§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. J. Robertson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is the first occasion I have had to speak from the Government Front Bench on a Measure of major importance to Scotland, and I feel sure that many right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those who have served a period in local government, will be able to appreciate and, I hope, share my feelings of pleasure in rising to move the Second Reading of this important Bill. Certainly no one who has been a member of a Scottish local authority at any time during the past 30 years can have failed to realise the vitally important part which housing plays in the lives of our people.
Prior to being elected to Parliament I had the useful experience of representing a working-class area for about nine years on the Council of the City of Edinburgh. The shocking housing conditions prevailing in that predominantly working-class ward had its reflection in the high infantile mortality rate of 112 deaths per thousand children born in that dockland area of the capital of Scotland. I cannot 2881 easily forget the courageous and often heartbreaking daily struggle of decent working-class people to cope with the difficulties of rearing their families to become good citizens in these dreary, dark vennels of the slums of the Scottish cities and towns. Nor do I forget that the health, working efficiency, habits and social conduct of a community have their roots in family life.
It is against this background of personal experience and intimate knowledge of just how much a good home means to the wellbeing and happiness of a working-class family, particularly the housewife—I emphasise the housewife—that I have found so much interest in the furtherance of Scottish housing during the last 18 months when my right hon. Friend has asked me to devote my main activity to speeding up the Scottish housing programme. While that work continues, I feel some satisfaction in the introduction of this far-reaching piece of legislation. The considerable progress made during the past year, and the gratifying figures of the first three months of this year, for the completion of permanent houses, leads us to the conclusion that the time is now ripe for the introduction of this important Bill.
The Bill is important because it makes certain fundamental changes in the Scottish Housing Acts. Scotland is now in an era of industrial expansion. The population is, to some extent, on the move. Housing accommodation is needed in new places and for different classes. We must, therefore, have a comprehensive and flexible housing policy. This involves the removal of certain restrictions and the filling of certain gaps in Scottish housing legislation. There are, in addition, other social and economic considerations to be taken into account. Scotland has a heritage of solidly built stone houses which are worth conserving as a national asset. The improvement of these houses would give tolerable living conditions to thousands of our people at present indifferently housed.
The Bill accordingly seeks to do four things: first, to extend the powers of local authorities to deal with the housing not merely of the working classes but of all classes and of all members of the community; secondly, to make financial assistance available for the improvement of existing houses thirdly, to provide certain new special subsidies for other 2882 housing purposes, and finally, to make certain amendments to the Scottish Housing Acts so that they will form a more comprehensive and flexible instrument of housing policy.
I should like to say something about the background of Part I. For nearly 100 years the powers and duties of local authorities have been restricted to dealing with the housing conditions of what were termed the working classes. The first Housing Act was called the Dwelling Houses (Scotland) Act, 1855, and was an Act to facilitate the erection of dwelling houses of the working classes in Scotland. Since then the powers and duties of local authorities have been progressively widened, but their powers and duties continued to relate to working class housing.
In 1919, after the famous Royal Commission Report of 1917, a definite statutory obligation was placed upon local authorities to provide housing accommodation required for the working classes in their districts. These new powers and duties were supplemented by financial incentives. The 1919 Act started a system of housing subsidies from the Exchequer and the rates. The 1919 and the 1923 Acts together produced 76,000 houses in Scotland, but the biggest single contribution between the two wars was made by the 1924 and the 1930 Acts passed by Labour Governments. The 1924 Act—which became known throughout Scotland as the Wheatley Act—and the 1930 Act together produced 133,000 houses in Scotland, 125,000 of them by local authorities. In other words, one half of all the houses produced by local authorities in Scotland between 1919 and 1939 resulted from former Labour Government Acts.
§ Mr. Robertson
The subsidy was so generous in the case of the Wheatley Act that succeeding Conservative Governments took the Act from the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Robertson
Part I of the Bill makes a definite break with the past. It places a duty on local authorities to have regard to the housing needs of all members of the community. It does this by 2883 wiping out the restrictive reference to the working classes in all the Scottish Housing Acts. This recognises an evolutionary process at work in our society during the last generation. The common dangers of the two wars, especially of the last war, and the advent of a Labour Government have broken down a multitude of artificial distinctions between different social classes and between different income groups. Many class barriers have gone and, where they have not already gone, I can see them disappearing. I feel, therefore, that I need offer no apology for asking the House to bring the Scottish Housing Acts abreast of the times. There are positive reasons for this change which we are proposing. Here, for example, is what the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee said in 1944—
§ Mr. Robertson
The Report on the Distribution of Houses. I quote from the report:A local community must essentially be well-balanced. It is not a well-balanced community if it is confined to one income group or to one trade or calling, or does not include enough people to form groups covering a variety of social and intellectual interests. Life in a varied community can stimulate that tolerance and mutual respect which are essential in the world today.I want, however, to add a word of caution. Part I of the Bill does not mean that local authorities are going to build large numbers of bigger houses for the middle classes at high rents. It does not mean that we are forgetting that Scotland has still far too many unfit and overcrowded houses. Apart from the deletion of the expression "working class," the statutory duty to deal with the slums and overcrowding remains unaltered. What it does mean is that in future authorities will look at the local circumstances of each particular scheme, and if a sufficiently balanced community does not already exist in the neighbourhood, they will be encouraged to consider what steps they should take to provide for the growth of such a community.
I come now to Part II of the Bill which provides for financial assistance for the improvement of existing houses. Many committees have made recom- 2884 mendations on the improvement of the older stone houses in Scotland, but the most important step, perhaps, was taken in 1944, when Mr. Tom Johnston, the then Secretary of State, asked the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee to report on the matter. The Committee set up a sub-committee under the chairmanship of the late Mr. Archibald McTaggart to make inquiries. The Committee's Report was published in 1947 under the title "Modernising Our Homes" and contains a detailed survey of what can be done—and what must be done—to deal with this peculiarly Scottish problem. The Report points out that Scotland has about 900,000 houses which were built before 1919. Of these 900,000 houses, about 400,000—or nearly one-third of all the houses in Scotland—have w.c.s that are used in common by two, three, four or five families. Of these houses nearly 300,000 are situated in the cities and burghs.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am sorry to interrupt, but I should like to get the picture clear. The hon. Gentleman is referring to the figure in the Report. That refers, does it not, to the 1931 census? So that we shall not confuse the position today with that in 1931, can the hon. Gentleman say whether that is the 1931 or 1944 figure, or whenever it was that the Report was made?
§ Mr. Robertson
I am referring to the pre-1919 houses. The Report was published in 1947.
As I was saying, a large proportion of these houses have w.c.s used in common by two, three, four and five families. Of these houses nearly 300,000 are situated in the cities and burghs. Large numbers of these houses are without baths, without separate kitchens, and without modern cooking and heating appliances. While some of these defective houses were built only shortly before the First World War, many of them are very much older. Last century many working class families inherited these somewhat battered relics of a past age, originally built for the wealthier classes and made down in a rough and ready manner for their new tenants. The Report emphasised, however, that not all of these defective houses were suitable for improvement. About 100,000 of them have probably gone too far to be worth modernising and others will fall out on planning grounds—for 2885 example, to make way for new roads, etc. It is not possible to say exactly just how many of these old houses are suitable for improvement.
Broadly speaking, there are three main types of houses ripe for improvement. First, there are big houses, either unoccupied or under-occupied, which can be sub-divided into flats. Second, there are modest houses or flats of three to five rooms in town and country which do not have proper sanitary arrangements and lack other modern conveniences. Many of these houses are in small burghs and villages. Many of them are owner-occupied: I am thinking, for example, of thrifty railwaymen and other workers who bought houses for their families in Abbey-hill and other districts in Edinburgh and of the fishermen round our coasts who take such a pride in the homes which they own in our picturesque fishing villages.
§ Mr. Robertson
The third group consists of the many small houses, especially in tenements, which when the new housing programme is further advanced, will have to be combined with others if they are to make reasonable homes for ordinary families. The Report warns us, however, that, unless we adopt an improvement policy, large numbers of families will have to go on living for many years, as in the past, in houses that are already unsatisfactory and are almost certain to deteriorate. The majority Report then recommends financial assistance to local authorities, to private persons and to housing associations.
I have dwelt on the Report at some length because we have lifted the broad framework of the majority recommendations on Scottish housing and have embodied them, with only a very few alterations, in this Bill. I should, therefore, like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the valuable contributions made by the Committee and by the late Mr. Archibald McTaggart in supplying us with material which has been so readily adaptable for purposes of legislation.
The financial assistance proposed is briefly as follows: First, local authorities may receive from the Exchequer three-quarters of their estimated expenses in giving effect to improvement proposals. The proportion in the Highlands and 2886 Islands, however, will be seven-eighths. Secondly, private persons may receive from local authorities grants up to 50 per cent. of the duly accredited estimated expenses in carrying out their improvement proposals. That is the scheme of financial assistance in outline. There are one or two points of policy, however, which I ought to mention,
The first is that work of improvement must not prejudice the building of new houses. I am afraid we shall have to be rather selective, to start with, and shall have to concentrate on houses of sound construction, but with, perhaps, defective sanitary arrangements, which are capable of improvement without loss of accommodation and without too heavy expenditure on scarce materials. Next, we shall gradually be able to bring in improvement involving combination of houses. When that stage is reached, the improvement programme will have to be linked very closely with the programme of new building, in order to ensure that families displaced as the result of the combination of existing houses may be offered other accommodation.
I hope that building labour not usually engaged on new housing, but on jobbing and maintenance work, will be absorbed in improvement operations. There are in many districts in Scotland pools of building labour—mainly among small firms—which could, and should, be employed on the improvement of selected existing houses. At the moment, about 30,000 men are engaged on new housing construction, and about 23,000 on conversions, adaptations and maintenance. Some of these 23,000 men are doing work on the sub-division of residential property for sale to people who are prepared to pay high prices. Some of them are on work of improvement to property which is already reasonably good. We hope that the financial inducements offered by the Bill will have the effect of attracting much of this jobbing labour to essential improvement work. We must, however, watch costs. I regard it as most important in improvement work—as in new building—to encourage competition in the industry to safeguard public funds.
Hon. Members will have observed that grants to private persons are limited to dwellings occupied by the owner or a tenant. If, therefore, the owner of a farm cottage for example, wishes to apply 2887 for a grant, he must first arrange to let the cottage on a tenancy basis. We regard it as a fundamental principle that when public money has been used to improve a house, the relationship between owner and occupier should be one that is defined by Statute and not one in which the owner has the sole right to dispossess the tenant arbitrarily.
A high standard of improvement will normally be expected—a standard as near as possible to that of a new house—a house worth paying a good rent for. The Bill, however, provides for some relaxation of the full standard in exceptional cases.
§ Mr. Willis
Before my hon. Friend leaves the point about altering the relationship in the case of cottages on agricultural land, may I ask if that gives the tenant full protection under the Rent Restrictions Acts?
§ Mr. Robertson
Under the new proposals the tenant will be protected by the Rent Restrictions Acts. He will be subject to the provisions of the Acts.
§ Commander Galbraith
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the matter further? He is dealing with a situation which arises where a private person makes an improvement in a property, not in any other case?
§ Mr. Robertson
I took the example of a farmer or landowner who wanted to improve his farm worker's cottage, which would be a tied cottage. He would have to make it a tenancy before he would be eligible for the grant.
I should like to invite the help of all interested in this improvement programme. It is important that our skilled architects and surveyors should be brought in to advise on effective and economical means of carrying out the work. It is often a more intricate and protracted task to convert an old house than to plan and build a new one. I should like to make an appeal to the technicians and to all the skilled craftsmen in the building trade to make use of the latest building methods and the latest fittings and appliances that have come successfully out of the building experiments of the last few years. I shall say something about these building experiments in a moment or two.
2888 I now come to Part III of the Bill, which contains some special subsidy provisions for new housing. I should make it clear that Part III does not deal with the ordinary subsidies for new houses. These will be reviewed in the ordinary course, later in the year. In any case, the machinery for the review is in the 1946 Act, and this Bill would not be the place for such a revision. What Part III does is to provide three new special subsidies to meet special circumstances, namely, an additional subsidy for houses built of special materials to preserve the character of the surroundings; a subsidy for hostels; and an additional subsidy for building experiments. I should like to say a word or two, by way of explanation, about these new subsidy proposals.
