weare providing improved conditions for other sections of the community, I want to know whether it is the Government's intention that this part of the agricultural community shall be denied all alleviation of their conditions, and if so, on what grounds? The owners never had any benefit out of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. It was the agricultural population which received the benefit; the Government, by their omission of all reconditioning from this Bill, are striking at the agricultural population, and that at a time when thenational interest demands conditions in the countryside which will keep the workers who are there, and attract other workers to the land. The Government will also have to do something about reconditioning in urban areas.
§ Mr. Westwood indicated assent.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has assured me on that point, because I was recently informed that out of a rental of £1,000 a 1803 year in the great city of Glasgow there was left exactly 19s. 6d. I did not believe it. I thought it was a gross exaggeration. I happened at that time to be visiting the Scottish Office, and I asked one of the officials there what he anticipated would be left out of £1,000 of revenue. He told me, "About a £5 note." If that is what happens when repairs cannot be done owing to war conditions, what will happen when these repairs have to be undertaken? I suggest the Government must consider that problem. If the purpose of this Bill is to provide the largest number ofhouses in the shortest space of time, in my opinion it fails to achieve its object in that it does not establish conditions which induce every agency to put forward its maximum effort, and particularly in that it fails to encourage or stimulate that agency which provided one quarter of the houses in 1938. If, on the other hand, the purpose of the Bill is to provide the maximum encouragement to improve housing conditions throughout the country, again I say it fails in that it does not provide anything for reconditioning.
Notwithstanding these shortcomings, as my right hon. and learned Friend has said, we do not propose to oppose the Second Reading because we believe that as this Bill removes uncertainty it will act as a spur to local authorities to push ahead with their programmes. In that way at least it will hasten the time when a large proportion of our population can obtain the housing conditions which everyone in the House desires they should have. I hope most sincerely that the Government will considerthe various criticisms which have been levelled against this Bill. I also hope they will see their way to take some action in relation to those criticisms, so that the people of Scotland as a whole may benefit, and so that our country may have removed from it, at the earliest possible date, the stigma of bad housing, under which it has lain for many years, indeed since governments first started to interfere with the conomic ways of providing houses for the people.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan) rose—
§ Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
On a point of Order. Is it not a fact that we have an indefinite suspension today, and is it not customary for the Minister 1804 replying to wait until others have had their chance?
§ Mr. Speaker
It is a fact that the Rule was suspended indefinitely, but it is not necessarily customary for the Minister to give way. I understood from what was said at the beginning that there was a mutual arrangement by which the Debate would end about 10.15.
§ Major Lloyd
Further to that point of Order, it is a fact that, with an indefinite suspension, some of us have sat here all day trying to get in. There are, I understand, only two or three more who wish to speak. As I understand it, there is no private understanding about the indefinite suspension.
§ Mr. Speaker
That does not matter. The Minister happened to rise and catch my eye. I propose to allow him to proceed.
§ Mr. Balfour (Stirling and Clackmannan Western)
Is it right for hon. Members to rise and want to be heard, when, for a long period of this Debate, they were in oblivion?
§ 9.33 p.m:
§ Mr. Buchanan
May I say at the outset that I have risen for two reasons? I am sure the Leader of the House will correct me if I am wrong. If I am wrong I apologise to the Leader of the House. I understood that the original intention was to suspend the Rule for one hour for the purposes of the Debate, but there was other Government Business to be taken and, therefore, the Motion was altered to include that. The originalintention was that the Debate would come to an end at a quarter past ten. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew) came to me and asked when it would suit us to finish. I said, "Go back and ask my opposite number on your side. I will fit in with whatever he wants." Now we are being grumbled at. It is hard for a man, anxious, simple and fair as I am, to be placed in this position. I am anxious about pleasing the other side. When I please them, I get kicked; when I get angry,I get kicked.
