§ Order for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee), read.
§ Bill re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of the Amendments in Clause 8, page 8, line 10 and Clause 8, page 8, line 11, standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Westwood.—[Mr. Westwood.]
§ Bill immediately considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. HUBERT BEAUMONT in the Chair]
§ CLAUSE 8.—(Contributions in respect of temporary housing accommodation provided in certain war buildings.)
§ 4.2. p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
I beg to move, in page 8, line 10 to leave out "eight," and to insert "six."
As the Committee will be aware, this and the next Amendment—in line 11, to leave out "ten " and insert "eight"—really deal with one subject. This matter was raised, if my memory serves me right, by the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid) when we discussed the Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee. He took the view that the question of the money payments we were making in respect of war buildings used for temporary accommodation was not in proper relationship to what we were providing for permanent houses, and he thought we were not quite generous to the local authorities. We gave an undertaking to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we would reconsider the matter. We have looked into it again and we have not gone all the way he did in his Amendments, but we have gone half way towards it. The problem that is raised is not a very heavy one in Scotland. The number of adjustments that we have made regarding hutments has not been large and in a number of cases do not count much. On the whole, we think this is a fairly reasonable Amendment. May I add that on looking into the relationship of this matter with temporary houses, I came to the conclusion that possibly these hut- 1246 ments were not likely to last as long as the temporary houses, and in virtue of that fact, I decided that we ought to go some way to meet the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I trust that with that explanation he will accept the Amendment in the spirit in which it has been put down.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
This is a very complicated Clause, and when we were in Committee we were not quite sure what it meant. It seems to be a Clause which produces a profit where no profit exists, but it does impose a burden on local authorities and that is what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid) was anxious about. I am certain that he will be pleased with the concession that the Government have been able to make. As the Joint Under-Secretary said, the Government have gone half way to meet my right hon. and learned Friend's point, and I thank him for that concession.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
This is a Scottish Measure but we are dealing with money which may well come from England. At any rate, some of it may. We are only too glad if the Conservative Members for Scotland have been able to get a concession out of the Government, but I want to know precisely where Scotland is on this matter compared with England, because we may have to do a bit of work on our own here. I have often intervened in Scottish Debates for various reasons, and I want to put one or two points here. The hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment referred to the density of the population, saying there were not many areas concerned in Scotland He has come with a concession and I have every wish—as I have known him for a long while—to meet him in this matter, and I feel sure that he will agree with me on this point. I want to know precisely how many areas in Scotland will be affected. That seems a reasonable question, and I feel sure it needs an answer.
The second point relates to the figure of £8 which will become £6 in future under the Amendment. I would like to know precisely what the position is in regard to this compared with the position in England. If this is going to mean a greater advantage to Scotland, I think we have a right to know. As to my third 1247 point, the hon. Gentleman really discussed two Amendments together. In the first case he is reducing the figure from £8 to £6 and in the second case from £10 to £8. That is not the same proportion. I cannot imagine why those proportions are not similar. I have read this Clause with very great care and I have listened to the hon. Member's speech with very great care. It may be there is something in Scots law that makes mathematics different from what they are in England, but I cannot see why a similar proportion does not apply in both cases. I am sure there must be some explanation, but it is rather puzzling.
I think it is a pity we are considering the Amendments together. For all I know, there may he a very good reason why the proportion in the second Amendment is not adjusted in the same way as that in the first Amendment. This is a point which I should have thought dozens of shrewd Scotsmen would have made, for it is obvious that the Government are getting away with it, and some people are not getting so much as others. But I would not like to guarantee anything on this because it is a complicated Clause and I am not highly educated in Scots law, except as a result of listening to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Is it really necessary that this adjustment should be made only in the case of a larger authority? It seems to me, and there may be Scotsmen present who agree, that this adjustment might with great advantage be used for some of the smaller authorities. I do not know, but it is a point which I feel bound to make owing to the lax attendance of the Scottish Socialist Members and the Members of the Communist Party. Someone should get up and put these points. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh but I think housing is a vitally important subject and I make no excuse for speaking in this case because in England we seem to be going backwards. I believe that Scotsmen are not going backwards as fast as we have been going in the last nine months, because the Scots Ministers are better than the English Ministers.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member's remarks are irrelevant; I hope he will now deal with the Amendment under discussion.
§ Mr. Williams
I sincerely apologise if I have said anything which is in the least irrelevant. I had no intention of doing so, but in a Clause as complicated as this, it is not always possible to keep close to the precise point with which one wishes to deal. However, I thought it was fairly clear that I intended to deal with these matters in regard to the actual Amendment. I thought I was justified in asking the three questions I put, which I believe to be relevant. I hope that I may be able to obtain from the Minister some reply on these points.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) need make any apology for his incursion into a Debate on Scottish matters. For many years, he has taken a deep interest in Scottish matters and, indeed, he passes many weeks or months of the year North of the Tweed, and if any English Member has a right to participate in Scottish national Debates, I think it is my hon. Friend£
§ Hon. Members: Order
We are not discussing the desirability or right of any hon. Member to take part in this or any other Debate.
I have no desire to trespass on your indulgence, Mr. Beaumont. Having paid a compliment to my hon. Friend, I was proceeding to dissociate myself almost wholly from the other parts of his speech. I agree with one or two points of detail, but I seriously deprecate the attempt of the hon. Member to throw an apple of discord into the early stages of our discussion by insinuating that, in some way, Scotland, under the very reasonable proposal put down in this Amendment by the Secretary of State, might benefit unreasonably at the expense of England—
§ Mr. Williams
I am sorry to interrupt but I hope I never said " unreasonably"; if so, I withdraw at once. What I said was that, if Scotland is benefiting, we should know, so that the benefit might be further extended. I would never accuse Scottish Members of trying to get an unreasonable benefit.
§ 4.15 p.m.
I am very glad indeed that I rose to my feet, because it has drawn 1249 from my hon. Friend a candid admission that he has no desire to see Scotland treated more favourably under this Bill, or in any other respect, than the country to which he belongs. I am all in favour of equity of treatment between the two countries in this matter as well as any other. I go on from that to say that I hope whoever replies will make a special point of answering the first question of my hon. Friend, namely, what those areas are, and how many of them in Scotland will benefit under this very modest. Amendment. I certainly think we have a right to know that.
I do not propose to follow my hon Friend into the higher mathematics he put forward because, not having had from him any prior notice that this point would be raised, I was somewhat bewildered. But I feel sure, having regard to his keen mental faculties, his mathematical deductions are very sound. I regret, of course, and I feel sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) will also regret, that this Amendment goes only a little way to meet our wishes in regard to this Bill. That is all I am allowed to say, but I feel sure that on this small point the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S C. Reid) will be pleased that his strenuous efforts throughout a long Committee stage have been rewarded, though not amply, by this crumb which has fallen from the rich man's table this afternoon.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I am almost tempted to reply to the phrase " rich man," but you, Mr. Beaumont, would rule me out of Order if I did so. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) referred to certain Members being absent today. It so happens that hon. Members from both sides of the Committee are concerned with a very important deputation from Scotland. Their absence is not due to any disrespect for this Committee, but because they are attending to a very important matter concerning Scotland. I say that in fairness to hon. Members on both sides.
§ Mr. Williams
I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has said that. I had no knowledge of the circumstances, otherwise I would not have made the point. I am sorry if I have in any way hurt anybody's feelings in this matter.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not think the hon. Member has hurt anybody's feelings, but I thought it right to make the point that it was not lack of interest which kept hon. Members away. They had to choose between two alternatives. Having said that, may I reply briefly to the hon. Member's points? First, he asked are we getting something better than England has got? I am rather sorry to inform him that we are not. This proposal only brings us, in regard to temporary housing finance, on to the same plane as England. That was one of the urgent reasons for giving the concession, and this Amendment does not put us in a better position than the English authorities. Have I made that clear?
§ Mr. Williams
It means that the position in Scotland will be no better than the position in England. Then do I understand that in the original Bill, Scotland was worse off than England?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not want to go into that because it would be out of Order. The whole subsidy arrangements were higher, and this was higher automatically, but when we looked into it we thought it only fair that the two countries should be brought into line. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, unfortunately, we have no financial benefit over England. I wish I could have announced to this Committee that we had such benefit. Now let me deal with the question of the areas which are covered Practically, the only one is a district represented by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence)—the Lerwick district. The hutments which can be made fit at a reasonable cost are not many. Most of them have to be removed, and once these hutments have to be removed they are not a good proposition. They are very costly and they are a terrible waste. But it so happens that in certain areas they can be put into reasonable condition without removal. As to the third point, we think the proportions are sound in the present relationship of finance. I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurances.
§ Mr. Williams
I thank the hon. Gentleman for having helped me in this matter. I accept his information that there is only one instance in which the hutments are concerned. I am very glad indeed that 1251 we have put Scotland on an equitable basis, and I am glad that I was able to raise this and so allow the Committee and the country to have a very much wider knowledge of what is going on in this way, and to prove that we have been able to level up Scotland on this matter. which I always like to do.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I said that this referred to Lerwick, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence). The huts were put up well and rather cheaply. It would cost less than £300 to put them into decent condition. Most of the others we have recently received run into double that sum. When it runs into so large a sum, and labour has to be provided, we might almost as well provide new houses. This applies to the whole country, but in any case, it will be dealt with on its merits.
Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. C. Williams
We very nearly got an answer just now on this point. It is only a matter of a shilling or two, but, of course, I am not a Scot and I look after these things
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not know whether the hon. Membr has had a large experience of the Treasury, but this is the sum fixed, and it is a fairly round sum. In all the circumstances, it is a good sum. I am sure no one else would ask that it should go down to the shillings.
§ Mr. Williams
I have never yet learned that because a sum was a round sum, it was a good sum. I have yet to hear of a Scotsman being satisfied if you owed him 22s. 6d. and paid him a pound saying that that was a nice round sum. I am astonished at the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman that the Treasury is obdurate. Under the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, does the hon. Gentleman say he cannot do better than this?