The subsidy for houses built of special materials will be additional to the ordinary subsidy payable under the 1946 Act. The additional subsidy is not intended for general stone building. It would not, for example, be available for houses to be built on a virgin site merely because the local authority had already built in stone, or because there were stone houses near at hand. It is intended only for special cases where the cost of providing a house is enhanced because of the use of special materials, for example, the use of stone, for small groups of houses in national park areas: in other areas of outstanding natural beauty; and in gap sites in streets of historic interest, or containing notable examples of Scottish domestic architecture. We have such streets in some of the older Scottish Royal Burghs, like Stirling, Haddington and St. Andrews, and in the famous Royal Mile of Edinburgh.
The subsidy for hostels is part of the policy of making the provisions of the Scottish Housing Acts comprehensive and flexible. The National Assistance Act, 1948, provides subsidy for hostels for old people and others in need of care and attention. What this Bill does is to fill a gap and provide a subsidy for a hostel intended for single people who are not in need of such care and attention, for example, young men and women working away from home, or elderly men who have no homes of their own.
The third subsidy, as I have said, is an additional subsidy for building experiments. Scotland has played a big part in the experimental building work which 2889 has been carried out on an extensive scale since the end of the war. The many types of non-traditional houses which we now see in Scotland are a tribute to the pioneer work which has been carried out by professional builders and other public-spirited and enterprising people. The special subsidy which was made available for the development of non-traditional types has now come to an end and these types are now generally expected to compete with traditional houses and with each other in the open market. The proposed new experimental subsidy has a different object in view. It is intended to encourage individual research projects designed to improve the convenience of the houses to save labour and materials and so reduce costs.
Let me give some examples of research projects which have already been undertaken and are now in progress. The Falkirk area has established a new reputation by its initiative in the development and production of modern solid fuel burning fireplaces and kitchen cookers. I can testify from personal experience to the efficiency of one of the new type convection grates. Think of the convenience of a living room fire heating two or more rooms, when the housewife has to lift out the ash container only about once a week.
Next there are two developments which, if they ultimately prove to be quicker and cheaper than ordinary methods of construction, will be especially useful where there is a scarcity of labour in the finishing trades. Many hon. Members are already aware of the prefabricated interiors which have been developed by the firm of Blackburn, at Dunbarton. The other is a new method of constructing internal load bearing walls, using units, which can be made on the site, manufactured from a mineral in vast deposits in this country, and eliminating altogether the use of plaster and timber. The Scottish Special Housing Association have given valuable help in the past in demonstrating new methods of building and we have arranged with them to try out this latest new method of internal walling in two new houses now started at Sighthill, Edinburgh. We are awaiting the results with hopeful interest.
Part IV of the Bill contains a variety of provisions, intended in the main to make the machinery of the Housing Acts 2890 more flexible. In particular we are giving local authorities wider powers to make advances to private persons, and flexible powers in assisting their tenants, where necessary, to furnish their houses, to obtain meals and to have nearby laundry facilities; and I need touch on only one or two of these miscellaneous provisions. Several questions have been asked by hon. Members this Session about facilities for obtaining loans under the Housing Acts and under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. Since 1919, Scottish local authorities have made advances totalling over £10 million under these Acts to buy, build, convert, improve and repair houses. We recognise that the financial limits placed upon advances under these Acts are no longer applicable to present-day conditions. We have therefore taken this opportunity to give local authorities more discretion, and we have, as in the English Bill, raised from £1,500 to £5,000 the maximum value of a house for which an advance may be made.
Then, hitherto local authorities have had powers to supply furniture and fittings to a house but not to a tenant. A number of them have, however, been selling bedding and essential furniture on hire-purchase terms for many years. It is not the intention of this Government to lag behind the practice of the most progressive local authorities and so we are now giving statutory sanction to this practice.
§ Sir W. Darling
At what rate of interest is this hire purchase and the lending of money to take place? The hon. Gentleman spoke of £10 million having been advanced for buying, building, etc., small dwellings. What is the rate of interest at present obtaining, and what is it to be in the future? Is it proposed to supply furniture, etc., on the usual hire-purchase terms, which are sometimes considered excessive?
§ Mr. Robertson
I do not wish to prolong discussion, but the rates of interest are a matter for the local authority in accordance with the terms at which they can borrow money at the present time. Edinburgh Corporation lent at four and a quarter per cent. while building societies lent at four and a half per cent. The rate was always below the building society rate. As I was saying, the proposal is to give statutory sanction to this 2891 practice of local authorities supplying furniture, etc., to the tenants. I think that the House will agree that nothing helps a tenant to set up house so happily as assistance in getting good furniture at reasonable commercial prices.
In conclusion, I think that local authorities and Scottish public opinion generally are strongly in favour of all the main proposals in the Bill. That great Scottish Labour pioneer and advocate of democratic Socialism, the late James Keir Hardie, once said that the real wealth of a nation was not to be found in great imperial possessions or in the vulgar pomp and extravagant pleasures of a privileged class; but rather could the true wealth of a nation be assessed by the degree to which happiness was to be found in the homes of the common people. It is because I believe that this Bill will add in no small measure to the social improvement, well-being and happiness which this Government have sought to bring into the homes of the common people, that I am so glad to have moved the Second Reading.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
I should like to clear up a point on which I think the hon. Gentleman inadvertently gave the facts wrongly. I refer to the question of the financial assistance available to local authorities, which the hon. Gentleman said would be on the basis of three-quarters of the expenditure which they incurred. Surely he meant three-quarters of the annual loss, which is a very different thing.
§ Mr. Robertson
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for pointing that out. I meant to refer to the annual loss.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I am certain that it is the wish of the House that I should take the earliest opportunity of congratulating the Under-Secretary on the manner in which he has presented this Bill for Second Reading, and that particularly because it is the first occasion on which he has moved such a Motion from that Box. May I add that I much preferred his factual approach to the subject to his political approach; indeed, I found it somewhat difficult to swallow some of the political references which he made.
2892 I am certain that the hon. Gentleman will not take it as any reflection upon the clarity of his exposition if I go over certain of the points which he made in very considerable detail and place my own interpretation on the consequences which may flow from them. Of course, Part I of the Bill is quite simple. All that it does is to remove the words "working classes," and I think here that the hon. Gentleman was surely mistaken. He seemed to think that these words being in previous Statutes conveyed some stigma, when of course they did nothing of the kind. All they did convey was the type of people who required their housing accommodation to be attended to and those who perhaps could not afford to pay an economic rent.
The removal of those words imposes on the local authority the duty of providing houses for the entire community. In recent years we have been told time and again, by the Government that while the present shortage of houses exists, and while there are such strict limitations on the building of houses for owner occupation, it is essential, that houses should be allotted strictly in accordance with the housing need and without reference to any other criteria whatsoever, such as financial circumstances. So that on the short view, what Part I of the Bill does is to recognise and regularise a situation which has already existed for some considerable time.
Were that the only effect, I think we could accept Part I with great equanimity. But before we do accept it, it may well be prudent to consider other implications which undoubtedly arise. The House will agree with the hon. Member when he says it is undesirable that our new housing estates should be occupied merely by one type of citizen, whether that citizen is selected by income or otherwise; that the ideal at which we aim is a mixed population and also a diversity of layout and architectural design. If this part of the Bill could be limited to achieve these things without throwing any additional burden either on the taxpayer or the ratepayer, then it would be worthy of a pæan of praise.
But that would not appear to be the case, because according to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, the operation of Part I will increase the charge to the Exchequer. In other 2893 words, if we are to build houses for the entire community, rich and poor alike, these houses are, seemingly, to be provided by subsidy. What in reality we are contemplating, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman said, is that while the majority of the population will have for a very considerable period of time to put up with accommodation which is out of tune with modern needs and modern ideas, they are at the same time to be forced to subscribe to provide others with the best of houses that modern science can devise. In my opinion, that is inequitable and unthinkable under present conditions.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
Is it not the case that in Scotland at present county councils, or the local authority, allocate houses for people with the greatest need, whether they are miners, teachers, bank clerks, or whatever they are?
§ Commander Galbraith
Yes, of course. That is exactly the point I have been making. Yet it will be seen that if the whole community is to be catered for, undoubtedly the cost must rise—I shall refer to this time and again during my remarks —and poorer people will undoubtedly be subsidising those who are better off. As I said, to my mind that is highly inequitable and unthinkable under present circumstances.
My personal view is that subsidised housing should be provided only for those who cannot pay an economic rent, as otherwise many will be subsidising those better off than themselves. I would remind the House of the words spoken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during his Budget speech, which I believe are relevant. He said that there is not much further room for the equalisation of incomes by taxation. I take that to mean, in other words, that Government expenditure, of which the housing subsidies form a part, has now to be met out of the pockets of the many instead of out of the bank accounts of the few.
Apart altogether from the unfair burden which will result from providing subsidised houses for the whole population, I think we should observe the opportunities for coercion which this places at the disposal of both local authorities and the Government. Between them they will exercise practically complete con- 2894 trol, both over housing developments and the allocation of houses. The latter applies particularly in the urban areas. In future it may well be that the only houses to be built will be those which the local authorities see fit to build. That seems to me further to narrow the range of choice which the private citizen has at present, and also the possibility, at any rate, of greater variation in architecture and in layout. Indeed, I would have preferred it, if the local authorities had been instructed to lay aside areas of reasonable size for development by private persons. In that way we should probably have achieved what the Government desires, to a greater extent. We should certainly have avoided the payment of large sums by way of subsidy.
From another angle altogether I doubt the wisdom of the step which is here being taken. Under the present system, by which a very great proportion of building is done by the local authority—in Scotland the proportion is ten local authority houses to one built for private persons; in England the proportion is nothing like so great, being 3.75 to one, and I am told that in England they are getting on faster than we are in Scotland—never in my opinion shall we obtain a reduction in the cost of housing, which is such a very serious matter just now, until someone has a personal interest in bringing about that reduction. In other words, the cost will not be reduced until builders are faced with building at a competitive price and in that price securing their own livelihood—whether we call it profit or something else. Until that applies, neither shall we see any improvement, any real reduction, in the time taken to build houses. It may be that we are reducing still further the opportunity of the private builder to show what he can do.
§ Mr. Willis
What prevents the private builder from showing what he can do when he is building for the local authorities?
§ Commander Galbraith
Will the hon. Gentleman try to get a licence to build to start with? That would be a very good exercise, and the hon. Gentleman would find out the difficulties.
§ Mr. Willis
That is not the point I raised. The private builder is already building houses for local authorities.
§ Commander Galbraith
If the hon. Gentleman will have patience, I shall come to the very subject with which he desires me to deal. I am perfectly aware that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite hold the view that because the local authorities are employing private builders, then they must be obtaining the full economic advantage of free enterprise. But, of course, that is not so at all. The full economic advantage of free enterprise building will only be obtained when builders are able to secure sites, a continuity of work and a supply of materials in the right quantity at the right time and in the right order on the sites. They must he able to arrange these matters for themselves instead of being at the mercy of people outside their own organisation.
There is one other point on which I find myself constantly in disagreement with hon. Gentlemen opposite—particularly do I find myself in disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland. They claim, and I think the right hon. Gentleman has said so in answer to Questions, that private persons can only build for sale, and that to allow houses to be built for sale today, in some way defeats the claim to housing of those in greatest need. That is an argument which I believe to be to a large extent, fallacious. What we want just now are houses. It does not matter a very great deal whether they are for sale or to let. Every house means additional accommodation. If by allowing private builders to build, even for sale only, we were producing the extra 100,000 houses in Great Britain of which I believe the British building industry is capable, that would greatly relieve our waiting lists and would be a great boon and benefit to the community.
§ Commander Galbraith
That is just the point. If we had been building houses for sale, they would have been off the 2896 waiting lists and out of the way. In the meantime, they are in the queue. In the long run, my impression, which I hold with certainty, is that the housing needs of the country would be cleared far quicker than they are likely to be under the existing system. For the reasons I have given, we on this side of the House will endeavour during the Committee stage, to devise safeguards against the all-embracing extension of the building powers of the local authorities.