Today we have had a first-class Debate. The Bill has properly been subjected to a good deal of criticism; some friendly, some hostile and some in between. On the whole I object to none of it. Indeed, on many 1805 occasions during the Debate Icould have well wished to have been on the back benches myself. Be that as it may, I will try to reply in a fair way to the issues that have been raised. First of all, may I deal with the point that aroused some heat between the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) and myself. I do not mind being called a failure, indeed, if I were risking a guess, I would not be surprised if I fail in this, but the one thing I cannot stand is being called a coward, because whatever else my political career has shown, I think I can claim a fair amount of courage. I thought of the times when I have stood almost alone in this House, and I felt it was not a fair charge. It annoyed me. However, I should not have got annoyed because I am now a Minister, and I am sorry now that I did. If I have let the Government down, I will have to apologise for that too.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the paragraph in the Financial Memorandum relating to a sum of £1,500,000, and also to the last paragraph of the Memorandum, where the figure of £350,000 is mentioned. I will take the smaller sum first and deal with the question of the prefabricated house, because this House ought to know the views, not merely of the Government, but of the instrument of the Government. Be the Government good or bad, I am its instrument, and it is as well for the Government and everybody else to know how the instrument looks at these problems. I will take the smaller sum which is for prefabricated houses. We anticipate developing the prefabricated house. As was pointed out by the Secretary of State in his speech, there will be a marked difference between the orthodox permanent house and the prefabricated house. There are two main types of prefabricated house, the steel house and the Airey type, but whatever the right hon. and learned Gentleman may want to say about cowardice, I do not want to get bound by stereotyped programmes. On the subject of unemployment insurance, which is perhaps the only subject I ever knew anything about, I said that I would sooner promise 3s., meaning to keep the promise, rather than promise 5s. that I did not intend to give, and I am not going to be driven, in this Debate, into 1806 making extravagant promises that I cannot fulfil or have no faith in being able to fulfil.
That first figure represents not an actual estimate, but a rough and ready amount based on our knowledge of the type of house for which we are negotiating and the type of people with whom we are negotating. We may find that it will be too small or too large. If it is too small, I shall be pleased, because I shall get more houses. Recently, as the Secretary of State informed the House, we have been trying to develop the Airey system for the agricultural worker in Scotland. That is a form of reinforced concrete house made in certain central depots, distributed, and erected by local builders on the spot. And whatever our faults or failings, so far we in Scotland are the only people who have yet started building the proper prefabricated house. Whatever may be said about the Government and their failings or shortcomings, today we are building the prefabricated steel house.
But recently it was announced that there was a new house, the British Iron and Steel Federation house, and that active preparations have been made in England to get something in the region of 30,000 of them. When I heard that, I thought it would be a terrible mistake if Scotland could not share in it. After all, we are a steel making country; steel making forms a large part of our great industries. I took the view that, if possible, we ought to go in for that type of house, provided it could be fairly rapidly delivered, for the purpose of easing the situation. I had conversations. We are only inthe initial stage of negotiation. I tell the House that I am going to depart from something to which this House and Members on my own side have adhered in the past. I had to make a hard choice. The steel house does not fit in with our Scottish standard of size. One of the bedrooms is smaller than those which we usually get. It is a four-apartment houseThe two main bedrooms are up to Scottish standards, but the other is of a smaller size. But if I did not take the house, it would mean months of delay spent on new plans, new tools, new jigs. I propose, if I can get it at a reasonable price and at a reasonable rate of delivery, to enter into negotiations, even with the smaller bedroom, for the sake of the speedy delivery of houses. 1807 I thought that in fairness I would tell this, so that if hon. Members want to say it is wrong, I shall have given them the opportunity to do so.
Let me turn now to the larger sum.This larger sum was realistic. In Scotland we have had houses building since 1944 and, therefore, we know already that number of houses which it covers. It goes further. It pays for over 2,000 houses built even before 1944. It is not like England. It is a totally different thing from England. England had no past houses to bring in. We have a considerable number, so we had to have a nest egg, something which the Treasury could fix. We took this number of 2,000, which we have built since, and we added what is a realistic probability, what we thought we might complete, based on the tenders that we had received. So there is vision and courage. I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead cleanly, honestly; and he must take it in the best way.