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in the Standing Committee, and on recommittal) considered.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
We have had a very full discussion of this Bill, which has now reached its final stage. It makes the necessary financial provisions to enable local authorities to carry through their housing programmes. During the Committee stage, one or two points of very serious importance were raised There were objections to the term,Provision of houses for the working classes.and we promised that if it were desired to drop that phrase we would assist in every way as and when consolidation came along. It would be impossible to make the adjustments in the Bill now before the House. We have to follow the terms contained in the 1925 Housing Act, but we have given the pledge to the Committee and I epeat it in the House on the Third Reading, that as and when consolidation is effected we shall see if it is possible to change that term and make it of even wider application. A point was raised in connection with the Financial Resolution, but the Amendment was not called. It dealt with the rate contribution for houses for the agricultural population. If it had been called, I would have said that this subject was to be reviewed in 1947 and I intend to give that guarantee here.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about things which are not in the Bill. On the Third Reading we have to confine ourselves to matters in the Bill, and not include, as in Committee, things which are not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Westwood
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and do not desire to get outwith the Rules of the House as I am very anxious that we should get the Third Reading of this Bill. I may perhaps say that Clause 14 allows for a review of those contributions taking place during or immediately following the month of December and negotiations will start in December with a view to the new contributions which may have to be provided—we have sites for 180,000 of the houses for which provision is now being made. We have already approved of approximately 25,000 tenders for houses in Scot- 1253 land and every one of those houses will be eligible for the contributions provided by this Bill.
§ Mr. Westwood
Yes, permanent houses. I am pleased to report to the House that last week no less than 247 houses were completed. In other words, nine months after the end of the war we have passed the peak figure of the weekly production of the years before the war. If I can only get local authorities to keep up that progress, it will mean that practically every one of the 25,000 houses for which tenders have been approved will stand to benefit by these contributions.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is a very interesting figure. Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the total weekly production of houses is greater now than it was before 1939? Have I misunderstood him?
§ Mr. Westwood
No, the hon. Member has not misunderstood me. Taking temporary houses and permanent houses together, there are no less than 474 and I said that the 247 permanent houses will benefit by the contributions of this Bill. With those explanations, I hope I shall get a unanimous Third Reading for the Bill. From this Box I make an appeal to the local authorities in Scotland to put their backs into the job to make sure that they produce the maximum number of houses between now and the next review of contributions, so that they can get the full benefit of the financial arrangements contained in the Bill.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
When this Bill came to this House for its Second Reading, it was generally welcomed. I myself welcomed it, because I felt that it removed an uncertainty which had existed, and provided a financial foundation on which the local authorities could proceed to build. But during that Debate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid) and others of my hon. Friends, indicated that in certain respects the Bill ought to be amended. The two most important of those respects were that it should be amended so as to remove the additional burden that was being thrown on the ratepayers, and also 1254 that it should be amended because it failed to provide adequately for the rural, and in particular the agricultural, population. I am sorry to say that these two blemishes still exist in the Bill.
It was not our contention, and never has been, that the additional burden which this Bill places on the ratepayers is excessive. Glasgow, I understand, is in great need of some 80,000 houses. When that programme is completed, if my calculations are correct, the additional burden that will fall on the rates will be in the region of is. in the £. That increase will be gradual. I was very glad to hear the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has just announced. Certainly, the total number of houses which have been completed during the last week, 474, temporary and permanent, is a very good record. The number of permanent houses completed is not yet up to the prewar level. If I am correct, we shall have about 12,350 houses in the year if that rate is continued, which is, of course, less than half the prewar rate. However, the figure is gratifying, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House hope that the great efforts which we know the joint Under-Secretary of State is making will succeed in making this increase in the rate burden not quite so gradual as it might otherwise have been. In any case, no matter how his endeavours succeed, it will not come all at once, but in view of the already heavy burden which the ratepayers are bearing, and which we think has reached an almost intolerable level, we fear that these constant additions may lead to a breakdown of the whole system. I have heard, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State can confirm it, that the Government are giving consideration to the revision of the block grant. We hope that will be in the direction of removing—
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for us to deal with the whole rating system in Scotland?
§ Mr. Speaker
I was just about to rise. When I heard the hon. and gallant Member say that he understood that the Government were considering the block grant, I looked at the Bill to see where that point arose, and I was about to 1255 observe that the hon. and gallant Member was going a little too far.
§ Commander Galbraith
I was using that reference so that I could express the hope that, if it did happen, the increases inflicted by this Bill might be offset. Be that as it may, we still consider it to be unfortunate that this Bill will lead to an increase of the rates. We would have preferred—and indeed there would have been a great measure of justice in it—to see the rating burden maintained at its existing level, and if we could not have that, we would rather have had it retained, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. Williams), at the same level as that laid down in the English Bill. We have argued that matter out, and we are forced to accept the position in the Bill as it is now before us.
We also expressed views on the provisions of the Bill in regard to rural houses. These provisions are unsatisfactory and most disappointing. In that connection I would particularly refer to Clause 9. The houses of many of our agricultural population are highly unsatisfactory in relation to modern standards, and ought to be replaced. Under the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938, the amount of assistance given for the replacement of these houses was between £160 and £200 a year. It has been increased to between £240 and £300, an increase of one-third. But what has happened to building costs since 1938? Then, a reasonable cottage could be built for between £400 and £500, whereas today a similar cottage is costing in the region of £1,100. At a conservative estimate, it might be said that the cost of house building in the rural areas has doubled since 1938. Yet the Bill only proposes to increase the assistance by one-third.
I do not think that in this connection the Government are really facing up to the realities of the situation and it is no good saying that the landowner has to find the difference. I endeavoured previously to explain in this House that, owing to the very heavy taxation and increased costs in other directions, landowners are simply not in a position to do that. Taxation in regard to rural properties eats up no less than 60 per cent. of the revenue coming in. The provisions of the Bill are not generous, and give little or no hope to the 1256 rural population that their housing position can be alleviated in any reasonable time. The Bill is not giving a fair deal to that section of the population. We have made our protests in that direction and have drawn the attention of the Government to the position that exists, and the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Government alone. We on these benches have done our best to improve this Bill, for the benefit of all the people in Scotland, and we regret that we have not had better success. But it is undeniable that the Bill will bring great benefits to many thousands of people in Scotland, and to delay its passage to the Statute Book would be a crime against the people of Scotland. Therefore, we send the Bill on its way, hoping that it will lead to a great speed-up in the housing programme, that it will encourage the local authorities to put forth an even greater effort than they have done hitherto, and that it will bring comfort quickly to many thousands of our countrymen who are living under deplorable housing conditions today, and are indeed in dire distress.
§ 4.39 P.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
This Bill has been brought forward with the laudable intention of encouraging local authorities in Scotland to go ahead with the building of houses, and I am certain that it will have that result. If one examines the Bill one finds that it deals with houses for the working classes. We found, during an earlier stage of the discussion, that people who a generation ago would have abhorred the very thought of being treated or talked of as workers, are now anxious to be embraced in this term of "working classes." It was Shakespeare who said:'…the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier, he galls his kibe.—whatever a kibe may be. Some Shakespeare in future years will be able to write something like this:Our noble Lords so envied the working classes that they pinched their houses.Houses must be built for the working classes. I hope that local authorities will take full advantage of the offer made by the Secretary of State and go ahead with the job. It is true, of course, that in some cases there will be an addition to the rates. What was said before can be said again, that there is no reason why there should be any objection to the addi- 1257 tional rate, if the community receive good value for what is paid. If these houses are built, as they are going to be built, will it not result in an extraordinary increase in value to the community in health, happiness and general progress? Nobody should raise the question of the possibility of a rate increase as an objection to the advantages represented by the building of the houses.
I am very anxious, as far as flats are concerned, that we should not think, because we are putting in an elevator, that is all that is required to make flats acceptable and desirable. Even if they were the ordinary type of flats, they would be acceptable under present conditions. But I would like the local authorities and the Minister, in association, to build flats in a different manner from anything that has been considered previously. I inspected a housing scheme recently where flats have been built. Already they present all the appearance of slums, yet they were built under a slum clearance scheme. Instead of street after street of ordinary flats, let us build something with a design, with gardens and open spaces, where those who occupy the flats can sit on a summer day among flowers. It is easy to build street after street of flats all with the same appearance, thus creating dullness and hopelessness in all those who occupy them.
I ask the Secretary of State in association with the local authorities to get the best men on the job and to ensure that there is real variety in whatever flats are built, something which will brighten the lives of the people. Every obstacle that may be in the way of such a scheme should be removed. Last week I had to bring to the notice of the Scottish Department complaints made by local authorities in regard to the difficulties which prevent them from going ahead with the job. I do not know whether or not those complaints were well founded but I want to see the Department doing everything possible to remove any obstacle that could hold up the efforts of the local authorities.
With regard to the question of rural housing, may I say that I visited during the Parliamentary Recess a number of houses in the rural areas? The condition of those houses was absolutely shocking. They were worse than even the worst slums. As one crossed the threshold the smell 1258 was awful—the smell of damp. There were rat holes, the houses lacked sewerage and had been neglected over a long period. That was Tory neglect. All these rural houses are the product of Tory landlords, Tory local authorities, and Tory robbers generally. Nevertheless, we have to try quickly to overcome all these evils. There is nothing more calculated to drive people from the country into the towns than evil rural housing conditions. No greater inducement could be given to people in the towns to go back to the country than the building of hygienic houses with adequate water supply, good drainage and all the rest of it. On page 3 of the Bill provision is made for the payment…of an annual contribution of such amount in respect of such of the houses so provided as seems to the Secretary of State just and reasonable.That refers to houses in the rural areas occupied by agricultural workers or workers in a similar economic position. I hope the Secretary of State will use his discretion and power to the greatest advantage to brighten the housing situation in the rural areas. I appeal to local authorities to take advantage of this Bill, to gather together all contractors and builders, ensure that they are thoroughly organised and cooperative, and to build the houses and provide our people with the homes they require.