I turn to Part II of the Bill, which provides for assistance for the conversion of existing buildings and the reconstruction, alteration or improvement of existing dwellings. The last census was taken in 1931. At that time we had 1,147,000 houses in Scotland. In the following eight years, that is, to the end of 1939, we built 189,638 houses. During the war, we added another 28,270 and since then there have been built 43,325 houses. Of course, I refer to permanent houses only. That gives us a total of 1,408,000 houses. I think that we would be right to exclude from that figure the houses in slum clearance schemes. If we do, in round figures we are probably dealing with about 1,25.0,000 houses in Scotland. We all know, to our cost, that that number is far too few to enable us to provide a house for every family, and that many more are required. Further, we must face the fact that during 1948 we built something short of 20,000 permanent houses in Scotland. From the indications given by the Secretary of State for Scotland, there seems to be little ground for us to hope or to expect that building in the near future will proceed at a higher rate. However, we live in hopes.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson
It might be advisable for the record that I should correct the figure given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Actually, slightly over 21,000 permanent houses were built in 1948.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has corrected me. I find difficulty in reconciling the figures given by the present Government. In the Monthly Digest of Statistics for March, the figures appear on page 70. I have added them myself. The total is 19,711, but I am perfectly prepared to accept the figure given by the hon. Gentleman.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
These are local authority houses?
§ Commander Galbraith
Permanent houses. It may be true that they are local authority houses, but that is the heading on this page. Hon. Members will see that I am correct if they examine the figures.
It is obvious that any sound houses which we have, must be conserved, because they will be required for many long years yet. Any additional houses that we can get by conversion, we must indeed secure. As the Joint Under-Secretary said, these old houses of good construction must be brought up to date. That must be done not only because public opinion demands it, but also because in equity we cannot expect people to live in out-of-date houses while they are helping to pay for the provision of modern conditions for others who may be better off than themselves. Surely, all in this House agree to that principle. We on this side have contended during the whole period of office of the present Government that in the rural areas there were tradesmen capable of doing the work of modernisation and improvement whom one could not incorporate into any team for the building of new houses. I am glad that at last we had confirmation of that view in the speech of the hon. Gentleman this afternoon. Further, I hope that the introduction of this Measure means that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend have found that similar men also exist in our towns, cities and burghs. If that is not so, I really cannot see much object in introducing this part of the Bill.
I wish to examine the proposals put forward in this Measure and to see whether they achieve the end it is desired to secure. It may well be that the local authorities will be able to achieve the object which the Government have in view, because they are only called upon to meet one-quarter of the loss; but I doubt very much whether the terms of Part II can possibly encourage any private owner to go ahead with an improvements scheme. Let me say at once that one can make no comparison whatever between the conditions of owners in Scotland and those of owners in England. For England the terms may be perfectly satisfactory, but, as far as I can discover 2898 —and I shall try to put the picture as I see it before the House—in Scotland the terms are anything but satisfactory. One of the reasons for the difference in the situation of owners in the two countries is that ever since the passing of the Rent Restriction Act, 1920, the owner in England has received an increase of 40 per cent. on the 1914 rent, whereas in Scotland, solely as a result of the operation of our owners' rates and the increase which has been incurred in those rates, in Glasgow today the owner is receiving only 161 per cent. above the 1914 rent. We know that the cost of repairs has increased by 300 per cent. since 1939, and I do not think, therefore, that there is any wonder that, during the 12 months ended last October, some 930 houses should have been offered to the Glasgow Corporation free of charge.
I have here a number of statements for which I did not ask but which have been sent to me relating to the results arising from the ownership of property in the City of Glasgow during the year which ended at Whitsuntide, 1948. These properties were held by trustees, some for public bodies and some for private individuals. May I give the House the result of that year's working? On a rental of £227, the loss was £9 10s.; on £349 a loss of £32; on £469 a loss of £33; on £368 a loss of £25; on £322 a loss of £15; on £283 a loss of £13; and on a rental of £602 there was a loss of £16. That kind of thing is happening today not only all over Glasgow but all over Scotland as well, and in my opinion it represents the gravest threat to our housing standards in Scotland. I do not believe that the dilapidations which are taking place are equalled by the replacements.
§ Commander Galbraith
I have not got the figures for the war years. I did not ask for these figures; they were sent to me, but I think they are of very great interest. I believe that this is one of the most serious threats to our housing standards at present, and yet in this Bill, which is called the Housing (Scotland) Bill, there is no cognisance of this serious aspect of the situation. I do not know what is the reason for that.
2899 It may be that the Bill is merely an imitation of the English Bill and, without wishing to give offence, I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I wish he would appear to do somethng on his own initiative. He may be doing it, but be does not appear to be doing it, and I would like to see him doing more on his own, or at least appearing to do it. I am perfectly safe in saying to him that hon. Members on this side of the House, and I think also hon. Members on the other side, are getting somewhat tired of Scottish legislation constantly being tagged on to an English Bill or being an absolutely slavish copy of it, which only results in dealing in an ineffective way with circumstances in Scotland which are quite different from those in England. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he is doing about this serious situation. I am quite certain that he is not going to sit and watch this decay taking place, perhaps from the eminence of St. Andrew's House.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been talking about a serious situation and about Scottish legislation being something that is tagged on to an English Bill. Does he never give Scotland any credit for anything? Does he not realise that in this case, the English Bill came in because of Scottish initiative in making this investigation?
§ Commander Galbraith
I feel all the more sorry that the investigation has not been more fruitful, because it seems to me that it will not help Scotland one little bit. I want to know what the Secretary of State is going to do about this decay that is taking place. Surely, he will not sit and watch it, as I say, from the eminence of St. Andrew's House, but will come down into the street and do something about it before it is too late? If not, we shall have houses all over Scotland that are literally falling down because, as a result of legislation, the owners simply have not got the money to deal with them. It is against that background that we have to consider the provisions of Part II of the Bill so far as it deals with improvements to houses by private persons. We have to ask whether it is likely to be effective, and I submit that, over a great range of property which is capable of reconstruction, the answer is "No."
2900 For the purpose of my argument and as an illustration, I want to consider what happens to an owner who makes an improvement costing £600, of which he has to pay £300. On those amounts he is allowed to increase the rent by 6 per cent. per year, or £18 per annum. What charges are involved in that increase? He has to pay increased rates, which in Glasgow would amount to £5 9s. 6d., and he has to pay Property Tax, which would amount to £3 12s. Then, he has to put aside something for repairs, which, according to the experts who gave evidence before this Committee, should be allowed for to the extent of 25 per cent. of the rent per year, which is £4 10s. The sinking fund at 2 per cent. would mean £6, and the interest on his £300 investment, at the rate which the Government are now going to allow—3¼ per cent.—would call for an additional £9 15s. So he has to put aside a total of £29 6s. 6d., and so, on a property on which he is probably already out of pocket, the improvement which he makes in the interests of his tenant and of the local authorities and the State increases his loss by £11 6s. 6d. With taxation at its present high level and with the cost of living as high as it is, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that anyone is going to be able to indulge their charitable inclinations to that extent?
What I find difficult to believe is that the right hon. Gentleman himself has studied this Report, though the Under-Secretary has referred to it. Both of them should be aware that all these facts are fully set out in paragraphs 110–113 and also on pages 56–59, but with this difference, to which the Under-Secretary referred, that, while the Committe recommended grants of 75 per cent. of the cost, the present Bill suggests only grants of 50 per cent.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman may be right; I do not remember the exact words, although 75 per cent. was the figure that stuck in my mind. If that proposition of 75 per cent. is uneconomic, as the Report shows it to be, how does the right hon. Gentleman expect the proposals in the Bill to be of any use? Is he again merely following—or is it leading?—England on this occa- 2901 sion, or has he fought a battle in the Cabinet and lost it? Has there been a refusal to look at Scottish conditions and make the increased grants which are necessary to meet them, or it is simply that the Government are content that it should remain impossible for private owners to improve their property and so provide an excuse for a local authority stepping in and expropriating the owners? The local authority can proceed to do the work themselves with a much more generous grant given to them and with no limitation on the rents which they can charge. These are serious points, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman is taking them seriously, and that, when he replies, he will state plainly what his intentions are.
One of the strangest things about this Bill is that the one type of property which the owners might consider it worth their while to improve under the conditions which the Bill provides, is that type of property which is excluded altogether from the scheme—the service cottage. Why it is excluded I cannot imagine, not even after listening to the hon. Gentleman's explanation. What did the Minister of Health say during the Debate on the English Bill on 16th March? The right hon. Gentleman said:The Government do not see why people should go on living in unconverted houses that are structurally sound when it is perfectly practicable now to bring them up to proper standards.Again, he said:"The purpose of the grant is to enable the occupant of the house to enjoy modern amenities…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2138–9.]Of course, he should have added, "excepting always the key men in the agricultural industry who, by reason of the nature of their employment, have to reside on the farm and in close proximity to their work. These men, so long as the Socialist Government are in power, shall always be excluded from any benefit which might arise under this Bill."
The Government's attitude is so utterly and absolutely ridiculous in reference to this matter that I am going to make an offer which I mean seriously and genuinely. If any hon. Member is prepared to pay a visit of 24 hours' duration, or longer if he likes, to any dairy 2902 farm in Ayrshire, and to accompany the dairyman on his duties during the 24 hours, and then says that it is practicable to run such a farm without the certain knowledge that accommodation will always be available in the immediate vicinity, as required for those who tend the herd, then I am prepared to pay the cost of having that gentleman and myself examined by any mental expert whom he may suggest so that it may be decided with certainty whether he or I should be in Gartnaval or The Crighton, or some similar institution—because it is perfectly clear that, in those circumstances, both of us should not be at large.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Has the hon. and gallant Gentleman considered whether he is infringing the Gaming Acts in making that offer?
§ Commander Galbraith
No, I am merely making a straightforward business proposition of which the hon. and learned Gentleman can avail himself if he chooses.
Other observations were made by the Minister of Health on the English Bill and repeated, more or less, in substance by the hon. Gentleman today, observations to the effect that it was repugnant to hon. Members opposite that possession of a man's home should be bound up with his contract of employment. Was greater nonsense than that ever spoken in this House at a time when right hon. Gentlemen are falling over themselves to get service cottages? We have the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary demanding service cottages for the police; we have the Service Ministers demanding service cottages for the men of the Army, Navy and Air Force and their wives and families; and we have the same plea in regard to forestry. Why is it that hon. Members opposite cannot recognise straightforwardly the fact that there are certain occupations where a service cottage is absolutely necessary if essential services are to be maintained? I will leave the matter there because, no doubt, some of my hon. Friends will deal with it fully later on.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
Is it not a fact that in the case of Service men, of forestry and of the particular trades which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has quoted, the people concerned are the employees of the Government or 2903 the municipality, who are entitled to provide the houses, whereas the argument he is now putting up is that the Government should erect houses for the employees of private owners?
§ Commander Galbraith
The argument I am putting up is that where houses are required to maintain an essential service, they should be provided in the interest of the public. There is no difference between the various categories I have mentioned on that point.
I now wish to deal very briefly with Part III, under which assistance is to be given to preserve the character of a locality and to blend the houses in with the surroundings. I am sure that everyone agrees with the provision that is made, but I hope that by the use of local materials we may, in the majority of cases, get a reduction in the cost, and not an increase, as seems to be envisaged in the Bill. Then there is assistance for the provision of hostels to which the hon. Gentleman referred, hostels which are to provide residential accommodation and also board. It would appear that the intention is that these hostels should be subsidised; in fact, that those who use them are going to obtain benefits for less than the economic cost, whether they can afford to pay the economic cost or not. I should like to know whether that is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman. I, personally, do not think that in the present financial position of the country this subsidy is warranted at all. I am all the more inclined to that opinion because this, again, is going to involve payment by poorer people for those better off than themselves. Of course, in regard to experiments in building, of which the hon. Gentleman gave us so many interesting examples, no exception whatsoever is taken.
I come to the extension of the existing powers of local authorities in making advances to private persons or in guaranteeing advances made by building societies to private persons. We on this side believe that the ownership of property by private persons is to the benefit of the entire community, and accordingly we welcome these proposals in principle, provided that, in making the advances, no loss whatsoever falls on the taxpayer, and that all the expenses incurred by a 2904 local authority shall be covered by the charge made on the gentleman receiving the loan. In regard to both that and other matters, we feel that anomalies may be created, and, therefore, we are going to consider amending these provisions in the Committee stage.
Lastly, I wish to refer very briefly to the powers granted to local authorities in the provision of laundry facilities and to the sale of furniture. I am averse to local authorities competing at any time, either in trade or in the provision of services, with their own ratepayers, except where it is proved to the complete satisfaction of some neutral party that private citizens are quite unable or unwilling to provide a reasonable service.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
How would the hon. and gallant Gentleman define a "neutral party"?