The rest of the Debate has covered wide ground. It has covered the historic battle between thetwo sides. People have given me advice today, particularly from the other side. I wonder if the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who have carried on the leadership of the Opposition in Scottish matters—who have carried it so well, if I may say so—would take a little advice from me. I used to battle in this House in opposition. I soon learned that the Tories got elected at a particular time and they were usually to be in office for four years. I had two waysin which to proceed. Either I could batter on with inflexible views or I could make a reasoned attempt to see how far those views I held could influence Government policy towards my way of thinking. Let me give that advice to them. Do not shout "privateenterprise." Try to learn to examine things much more impartially. Try to learn that for good or ill—I say this seriously—we are in and we intend to remain in. Every election, local and national, proves it. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are wise, they will see how far they can use their influence to mould and change our policy, instead of shouting and arguing as if private enterprise were the key to all things.
§ Commander Galbraith
Surely, the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that that was what I was doing? I was trying to encourage him to use every possible agency.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I was about to come to the question of using every agency. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) waxed eloquent about our not using the small contractors, and attempted to make a case against me. I like to have a case made against me, because it teaches me not to get too cocky, but when somebody goes back to a time two years before I took office to get a case against me, I feel it is a bit rough on me. Let me take the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own county to show what I have done to harness every agency. I have no hatreds in this matter, I do not care what agencies are used; I want to see the homes built. What have I done? If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had found out from his own county, he would not have needed to ask in the House. I met the representatives ofthe counties. I have never refused to meet anybody. I am ready to meet anybody to discuss anything. I met the representatives of the county of Ayr, and they said to me, "We have small pockets of houses—six, eight, ten or twelve houses—and if we have to get tenders every time and search for contractors, it will mean delays, expense a waste of money, and also it will throw a great problem of administration on the Department." I said to them, "Get one decent tender; you will easily find out whether it is a good tender by its relationship to the tenders in a town nearby; allow a little extra because it is small, but you will soon know, in a rough and ready way, the price; and when you have that tender fixed, bring in your small contractors; bring in one contractor, but if one is not big enough to do the job, use two, so that nobody will be left out." I said to them, "When you have that tender fixed, inform me of the next scheme that you are going on with, and it will only become a matter of routine." What fairer way could there be of bringing in the local builders? I met the representatives of Fife, and told them the same thing. I told them to get the main tender and not to bother about reconditioning.
On the subject of reconditioning, it is in many ways a waste, because for reconditioning it is often necessary to get in an architect for each little house. The 1809 people who are most scarce in Britain today are architects and surveyors. I do not want them to be used in going from scheme to scheme. I do not want the counties to come to the Department week by week; I have said that they should get a tender for little groups of houses, and, provided that original tender is satisfactory, it can form the basis for some time ahead for all their schemes. What else have I done? In the great county of Lanark they have scattered forces of building trade labour, and none of those forces big enough in themselves. The county council were anxious to get ahead under the new administration. We have come to a reasonable agreement, with a reasonable tender, for well over 1,400 houses—I speak from memory—on an agreed contract system whichropes in most, or at least, many, of the small contractors within the county of Lanark. Who is stultifying private enterprise? Hon. Members opposite did it, because they would not agree to this thing being done before I took office. Hon. Members on the other side ought to search the past. They would never have agreed to this thing. I will tell them what was wrong; they had the Civil Service mind—not the Tory mind. Whatever faults I may have, I change from day to day. To solve the housing problem we cannot afford to be rigid or castiron in our attitude.
The question of rural workers has been raised again. It has been debated at least four times in this House. We have had the strongest representations from trade unions connected with the industry. Officials of the Farm ServantsUnion came along. There were men like Joe Duncan. I think he knows the farming problem as well as any other man in Britain. He is a fine man. He gave us the strongest evidence against our touching this thing at all. He brought a man who was engaged in the industry from day to day to support him. Do hon. Members think that the Labour Government could reject that evidence? I say frankly that I would not. The Secretary of State and I will look at the problem again, when the need arises. Reconditioning, which was referred to, cannot now be operated. Apart from its rights and wrongs, which I do not argue, there are two overwhelming reasons which make it impossible to carry out reconditioning. The first is that it would mean decreasing accommodation. It would mean knocking the 1810 single end into the room and kitchen. In the present state of things that would never do. The second reason is that reconditioning needs skilled labour almost exclusively, but that labour cannot be spared from the construction of new houses.