§ 4.47 P.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
I would remind the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that the agricultural industry is probably the only industry which has ever provided houses for its own workers. That fact accounts to a very great extent for the position to which he has referred. Tory landowners are not altogether to blame. In regard to this Bill I must support what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). We in the rural areas are disappointed with this Bill. We are disappointed for three main reasons. The first is that we feel it fails to satisfy agriculture's need. No rural housing policy can succeed unless this need is satisfied, because it is upon agriculture that any rural housing policy depends. We think that the circumstances of the industry are not taken into account. In Scotland the agricultural position, having regard to our geography, is entirely different from 1259 that which exists South of the Border. Rural communities are more widely dispersed and there is also the fact that our economy is a livestock economy. Eighty per cent. of our total output is based upon livestock. A man cannot look after livestock if his home is five miles away from the home farm.
We also say that this is not a particularly good Bill because today labour is the essential factor governing the industry. The potential agricultural workers of the future are the children of the workers who are now on the land. This policy of removing the tied cottage may be a political issue…I do not know…but it fails to take into account the fact that the children of people who are working on the land today, are the future workers in this industry. If they are removed a distance of six or seven miles, the Government are endangering their own agricultural policy. I do not know exactly how far it is proposed to take these people. But I feel that the policy followed by the Government in abolishing reconditioning and aimed at the abolition of the tied cottage is very dangerous, from the point of view of their own agricultural policy, which we all wish to see succeed. Admittedly, the Bill increases grants to local authorities for rural housing. It also increases the amount that is given by way of grants to private persons, but only for replacement of unfit houses and only if the local authority cannot build them themselves. That is all the Bill does, from the rural point of view. The Bill will not improve a single cottage or a single farmhouse on any farm or in any village in the whole of Scotland. It will not provide a single new additional cottage or house on any farm in the whole of Scotland to meet the needs of returning ex-Servicemen, who have married since they went into the Forces, nor will it meet the needs of an increased tillage acreage necessary to meet the conditions of world famine. There is nothing in this Bill to build additional new houses in the proper places.
I ask the Minister to take very seriously indeed the point I am now going to make. The Bill insists that houses must be unfit before they can be replaced. Why must they become unfit? Can the Minister not stretch a point here, and allow us in the rural areas to schedule the houses that would become unfit if no remedial action 1260 were taken? It is not a political point. I ask the Minister not to wait until the houses are unfit, but to allow us, in the rural areas, to schedule a grade of houses that are likely to become unfit in a reasonable time, and let us get on with the job, because it is houses we want. I would like to have seen a greater sense of urgency in this Bill. One point made by the hon. Member for West Fife who is not in his place at the moment, seemed to me to be important. Unless we can build houses in the country before we build houses in the towns, we are not going to meet the needs of existing workers on the land, let alone cope with the new ones which we want, because people will go where the houses are built first. Today, therefore, we should be getting on in the country areas first, before the great cities, in order to prevent, or, at least, to arrest, that drift from the country to the towns that we know so well. As I say, I do not think there is an adequate sense of urgency in this Bill. I do not believe that local authorities are capable of housing the existing farm workers in the country with new houses, let alone cope with the new workers whom we need on the land to produce more food for the people.
My last point is this. I want to ask the Secretary of State if he will do something to improve existing methods of planning in the rural areas. I refer to the tremendous delay in the building of houses. I know that it cannot he put in the Bill—
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what he means by the "tremendous delay"?
§ Mr. Snadden
I am coming to that. I mean the constant reference by local authorities to the Department in Edinburgh, the piles of correspondence that grow up in the files, the visits from Edinburgh to see whether schemes can be approved—
§ Mr. Buchanan
Will the hon. Gentleman give me one case in which my Department has held up a tender for a house?
§ Mr. Snadden
I could give the hon. Gentleman many cases which occurred before he became Minister. I am referring to the delays of the past. I am referring to—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The question of the alleged delays of the past does not arise on the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Snadden
I bow to your Ruling, Sir, and I end by saying that I hope that the question of a speed-up between the local authorities and the Department in Edinburgh will be taken in hand, and that the form-filling will be reduced to a minimum. From the rural point of view, I see this Bill go through with regret, because I had hoped there would be more in it. I do not believe it will assist in arresting the drift from the country to the towns, and I do not think that it will very much help the people who are on the land now, let alone cope with those whom we want to come back to the land and who are so urgently needed. We, in the countryside, do not feel that it does much to solve our problem.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The Secretary of State is entitled to and should receive the compliments of the House on the speed with which he has brought forward this Bill, in view of the pressure at which business is now taken in this House if he can provide the houses as speedily as he has dealt with this Bill, I think we shall all be ready to congratulate him. As the right hon Gentleman said, the purpose of the Bill is to make financial provisions to enable the local authorities to carry out their duties. Subject to what has just fallen from the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), I fancy that the Bill does that, and provides the necessary financial background, but neither I nor anybody in the rural areas holds the view that that financial background is sufficient to provide the houses in those rural areas. I do not dispute that it may be adequate for the towns; perhaps it is, but I am quite certain that, as the hon. Member has just said, despite the higher financial contribution, we are not going to get the houses in the country districts that we need at this time. One views with some anxiety the possibility of the review of the contributions which is to be made at the end of the year. What was promised by the right hon. Gentleman? Does he mean that, at the end of the year, local authorities will be left without any commitment at all, or does he mean that if local authorities find that housing costs 1262 are going up, and are likely to go up, substantial and adequate additions to the financial provisions will be made? I hope the right hon. Gentleman can give us an assurance upon that, because, if that is not what he means, his statement is valueless
May I comment upon his remarks on the definition of "working class"? The joint Under-Secretary is quite right in what he said. In the old days, about 1935, we went all through this at great length in the Scottish Grand Committee. I think that all of us, or many of us, would have liked to change it, but we all came to the conclusion that it could not be done. I agree that it is not really possible to alter that definition here, much as it ought to be altered, but, when the right hon. Gentleman tells us that there will be an opportunity on the Consolidation Bill, what does that mean? When will that Bill come along—this year, next year, or when? Will it be within the life of this Parliament? Surely, the right hon. Gentleman can say that.
The hon. Member must be aware that that question cannot possibly arise under this Bill.
§ Mr. Stewart
You are always right in these matters, Sir, but I was replying to the right hon. Gentleman who made that remark with regard to the Consolidation Bill.
§ Mr. Stewart
I will leave it there, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, since you require me not to pursue it, but I hope the Minister will say something about it.
The right hon. Gentleman will equally be out of Order if he pursues the point when he makes his reply.
§ Mr. Stewart
I certainly hope that the Under-Secretary will be persuaded to say something then. The right hon Gentleman took considerable pride, I thought, in announcing the output of his Department. He said that the number of houses being turned out—
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
On a point of Order. I do not wish to interrupt my hon. Friend, but may we have your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, so that, perhaps, as 1263 the result of your Ruling, he may be able to develop his previous point further? You mentioned to the House Mr. Speaker's Ruling some 40 minutes ago. If I understood Mr. Speaker aright, he said it would not be in Order to consider the whole rating system, but I think we are entitled on the Third Reading to discuss prejudicial effects of higher rating to which we think this Bill will lead.
The hon. Member knows quite well the limits of discussion on Third Reading. A number of matters which hon. Members are raising may be mentioned in passing, the fuller development of which would be quite out of Order.
§ Mr. Stewart
I would like to pass on to the passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in which he told us of the number of houses he was building at present, and would be building, I presume, in the course of this Bill. I fancy a reply to that would be in Order. He told us that 180,000 sites were ready and that 25,000 tenders for houses had been accepted. He also said that the rate of building of permanent houses last week was 247, and he claimed that that was the highest number of houses which had ever been produced in one week.
§ Mr. Westwood
I did mention the number of permanent houses, but I also added the number of temporary houses and said that our housing output, based upon last week's returns, was equivalent to the peak period in the years before the war.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is exactly what I want to inquire into further. If my calculations are correct, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman has no foundation in fact at all. May I ask him to consider his own figures? He told us that the number of permanent houses built was 247 and when he added the temporary houses the figure came to 474. Is that right?
§ Mr. Stewart
He also said that that was the highest figure ever attained in a week. That is an astonishing statement, particularly when he confirmed it, in response to an interjection by me, because, even if we take the higher figure of 474, that is only at the rate of 24,600 houses a 1264 year. I find, from the statistical abstract, that in the year 1934, for example, the total number of houses built in Scotland was over 30,000, which is at the rate of 592 a week.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am referring to total houses and I was about to explain to the right hon. Gentleman that out of that total 16,000 were built by local authorities and 14,000 by private enterprise. Therefore, the truth is that, in that year, private enterprise alone was building not very far short of the figure of which the right hon. Gentleman was just boasting. His figures are all wrong. I am quoting from page 49 of the statistical abstract and I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to contest my figures.
§ Mr. Westwood
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) has taken the total of houses built by public authorities and by private enterprise. I was only dealing with the output of public authorities.
§ Mr. Stewart
Now we have got it clear. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman before was not clear and I understood from him as, I think, did all my hon. Friends, that he was talking about the total output of houses in Scotland. He now says he only meant the figure of local authority houses. Will he add to that number the number of houses built last week by private enterprise?
§ Mr. Westwood
I cannot do that because I have not the figures. It would be impossible for me, in the Third Reading Debate on this Bill, to deal with houses built by private enterprise. The objection on the part of hon. Members opposite is that we will grant no finance for private enterprise building and that the provisions of this Bill only allow contributions to be made to local authorities and to no one else.
§ Mr. Stewart
So the facts are that the only houses which the right hon. Gentleman knows were built last week were the 247 permanent houses and about 200 temporary houses and that he does not know whether there were more or less built by private enterprise. Would my guess be wrong if I said that the total, including those from private enterprise, does not exceed 300, whereas the figure I quoted reached 600 in 1936?
§ Mr. Westwood
On a point of Order. How can we discuss the production of houses by private enterprise when the Bill now before the House is to provide contributions for public authorities and no one else in connection with the farming community?