§ Commander Galbraith
I should think the hon. Gentleman might be one; I should certainly be ready to trust him to exercise judgment in these matters.
I entirely agree that the local authority ought to provide communal facilities of the most up-to-date kind, so that the housewife may be relieved to the greatest possible extent of the back-breaking burden of doing the family washing under cramped conditions; but if what the right hon. Gentleman intends is to set up municipal laundries, then, except in the circumstances which I have already mentioned, I entirely disapprove, and the same reasoning defines my attitude with reference to the sale of furniture. This service should not be undertaken by the local authority except where the existing service or facility is inadequate in one respect or another; and, where it is undertaken by the local authority, it should be economic and not subsidised.
From the tenor of my general observations it will be clear to the House that while we on this side accept this Bill in principle, we do so on the condition and on the reasonable expectation that we shall be able to amend it during the Committee and subsequent stages. It is in that expectation, therefore, that we do not intend to oppose its Second Reading.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) said in the course of 2905 his speech that he finds some difficulty in grasping statistics as presented by His Majesty's Government. We on this side have a somewhat similar difficulty in grasping some of the arguments which he presented in criticising this Bill. He seemed to be making a very important declaration of Tory policy when he said that in his view the building of houses for sale would not defeat the housing of persons in greatest need. That seems a most extraordinary statement. I have great respect for the hon. and gallant Member's reasoning powers, but it baffles me to find anything that could substantiate any such argument.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman must continue the argument which I put forward. My argument was based on the assumption that by building houses for sale we could build many more houses than are being built at the present time.
§ Mr. McAllister
That qualification only makes the argument more extraordinary, because the hon. and gallant Gentleman is obviously indicting private enterprise when he makes that remark. He is saying that the Scottish building industry, only a very tiny portion of which is in the hands of local authorities and only an infinitesimal proportion of which is in the hands of the State, is not building as many houses as it could build. I see that hon. Members opposite appear to agree that that is a correct rendering of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman must not say that, because it is a complete travesty of what I said. The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening. If he will read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow he will see how wrong he is.
§ Mr. McAllister
I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I have been listening with the greatest care, and I tried very hard to follow his argument. He said that if houses were built for sale, the people who wanted to buy houses would be off the corporation waiting lists. The hon. and gallant Gentleman should not attempt to dodge his own argument but should try to substantiate it. He is clearly saying beyond a peradventure that the number of houses being built 2906 in Scotland today is not the number that could be built if the Scottish building industry was going full out. I suggest that that is simply an indictment of his own friends and associates, and not of the Government. We on this side of the House would not make such a charge against his own colleagues. We believe that, on the whole, the Scottish building industry is doing its best.
§ Commander Galbraith
It is doing its best under the prevailing conditions, when it is absolutely tied hand and foot by red tape and by the regulations which the Government lay down.
§ Mr. McAllister
The argument gets more and more interesting. "Doing its best under conditions of red tape and control"—now we are on familiar Tory ground. The Tories would sweep away all these controls and all these regulations just as they would make the houses available for sale. I happen to know that in Inverness today there are houses being built for sale by private enterprise which are taking a great deal longer to build than any local authority houses which know of in the whole of Scotland.
§ Mr. McAllister
I am not talking of houses on the tops of mountains. The hon. and gallant Gentleman should know his geography a little better than to imagine that Inverness is on top of a mountain. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument cannot be sustained. We on this side of the House are willing to admit that we are not satisfied with the number of houses that have been erected in Scotland or which will be erected in the next 12 months, but when we can build 28,000 houses in one year—
§ Mr. McAllister
No, we should not argue in this quibbling fashion. The hon. and gallant Gentleman himself said that 20,000 permanent houses were erected in Scotland last year, and when he was corrected by the Under-Secretary of State he admitted that the figure was, in fact, 21,000. If one adds to that the temporary houses that were built in Scotland last year, the total figure is 28,000. When we have built 28,000 2907 houses in Scotland in one year it does not lie in the mouth of any hon. Member opposite to cast any slur on this Government for any failure in housing, because our 28,000 houses three years after the war, represent far more houses than the Tories managed to build in Scotland in any year between the two wars.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman then made another extraordinary claim. He suggested that it was very unfair to these poor Glasgow property-owners, with all these repairs to make and all these rates to pay, that they could not charge an economic rent. He said he hoped that something would be done about it "before the houses fell down." That struck me as a very pregnant remark. I represent the Royal Burgh of Rutherglen. It is not like the constituency which the hon. and gallant Gentleman represents; it is a little town of 20,000 people, but with as high a density of population as is to be found in the worst parts of Glasgow. We have there tenement buildings that are owned by private property-owners for whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman has such great sympathy. It is an astonishing fact that since the war ended, so many of these old properties have fallen down in Rutherglen that giving homes to their inhabitants, caught up with the supply of new houses—fallen down literally, so that the people have had to go on to the streets and all sorts of emergency measures have had to be taken to give them temporary accommodation. What the hon. and gallant Gentleman said had very little relevance to the Bill. He was trying to build up a purely party political case which had no substance in it whatsoever. His eye was probably on the municipal elections in Glasgow, rather than on the subject matter of this Debate.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
This is not a party point. It is a question of economics. Here we have an investment, or a method of expending money, which is certain to bring in a loss as things are now. Would the hon. Gentleman buy property in those circumstances?—because I should be very glad to arrange for him to have quite a lot free.
§ Mr. McAllister
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is raising quite a different point. I think there is unanimous agree- 2908 ment on all sides of the House that the time is probably overdue when the Rent Restriction Acts should be reconsidered, and a new body of legislation dealing with a very thorny and difficult problem is a matter of some urgency.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that questions have frequently been put to the Government—to the Minister of Health and to the Secretary of State for Scotland—about that matter, and that the Government have said that they will not introduce legislation dealing with the revision of the Rent Restriction Acts?
§ Mr. McAllister
I am not a member of the Government and, therefore, I cannot speak for them. They have their legislative time-table. I am replying to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison), and I am saying that there is fairly unanimous opinion in all quarters of the House that the general revision of the Rent Restriction Acts and of the whole law affecting landlord and tenant is something which calls for the attention of all parties. There is a need for a systematic review of the whole matter.
§ Mr. McAllister
I want to get a fair arrangement all round and I am prepared to concede that there is a certain inequity in the Rent Restriction Acts as they stand. I fully agree with that, but it is quite another thing to say that it applies to conversion and to the proposals in this Bill, because there was nothing to prevent any landlord at any time before the war from converting a Glasgow tenement. Landlords by the thousand have done it in London, and with great success for themselves and for their tenants. Scotland has sadly lagged behind on the whole question of conversion. I think great credit is due to the MacTaggart Committee, as the Minister remarked, for having given the nation this Report which serves as an example not only to Scotland but to England and Wales. But in the practical matter of conversion there have been a thousand times more 2909 conversions in the County of London area, for example, than in the whole of Scotland.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Member knows perfectly well the reason for that. Will he not admit it? It is simply due to the owners' rates. He knows that.
§ Mr. McAllister
If, as the hon. and gallant Member says, it is simply due to the owners' rates, then the hon. and gallant Member was a Member of the party opposite when they were in power and when they could have introduced a reform of the Scottish rating system, which, as almost everybody is agreed, is a matter calling for some attention. We cannot do everything in one Bill. All I am saying is that more conversion has been done in London than has been done in Scotland and that more conversion has been done in many parts of the world than Scotland has begun to do. If one thinks of the capital city of Scotland, with the Royal Mile, I think the corporation of Edinburgh, the regimental associations and many great voluntary organisations have done a remarkably good job in taking the great historic tenements of Scotland, which were dreadful slums, and turning them into buildings of dignity, beauty and social usefulness. The city of Geneva is equally an old city and equally a Calvinistic city, and one would find there that the old university city was also riddled with slums, but the corporation of Geneva took over the university city, and converted the slums into first-rate houses so that the university part is becoming once again the social and intellectual centre of Geneva. Edinburgh and Glasgow could very well follow such an example.
§ Mr. McAllister
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on that point. I think the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) will, on further thought, regret that he has cast any kind of reflection at all on the Swiss people who have given to the world an example of what democratic civilisa- 2910 tion really means. We are getting slightly away from the Bill, however. I was astonished by the vehemence of the attack by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok, because most of the things in this Bill are things which I thought would have been welcomed by hon. Members of all parties. I think we all welcome the conversion of the larger houses into smaller, more convenient houses. I think we all welcome the extension of the boundaries of Scottish housing legislation to embrace the whole community and not merely to have regard to one particular section of the community.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
That would do away with Socialism and the class war.
§ Mr. McAllister
The hon. and gallant Member is entirely wrong. Keir Hardie, to whom reference has been made, did not preach class war in the sense that he wanted to set class against class. He merely saw in Society, as a great Tory leader, Disraeli also saw, acute class divisions and he wanted to abolish them. The whole object of Socialism and the whole object of our legislation in the end is to produce a society in which class divisions disappear and in which we are all [HON. MEMBERS: "Poorer"]—not poorer, although some people will be poorer, but in which nearly everybody will be infinitely richer, not only in material things but in spiritual things as well.
Everyone should welcome the provision of hostels and restaurants. In a city such as Glasgow with hundreds of young men living away from their homes, there is a need for some kind of accommodation in which they will have restaurant facilities and some social facilities as well. Surely that is not a Committee point; that is something which could be regarded as a good point in the Bill. I should have thought hon. Members in every part of the House would welcome the provisions whereby local authorities are to use local materials in building houses. That is not merely a matter of aesthetics, although I am interested in the aesthetic aspect; it is a matter of encouraging, here and there, small local industries which can be most important and which ought to be encouraged. I hope that this Bill, even if it takes some 2911 time to come into full operation, will help to provide a diversity of architecture and a standard of architecture such as, in our more hasty building, we have seldom been able to achieve. We have a great architectural tradition in Scotland and the proper application of this Bill should help us to maintain it and extend it. I should like to congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State on the way in which he introduced this Bill and to assure him that it has our warmest support.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
I do not intend to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister), although I agree with what he said in the latter part of his speech about the encouragement of the use of local material by local authorities. I noticed that he said that we all welcomed the Bill and he rather skated over one point which was touched on only very lightly by the Joint Under-Secretary of State when he introduced the Bill; that is, the effect the provisions of Part II of the Bill will have on the reconditioning of rural houses in Scotland. I think the House is aware that my constituency is part of one of the greatest agricultural counties in Scotland and we are deeply concerned about the effect of this Bill on reconditioning.
We had high hopes that the Bill would include provisions which would carry on the work done under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I remember in the earlier days of this Parliament, when it first met in August, 1945—I think the date was 17th August—an announcement was suddenly made to us from the Front Bench opposite by the former Lord Privy Seal that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was to be discontinued. I remember that he was questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) as to what would be the position, and after some pressure he used these words:The Secretary of State for Scotland hopes to supersede it"—that is, the Housing (Rural Workers) Act—by something which will be more fruitful than that Act has been in Scotland. We can be held to that promise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th August, 1945; Vol. 413. c. 257.]2912 Agriculturists all over Scotland have been waiting for that promise to be fulfilled. We thought that this Bill would fulfil it and I put to the Under-Secretary a question which I hope he will answer, or which his right hon. Friend will answer in winding up the Debate. Does he expect that the provisions of Part II of his Bill will lead to a broad measure of reconditioning and improvement of service cottages on the farms in Scotland? I would remind the House that under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 33,000 houses were reconditioned in Scotland. I do not believe—and I hope to show the House in a moment how bad this Bill is in this respect—that this new Measure we are considering, will do anything for rural housing at all. Scottish farming depends, as to practically 90 per cent., upon service cottages for the housing of the farm workers. The system of the service cottage is the only system which is economic and practical for providing accommodation for those who work on the mixed farms which suit our particular climate and soil. The stipulation of the Bill is that any cottage for which a reconditioning grant is sought, must first be declared by the owner untied, even before an application for grant can be made. That is the provision.
