HC Deb 05 December 1947 vol 445 cc750-4

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I agree with what the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) has said about the salaries of probation officers. My purpose in rising is to deal briefly with some of the grievances that are felt at present in Scotland. We would very much like to know—those of us interested in housing problems in Scotland—how we are likely to fare under the new housing cuts which have been announced in the White Paper. I think that we have a very genuine grievance in Scotland that in this White Paper, which is a comprehensive document dealing with the United Kingdom, there is no specific reference to Scotland, and we are unable, from the statistics in the White Paper, to ascertain exactly how Scotland is to fair under the proposed cuts which are to take place in 1948.

The housing position in Scotland has been stressed over and over again in this House, but today the difficulties that surround the local authorities in Scotland are more serious than ever before. In my constituency of Ayrshire, last Sunday, I visited a little village called Woodside, in which miners live, and all the houses there should have been condemned at least 20 years ago. There are no amenities of civilisation, there is no light, no water supply, no sanitation, and we have people who are suffering from tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases living under conditions which are a disgrace to civilisation. These people see all around them new prefabricated houses, but they know that there are no houses for them.

As far as I can make out, it will be a very long time before the people who require to be rehoused in derelict villages in Ayrshire and other parts of Scotland will get the houses they need. There is nothing that more angers young married people who are waiting for houses than to see houses let on some kind of points system, and to find that they are left out. In Gravesend, recently, I talked for some considerable time to young newly-married people unable to get houses under the allocation of points system. The question of how to allocate new houses is a very grave problem for the local authorities, and in many parts of Scotland it is making the lives of members of town councils an actual burden. The person who can devise a scheme of letting municipal houses to satisfy everybody does not exist. Whatever way the houses are let, there are innumerable applicants who are dissatisfied, which means that members of local authorities have to meet the criticism of the homeless, of people living in overcrowded conditions of the newly-married, and of all the other people who need homes so urgently. The local authorities in Scotland are greatly perturbed about the prospect of housing there. We on this side of the House urge the Government to remember that they will stand or fall on this housing problem, and that it is the most important social problem affecting the people of Scotland. It affects them in innumerable ways.

For example, there is a case which I am putting before the War Office at the present moment, and on which I have received very little satisfaction indeed. It concerns an Army captain who has tried unsuccessfully to get a house for the last ten years. He is a man who has devoted 25 years of his life to service with the British Army. At the present time, he is being threatened with eviction, and has nowhere to go. That is a plight which is common to many people living in Scotland. I do not wish to assert that the Secretary of State for War is unsympathetic, but the fact remains that this man is being threatened with eviction. Similar complaints are being made in all parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Serving officers and men are being threatened with eviction, after having given the major part of their lives to their King and country.

I respectfully suggest to the Secretary of State for War that this is not the way to encourage men to go into the Army; that these threats of eviction should be suspended, and that soldiers who are now living in married quarters or drill halls should be allowed to remain where they are until they can get alternative accommodation. I mention this case of Captain McGrath, who has been threatened with eviction from his home in Cumnock, because I think it is a typical case. I wish that the Secretary of State for War who had such an enlightened record in the Ministry of Fuel and Power would hold his hand in this case, and would decide that a Labour Secretary of State for War should not sanction proceedings which may result in a serving officer with 25 years' service being evicted. This man has a wife and three children.

At Question time recently, I raised the matter of 15 people living in two rooms in a village in Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland replied that there were not 15 people, but only 13, an answer which did not give very much satisfaction. Such conditions prevail in the towns and in the countryside of Scotland. As far as we can see, there is likely to be a slowing down of the housing programme, which is being resented by local authorities who are anxious to have the problem faced in the spirit in which our constituents sent us to this House. We know that there is objection to national expenditure on housing at the present time. But we must take a strong line on housing, and we must press for the continuation of expenditure on housing in Scotland with as much determination and persistence as hon. Members opposite fight for their battleships, their cruisers, and for the other armaments of war.

There are other complaints to be made against the War Office in Scotland. One of them is the question of the large amount of land which is still under their control in Scotland, and which is being used for the purpose of what is politely called "practical military training." The other night, the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) raised the question of whether the War Office were acting wisely in giving notice to acquire 8,000 acres of land in Roxburghshire for the purpose of military training. As far as I am aware, no adequate answer was given to the point raised by the same right hon. and gallant Gentleman that 22,000 acres of land, on which it would be possible to rear 8,000 to 9,000 ewe sheep, are going to be taken over by the War Office for the purpose of practical military training. We deplore that proposal, and ask the War Office to reconsider their decision in the matter. The Government should impress upon the War Office that food is more important than military operations, and that the rearing of sheep is more important at the present time than tank exercises.

The question of agriculture in Scotland is one which is causing great anxiety throughout the length and breadth of the country. We are not satisfied with the complacency of the Secretary of State for Scotland when he says that there are sufficient skilled or unskilled labourers on the land. We wish to impress upon him the necessity for putting up a case in the Cabinet against the War Office and against the Minister of Defence, and to ask that the people who are now being conscripted for the Armed Forces should be transferred to the land, to the mines, and to useful industry. They should be taken out of uniform and put back once more into civilian occupations. We cannot afford to have 1,500,000 or 2,000,000 people in uniform at a time when we badly need every available man on the land, in the mines, and in the factories in order to build up our export trade and the basis of national prosperity in this country.

Finally, I wish to raise another question which is exercising the minds of people in Scotland at the present time. It is the question of whether the Government are going to answer the demand, which is being made from all sections in Scotland, for a greater measure of self-government for the people of Scotland.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Any such question as that would, of course, require legislation.

Mr. Hughes

I was talking about inquiry, not legislation, Mr. Deputy- Speaker. I was saying that the demand is being made at the present time for an inquiry.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The matter of an inquiry would at some stage, presumably, involve legislation in the last resort.

Mr. Hughes

I have made my point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

2.29 p.m.

Major Haughton (Antrim)

I have listened with close attention to the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I would be more convinced of its sincerity if he had left out what I consider to be a very unfair insinuation that hon. Members on this side of the House are more concerned with the construction of battleships, cruisers, and tanks than they are with housing for ex-Service men. As an ex-Service man, I am just as keen as is the hon. Member to do everything which lies within my power for the housing of ex-Service men, and I am sure I am right in associating other Members on this side of the House with myself in this matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes to Three o'Clock.