§ Mr. Stewart
After that little exchange, Scotland will see that the first statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that he was building more houses than ever before, is about half the truth. The truth is that last week we built less than before the war. Having cleared that up, I will pass to my next point. The right hon. Gentleman started by making an appeal to local authorities, as he often does and as he is entitled to do, to put their backs into it and to get the houses built. That is a very proper thing to do. But if the local authorities are not getting on with the job it is as much his fault as anybody's. What are the facts? I will start by answering the Under-Secretary of State. I propose to quote from a report made by the Fife County Clerk to the Fife County Council Housing Committee two days ago which was accepted by that committee. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Fife County Council is composed of Left Wing party men and Communists. In his report, the Fife County Clerk said that housing progress was being hampered by a jungle of red tape and a blizzard of forms. Reporting on the housing position, he pleaded for less rigid control by the Health Department and said that the authorities who have skilled and qualified staffs to advise them should be entrusted with much greater freedom I could read a whole column of the report.
§ Mr. Buchanan
If the hon. Gentleman or the county council can produce one case where I have been responsible for delay, I shall be greatly obliged. What happens, and what he knows happens, because he was in this House when the law was passed, is that there are layout plans and questions of planning to be considered. The law which he and I passed makes it necessary to consult the Ministers of War Transport and Agriculture and others, which must obviously mean delay in the sense that the Departments have to be consulted. I say to him, again, let him show one visible sign of 1266 delay on my part and, if he can do that, I will vacate my office
§ Mr. Stewart
The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman will personalise. I did not criticise him personally. My criticism is of the system which the Government permit and perpetuate. If the hon. Gentleman wants examples, I will invite the county clerk to whom I have referred to send me cases. That is one of the reasons why local authorities cannot get on with the job. They say, as the right hon. Gentleman knows better than most of us, "We have built up a great machine. We have our surveyors, architects, clerks and experts of one kind and another. We pay them large sums of money; they are highly qualified men. Let them get on with the job. Lay down the broad principles and let us proceed. Cut out the exchange of letters and so on, and let us get on with the job" That is one of the reasons why the local authorities cannot respond readily to the right hon. Gentleman.
Another reason is that in the last year the Government have proved to be the worst planning authority ever presented to this country. The one thing they cannot do is—plan. They cannot even plan houses. Some of my farmer friends in Fife are suffering in this respect, and are without a subsidy despite the Minister's plan for reconstructing and remodelling workmen's cottages. One of them got a local builder to come along. The builder had bricks and he had permission to go ahead with the work. He had taken down the front of the house and had taken off the roof; he was putting on a new roof, when suddenly the freezing order came into effect, and the farmer and his wife are living in one little kitchen because the Government cannot see further than their noses. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but these people do not laugh. They blame the Government for having no organising ability. Surely, arrangements should be made for the full production of bricks as one of the first steps in the Government's housing programme. That should have been the first thing they did when they took office. Reference has been made to temporary houses. I find that parts of houses have come along, other parts have not come—
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
On a point of Order. Is not the hon. Gentleman's reference to parts of houses, 1267 and his argument generally on this point, completely out of Order, Mr. Deputy- Speaker?
Yes. The hon Gentleman is dealing with matters more of administration and which might be more properly discussed at another time. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is entitled to review the whole housing programme. If the hon. Gentleman confined himself to what is in the Bill, we might get on.
Precisely, that is just the difficulty. If the hon. Gentleman continues to take the latitude which he has taken, and if the Chair permits him to do so, the Debate will become a general one on the Government's administration in regard to houses and not on the contents of the Bill. Therefore, I must ask the hon. Gentleman not to continue on those lines.
§ Mr. Stewart
I appreciate that point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I conclude by referring to the appeal of the Secretary of State for Scotland to the local authorities to put their backs into the job. He was making a false appeal because he is not enabling the local authorities to do so. The truth is that he is preventing them from doing so.
My last point is with regard to a matter which was raised by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). The Government's housing policy started off by abandoning the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. That was done because the right hon. Gentleman told us he had a better idea in his mind—a plan for modernising rural cottages. I would like to know whether the committee has reported and when we are to be told what the policy is?
That question again does not arise on the Bill. I think, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman should resume his seat if he cannot keep in Order.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member for West Fife made some point of this, and I thought, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you must have regarded it as having something to do with the housing problem, so that I have sought to follow in his footsteps. However, I will leave that point.
I come, therefore, to my conclusion. Here is a Bill which has gone through its various stages, which gives the local authorities substantial sums of money to carry through a vital public duty. Let me appeal to the Government to put their backs into it. I am entitled to do that in view of the right hon. Gentleman's appeal to the local authorities. The Government could increase the weekly output of houses by 50 per cent, within the next six months or a year, if they would tighten up and modernise their administrative machine. I appeal to the Government to put their backs into the job and, by the provision of material and labour and the parts that are necessary, make it possible for the authorities, contractors, builders and workmen to make this Bill a success. I think it is in order for me to ask that the machinery for making the Bill effective should be provided. That is my appeal, and I leave it there.
>Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Gilzean (Edinburgh, Central)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is it in Order for an hon. Member to challenge a count of the House and then to walk out?
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
I only want to speak very shortly on this Bill because so much ground has already been covered. I would like to associate myself with what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in that we all welcome the Bill and we hope that it will improve housing in Scotland. However, as a Member representing a rural constituency which is primarily concerned with agriculture, I have to express my grave doubts as to whether Clauses 3, 4 and 9, which are concerned with rural housing, will give us the houses we need on the farms. I would be very grateful if the hon. Gentleman who is to reply would 1269 let us know the estimated number of houses that Clauses 3 and 4 will produce, and the estimated number of houses that will be reconditioned under Clause 9.
I would also like to know whether the Government consider that this Bill, as it stands, fulfils the very definite promise given to the House in August that something was to be done for rural housing. As far as I can see, Clause 9 is the only one which does anything to put into good repair the houses on the farms. There is a sense of profound disappointment amongst the agricultural population because so little has been given them in this Bill. I must admit that when that promise was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal he did say that Scotland cannot continue to expect always to have special advantages. I can only say how right political events have proved him to be. A definite promise was given, and I think it would clear the air a little if we knew whether or not this Bill carries out that promise, or whether we can expect something else to follow.
It may be said by the Joint Under-Secretary when he replies that Clauses 3 and 4 will solve the rural housing problem. To my mind it goes only a very small way towards the solution of that problem in Scotland. I have a feeling that in regard to rural housing this Bill has been drawn too closely to the English Bill. Provisions like those in Clauses 3 and 4 would serve a useful purpose in England, but in Scotland where the dispersal is greater, where we have these scattered farms, it will be a very difficult thing for any local authority or county council to set up a community that can serve the workers on the farms. In England there are certainly bigger spaces, but the farmworkers have a different way of life. That is to say, the English farm-workers have their lunch out, but the Scottish farmworkers want their hot meal at home in the middle of the day; therefore, they need to live on the job. I hope we shall find that the Government have something further in mind for houses on the farms other than communities. It was announced by the Secretary of State during the Second Reading that the Government intend to reduce the number of tied houses to a minimum. I can only hope that, with his own intimate knowledge of the needs of rural Scotland, he will see that that policy on the part of 1270 the Government is revised. I am sure he cannot feel altogether happy about the provisions in this Bill as it stands today. The Bill will do a lot to help Scotland. It will be a very good Bill from the point of view of urban housing. There is no question about that. However, I hope he will bear in mind the needs of the countryside.
Much has been said on the question of delay. I now refer to Clause 9. It is one thing to pass the Bill, but it is another thing to get the houses. I do not know if the Under-Secretary realises that after an individual has applied for a new house under Clause 9, he and those who build the house have to prepare and send in 11 different sets of plans and permits to various authorities before that house can come into being. If we could get some system whereby the man who is fortunate enough to get a house authorised could obtain something like a ration book, out of which he could take the necessary coupons, it would speed up the whole process. I hope the Minister will keep that matter in mind. I criticise the Bill not because of its contents but because of its omissions, and because I feel it has been drawn too closely to the English Bill; and because it has the taint of doctrine instead of realism. I hope the Bill will provide many houses in Scotland and that the Secretary of State may be successful in seeing the figures which he has given us increased month by month.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Hoy (Leith)
I want at the outset, without following the line of argument taken by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart), to say that our experience in Edinburgh has been very different from that which he quoted with regard to his area. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Secretary of State for the very efficient way in which he has dealt with Scotland's housing problem. Edinburgh received sanction for one of the largest housing schemes in Scotland in a matter of 24 hours—something unheard of in the days of previous Governments. That is in contradistinction to the rate of housing progress made when the leader of the Party to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife belongs was Minister of Health. I was surprised when the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) asked that the housing in urban areas might be delayed until we have 1271 satisfied the needs of the people in the rural areas. Surely he did not wish the House to take that argument seriously, because in Scotland today bad housing is not confined to either the urban or the rural areas, but is a disease inherent in Scotland itself.
I think the financial arrangements that have been made by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government under this Bill are the best that Scotland has ever obtained. It gives a great inducement to all local authorities to go ahead and provide the houses that Scotland so urgently requires. I want to ask one question with regard to the Scottish Special Housing Association. There has been a far too great delay in the setting up of this Association. I did think that today the Secretary of State would have taken the opportunity of announcing its composition. I would ask whoever is to reply if it is intended to announce the names of the members of this association at a fairly early date. There is no other point of criticism I have to make in regard to the Bill. It is a good Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) must be highly delighted that, when we come to discuss the financial terms given to Scottish councils for the provision of houses in Scotland, he will not be embarrassed by the company of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), who might have seized the point of criticism in regard to the special treatment that Scotland is getting compared with England. It I am in Order, I would also remind the House that there are many hon. Members who are engaged in Committee work upstairs on the Scottish Council of Industry. If hon. Members think that Scotland is being neglected in this Debate because some hon. Members are absent, it is only because of other work in connection with Scotland. On behalf not only of the party to which I belong, but I am sure of hon. Members of all parties, I desire at this stage to wish the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Joint Under-Secretary good luck in their endeavours to wipe this social disease from our native country.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Gilzean (Edinburgh, Central)
I also would like to say I consider this is 1272 a very good Bill, and I think we are entitled to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland upon its production. I was particularly interested in what the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) had to say about the tendency of Government policy to increase rates. Far be it from me to say that we should not bother about the rates. Nobody likes to pay a penny more in rates than is reasonably necessary, but speaking as one who has had a long experience in local government—and I think anyone with that experience will at once agree—the two main items of local government expenditure, the total cost of which probably equals all the other items, are public health and education, and both are intimately related to the question of housing. If we give people good houses—and the sooner the better—there are many heads of expenditure under public health that would materially diminish. What is the relation to education? I used to go round schools, to the number of about 120 every year, and I found that one of the problems, especially among the poorer sections of the community, is the fact that children sleep in the schools instead of sleeping in their beds at night, because they are badly housed. To that extent we shall help this question considerably. I am seeking to illustrate, in reply to what the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said about increasing rates, that we are going to decrease them.