I ask—and I hope we may have a reply tonight—what is the position of the owner if for some reason a grant is not given? What is the position of the owner if the grant is not considered by him sufficient to justify going ahead with the alteration? We must know. Then there is the case of the owner who has accepted a grant and reconditioned the cottage and untied it, but who may wish subsequently to tie it again to his farm. So far as I understand it, the position is that the owner repays the grant. That is fair enough under the provisions of the Bill as it is drafted. Then he applies to the local authority for permission to re-tie the cottage. He does not have the right to re-tie the cottage; he applies for permission to re-tie it; and even then, it is subject to the tenancy of the sitting tenant. So I say that those conditions which are attached to the reconditioning of tied cottages in Scotland make this Bill, so far as reconditioning is concerned worthless and useless.
It is safe to say that approximately 25 per cent. of the farms in Scotland are 2913 owner-occupied, and that the other 75 per cent. are occupied by tenant farmers. There are one or two other questions which I want to have answered. Will the owner-occupier run the risk of lowering the value of his farm by untying his cottages? It must be appreciated in all quarters of the House that the service cottage is essential, especially on farms in remote areas. The ordinary, medium sized farm has probably four cottages. In remote areas especially, the cottages must be tied to the farm. If the owner-occupier unties his cottages, his farm is no longer worth what it was, because he cannot sell it. That is a factor that must be faced, and hon. Members, however much they may dislike the tied cottage, must realise that the objections to accepting a grant on the condition of untying cottages, are so great that the Bill, so far as reconditioning of farm cottages is concerned, just will not operate.
Next I have in mind the case of the tenant farmer. He has probably in his lease a clause agreed with the owner of the farm that the owner shall provide suitable cottages, to enable the tenant to employ men to help him to keep the farm in accordance with the new agricultural law. If the owner of the land unties those cottages to recondition them, he breaks the lease with his tenant. Therefore, once again we come to a stalemate. I cannot see how the Secretary of State, when he winds up tonight, can say with sincerity that the reconditioning Clauses in the Bill will be of real benefit to the farming community in Scotland, or will give results in any way comparable to those achieved under the old Housing (Rural Workers) Act.
The Secretary of State himself is, after all, the largest estate owner in Scotland. Will he untie all the cottages on his farms? Will he untie the houses tied to his other interests in Scotland, and see how he gets on for a year or two? If it is so wicked to have tied cottages surely the Forestry Commission ought not to be building more tied houses today, and surely we should not be authorising tied houses to be built under the National Health Service in Scotland, and under the water schemes? What will the Government do about the 150,000 houses that the National Coal Board owns, and the 50,000 owned by the railways? It seems that hon. Members 2914 opposite hold the view that a tied house, when the owner is the State, is a blessing, but that a tied house, when the owner is a private individual, is a curse.
§ Mr. Willis
Surely what is at issue is the giving of public money for the improvement of private property over which the Government and the local authorities have no control?
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
The Bill is doing that already. The only condition that is made is that houses should be untied. The principle of improving the property of somebody else is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Spence
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) for that assistance. His intervention completely answers the point. I conclude by saying that Scotland has a great service to give Britain in the provision of food from its farms. Scotland has many counties celebrated for special products of every kind. In Scotland we have special products from our farms, and I think that Scotland, in relation to Great Britain as a whole, stands higher in this respect than any part of Britain. The Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture have told us what we are expected to do. I say it is up to the Government to help, and that, since they have put these provisions into the Bill, they should see they are removed. The Secretary of State would then be conferring a real benefit on the country. He would confer a benefit on us if he would remove these bad provisions from the Bill before it reaches the Committee stage, and so allow this Bill to do good, and to carry on the good work that was carried on in the past under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mrs. Cullen (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I think the Bill will go a long way in helping to solve our housing problem. Nevertheless, I do not feel that it is of para mount importance so far as Glasgow is concerned, especially the Gorbals. On 17th December, I made my maiden speech, pleading that something should be done for the unfortunate people in the Gorbals. Four months have elapsed and nothing has been done. There are no signs of clearing the slums, and the reconstruction of the old houses in the Gorbals, in my opinion, is about 20 years too late. 2915 There is not an empty cellar in the Gorbals, never mind a house. Therefore, I would plead with the Secretary of State for action in this matter. If there is plentiful material now, before we start reconditioning old houses, and so use up our material, something should be done to clear away the slums and rehouse the people of the Gorbals. I am always much perturbed when I go home at the week-ends hoping to see this good work started, to find that, unfortunately, nothing has been done so far. I plead with the Secretary of State to use the materials, not on the reconstruction of old buildings in Glasgow, but for the housing of the people of the Gorbals.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
This is a Bill of very considerable importance both to the people of Scotland and to the local authorities in Scotland as many of its provisions refer to local government work. There is no doubt that we shall have to subject it to very close examination in the Scottish Grand Committee, as, indeed, is usually the fate of most Scottish Bills. There are a great many questions of detail and some of finance which one can raise on this Measure, but I will leave the financial details to my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling), who is winding up for the Opposition and who is more of an expert in that line than I am.
I want to refer especially to the provisions of Part II of the Bill which deal with the reconditioning and modernisation of existing dwelling-houses. I would like to express my regret at the rather discouraging little intimation at the foot of page (iv) of the Explanatory Memorandum, that it is only anticipated that a very limited amount of work will be done during the next two years. I appreciate that there are difficulties. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mrs. Cullen) has pointed out that it is not desirable to divert materials for the reconstruction of old houses from those needed for building new houses which should have priority. I would not dissent from that, but I feel that it is, to some extent, possible to carry on both processes.
Before coming to Part II, I would like to say that I think the Government have 2916 been wise in Part I in dropping the term "working-class" from the various housing Statutes. I remember three years ago, when we were discussing in Committee the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, that there was considerable discussion on this point, and the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) suggested that it would be desirable to get rid of this term at an early date. The right hon. Gentleman who was then the Member for Gorbals, and who was Under-Secretary of State at that time, agreed with that view. He said that it was hoped that that step might be taken some time, and therefore we welcome the change made by this Bill. It should simplify the work of local authorities and, I think, be generally beneficial to the public.
So far as we who live in the cities and burghs of Scotland are concerned, I think that there is no doubt that the most important part of the Bill is that dealing with the reconditioning or improvement of existing dwellings. Undoubtedly, Part II does provide some machinery and some incentive to tackle this problem of the improvement of tenement property, but I am very much afraid that the inducement will not be sufficient to make the Bill the success which the Minister hopes it will be. That point was commented on by my hon. and gallant Friend who opened the discussion for the Opposition, and who pointed out the financial obstacles in the way of getting the work done.
For my own part, I regret that very much, because ever since I entered public life it has been my duty, first in the town council of Edinburgh and subsequently, in this House, to represent parts of the city where there are many miles of tenement property in varying degrees of habitability. I am afraid that today a good deal of that property is now decaying beyond repair. I have always regretted that this matter was not dealt with under the provisions of the 1935 Housing Act which, in the main, was based on the report of the Whitson Committee. Although the majority of the members of that Committee reported in favour of grants for reconditioning, there was a reservation against this by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay), to which I fear too much attention was paid by the Government 2917 of that time, with the result that no provisions were included in the statute for giving grants for reconditioning.
I would like to read paragraph 72 of the Report of the Whitson Committee. It says:We therefore recommend, as a policy of limited duration, that financial assistance by way of lump sum grants should be given to owners of working-class houses in accordance with schemes to be prepared and administered by local authorities and approved by the Department of Health of Scotland, to enable owners to recondition their houses so as to attain, so far as possible, the standard of fitness and accommodation indicated in the code of by-laws that we have referred to in Part II.I feel that it is unfortunate that that recommendation was not acted upon in the legislation which followed the presentation of that Report.
So far as the present Bill is concerned, I note that the main condition for eligibility for an improvement grant is that a dwelling house, after completion of the necessary work of improvement, will provide a proper standard of accommodation, as prescribed by the Secretary of State, for a period of not less than 30 years. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how he arrived at the figure of 30 years, because I think that the McTaggart Committee's Report, published in 1946 and referred to earlier in the Debate, specified 20 years and not 30 years. Reconditioning may be possible in a great many cases, but I feel that we all recognise that a lot of tenement property has become so decayed as to make it impossible to reconstruct, and that therefore a good deal of demolition work will undoubtedly be required in the big cities of Scotland. In so far as that work will clear away congested areas in those cities, that is a very good thing, as it will bring fresh air and sunshine into these badly crowded districts.
I do not, therefore, regret in any way the sweeping away of this old and bad property, but at the same time this will bring with it an additional problem in that we shall have to provide more and more new houses to replace those tenements. Moreover, the work of improvement will in itself bring about certain housing difficulties because we shall get the amalgamation of two existing houses to make one improved dwelling, and that will reduce the number of dwellings available for the people, although to some 2918 extent this reduction may he offset by the splitting up and division of large houses into a number of units. I feel, however, that there are not so many of these large houses suitable in Scotland for that purpose as there are in England, and undoubtedly this policy of improvement will reduce very appreciably the number of houses available in existing tenement property. Incidentally, it seems to me that the actual work of improvement—the pouring of new wine into old bottles so to speak—will be attended with some of the difficulties which one associates with that process.
Among those difficulties will be the problem of how best to deal with the tenement which contains a dozen or more separate houses belonging to a variety of different people. I know that is a common occurrence from a scrutiny of the valuation roll in Edinburgh. There may be in a single tenement a dozen different proprietors. Some of the property may belong to owner-occupiers, some to living landlords and some to trust estates. It seems to me that dealing with all these various proprietors will be a matter of some difficulty. I think that the only solution in some cases will be to give the local authority the power to acquire the whole building and carry out the necessary work. I am not at all sure whether this can actually be done under the Bill. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would comment on that point. I mention it for the reason that it would seem from Clause 4 (2) that it is competent for the local authority to acquire land for the purposes of Part II of the Bill, but it is not quite clear whether it is competent for the local authority to acquire a tenement for the purpose of carrying out the work of reconstruction.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
The right hon. Gentleman says it is. Well, that is satisfactory, because I know it is a matter which was exercising the minds of certain local authorities as well as some hon. Members. I am glad to hear that that difficulty is non-existent.
Another point of very considerable importance, to both local authorities and private individuals, concerns the liability to an imposition of a development charge under the Town and Country Planning Act in respect of any work of improve- 2919 ment which may be carried out under Part II. I say this is of considerable importance, because within recent months hon. Members on all sides of the House have seen that considerable and unexpected difficulties arise out of the terms of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. I myself think that to be one of the most unfortunate pieces of legislation ever passed by this House; it has been most successful in preserving the status quo and preventing anybody from doing anything to make improvements. If a development charge is to be imposed upon local authorities or private persons who are eligible to get these grants for improvement purposes, it will act as a deterrent in getting the necessary work done.
Another matter connected with tenement property which I wish to put to the Secretary of State concerns the type of tenement buildings with which he and I are very well acquainted, such as that on the Dairy Road and the Gorgie Road in Edinburgh, where there are large buildings with shops or business premises on the street level and various dwelling-houses above them. So far as I can see, the Bill does not take cognisance of this particular type of case. There does not seem to be any power to improve or recondition the shop premises, although it is perfectly competent to improve or recondition the dwelling-house premises above the shops.
That does not seem to me an altogether satisfactory state of affairs, because dwelling-houses may be amalgamated and improved under the terms of Part II, while underneath them, on the street level, there may be some old and rather grubby, and perhaps insanitary, shop premises. It would appear, desirable, therefore, that there should be power for the grants to extend over the whole building instead of having an artificial division between the shop on the street level and the dwelling-house above. Perhaps the Secretary of State would look into this and consider extending the scope of Clause 11 so as to cover that particular type of case, which has been brought to my attention by a local authority.
The only other thing I need say is to ask the Secretary of State about the labour and materials position, because I 2920 am not certain—I do not think any hon. Member is—what the true position is. I have been told by one fairly authoritative source that sufficient materials and labour are available for beginning improvement work in a modest way as soon as this Bill becomes law. On the other hand, I have been warned by an equally authoritative source that to do work of improvement or reconditioning will have a delaying effect upon the construction of new houses. Frankly, I do not know the answer, because both the bodies whose advice I have sought are responsible bodies, and have given different opinions. I should like to know the official view of the Scottish Office, because while I am very anxious indeed to see improvement work carried out in tenement property, I know that the last thing that I or any hon. Member would want to see is the holding up of new building. Perhaps the Secretary of State will, when replying, give us an indication of the building labour and materials position.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
I was interested in the opening remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), because he seemed to disagree with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Lieut.-Commander Galbraith) on Part I. The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh welcomed Part I, whereas his hon. and gallant Friend tended to condemn it—and to condemn it on a rather peculiar ground.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. What I welcomed was the dropping of the term "working class." I was not referring to any other class.