Hon. Members have spoken of the production of materials. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson) spoke of the shortage of materials. I do not deny that materials are short. I think I met his authority in regard to their temporary programme. They have never spoken to me about the matter. I will nevertheless inquire into it and if matters are wrong I will try to put them right. We often run into shortages. One which was mentioned today concerns bricks. Onthis issue, at least, I can claim a creditable record. When I entered the Government, the production of bricks in Scotland, at the end of July and the beginning of August, was slightly under 11 million. At the end of February, which is the latest figure, the output had risen to over 19 million. That is not a bad record. I have met the employers and the unions, and I have influenced the Government to accept my scheme. I told the House that it was wrong to have men unemployed when bricks and houses were needed, and the Government are now "examining a training scheme, not at training centres,because that would be wasteful, but a harnessed training scheme at the works, where men may learn the more highly skilled occupations. We are examining the scheme with open minds, and we hope that an early decision will be arrived at. As I say, I have met the employers in the industry, and have had discussions with them. On the whole, they have not been unfair to me, but certain employers in Scotland are not playing the game, and I say to them that unless output is at least materially increased at once, then I shall have no hesitation in asking the Government to requisition the works and have them properly run at the earliest possible date.
I will say a word now about the intake of building trade workers. On this question I had to work with the trade unions and with the employers. Any man who tries to run this business without considering the trade unions would be in a mess within a week or a month. He must harness and bringtogether both sides. 1811 We have got the trade unions to agree to a scheme of training, and we are establishing seven training centres in Scotland. I am rather sorry that we could not have, for several reasons, a training centre in the North, but we have made adequate arrangements to bring people down from the North for training, and we will make provision for good hostels and accommodation. For six months the men will undergo intensive training to fit them to go to the employers. In this connection I am referring in particular to bricklayers, who are so short in numbers at the present time. These are the steps which I have already taken, and I hope that our efforts will meet with success. Then there is the question of tenements and flats, which has been raised by Members on all sides of the House. I can speak with fairly recent experience of tenements. The Noble Lord, who was the predecessor to my right hon. Friend, kicked me the other day by saying that I have solved my housing problem in buying my own house.
If I had remained in the old house it would have been said that I was wrong to draw the Government subsidy. When I got out, they said that I was wrong to buy a house. I now have a house with a garden, but I say quite frankly that my wife and I, if we had the choice, would still choose a tenement. We haveno children and the tenement suited us. We had good neighbours and there was a happiness and warmth there which we liked. I do not want to dig a garden, and I do not want to go out at night with a barrow putting stuff on a dump. The tenement was a good house; at least as good as I have got now. There are a number of people in our great urban districts who have no children, or whose families have grown up, to whom the flat or the tenement has an appeal. All I say is that, if we are to build flats, we ought to build them on the most modern lines. Knowing my city, I say quite frankly that I feel that there is a place for a large number of my fellow citizens in decent well-run flats, built by the local authority, under modern and well equipped conditions.
§ Mr. McAllister
The hon. Gentleman has attempted to put before the House a fair picture of himself and his wife preferring a flat to a house. I have not the 1812 slightest objection to the Joint Undersecretary or any one else in the United Kingdom choosing
§ Mr. Buchanan
I know the point to which my hon. Friend is coming. It is the point which he put down in a manuscript Amendment—that he wanted houses. The position there is that this subsidy is for highly developed sites. We think that the point which he has put forward can hardly arise.
With regard to the subsidies and the effect on the rates, we have had negotiations with the local authorities. We took £1,140 as the average cost of a house, and, taking the normal rent at 10s. it averaged out at almost par between the subsidy we are granting and the local authority contribution.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It was 3⁛per cent. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to see the formula on which I worked I have no objection to showing it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead referred to the English rating system. It was said that local authorities in England do not pay such a big rate contribution. That is true, but I ask him to bear in mind that the national Exchequer pays three and a half times the Scottish contribution. Local authorities get the owners rates back, and by that means the difference is almost entirely accounted for. With regard to this question of rating reform, I happen to know a little about it, because I sat on a Committee which dealt with rent control, and I once heard a distinguished man, the head of the Civil Service in Scotland, say that nobody would ever solve the Scottish rating problem. Maybe he is right.