I would also like to say that the Bill is good to the extent that it is not pursuing the policy of reconditioning rural houses. I know a little about it because I was continually going round farms, and that proved to me that most of the money spent on reconditioning houses in the rural areas was money wasted.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
On a point of Order. There are a great many Members on this side of the House who would be most anxious to speak about the question of reconditioning. If you are accepting discussion on reconditioning, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may we take it that it will be allowed on this side as well as on that side?
§ Mr. Gilzean
If it is not in Order I will say no more, except that there has already been a good deal of talk on that side of the House about reconditioning.
The question is outside the purview of the Bill, so it is not proper to deal with it on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. Gilzean
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I think I am entitled to point out that a good deal has been said on it on the other side of the House—
§ Mr. Gilzean
Yes, it was mentioned. In any case, I wanted to say that I consider that this is a good Bill. It is untrue to suggest that the Government and Government Departments are delaying this question. They are not. I was informed last week that one local authority was surprised beyond measure by the expedition with which their demands were being met. Actually, something was asked for and given within a matter of 48 hours, and that was a local authority which up till now has been extremely critical of Government Departments. Clause 15 will be of inestimable benefit to the community. It will give an opportunity of building houses that are outside the orthodox scheme and to that extent will make a contribution to helping to secure the houses we so very much need. Therefore, I hope that the House will give the Bill the Third Reading, knowing as I do that it will help in the provision of houses.
§ 5.36 p.m.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and the Joint Under-Secretary will both be encouraged by the speeches to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) and the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Gilzean). It is the only encouragement they have yet received in this Debate. There has not been much support forthcoming. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) indicated that in his view it would be an error of judgment—I think he went as far as to say that it would be a crime—if we were to divide against this Bill. If we did, although we should be unsuccessful, we should be indicating to the country that we desired to obstruct 1274 this Measure. Of course, we do not desire to obstruct any Measure, however imperfect it seems to be in our view, which will do anything to better the social conditions—in this case the housing conditions—of Scotland.
But although we are not going to divide against the Third Reading, the right hon. Gentleman must not take it that we are wholly in agreement with what this Bill contains as it leaves us for another place. My hon. and gallant Friend went on to make two points on which we profoundly disagree with the structure of this Bill. My hon. and gallant Friend, as he so often does, chid the Government very gently, but at the same time he made it very clear that we profoundly disagree both with the Clause relating to the financial contributions laid upon local authorities and also with the Clause relating to the housing—better housing, we all hope—of the rural and agricultural population. My hon. and gallant Friend pointed out that we were very uneasy about the rates. I know it is not in Order to discuss the rating system of Scotland, but I take it that it is in Order to mention these Clauses as they leave us, and, as I say, they leave us on this side still profoundly disagreeing. My hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out that we think, and in fact all the information that we are receiving from the local authorities encourages us to know, that we are right in this. The local authorities feel that at the end of the day they may be placed in a serious financial position as a result of the imperfect structure of the financial Clauses of this Measure.
I am glad to hear that my noble Friend is in agreement with me on that as he is on so many other things. We have endeavoured to amend this Bill in order to give the local authorities that feeling of confidence and security in operating the Measure which at present they certainly do not feel. The right hon. Gentleman has appealed to local authorities to operate the Bill, with all the enthusiasm they can summon. I certainly hope they will; I must repeat, it is not our desire to obstruct. It is, however, certainly our duty as an Opposition to point out weak points in this as in any other Measure. The local authorities are very apprehensive. The hon. Gentleman 1275 the Member for Central Edinburgh said—indeed, I could hardly believe my ears while I listened—that he did not share the views on rating that I always understood all his colleagues who sit on that side of the House share, namely, that they like high rates for the sake of high rates. Of course, we disagree; and it is because we disagree, and because we are buttressed in our opinion that the rates will go up as a result of this Bill, that we endeavoured in Committee so safeguard the position of the local authorities in this matter.
We disagree, perhaps, more with the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, but we also disagree with him—with his views on the rating system in general. Having expressed my views as to what I feel the position of the local authorities will be as a result of the financial Clauses, I should like now to say something about the other point of substance which. my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok made about the effect that this Bill will have upon housing for the rural population. He asked whether it would do anything, and he gave some figures. I did not make a note of them; I am carrying them in my head as best I can. But they want to show that the financial provisions of the Bill will not be sufficient in his view, or in that of any of us on this side of the House, to enable the houses to be forthcoming in the numbers that Members on both sides of the House would wish to see them coming. Sufficient housing for the rural population is a matter of urgent necessity at the present time if the agricultural industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said in his excellent speech, is to be maintained at its proper level and to play its rightful part in the economic life of this country.
The hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) asked the Secretary of State if he could give us any idea of what number of houses the Government think will be likely to be forthcoming for the rural population of Scotland under this Bill. I hope we shall be told. The hon. Member for Leith rather deprecated the points that hon. Members on this side of the 1276 House had made with regard to housing in rural Scotland, and suggested that we were in danger of losing sight of the appalling conditions that exist in urban Scotland. Not at all. We realise that the housing conditions in the towns are deplorable. There are 500,000 houses needed urgently to house something like 2,000,000 of the population, which is only just over 5,000,000 in number. I join with my hon. Friends who stress the point from the rural point of view, but I have complete sympathy with those on the other side who are also disturbed, as representing the cities and industrial areas. We want to know, all of us, how many houses the Government think are likely to be forthcoming, and forthcoming quickly, under this Measure.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok said he wished the Government would show a sense of urgency in this matter. He thought the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to be fully impressed with the urgency of the housing situation in Scotland; and I am bound to say that I do not think that up to now the Government—and I do not wish to be hypercritical—or the right hon. Gentleman or his colleague have impressed the House with the idea that they realise how important and urgent this problem is. I will put it this way. If only the right hon. Gentleman showed something like 20 per cent. of the anxiety to get on with the housing problem in Scotland that his colleagues show to clear out of Egypt, some of us would feel much happier. I hope that whoever replies will give us some figures. I am interested in the problem especially from the rural point of view, and I hope that the Government's spokesman will respond to the invitation of the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen and tell us how many houses the Government will be able speedily to produce in the rural areas under this Measure. I have no wish to delay the House any longer. So far as it goes, this Bill will do a little good. It will certainly not do any harm, except that it may place the local authorities in an adverse financial position. I hope and they hope it will not do so but it may. At all events, we should not be wise to divide the House against the Third Reading, and I associate myself with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok has said.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles, Southern)
As one who has had considerable experience of local government, and is interested in town and country planning in Scotland, I extend to this Bill a warm welcome on behalf of the people of Peebles and Midlothian. At no time in the last 20 years have the local authorities, in our area at least, received such assistance and cooperation from the Scottish Office as they are receiving now. I venture the opinion that no man is better calculated to tackle the great problem of housing in Scotland than the present Secretary of State. Reference has been made to the tied cottage. I hope and trust the Secretary of State will continue his policy of abolishing the tied cottage. One hon. Member said that agriculture was the only key industry that had made any attempt to house its workers. I would remind him that some houses were built also in the mining industry, but in neither case can anything good be said for the tied cottage. All we found was that the tied cottage reduced the worker to a tied and bonded slave. In the villages of Lanarkshire, in the mining villages of Midlothian, there are companies who own and control the very lives of the people. I say to hon. Members "Do not contradict the Member for Southern Peebles in this respect. He has too many years' bitter experience." I hope and trust the Scottish Office will continue its policy. This Bill helps to make in this era a great advance like that of John Wheatley's 1924 Bill and Arthur Greenwood's 1933 Bill.
§ Hon. Members:Order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member must designate hon. and right hon. Members of this House by their constituencies or their offices.
§ Mr. Pryde
I tender my sincere apologies, Sir. We of the local authorities gladly welcome this attempt to remedy that situation portrayed by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart). It is a dismal situation, in which 500,00o houses are required. Who is responsible for that condition? It is the effect of 18 1278 years of Tory and National misrule. I do not know what brand of politics "National" politics may be, but I know it was of no service to the people of Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland has to face that situation, and I have no doubt that he will attack it with that zest and zeal which are typical of him. In one of the Sunday papers, we were told that 500,000 houses were needed for Scotland, and that only a certain number had been completed in that particular week. That may be perfectly true, but the Secretary of State makes no pretence to correct the evil in one week. Granted the cooperation of hon. Members opposite, I venture to say that he will make an appreciable difference in our time. Let us say to the Scottish Office, "Get on with the job. We are behind you." If we are united, we shall see to it that local authorities approach the problem in the same spirit that has been shown in Midlothian, where one local authority has reduced the rates in their borough. I am referring to Dalkeith, where the rates amounted to approximately 15s. 6d. in the £, but when the local authority were elected with a Labour majority, they reduced them to 11s. in the £ I say to others, "Go and do likewise."
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
I should like to add a word in support of those who have been handing out flowery bouquets to the right hon. Gentleman in connection with this Bill. As far as it goes, it is a good Bill, and I am perfectly sure the right hon. Gentleman will always find, If and when he produces a Bill of this kind, worked out on the right lines, he will get the support from Members on this side of the House. Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), I am a little worried about the relationship between what is being done for the city, and what is being done for the country. I represent a constituency which has both an urban and a rural housing problem. We have a very large rural area, and also a very important city. From what I can see, much less has been done in the rural areas than in the urban areas, although I am not blaming either the town council of the city of Perth, or the county council of Perthshire, because both are good livewire organisations which are doing their best. 1279 I think that the Government are wrong in believing that, for rural housing, we must have village settlements. The Government are inclined to think that amenities can come only from a community. That is true to a certain extent, but there is no question, as far as rural workers in Scotland are concerned, that they would rather have houses on or about the farms where they work, than go to villages some distance away where houses have been provided for them. The hon. Member for South Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) is entirely wrong on the subject of tied houses, so far as rural areas are concerned. I have spoken to many farm workers in my constituency, and to many in the Army, and everyone has said that the one thing is that, as a rule, a farm worker gets a house on his job I cannot speak for the mining villages and I do not propose, therefore, to make any criticism on that side, but, from the point of view of rural housing, a good house on or about a farm is what the farm worker wishes to have. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do all that he can to forward that question, and that he will not concentrate solely on increasing the size of villages, which are often far too far away to benefit the workers on the farms.