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok condemned Part I on the ground that, according to him, it introduced the principle of people not so well off paying for housing accommodation for people who were better off. That, of course, has been a principle of Housing Acts for a long time past; it is not a new principle. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok—who I am sorry is not here at the moment—went on to tell us that the Opposition would devise Amendments to draw a dividing line. This will be a very interesting experiment on the part of the Opposition—endeavouring to frame Amendments to 2921 draw a dividing line to prevent the not so well off from contributing to the housing of people who are better off. I, for one, shall be rather interested to see the outcome of this experiment.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok went on to say—and I think he said this because the municipal elections are ahead—that we should not extend the sphere of our local authority housing activities, but that we should give the private builder a chance; and he suggested that if the private builder got a chance we could get thousands more houses. Well, really, this argument does not stand much examination. One of the reasons we cannot get more houses is, as I understand it, because of the limitation of materials, and whether local authority methods or private enterprise methods are used, given the same amount of material we shall get the same number of houses. I cannot see how we can get more pints out of a gallon than there are pints in a gallon. The argument to which we have been subjected tonight is quite false. I ventured to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member to indicate that there is nothing to prevent private enterprise from showing its mettle now. I should like to see private enterprise showing its mettle in Edinburgh.
§ Sir W. Darling
Is it not within the recollection of the hon. Gentleman that when I was trying to construct three houses, he raised difficulties in this House, and asked Questions on why I was being allowed to build those houses?
§ Mr. Willis
I am coming to that later on. In Edinburgh we have had houses under construction since 1945, being built by a private enterprise company which has received every form of assistance from the Government, who have supplied them with equipment, factory accommodation, and goodness,knows what. The houses they commenced in 1945 are still not finished. If private enterprise wants to claim to be the best medium for building houses, let it demonstrate that it can build houses quickly.
I represent a Division to which Part II of the Bill applies rather considerably, and in which property has been subdivided to form some of the worst slums in the City of Edinburgh. I think it contains more one-apartment houses as a result of these sub-divisions, than any part of Edinburgh. The hon. Member for 2922 South Edinburgh has been active in subdividing houses in a different manner.
§ Mr. Willis
The first point I want to make about this activity is that it has been a profitable activity, and that thousands of pounds have been made out of the creation of these slums. The global rental charged for these one-apartment slums is greater than the rental before sub-division took place. This exploitation has gone on irrespective of the welfare of the city of Edinburgh. On the other hand, we have houses being divided into flats which is also a very profitable activity.
§ Colonel Hutchison
If the hon. Member thinks it is so profitable, will he accept my offer to give him houses in Glasgow free?
§ Mr. Willis
If the hon. and gallant Member doubts me, let him ask his hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh who actually formed a private company for the purpose of exploiting this particular activity. That is where he will get his information.
§ Sir W. Darling
I must take exception to the word "exploitation." There is no question of exploitation. The houses I sub-divided in the hon. Member's area were sold for £1,250 and more.
§ Mr. Willis
I am using the word "exploitation" in its economic sense. The hon. Member was developing something to fill a need, although I have no doubt that he wanted to fill some other need as well, which accounts for his very prosperous appearance today. That brings me to the point I want to put. Is it possible for the activities of the company of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh to be financed by the Government under the terms of this Bill? I can see no reason why it should not be financed by the Government, provided the terms are accepted. It is true that the local authority will fix the rents, but with the local authority we have in Edinburgh at the present time, I do not know that that is a very great safeguard. I have heard no reason why public funds should be used for the purpose of reconditioning and converting private property. I believe that this should be done under the local authorities.
2923 When the McTaggart Committee inquired into this question and published their Report, we found two most important reservations to it—one signed by six members of the Committee and the other signed by two members of the Committee. Both recommended this; and I agree with them. I cannot see why private owners should be given this facility. I should have thought that in cases where owners are able to afford to pay, there is no need for assistance. The interesting thing is that we have been fighting the suggestion of a means test on another Bill and there is no means test in this Bill. A man can be worth a large amount of money and yet receive assistance to bring his property up to date. That is quite unnecessary and is unjustifiable. If the Report of the Committee is to be accepted, together with this Bill, it is likely to result in an expenditure over a period of years of £120 million, less £30 million which the owners will pay. I cannot see that there is any justification for spending this money in reconditioning the property of private individuals.
There is also the question of labour. We have been told that our housing programme is held up at the present time for lack of men in the finishing trades, plasterers, joiners and that type of labour, and that is precisely the type of labour that will be used under this Bill. One of the reservations in the Committee's Report pointed out this difficulty; that unless the whole field of activity is brought under the aegis of the local authorities, there will be a problem arising in regard to labour. I hope we shall be told what steps my right hon. Friend proposes to take to ensure that that position does not arise. If we are to spend public money on the reconditioning of private property, then the local authorities should have a say in who is to be the tenant. In other words, the property should become available to be filled from the housing lists of the local authorities. Nothing is said about that in Clause 11, and it is a matter that ought to be put right.
Among the miscellaneous provisions is one that I welcome. That is the increase in the amount which can be borrowed under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts. I asked a Question about this some time ago, and I was 2924 interested to notice that between December, 1938, and December, 1947, only 50 loans had been made under these Acts. It is true that the war years intervened, but it is also true that there was considerable activity in the selling of houses at the end of the war. Why was it that only 50 people availed themselves of these provisions, which are of considerable benefit inasmuch as they save a considerable amount of interest as compared with borrowing from building societies? I suggest that the first reason is due to the fact that prices were high and the amount allowed insufficient. I welcome, therefore, the increase up to £5,000.
The second reason why these facilities were not used was due to the fact that they were unknown to many of the people buying houses at the end of the war. Many of these people were young ex-Service men, who had just been married, and they were astonished when I told some of them, in Edinburgh, what provisions were open to them. I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that these provisions will be given as much publicity as possible, because they effect a considerable saving to those who will take advantage of them. In conclusion, I welcome the Bill because I see its possibilities, although that welcome is qualified by the defects which I have pointed out. I hope that we shall look at some of those defects on the Committee stage.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. McFarlane (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I hope the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of the points he has made. Instead I shall at once refer to the speech of the Under-Secretary, who opened the Debate. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I listened to him with the closest attention, though with no little disappointment. I will grant him everything, even his peroration, but I think he will agree that it is an essential condition of that human happiness of which he spoke, that in Scotland we should have at least some approximation to the idea of a separate dwelling for every family. This Bill contains many desirable and unexceptionable features, but I believe that it will be judged in Scotland according to the prospect it affords of securing additional units of accommodation. In Glasgow, at least, it is only by that standard that the Bill will be judged.
2925 There is one very fundamental difference in the approach of the Under-Secretary to this Bill from that of the Minister of Health in proposing a similar Measure for England and Wales a short time ago. The Under-Secretary said today, in justification for the Bill, that the time was now ripe. The Minister of Health was at great pains to prove that the time was opportune on the basis of his achievements in England and Wales. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had made good the position of 1939, that we had reached the position where the country enjoyed more actual separate habitations than ever before, that we were within sight of providing a separate dwelling for every family, and that this was the time to make a fresh advance based on those achievements. I have no doubt that if those claims are well founded, this is the time to undertake the valuable work of conversion. There is no question about the fact that Scotland has in its buildings a structural stability which has outlived their internal deficiencies.
In my view, however, I do not believe that the time has arrived to put the provisions of this Bill into practice in Scotland. After all, we ought to have some standard such as that upon which the Minister of Health based his Bill for England and Wales. I suggest that we should make a brief comparison with the position in England and Wales. According to the Housing Returns for the year ended December, 1948, 271,585 permanent houses were provided by local authorities in England and Wales and 34,885 were provided in Scotland—which approximates to the traditional one-eighth relationship between England and Scotland. Taking into account the fact, however, that 76,765 houses were provided by private builders in England and 3,344 were provided in Scotland, it will be seen that we fell considerably below the one-eighth.
§ Mr. McFarlane
That is precisely the point I wish to make. We must recognise the greater need in Scotland. I believe that that greater need was properly expressed in the allocation of the temporary programme. Scotland 2926 was given a greater proportion than England in view of that need. In my opinion, it is self-evident, from this comparison, that the pressure for new building and the provision of more units of accommodation in Scotland is still undiminished. I concede to Members opposite all the advantages of the Bill, but I can foresee the danger of dissipating the energies of local authorities from their main and paramount duty, which has not yet been carried out.
As do many Members on this side of the House, I welcome the provision to secure a certain amount of private enterprise help in making conversions and sub-divisions. There is no doubt that we could with great advantage enlist the support of private effort in this direction. I cannot, however, understand the attitude of the Government in ignoring, as they do, the implications of our rating system. The property owner who enters upon this scheme for conversion is placed relatively at a disadvantage compared with the property owner in England. The whole conception of the Bill is nullified. I am reluctant to follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in suggesting that this is deliberate, though it seems that such a suggestion can hardly be avoided. The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) accepted the proposition that we must attack our rating system and the Rent Restrictions Act. Such an attack would have very serious consequences, but surely we can say that in so far as the Bill makes an attempt to enlist private enterprise effort in carrying out conversions it might at least recognise the incidence of our rating system. If that is ignored, the whole of the proposals of the Bill relative to private assistance will be nullified.
As I have already said, this House must have regard to the capacity of local authorities before further responsibilities are heaped upon them. I have the greatest doubt about the position of Glasgow now, and I hope that hon. Members will at least spare me any sneers of making this statement with an eye on the forthcoming municipal elections. In the Housing Survey to which I have already referred, 34,885 permanent houses have been built in Scotland since the end of the war, to the great satisfaction of hon. Members opposite. In so far as rhythm 2927 and ratio between houses in course of construction and houses erected has greatly improved recently, I congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The point I want to make relative to Glasgow is that, of the permanent houses erected since the end of the war, 5,623 were erected in Glasgow. About 2,000 of them were of the non-traditional type. Glasgow received 2,500 temporary houses out of an allocation of 32,000 for Scotland. This was a matter of deliberate policy on the part of the local authority in Glasgow. If we add the permanent and temporary houses available in Scotland since the war ended, in order to get the units of accommodation, we find that the total is 66,000 and this great city—
§ Mr. McFarlane
I think I am correct. I have been faithfully following the statistics provided. Since the war ended 34,885 permanent houses were erected in Scotland. To that I have added 32,000 temporary houses to make a figure of 66,000, and of that total Glasgow received 5,623 permanent houses and 2,500 temporary houses. In other words, this great city, which contains something between a fifth and a quarter of the entire population of Scotland, received only 8,000 units of accommodation since the end of the war. We are thinking of putting more responsibility upon local authorities in regard to housing, but surely a record like that is sufficient to make this House think twice before it does anything which would in any way prevent the Glasgow Corporation from facing up to such an appalling deficiency.
I was astonished at the whole tone of the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State. He seemed to assume that in such a condition we could supply baths and all the rest of it—however desirable these things may be. The whole tone of his speech was based on improvements. I do not want to say that my experience is in any way unique. It is shared by every Member of this House who shares with me the representation of the City of Glasgow. At the present juncture there are 40,000 homeless people in Glasgow and one of the most bitter experiences of any Member is to meet these constituents and realise the tragedy of hopeless frustration.
§ Mr. McFarlane
This is something which has to be dealt with first, before we proceed with the provisions of this Bill.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I can well understand the passion and sincerity with which the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. McFarlane) spoke when he envisaged the suffering that is experienced in Glasgow today. Surely he will answer frankly, as answer he must, the question whether the suffering started only in the year 1945.
§ Colonel Hutchison
Is the hon. Member aware that we have suffered from a Socialist corporation in Glasgow since 1933, and a lot of it started that year.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) must realise that it does not matter how progressive a local authority is, unless it gets Acts of Parliament by which it can get on with the job, it can do nothing. All the years before the war we had here a good old Tory Government.
§ Mr. Ross
It may be an old story, but it is a. sad one for the people of Scotland. The hon. Member for Camlachie spoke of the problem of Scotland as compared with England. The two are not comparable at all. Committees, commissions and what not, have sat on this business. I would refer him to the first monumental report on this subject, that of the Royal Commission of 1917, which stated that if the standard of housing condition applicable to England were applied and enforced in Scotland, 690,000 people would be homeless. There was no Socialist Administration in those days. The same report by this Royal Commission stated clearly that the failure was the failure of private enterprise to provide housing for the people of Scotland. That was why, after the war, we got started with subsidised housing.