§ Mr. Buchanan
No, that is the weakness of the hon. Gentleman. I wish he would take a little tuition from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead on how to contain himself, and examine these things. If he would do that, he would improve himself as aParliamentarian. He challenged me earlier today —
§ Sir W. Darling
On a point of Order. I have not been allowed to speak in the Chamber today, so I could not have made any observation to which the hon. Gentleman could take exception.
§ Mr. Buchanan
At Question time today the hon. Gentleman challenged me about Swedish houses. His memory is so short that I doubt whether he can be a good shopkeeper.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for a Member or a Minister to refer to something which took place outside this Debate?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Let me come back to the question of the rating problem. I think it was a gentleman named Lamb, whose Christian name I forget—
§ Mr. Buchanan
For once, the hon. Member is correct. Sir John Lamb said that this was the most difficult of our problems. Many committees have studied this matter. Let us take the solution which was propounded by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead.
It is suggested that we should revert to the English system but what would that mean? It is a system propounded by many hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. If it were to happen it would mean that at one swoop the rates would have to be paid by the poor occupier, and the consequences would be that the weekly cost whether you call it rates or rent would come to an excessive amount and few could find it. The problem is not so easily solved. The Secretary of State for Scotland has said it is a grave problem, and sooner or later someone he hopes may have an inquiry into it which will be wider and broader than has hitherto been the case. I would warn Members on the other side that it will not be just a rating problem in the sense that it will deal entirely with rates and rents. It will also relate to land taxation and new duties which must be examined at the same particular time. Having said that, may I say, in conclusion—
In view of the Prime Minister's answer the other day that nothing drastic would be done in the way of land nationalisation in this Parliament, is the Under-Secretary not exceeding his duty in what he has said?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I have not got that length yet. The weakness of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) is that he is far too miserable. He should go away and get married. He would be better for it. I cannot answer all the questions that have been put to me, but I have taken the main arguments and have endeavoured to deal with them. One hon. Member raised theimportant question of the interchangeability of labour, and I do want to say a word about that. I support it and I am making an approach to the Unions along with the Minister of Works and the Minister of Labour on this question. I should like to see a trade union allowing a plasterer to work temporarily as a bricklayer if there is need. I do not know if I can do it. Workmen have pride of their craft—I have it, too, as a workman—and they do not lightly throw it away. I want it done if I can get it done, and we will look at it and see if anything can be accomplished.
With regard to other matters raised relating to Edinburgh, I am meeting the Edinburgh corporation and I hope to discuss freely and frankly the whole problem with them. I am also going to meet the corporation of the city of Glasgow to look at their housing problem. I have met many of the counties and I am trying to speed up the temporary housing programme. I only want to add this—and I do not think it is a solution or a defence of myself—that when I entered office 14 temporary houses were completed; today, we have now at least 1,400 temporary houses completed for working class occupation. That is not an unfair record for me, and I want to say quite frankly that when building gets a bit more speedy it will. be over 100 a week. When the aluminium houses come on I hope to see these temporary dwellings built at the rate of 200 to 250 a week. That will make some contribution to an easement of the position in Scotland. With regard to the prefabricated houses I welcome the Orlit Company. I have been able to aid them in getting their factory at Edinburgh and in securing for them a licence for a factory near Glasgow. They are now in negotiation for a fairly large contract from my 1815 native city. I want to see them succeed in their work in Glasgow, because they are part of my efforts. I say to hon. Members that, as regards Scotland, the Government's record is not bad when we take into account the difficulties with which we are faced, and I say that given reasonable time and reasonable help, the Secretary of State for Scotland will have nothing to be ashamed of as regards his record and work for providing homes for the Scottish people.
§ Lord William Scott
Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that his Government will not force county councils in rural areas to build houses below the standards to which they are accustomed?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I cannot answer everybody but I will answer the hon. Member. The position is that we are very short of timber. In fact the whole question of timber is serious. Sweden, I say frankly, wants coal, but we cannot afford to let her have it. German timber requires seasoning and treatment before it is fit for use. In view of this we are asking the local authorities to help us, but as soon as timber supplies come along, I will not carry on the present arrangement one day longer than is necessary.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
As there is other business I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but there is obviously no understanding which will prevent hon Member from continuing the Debate even though the Joint Under-Secretary has made his speech.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman regards as an understanding. I have never asked hon. Members for written undertakings, but my view is that if ever there was an understanding, it was when hon. Gentlemen said to me that the Debate would conclude with my speech. I have never broken a bargain, but if the hon. and gallant Member wants to break one he can.