I welcome the Bill as far as it goes, and hope that the Minister will give weight to the solution of the rural side of the problem. There are few rural voters compared with urban voters, and consequently there are more Members representing urban areas, who, quite rightly, want to do all they can for their constituencies. The right hon. Gentleman has to hold the balance. He has to say which is to have the plans and the houses, and in what proportion. I hope that we shall have a proper balance, and that the countryside will not be neglected, and that there will not be delay in getting the houses which are needed just as badly there as in the towns.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
There seems to be a little confusion in the minds of some hon. Members opposite on the subject of the number of houses, and I propose, therefore, to make a few remarks on that subject. Before doing so, may I say that I was a little amused to find one of the hon. Members opposite 1280 complaining about the number of plans which were required by a section of the Bill, actually suggesting that houses should be put upon a coupon system—he did not go so far as to say that they should be obtained by pressing a penny into a slot. It is true that this Bill does not provide for anything of that sort, but it is a very important Bill because of the assistance it will give to the great problem of Scottish housing. It is a very beneficial Bill because of the practical contribution it makes to that problem. I welcome the Bill, and I venture to congratulate the Minister upon the success he has had with it. I hope that soon it will be on the Statute Book. In my view, it is a well drawn Bill, and a Bill which is well designed to carry out the objects it has in view. The need for houses is beyond question. The building of houses and the financing of houses is going forward rapidly, and the Bill assists local authorities to carry out the requisite plans.
At the beginning of my speech I said that I was going to say a word upon a topic about which confusion appears to exist, namely, the question of the number of houses. The figures which are at the command of all hon. Members indicate the number of temporary houses and permanent houses which have been built in the recent period. Dealing with temporary houses first, up to July, 1945, only 14 were built. Since the General Election to 28th February this year, 1,064 were built, representing an increase of 1,050 in seven months, and being at the rate of 166 per month.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. When I ventured to refer in brief terms to temporary houses, in response to an interruption from the other side of the House, it was pointed out that I was not in Order in doing so. Is it now in Order for the hon. and learned Member to refer to something which I was not permitted to refer to in the course of my remarks?
§ Mr. Hughes
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and pass on to permanent houses. Up to 31st July last, the number of permanent houses built in Scotland was 664. During the seven months since 1281 the General Election to 28th February this year, 1,618 were built, being an increase of 954, or a rate of 168 per month. Up to the 31st March, 1946, 1,790 were built, an increase of 170 in one month. In my submission that shows—
I am sorry to have to rule the hon. and learned Member out of Order again, but he cannot go into these matters on the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I mentioned these figures for the purpose of dealing with the suggestion propounded by hon. Members opposite that there was no reasonable acceleration of the number of houses being built, and, therefore—I think this was the argument—that no financial provision should be made for that acceleration. I submit that the figures which I have mentioned—
§ Major Ramsay (Forfar) rose—
The hon. and gallant Member cannot ask a question unless the hon. and learned Member who is speaking is willing to give way.
§ Mr. Hughes
I shall only be a few moments. I submit that the facts show that there is a great and growing scheme of housebuilding going on in Scotland, and the local authorities should be put in the position to finance it. I think that this Bill is designed to do that, and I hope that it will very soon become law.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine Western)
The hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hughes) sought, I think, to attack this side of the House because we have suggested that His Majesty's Government have not succeeded in building as many houses as we might have built had we been in their place. He quoted figures up to the time of the General Election, but he seemed to forget that there was then a war on, and that the houses which he suggests have been built since 31st July last will not go very far to solve our housing problem in Scotland. We are all glad to see houses going up, but I think that that is cold comfort when the hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen seeks to profit from the fact that 1,618 houses have been built in eight months—
I must remind the hon. Member that it is not relevant to speak with regard to the past. This is a Bill dealing with the future. What he has been saying may have been relevant on Second Reading, but is not in Order on Third Reading, when we are dealing with what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I agree with that, but it will be within your recollection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this Bill seeks to give subsidies retrospective to a date in March, 1944. I think that I would be in Order in referring to any houses which were included within the ambit of that retrospective subsidy. The Secretary of State will, of course, get his Bill, and, with it, he will get the good will and good wishes of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We are all anxious that everything should be done to build as many houses—permanent houses, if possible, and, where that cannot be done, temporary houses—as quickly as possible in Scotland, where they are so badly needed. I think that we might feel gratified by the fact that, during this short Debate, we have had on the Government Front Bench the presence, not only of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Joint Under-Secretary, but, at one time and for quite a period, the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Parliamentary Secretary to that Ministry, and also, for a short time, the Minister of Health—all of which indicates, I think, that there is a feeling on the part of the Government that the Scottish housing problem is a serious one, which has to be tackled energetically and enthusiastically.
I think that the Secretary of State cannot have failed to notice the lack of enthusiasm throughout Scotland for this Bill. There is no great enthusiasm for it, either in this House or with the local authorities, or in any part of Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) said that he thought that this Bill might do good, and that, at any rate, it would do no harm. I am not so sure about that. After all, the Government had a great chance to introduce a comprehensive housing Bill for Scotland. It has introduced instead this petty Bill which leaves out so much which might have been included—and so much which we would not be in Order in debating this afternoon on its Third Reading—and to that extent it is disappointing. I think the psychological effect is deplorable. This 1283 great chance has been missed, and we have, instead, to accept a Bill of very narrow scope indeed—a Bill which does virtually nothing to reassure those of us who are desperately anxious about the housing situation in the rural areas, and which does virtually nothing to allay our fears, or to suggest that the Government are going forward with any drive to rehabilitate the countryside, which is absolutely vital if our food supplies are to be brought up to the level that is needed, and if Scotland is to play her part in the rehabilitation of our national finances, which it might do, if agriculture were brought up to the state it could be if we had a Government which had imagination, determination and energy. I do not say these things without being prepared to prove what I have suggested.
The assistance which is given to the rural areas is contained, as more than one speaker has pointed out, in Clauses 3, 4 and 9 of this Bill. The assistance which is given under Clauses 3 and 4 is to local authorities to build cottages in approved situations, and in accordance with approved plans. It is very clear from the statements which have been made by Government spokesmen, and from representations which have been made to local authorities—indeed, it is common knowledge—that assistance is to be given for the building of houses in rural and village communities. That is a very good thing in certain places, but there are many parts of Scotland where that is not going to help the agricultural industry. I can think of one case in my own constituency where there is a distance of 22 miles between villages—a long glen with lonely farms on the sides of the hills, with one or two farm workers to each. These men cannot go on their bicycles 20 miles one way and 20 miles back again to the houses that are going to be built in the villages. Neither do they want to do so. In Scotland, as the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) has pointed out on more than one occasion, our agricultural economy is built up as to 80 per cent. of livestock production.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I have to reply, and while I do not want to be discourteous, may I ask is it not out of Order on the Third Reading of the Bill to discuss the question of livestock?
Had my attention not been attracted to something else, 1284 possibly I would have stopped the hon. Member. I hope he will not pursue this subject any further.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I was not discussing livestock. I was simply saying that Scotland's agricultural economy was built up on livestock production, and that where there is livestock production, there must be men living on the farms. I think that is in Order.
As long as the hon. Member keeps to the question of cottages for men working on the farms it will be in Order.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
We want to keep them living on the farms, but hon. Members opposite want to get them into villages where they do not in all cases want to be. I have not yet found one who prefers to live four, five or six miles away and cycle to his work in all weathers—and our Scottish weather can be very rough as the Joint Under-Secretary well knows—bringing his "cold piece" with him, instead of being able to go home for a dinner in the middle of the day, as is our good Scottish custom. I can find no desire anywhere that housing in Scotland should be concentrated in villages to the exclusion of the encouragement of building cottages, in certain cases, much nearer to the farms.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If it is necessary to build houses adjacent to the farm would it not be desirable to supply the labourers with motor cars instead of with cycles with which to get about? That is how hon. Members opposite get about.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
The hon. Member is always ready to give the House the benefit of his advice. If he advises his friends in the Government to provide the agricultural workers with cars I have no doubt that they will pay as much attention to him as they have already done. The other Clause under which assistance is given to agriculture is Clause 9 of the Bill, under which the owners of real property can be given grants to replace houses if those houses are first of all condemned, and, secondly, if the local authority concerned cannot itself provide, or does not desire for some reason or other to provide, houses instead, but the grant is limited to £300. The maximum amount which can be spent on building new houses in Scotland is £1,200. I think in that I am right.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
The Secretary of State in his Department has estimated that the cost of building a house in rural areas is now over £1,000. A figure of £1,040 is, I believe, the one I have seen. It is not going to be much encouragement to give a maximum grant of £300 to build a house, which, on the Government's own submission, will cost over £1,000 and which, on the submission of many of us on these Benches who have had reason to investigate these things, cannot, in fact, be built for £1,200. I know that I must not pursue this point any further on Third Reading, but I wanted to make it on the Clause. The assistance offered is, to say the least of it, not very adequate, and not very likely to encourage many people to go and get a condemnation order for an existing house. I had not intended to endeavour to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was provoked to do so by something said by Members on the other side of the House. I will end as many other Members have ended today by saying that, whilst I do not agree with this Bill because it does not go as far as I should like to see it go, particularly with regard to rural areas, yet, in so far as it sets out to do anything at all to help us solve our greatest Scottish problem, then I welcome it and wish it God speed.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
Like the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) I had no intention of taking part in this Debate, but having listened to points of view put forward by many from the agricultural areas I felt that I had to speak. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said that the policy that was to be carried out under this Bill would endanger our agricultural policy. He said that if we were going to move our agricultural workers five or six miles away from the farms, then the children of those farmworkers, who should be the future labourers, might not become farmworkers. Surely that is a good thing. Surely the fate of no child should be sealed at birth. Because his father or his mother is an agricultural worker, should that mean that he must also in the future labour in that industry? I would say that if the Government follow the policy in agriculture that they have set out to do and if conditions in housing 1286 and conditions in wages are made better, the farmers will have no difficulty in getting agricultural workers.