I listened to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) on this question of taking the term "working class" out of 2929 the Bill. So far as I can see, it is only bringing the law into line with actual practice, because I can remember the first local authority houses which went up in the burghs of Ayrshire. They were not working-class people who were in them. The hon. and gallant Member talks about poor people having to subsidise richer people, through subsidies for housing. It should be remembered, however, that the working classes of Scotland could not afford to pay rent for these houses. I can well remember what happened in one area, because later on I myself went to live there. It was inhabited by teachers, bankers, and black-coated workers. Tonight we have had spurious indignation from the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok over something that has existed since the year 1919. His voice has been still for all these years. He suddenly decides now to vent his indignation.
The hon. Member for Camlachie spoke about the timeliness of the Bill. He seemed to think that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was wrong in saying that the time was now ripe. He suggested that it was not yet. There must be something wrong in the ranks of the Conservatives. When this Bill was first published, "The Scotsman" interviewed Mr. Murray McGregor, the Secretary of the Property Owners' and Factors' Association of Glasgow, who had this to say:If the houses were modernised, as they should be, they would have a useful life of many years.The same newspaper, which evidently does not mind receiving anonymous reports so long as they are anti-Government, carries this opinion from the director of a large local firm of house factors:The problem should have been tackled long ago, when building costs were lower and more labour was available.That is what official Conservatives have to say about it in their property-owning associations.
The point is that they are quite correct. The 1933 Whitson Report unveiled the serious conditions existing, and suggested that the Government should do something about it. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen cannot sit smugly on those benches and criticise the present Government without realising that they had the opportunity, under the 1935 Act for Scotland, and that they completely ignored it.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman surely will admit that in 1935 we were very busily engaged in trying to prepare the country for what was coming in 1939.
§ Mr. Ross
That will not wash. It was the Government of the day that had all the responsibility. The present Bill is very much overdue. I think the Government's behaviour in bringing it in now is commendable, especially as circumstances are all against it because of the position in regard to labour and materials and the overriding priority of new housing. At the same time, we must recognise that unless we put in the enabling powers, and get on with the preparations to tackle the question, we shall never get the increased standards of housing and of health in Scotland that we so much need. It is all very well to talk about analgesia; the thing that is required in Scotland today is decent housing conditions, in which mothers can bring up their children.
In the present conditions, one house in every three in Scotland is sub-standard. I can assure hon. Members that the standard to which they are related is not high. The McTaggart Report set that standard as a decent water supply and individual sanitary conveniences. There was no mention of a bath. Surely in 1949 we cannot talk, as the hon. Member for Camlachie did, about a bath being a luxury It is the fact that in Scotland today there are whole areas, not just streets, in our towns that are without a single bath. If we took that standard, we should find that a greater proportion than one in three of our houses would be sub-standard. We cannot afford to ignore the facts. Housewives in Scotland, in homes with a sink in front of the window, the recess bed and the old-fashioned grates on which they spend hours of drudgery—it may be all very well for the Front Bench to 2931 laugh but it is no laughing matter for the people of Scotland to endure it.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman is accusing me, and my hon. Friends sitting beside me, of laughing. We were laughing for a very good reason and not at the people of Scotland. I will tell the hon. Gentleman the reason, if he wishes to know it.
§ Commander Galbraith
The story I was telling to my hon. Friends was one of considerable interest to him. It related to baths. It was a conversation which I had some years ago with a forester of over 80 years of age on Loch Lomond side. I asked him how he got on in his youth with regard to washing facilities, and he pointed across the valley to a large house and said, "That is Buchanan Castle. The Duke of Montrose lives there. He has 100 bedrooms and one bathroom. We had four rooms and the burn. Who was better off?"
§ Commander Galbraith
I shall be delighted to do so, but the hon. Gentleman referred to me and my hon. Friend, and I have a right to reply to him.
§ Mr. Ross
I do not disagree with that, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to relate stories about baths to his hon. Friend, he can do it elsewhere.
The Secretary of State gave a recital of really damning statistics which at the very best, cause irritation and frustration to the Scottish housewives and at the worst absolute human misery. However, the urgency of getting down to this problem is something which makes me even welcome this Bill, though I am not 2932 ecstatically enthusiastic about its provisions. The difficulty is that we have 300,000 to 400,000 houses in Scotland which are sub-standard and practically all of them belong to private property owners. That is the crux of the problem. We have rooted objections to handing over public money to private owners to perpetuate their own interest in those buildings.
§ Mr. Ross
That may be in the Bill but the Bill has not yet passed through this House and so we are not yet doing it. The sole complaint of the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) was that we had stopped doing it in relation to the tied house. The point is that we have that rooted objection, and I consider that we are entitled to have that principle plainly laid before the House tonight, just as it was in the minority Report by two differing sections of the Committee. The dilapidations and the lack of up-to-dateness of the houses which are the subject of our consideration should have been tackled by the property-owners themselves, but they failed to do so for so many years. It is not right that they should now expect the taxpayers and the ratepayers to come to their aid, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) suggested, without any question whether they are financially able to undertake the work themselves.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok was concerned about spending Government money for people who did not really require it, and who could do something for themselves, but he did not apply that to property-owners and owner-occupiers who are financially able to modernise their own property. If he had been logical, he should have carried his theme right through the criticism of the Bill, but his failure to do that, to my mind, was very noticeable indeed. If the Government are depending on these private owners to put this matter right, I am afraid they are backing the wrong horse. If they are depending on the social responsibility and the public spirit of the private property-owners of Scotland, nothing at all will be done in the matter.
§ Colonel Hutchison
I asked, would the hon. Gentleman do it? Because I have offered a house to two hon. Members already, and I will arrange for him to have the house free, if he is prepared to do it.
§ Mr. Ross
The piece of property about which the hon. and gallant Member is concerned will not be covered by this Bill, as I hope a great many of the tenements of Scotland, particularly in the Gorbals, will not be covered, because we will not waste public money on buildings of that nature. They must come down. We will not get the response from the property owners, and I have a feeling that the Bill as it stands will not meet the needs of Scotland. The hon. and gallant Member and another hon. Member referred to the fact that a 6 per cent. rise in rent was not nearly enough. If he looks at the Report, he will see that an even higher grant was being given by the Government, and it was suggested that they would get an 8 per cent. rise in rent—
§ Mr. Ross
I presumed that hon. Gentlemen had read the Report and would appreciate that point. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman looks at the back of the Report he will find another interim recommendation from Mr. Murray McGregor of the Glasgow Property Owners Association, stating that eight per cent. on that grant was still not enough. Looking at the Bill, and realising the power that lies within these landlords to make or mar the Bill, we must realise that nothing will be done. To my mind the only people who will be able properly to tackle this job will be the local authorities.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) does not seem to object to property-owners getting ratepayers' or taxpayers' money, but surely he should have no objection at all to that being spent by the democratic representatives of the people, the local authorities? They have all the planning powers necessary, they have compulsory purchase powers and, financed by the Government, they could make something of this job. But the Secretary of State has stressed in this respect that he has only empowered local authorities to do the task; he has not laid on them any obligation to carry on with it. It means that any local authority which likes, can ignore the Bill, and have no trouble at all from Edinburgh—
§ Mr. Ross
I was referring to St. Andrew's House, the Department of Health in Edinburgh. What is necessary is what the McTaggart Committee suggested in paragraphs 151–154, that full responsibility should be laid on local authorities to prepare schemes now, to consider which areas and which houses in those areas could properly be dealt with under a modernisation scheme, and then, in the fullness of time, to go ahead with the actual work; but to leave the position as it is at present, with the local authorities not obliged to do anything, will achieve nothing. I remember what happened under the Housing (Rural Workers) (Scotland) Act, the workings of which were reported upon in 1937. That point was covered also by the McTaggart Committee. They found that local authorities were not carrying out their duties; that money was being wasted on houses that were not worth repairing. We found in Ayr County after 1937, when the responsibilities were acted upon and when conditions were tightened up, that the farmers' interest in modernising tied houses suddenly disappeared. We should strengthen the hands of the local authorities—[Interruption.]—I am referring now to Ayrshire—
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member is very doubtful, but I could take him to a number of tied houses which would shame him. The point is that unless local 2935 authorities are obliged to take action, nothing may be done, and I suggest that this aspect should be reconsidered by the Joint Under-Secretary. This is an urgent task. We must get down to the actual preparation of the attack and in the meantime we should ensure that there is no interference with the permanent housing programme. Do not let us forget that this is the hard core of social housing unrest in Scotland. It is not good enough merely to pass an enabling Bill and then not to take steps to ensure that effect is given to it. As time goes on, these conditions become worse. Our housing standards are a disgrace to Scotland, and they are a disgrace to us if we allow them to persist.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) covered a surprising amount of ground and did the thing which always happens in these Debates. He went back over old history, accusing hon. Members on this side of being smug, and made all sorts of general accusations of what happened or did not happen between the wars. I am no expert on housing in detail—I say that straight away—and one thing I have learned today and in other housing Debates to which I have listened is that anyone who turns to figures is asking for trouble, because invariably like is compared with unlike. The three years after the 1918 war were in no way comparable with the three years after the last war—the background behind them was in no way similar; yet these figures get quoted again and again, right, left and centre. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman quoted those particular figures—
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member was talking quite a lot about the failure to do certain things between the wars and must have been tempted to go into those figures.
§ Mr. Maclay
I, for one, do not think that anything like enough was done on housing between the wars. A great deal more should, and could, have been done, but I consider that in effect a great deal more was done than has actually been achieved in existing circumstances by the present Government. I have some excellent figures here, but I am nervous of housing figures. They do not appear to coincide with any other figures which anybody has used this afternoon, so I shall not use them.
§ Mr. Maclay
I said that I am not going to use them. But what I do say about them is that they compare quite deplorably—I make no apology for introducing this into the Debate—with the fantastic statements made by very responsible gentlemen—or right hon. Gentlemen who should have been responsible—at the time of the General Election, when they definitely misled the electorate with talk of 4 million houses in 10 years being nothing like good enough. They said that the houses must be built in much less time than that. How do their figures stand up to the test? How do the figures stand up to the statement that the problem could be solved in two weeks? I get sick and tired of this Government claiming credit for things they have done, while, if one gets hold of the election addresses of 1945, one finds that these tell a very different story compared with actual achievements. I am willing to give way to the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) if he wants to make a comment.
§ Mr. Maclay
I always try to be courteous to the other side. Hon. Member will realise that I intensely dislike being controversial in Debate, but occasionally it seems necessary, on a subject like this, to put a sense of perspective into the discussion. Of course I welcome a great deal of this Bill. Any hon. Member, whether an expert on the Housing Acts, or not, is bound to know from experience in his constituency of the 2937 desperate tragedy—it is nothing less—caused through the failure of the people of all ages, young married couples and elderly people, to get housing accommodation. I find it the most tragic single thing in all my constituency work. One can do nothing to help these people, but if certain parts of the Bill help to solve the problem in any way, we are bound to welcome those parts of the Bill.
I have great difficulty in understanding the Scottish Housing Acts. A good many offers have been going round this evening. An offer was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) which was not taken up. I make another offer, that if any hon. Member can take me away for an hour and explain to me in that hour exactly the operations of all the Housing Acts under which we are working today and the Rent Restrictions Acts and will throw in, for good measure, the Town and Country Planning Act and how it affects this Bill, I should be inordinately grateful and would at least stand him a cup of tea. If he would throw in a reasonably accurate explanation of how the Scottish rating problem can be solved, I would go a good deal further.
In no controversial spirit, I suggest that the time of the Government might have been better occupied during these three or four years if they had got on to the task of tidying up the whole housing mess, because it is a confused, tantalising and exasperating mess. If they had kept off some of the Bills which have contributed nothing but trouble to this country, it would have been a helpful thing. One gives blessing to those parts of the Bill which may improve the situation and I sincerely hope that the fears of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will not be realised but that it will be found possible to get on, to some extent, with the improvement of a lot of houses and flats which are desperately in need of improvement and could be made habitable without much work.