§ Major Lloyd
There is no question of wishing to break a bargain. I am an ordinary Private Member of this House, and I have the right to speak if Mr. Speaker calls upon me, especially since I was one of those who was in favour of the Motion moved by the Leader of the 1816 House for an indefinite suspension of the Rule this evening. Personally, I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has spoken, because now there is an opportunity to say a word or two by way of a reply, which, otherwise, we on this side of the House would not have had. The Joint Under-Secretary offered a very strong advocacy of his case, as he always does, but I do not think that Scotland will feel that it has got much out of this Debate. Scotland may note the fact that Scottish Labour Members are leaving the House at this moment, and that having stated their own point of view they are not interested to hear anything in reply. There are three factors which are bedevilling the housing problem in Scotland. They are politics, prejudice, and—
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a matter of Order but one upon which hon. Members should form their own judgment.
May I say that many of us in the House, on both sides, can testify to the fact thatthe hon. and gallant Gentleman has been here for most of the Debate.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you, with great respect, whether it is in Order for an hon. Member to make an aspersion which is obviously, I will not say untrue, but very wide?
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his statement, because I have not been here during all the proceedings.
§ Major Lloyd
As the accusation ofthe hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) has been shown to be unjustified, perhaps I may be allowed to continue. I was trying to make three points, and I have now to repeat them. I say that three factors are bedevilling the Scottish housing problem, and most of the people in Scotland know it. It has not been said in this Debate, and that is why I want to say it now. The first factor is that of politics. Politics 1817 are bedevilling housing, and housing has nothing to do with politics. Scottish people are scared to death of politics being brought into their housing problem.
§ Major Lloyd
The second thing is prejudice. The Scottish people know well that the Socialist Party have brought prejudice into the solution of the housing problem in Scotland. The third factor is that the Scottish rating system, which everybody in Scotland, almost irrespective of politics, knows well, is at the root of all our serious troubles. Not one single satisfactory word hasbeen said in this Debate in regard to tackling any of those major factors. In fact speech after speech from the other side has shown that politics and prejudice are rampant in the minds of the Socialist Party on this issue. When I was a Member of the lastParliament the late Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, appealed to us in a Scottish Debate on housing to take housing out of politics. We all cheered and said "Yes," and we were all willing to do so. We did take housing out of politics during the whole of the last Parliament. Nobody tried to score against the other side on this question. But ever since this Parliament began, politics have definitely dominated the housing programme of Scotland.
I make this appeal to the Secretary of State. Will he not make the same kind of speech to us as his predecessor made? Will he not take this housing problem out of politics? Will he not appeal to Scottish Members of all parties not to make it a political question? It is not a political question; it is the most vital and urgent problem in Scotland today. The Secretary of State knows it; the Joint Undersecretary knows it well. They are both doing their very utmost, and I give them all credit for it. Why can we not then take this problem out of politics andremove prejudice from its consideration? Let everybody who can build houses have the opportunity of doing so. That is what we want. That is what the Scottish people want. It is nonsense to say that only one chosen instrument can build houses in Scotland.Let everyone who can build have a chance. That is all I wanted to say tonight and I have not been long saying it.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Whiteley)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, " That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. JOSEPH HENDERSON and Mr. SIMMONS were appointed Tellers for the Ayes and Mr. MCKIE and Colonel GOMME-DUNCAN were appointed Tellers for the Noes; and the Tellers having come to the Table it was stated by Mr. JOSEPH HENDERSON that both Tellers for the Noes had failed to act as Tellers.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that, there having been no Tellers for the Noes, the Ayes had it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
On a point of Order. Can I say that the Scottish discussion had gone all right, until the English Members came in? When we have a Scottish night, cannot we finish it as a Scottish night?
§ Mr. Speaker
I can appreciate the position, but I am an Englishman, and it is my duty to be present.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.