The hon. Lady realises that she is now out of Order and that she cannot discuss agricultural workers or farming on this Bill.
§ Miss Herbison
I accept your Ruling. There is another point which I think does come within the scope of this Bill. Again we are told that it is going to be a very difficult thing for the agricultural worker if his house is built five or six miles away and if he has to cycle. I do not know why it should be necessary to cycle. Perhaps some other mode of transport could be got, but if he has to live six or seven miles away it is going to be—
§ Mr. Snadden
As the hon. Lady is referring to what I said, I should like to ask her if she is aware that, today, a labourer cannot be got to work for an employer who is over a quarter of a mile away from the labourer's home. If an advertisement is put in the paper for such a worker there will be no replies.
§ Miss Herbison
I do agree that with certain workers perhaps it is essential that they should be near their work, but for the majority of agricultural workers it is not. We must not think only of the agricultural worker in this housing policy, but we must also think of the children of the agricultural worker. If the agricultural worker is living beside the farm, very often his children have to travel long distances to school. Very often, too, his children do not get any further education because further education is so far away from them. In most instances, regarding the welfare not only of the worker but particularly of the worker's children, the fact that we are going to make it possible for them to live in communities, will pay rewards to the nation in a very high degree.
Another hon. Member opposite suggested that agricultural workers who were kept on the farm were at least assured of houses. There is no doubt about that, so long as they stay on the farm to work, but immediately they want to find another job outside agriculture, or another job away from the farm, what happens? Very often they are tied to bad conditions because of the house in which they live. They cannot afford to leave that house because of the effect on their families.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart rose—
§ Miss Herbison
I am sorry but I do not think I have much time left. I know this subject only too well from the point of view which has been put forward on this side of the House. What applies to the miner who is tied to a colliery, applies very often to an agricultural worker. This law has made slaves, in many places, of the workers of this land. The hon. Member for West Aberdeen referred to the £300 which was being provided by this Bill for the farmer. The farmer, because of another Measure which this Government have put through, will benefit considerably. Not only will he have this £300, but he will get a very big rebate in Income Tax.
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member is aware of what the hon. Lady was proposing to say, but I am not.
§ Miss Herbison
I was only trying to reply to the statement made by the hon. Member for West Aberdeen, who suggested that because of the provisions of this Bill farmers would not be able to provide houses for their workers. Much has been said by Members opposite about rates. We do not want to raise rates if it is possible to avoid it, but no one will decide that rates must not go up if that means that workers in Scotland will be prevented from getting houses. Houses must be built. Never have such provisions been made for local authorities to build houses for workers as are being made under the present Bill. This Bill will give to every local authority in Scotland a chance of housing their people as they have never been housed before. I say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, "Go forward with this Bill, so that in the shortest time possible the people of Scotland will be housed as they ought to be."
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
I would first like to say to the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison), who complained that farm workers are tied to farms, that they are so tied under a standstill Order; and that if they are slaves—and I do not 1288 go so far as to say they are—the people responsible for making them slaves are the present Government, and nobody else. Some of my hon. Friends and I have been trying for a long time to get that standstill Order removed.
I find nothing in the Bill which deals with such a standstill Order and, therefore, the hon. Member must not pursue that subject.
§ Mr. Boothby
Neither do I find it in the Bill, Sir; but I was led into what I said by what the hon. Lady said, and I thought that perhaps you would permit me to answer her. The Under-Secretary must be feeling pretty pleased with himself today. He has had a lot of bouquets; a few mild ones from this side, and some terrific ones from the other side of the House. Never, it would seem, has a man taken such an interest in any matter; and put such drive, energy, and enthusiasm into a great constructive Bill which will transform the whole of the housing situation in Scotland. I do not go so far as that; but I do not deny that the hon. Gentleman is doing his best, and is geting on with the job. I cannot agree, however, that this is in any way an epoch-making Measure.
The Under-Secretary has been congratulated by hon. Members behind him on the amazing speed and alacrity with which housing schemes have recently been sanctioned. They go whizzing through under his streamlined administration, so that you practically do not realise that you have filled in a form until it has gone and been accepted. I think that is a slight exaggeration. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will remember some correspondence he had with me recently about the Buchan house. He was as helpful as possible; but the correspondence went on for a long time, and I would like to suggest that he might give the Burt Committee a bit of a jerk from time to time, because they take their time, and are a bit finicky—
§ Mr. Buchanan
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recall that it was his Government which appointed this Committee, and that it is difficult to deal with anything which his Government did.
§ Mr. Boothby
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will recall that he wrote to me in most eulogistic terms about the Burt Committee and told me that he could not 1289 possibly get on without them, indeed that he was absolutely dependent upon them. I merely suggest that they are a somewhat finicky Committee; and that they fiddle about with unnecessary details. I want an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that he will give them a push from time to time; and that he will encourage local builders to design and build houses in the various districts of Scotland, because they are apt to know local requirements better than those who are responsible for steriotyped mass-produced houses. Some variation is required to meet the requirements of local conditions, which the local builder is apt to know best.
What depresses me about this Bill is that there is not enough differentiation between it and the English Bill. There is a difference in Scotland and England in housing, as in everything else. We do not want to tag along too much—as it appears we shall have to do under this Government—in the wake of England, following their legislation and thinking that what is good enough for England is good enough for us, with a few alterations. It should be the other way round. Let the English copy from us. Let them bring in their Bills after our Bills have gone through. We have just as much right to our own ideas as the English. We are far too inclined to follow their lead and then make a few Amendments to meet the requirements of Scotland.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the English Bill was drafted by a Scotsman?
§ Mr. Boothby
Knowing the Civil Service, I should not be at all surprised if it was drafted by a Scotsman; but that is a rather different thing from saying that it was drafted in Scotland. However, I am sure Members of all parties from Scotland wish to see a fairly sharp differentiation made between us and England, because we are a different kind of folk. That is illustrated by the use of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, now most unfortunately repealed. Great advantage was taken of that Act—which this Bill is designed in some aspects to replace—in Scotland, and particularly in Aberdeenshire. I viewed the repeal of that Act with the greatest dismay; and I would like an assurance from the Under-Secretary either that he thinks that this Bill will go some way to remedying the 1290 immense deficiency in rural housing in Scotland which has been caused by the repeal of that Act, or that, if it does not, he will bring in another Bill which will do the job. Those who have expressed concern today about rural housing in Scotland have been perfectly sincere and genuine. We are very worried about housing conditions in rural Scotland. Members have a duty to represent the views of their own constituents and districts. Many who have spoken today sit for Scottish agricultural constituencies; and I know of no Scottish agricultural Member who can be anything but deeply concerned about the present housing situation in rural Scotland. As I have said, the repeal of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act has done nothing to diminish our anxiety.
Pleas have been put forward for the reconditioned and tied cottage, and also for extending village communities and community life generally in rural districts. We want the lot. We want everything we can get for rural Scotland at the present time. We want both an extension of houses in and around the farms, and an extension of village communities. As agriculture in Scotland becomes increasingly prosperous, the need for houses, not only for farmworkers but for all the ancillary trades connected with agriculture, will become very great. It will be necessary greatly to increase village housing and housing in the small country towns in Scotland, as well as farm housing, if we are ever to put agriculture on a sound basis, which we must do if we are to survive in the future.
In conclusion, I would like the Under-Secretary of State to give us some information about the Scottish Special Housing Association which is referred to in one or two Clauses of the Bill. Will he tell us in a few sentences how he regards its functions in future under the Bill, what he expects it to do, and of whom it consists? We do not know much about it, and the matter has not been raised specifically in connection with this Bill. Apart from that, all I have to say is that I do not think there is any hon. Member on either side of the House who does not wish the Under-Secretary of State well in the Herculean task he has undertaken of pulling Scottish housing out of the ghastly position in which it is at the present time into something which is at any rate a little better.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
This is the first time I have spoken on this Bill. In the Second Reading Debate, I was unable to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and during the Committee stage I was rather anxious to facilitate the passage of the Measure, because I felt it was not only an important one, but a very good one. We have heard various criticisms from hon. Members opposite. I am always interested to hear from hon. Members opposite the alternative suggestions that the Conservative Party have to offer to the policy of the Labour Party. It is rather interesting to try to discover the alternative. To sum up their attitude, while they think there is something in the Bill, it is still not quite good enough. But whatever may be the opinions of hon. Members opposite, the Bill is better than any Bill that has ever been produced by a Tory Government. Had a Tory Government produced a Bill like this, we would probably not have had the housing shortage that we have in Scotland today. That is worth remembering when we listen to criticisms. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) trying to expose the figures given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the beginning of the Debate. The hon. Member seemed to be critical of the fact that we are putting up only 474 houses per week as compared with, I think, 570 houses per week in 1935—
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
My point was to correct the Secretary of State in the figures he had given and which he boasted were the highest figures on record for Scottish housing. I showed that they were not.
§ Mr. Willis
I only wanted to say that I think it is a tribute to the Government that nine months after the war, with a world shortage of every commodity required for a housing programme and with a shortage of labour, it should be possible to make a comparison with the years before the war. I think my right hon. Friend was correct when he compared the figures for houses being put up by public authorities now with the figures of those being put up by local authorities before the war. I fear that I may be transgressing the Rules of Order in my remarks, although I do not think I am the first to have done so during this Debate. I, also. would like to raise the same question 1292 as was raised by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) about the Scottish Special Housing Association. Many questions were asked in Committee about the association. We do not know much about it, and we do not know the intentions of the Secretary of State regarding it. I believe the people of Scotland are concerned about how this association is to be used, and would ask my right hon. Friend not to use it only in a trivial way, but to use it boldly in helping to erect houses where local authorities prove to be dilatory on the job. My experience during the last few weeks has indicated that that is what the people want. I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary to give us some indication of his ideas concerning the Scottish Special Housing Association. Like my hon. Friends, I can only wish the Bill well, and trust that local authorities will make full use of its provisions to deal with the immense housing problem which faces Scotland today.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
During the Debates in Committee on this Bill, I raised certain points in connection with the Scottish Special Housing Association which is dealt with in Clauses 12 and 13. Perhaps the joint Under-Secretary of State might find it possible, within the scope of this Debate, to give some indication of what the Government intend to do about the revision of the constitution and rules of this association in order that it may play its part in the new work outlined in the Bill.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
I hope I shall not incur anybody's displeasure in the first remark that I make. I have always thought that in the Government one has to watch very carefully everything one says, and as I never watch anything very carefully, I am always drifting into trouble. Much has been said in this Debate with which I could hardly deal within the compass of the Bill, and perhaps I cannot claim quite that indulgence from you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, which other hon. Members have received. I feel that your Rulings towards me, a fairly old stager, might be more severe than with others. I will, however, try to deal with the main issues that have been 1293 raised. I shall not deal with the whole question of tied cottages, rural housing, or the repair of rural workers' cottages, since these matters do not come within the province of the Bill. I have no objection to hon. Members raising the question of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act the restoration of its working. However, I would like, as a sort of neutral, to give a piece of advice to hon. Members from agricultural constituencies. They always raise the issue of the repair of cottages and rarely talk about the provision of new houses. It seems to me that the emphasis is always on repair and never on the provision of new dwellings.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that I did not mention the repairing of houses?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I was referring to the general mass of hon. Members. I was not present when the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) spoke, although I hope that was not a terribly serious crime. I will deal with the question as far as it comes within this Measure. I deprecate the remarks that were made by the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) who, more than any other hon. Member, seemed to put the emphasis on the suggestion that we ought to provide rural housing quicker than housing in the urban districts. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) is a good constituency Member, but I am sure he would not subscribe to the view of the hon. Member for West Perth, because if he or I were to subscribe to that view, we would cease to be Members. It is wrong to say that in housing somebody should get a preference over somebody else. I agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) that it should be the endeavour of the Scottish population to solve both these housing problems, if it can, at the earliest possible moment. On the question of the agricultural house, I am not in a position to announce policy, and indeed, it is not within the scope of this Bill—
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Buchanan
May I say that these frequent interludes are somewhat unfair to the Scottish Members on both sides of the House, because I have never known a day when the Scottish Members, 1294 although not present in the House, had such a good case. They are doing other work and their absence does not arise from indifference to the affairs of their country. I should like to put that fact on record.
I want now to say a word about the position with regard to rural housing. I cannot develop the subject now because I should be out of Order; indeed, I doubt very much whether I am strictly in Order as it is. Insofar as the provision of rural housing is concerned there are two aspects which I will mention briefly. One is that I hope within the next week to make a central contract for the provision of rural houses, a contract that will be confined either to the small rural township or the rural locality itself around Scotland.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
This is a most important statement that is being made. Is the Minister referring to temporary or to permanent houses?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I was referring to a permanent house. As I have intimated I have already passed one for the urban areas and I am considering another for the rural communities. I have almost decided upon it and I hope to be able to announce within a few days, if things go well, that I have done so. Secondly, I would say in regard to the other matter that I am issuing a circular. I have done for the rural districts that which was not done across the Border—I have introduced what is called an "agreed price contract." This allows all the small contractors to group together, and in the counties it worked substantially well. I am also allowing small builders to build a house and sell it to the local authorities if they care to do so; that is to say, they can build the house and sell it to the local authority, thus avoiding the need for plans and specifications. All that needs to be agreed is the price to be paid, which is that currently paid by the local authorities for their own contract houses. I hope by this means to achieve two things, first, to harness any surplus local labour, and, secondly, to provide the house. These are the two steps, one which I am taking almost immediately, and the other which I hope to take at a very early date. I confess that had I not gone North to a part of Scotland and spent a week there I might very likely have done it by now. However, I went to Scotland and I found my visit very edifying, not at all antagonistic, and much more pleasant 1295 than I had expected. I have never had so many lairds and lords at my meetings.
I will say a word now on a matter raised by two or three hon. Members during this Debate, that of the Special Housing Association. The Chairman of that body has only recently been appointed, and only a fortnight in office. I am proposing to have a meeting with him on Monday next to discuss the future work, its extension and, more particularly, how far I can harness that association to help districts that have practically no building force in them at all. I am thinking of a county like Argyll whose representatives I met recently. Argyll has very little building force either small or large and I want to see how far I can harness the association to assist in such cases. The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) raised the question of the terms of this body, which was formed under the Companies Acts. The membership was to be 25 but we have consulted the legal luminaries, the Lord Advocate and others, and they advise that although 25 is the number, a smaller number will do. The present membership is usually ii, and at the moment we are working with seven. I would add that the association are dealing with camps and school children and that I do not think that it is right that a body dealing with housing should also concern themselves with questions partially affecting the education of children. My own view is that the local education authority or the Education Department of Scotland ought to take on this work and leave the association entirely free for housing work.
On the question of the subscription of capital which has been raised, it is true that in a strictly legal sense this association could raise capital, but on the other hand they have an agreement with the Government in which it is stipulated that they are Government financed and are not required to have money subscribed from outside. I hope that explanation covers the point. In reply to the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart). I do not deny that there is sometimes a delay, but I would not say that if he or anyone else were here there would be no delays. I would say to his county clerk in all seriousness—I have met his council and everybody else concerned in Scotland— 1296 "Show me a delay of a week." I have done everything to speed up the sanction of housing, but I cannot wipe out Acts of Parliament. I cannot wipe out the Planning Act, for example, which says that I must consult the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of War Transport. In any case the hon. Member for Perth would see to it that I consulted the Minister of Agriculture. To consult another Minister means a certain amount of delay.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It is a matter of consulting other Government Departments. We have to consult the Ministry of Transport on roads. Whenever we involve ourselves in planning considerations we are bound to have delay. If hon. Members do not want it that way, let me remind them that they passed the planning legislation, of which I think the hon. Member for East Fife was a fairly consistent supporter. The price of planning is consultation among Government Departments, which always involves delay. When groups of officials meet, they are honest, and honest men delay matters much longer than men who are not so honest, because honest men have strong opinions and hold to them and fight for them.
This House has to make its choice. I have been through the planning processes, with its delays and irritations. As long as the law is there, neither I nor any other Minister can escape it. Forms have to be filled in. Nobody can sweep them away. Take the timber shortage. We must have some kind of checking out of timber, and we cannot avoid delay. The hon. Member has repeated this charge without once giving me an example. I may have been guilty of delay on occasions, and if that is a grave offence I will give up office. I hope I am not boasting when I say that I have as much determination as any other man to make things easy for the local authorities. I have set up a committee by means of which the Convention of Royal Burghs and Cities can meet my officials regularly, so that they can wipe out every kind of delay without reference to me. They can meet and discuss matters.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Yes, it is functioning now. Occasionally I get into trouble for making decisions too quickly. I visited a housing scheme at Morayshire. The people said: "We ought to have another 10 houses. We shall have to apply for them." I said, "I will give them to you now." I cannot put on a face like the hon. Member for East Fife and look very sharp. He can look much more sharp and intelligent than I can. I could have said to those people: "I will go away and consider the matter for two days. I will write a letter in very strong terms." I can only say to the hon. Member that there may be delay and that I will look into it. My speeding up is considerably better now than it was at first.
Now let me deal with the point which was raised about bricks. I have no need to be ashamed of my record about bricks. Within days of knowing about this matter, I met every brick interest in Scotland. I have met them three times. I have raised brick production. When I came into office, brick production was lower than 9,000,000 bricks per month. I have had the returns for last month and brick production is now 31,000,000 per month, and the increase is mounting steadily. I could have said that brickmaking was not my business but somebody else's, but I do not approve of fathering these things on somebody else when I have taken on the job. So far from being ashamed of my record in this connection, I can tell hon. Members that from the moment I knew of the situation I have proceeded with energy and promptness to try to ease it.
I could have had bricks easily by building fewer houses. My trouble is two-fold. In my native city of Glasgow, the output was not too helpful, from some aspects. Not that the men were bad, but that the output needed pushing up. The output of the Glasgow bricklayers went up more than 90 per man, almost 100 bricks per man. The organisation is employing nearly 800 bricklayers. By stirring up I have been able to get more bricks laid. Wherever one goes, the position turns upon that question. My view is that bricks are bound to be in short supply. I am trying to make arrangements and I want to get my English friends to help me out. [Interruption.] I do not know the reason for that interruption. The English people are our friends. The idea that somebody 1298 across the Border is not your friend, is just nonsense.
§ Mr. Buchanan
They are finding a problem of transport, and I may be able to overcome it. There is also the suggestion of making a 3½ inch brick; there is the question of making a 2[...]inch brick, which is better than no brick. If other people are not too tender on these matters, I propose to act along those lines and I am now engaged upon it. Hon. Members have mentioned figures, but I have not used many figures about the building of houses and I am not going to do so. If I were building five times the present number, I should not be happy. Another hon. Member said that I had not a sense of urgency. Goodness gracious, let hon. Members say what they like about me, but do not say that I have no urgency. I have lived with these people in Glasgow. I see people and I make prompt decisions on matters. Hon. Members may say that I am not a capable man, or other things of that kind, but let them not say that I am not urgent.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
Many of us would not agree with the Minister on questions of urgency, but we do believe that he is making tremendous efforts. What we regret is that some of his colleagues who are responsible for some of the components, are not urgent.
§ Mr. Buchanan
That may be. I cannot go into all that now. On some future occasion I may go into that question. I say that, taking all things into consideration, including the facts as they were presented by the Secretary of State, and considering the difficulties of demobilisation which is only now proceeding, and is not at its full effect, I have no need to be ashamed of my record. Far from that, although I am not at all proud—I know that I am only at the beginning—I am making an inroad into the problem and doing something to make the Scottish housing problem at any rate somewhat easier than it has been hitherto.
Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.