Even in this part of the Bill, there are a good many points which will need clearing up in Committee. I have been puzzling over the Bill and I am wondering whether under the Town and Country Planning Act a development charge could be made for "improvement" as contemplated in this Bill. I have tried to puzzle out whether 2938 a development charge could arise in relation to any improvement under the appropriate part of the Bill. One can find quite a lot of other problems which might arise out of planning.
§ Mr. McAllister
It was made clear that where a large house is converted, no development charge arises, as there is no alteration in the cubic content.
§ Mr. Maclay
I know that is in the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Act, but already I have had this question asked by a town clerk and I am not satisfied that that provision covered all possibilities of improvement which might arise. If we are to get anywhere quickly with this Bill, if it becomes law, these fears in relation to the Town and Country Planning Act must be removed. Hon. Members know that the effect of the Town and Country Planning Act in its present form is to cause hopeless confusion, which is holding up development in all parts of the country.
§ Commander Galbraith
Could my hon. Friend say, from the inquiries which he has made, whether a development charge operates when four houses are converted into two?
§ Mr. Maclay
This could become a fascinating discussion of the interpretation of the Town and Country Planning Act. All I suggested, tentatively and nervously, was that whoever is to wind up the Debate, should clear up all the doubts that are in our minds on this subject, and that I would then take him out and give him a cup of coffee at once.
Another problem could arise under general planning schemes. I admit that this is rather a Committee point but it should be mentioned at this stage. Will a local authority be prevented from going ahead enthusiastically with improvement grants under this Bill because of the fear that, say, in the case of a house in respect of which they made a grant on the basis of 10 years' life, that house might be due to be demolished when the time came for a development plan to he implemented? Obviously, difficulties could arise in that respect because an 2939 owner might have to pay 50 per cent. of the cost and the local authority the other 50 per cent. What about compensation to the owner when that plan is finally implemented and the house is demolished in the implementation of that plan? This is a small Committee point, but it might be rather serious if it deterred local authorities from using this Bill in the best possible way, because they were frightened of stirring up trouble for themselves in the long run, if the time came for compulsory acquisition under a planning scheme.
I turn to the part of the Bill which deals with laundries, furniture and grants and loans to individuals and others. It is essential to consider this part of the Bill against the background of the Economic Survey for this year and the Chancellor's Budget speech, the whole emphasis being on economy wherever economy is possible, not only in cash but above all in man-power. We must get the maximum man-power into productive enterprise. I do not apologise for reminding the House of the figures which Members will find in this year's Economic Survey showing the increase in the number of employees in local government service. The total figures for the Civil Service, other Government employees and local authority employees are terrifying. The figures have been used in many other Debates but they are relevant to this one.
The Civil Service proper, other national Government employees and local government employees have increased from 1,465,000 in the middle of 1939 to 2,230,000 by the end of 1948. The increase in the case of local government is from 846,000 to 1,146,000. But that is not all about local government manpower. From the end of 1947 to the end of 11948, the increase was from 1,105,000 to 1,146,000, an increase of 41,000. Here we came to the worst part of the whole story. That increase took place against an estimate in the Economic Survey for 1948 of a decrease of 30,000, so that employees of all kinds in local government service at the end of 1948 stood at a figure of 71,000 more than the planning Departments reckoned that they should, or hoped that they would, according to the various ways, in which they try to steer these things.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Would the hon. Member wish to reduce not only the number of administrative workers in the building industry but the number of building trade workers as well?
§ Mr. Maclay
I am just coming to my point. The point I am making relates to laundries, to the provision of furniture, to hostels and meals—about which I would speak on slightly different grounds—and certain other terms in this Bill which must be considered against the background of those staggering figures. I am not suggesting that if my proposals were fully accepted by the Government, they would mean a very large reduction in the vast increase of manpower employed by local authorities. But surely the whole lesson of the Debates since last Wednesday has been that in every direction, we must avoid duplication and extravagance in the use of manpower. I am not talking of cash at the moment, although actually in the end they amount to the same thing.
Here we have, quite gratuitously thrown into this Bill without any evidence that it will really help, the provision that the local authorities can provide laundry services. I go further than my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). I do not think that the local authorities should be given an omnibus power to provide laundry services and just hold that power indefinitely to use how and when they think fit.
§ Sir W. Darling
Is not it right that local authorities sometimes require to wash dirty linen in public?
§ Mr. Maclay
I think they can always do that in the available resources of the locality in which they live. I would return now to my laundries rather than to the dirty linen relating to them. I wish to make a point which may seem a small one. People may feel that if we are to have these local authority housing schemes, we may as well provide laundries, and make a job of it. But is the thing necessary? Probably in every case there will be available a private firm which can provide a laundry service. If over a period they find such facilities are not provided local authorities can come and ask for special powers to provide the services as other local authorities have done in the past. That 2941 would make sense; there is full provision for it and they would get a careful check of local public opinion. The same thing applies to hired furniture. That also is duplication. There are always a number of firms available and able to provide furniture on the hire purchase system. The same applies to allowing local authorities to become building societies. Such powers have existed in the past, and I too was proposing to ask why those powers have not been used before.
§ Mr. Maclay
There may be another explanation which may well be true, and that is, that people have found that building societies, with their expert knowledge, have been better at this job, and more helpful, than the local authorities.
§ Mr. Maclay
Something like that. There must be some explanation of why this service has not been used. I can assure the hon. Member that if I had been looking for such financial accommodation, I most certainly would have discovered that that facility was available, as would most people if they wanted finance for building houses.
The whole tenor of my complaint is that in a Bill containing many useful things, we are putting in all these extra powers, which may be quite nice things in themselves, but which are not essential to the working of this Bill. They are duplications of existing facilities. There is provision available, and local authorities cannot provide efficient services of this kind. In fact, as hon. Members will have noticed in the newspapers last week, we have just had a case of a local authority a very few miles away from here, who had a little trouble over wireless sets. I am not imputing any wrong motives. I am merely quoting from a report when I say that they were unable to keep track of the wireless sets with which they were 2942 dealing, and the auditor had to make careful inquiries. Eighteen sets had disappeared. They were traced after some time. Four radiograms were not accounted for. The cost was only £552, but that whole report was frightening. Here was a local authority playing about with the provision of wireless sets rejoicing in the beautiful name of "Civic Concord." One of the missing sets ended up, very properly I think, in the mayor's parlour. I make no complaint about that. The director of a business ought to have an example of his product available for his visitors to see, and he generally does.
But really, is it sense that a local authority should dabble in the peddling of wirelesses and furniture? It is not a local authority function. The local authority will not do it more efficiently. Cannot we cut this kind of nonsense out of the Bill, or is it merely another part of the process of Socialism which wants to put more and more power into the hands of the local authority or the central Government? That is the only possible explanation. I do not believe that hon. Members opposite think that the local authority will perform these functions efficiently. I do not accept that even though the available facilities—
§ Miss Herbison
Does the hon. Gentleman apply these remarks to the provision of furniture as well as to laundries and so on?
§ Mr. Maclay
Yes, I do. It might be quite a nice thing for the local authority to have power to supply furniture, but it is a duplication.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
Is it not the case that the party opposite agreed to furniture being supplied, and that it has been supplied continuously since 1925?
§ Mr. Maclay
Quite possibly, but that does not mean that I accept it for one second. I have no responsibility for what was done between the wars. I think it is nonsense, and I do not hesitate to say so. I am in disagreement with some hon. Members on this side on the question of laundry facilities. All I say is that on these matters I am in substantial agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok. If it becomes clear that the facilities are not available then, of course, the local authority, or 2943 somebody, must provide them. There are perfectly good methods of procedure available which enable the local authority to get the power to do that.
I am sorry to emphasise this so much. I have gone away from the good part of the Bill to what I consider to be the quite unnecessary and really irritating part of it. These provisions are tucked in, like so many things that are done by this Government for no obvious reason except to push on with the Socialist theory. When I first read the Bill I thought, "This is splendid. At long last we have power given back to the local authorities." But what power is given to the local authorities? All these powers need the approval or authority of the Secretary of State. As I have said before, with no reflection on the existing or former Secretaries of State, I do not think that any man in that position should be allowed to have powers concentrated on him in the way that they are concentrated in the Secretary of State for Scotland at the moment. I, and a colleague of mine, have noticed that the Secretary of State is looking very tired. I would willingly help him to relieve himself of some of his future duties by putting down Amendments to remove the offensive provisions of this Bill.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) seemed to be pained at the start of his speech that hon. Members on this side of the House, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), should dare to have mentioned housing as it was between the wars. We find, time and again, that if any mention whatever is made of what I would say were the sins of omission of hon. Members opposite, there is jeering and pained expressions. One of the reasons why this Bill is important is because of that lack of real work by hon. Members opposite for the provision of houses for the workers.
I am surprised at the mixed reception this Bill has received, and at what I would term the niggling, narking gratitude of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). When he was dealing with certain provisions of the Bill, it seemed to me that he could find nothing good in it. He also referred 2944 to the housing progress in this country since the end of the war; and the hon. Member for Montrose said that the two periods were not comparable—that is to say, the first three years after the First World War and the first three years after the Second World War. I agree that these two periods are not comparable; but I should say that that is another hit against the Opposition.
§ Mr. Maclay
I said I was bored with this kind of argument. I do not want to be insulting to the hon. Lady; of course, I am not for one second bored by her speech—but I am bored by this endless argument about who built what and when and where, when we are desperately short of houses at this moment and ought to be getting on with the job. I accept the hon. Lady's contention that Opposition Members have made these charges; but I think most of them have come from the Government side.
§ Miss Herbison
I agree; but in the first instance the charges came from the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok, and it is only right that my hon. Friends should answer them.
In giving a welcome to this Bill I feel that its provisions should lead to more houses being provided more quickly for many of our people. Indeed, in Scotland, in spite of what I consider the very good house building record during the past three and a half years, there are still far too many people living as sub-tenants, and far too many people living in houses with no modern conveniences—houses which ought to have been condemned, not three years, or even ten years ago, but in my constituency, and in Glasgow, 20 years ago. I contend that one of the greatest factors which contributes to the happiness of a family is a good house. I would never say that merely having a good house inevitably meant a happy family; but I would contend most strongly that many families have been made miserable, and many tragedies have come to families, because they have had to live in the awful conditions, in which many of our people in Scotland are still living.
I want to touch for a moment on the provisions of Clause 8, which permits grants to persons other than local authorities for the improvement of housing accommodation. A number of my con- 2945 stituents own their own houses; not big houses, but houses which the owners would have liked to make more modern and more comfortable. They found it impossible to do so because of the lack of money. I am delighted to find that because of this Bill a number of my constituents will be able to make homes which are not too bad at the present time, very much better for their families. There is one thing which worries me. Under Clause 8 there is provision for the owner of property to have help; in other words, an owner who has a tenement and wishes to have help under this Bill may get it. I think that is a good thing; but there must be attached to it certain conditions which are not attached at the present time.
At the beginning of the Debate there was some argument about whether we should build all our houses for letting, as the Scottish Office has insisted should be done for some time, or whether we should allow a number of houses to be built by private enterprise for sale. We have always taken the attitude that the person who had the greatest need ought to have the house first. It is because of our belief in that, that we have stuck closely to this point during most of the last three and a half years, of building houses for letting and not houses for selling.
The problem I want to put before the Secretary of State is this. Under this Bill a private owner may have grants to improve his property. A private owner, if one of his houses becomes vacant at the present time, can let that house to any person. I feel that we are not carrying out the policy in which we believe—the policy that every house that is vacant goes to the family with the greatest need —if we do not lay down as one condition of a grant, that if a person is willing to accept the grant, vacant houses ought to be allocated by the local authority. As Socialists we have gone a long way in this Bill; I agree with some of my hon. Friends that it is against Socialist policy to give grants to private persons for reconditioning their property. If that additional condition is accepted during the Committee stage, then I think that many of my hon. Friends who have qualms and are worried about public money being given to private owners, may be able to overcome these qualms.
2946 In my own constituency, apart from the houses owned by the local authorities, it would be safe to say that the majority of the houses are owned by the National Coal Board. The National Coal Board took over not only a bankrupt industry but some of the worst slums in Scotland. For some time in many of our mining villages, particularly in Lanarkshire, it is going to be difficult to find new houses for these people. As far as I can see, what applies to agricultural workers' cottages will also apply to the houses owned by the National Coal Board under this Bill they will be regarded as service houses. That means that, on the one hand, we are perfectly willing to give money to private owners who may let their houses to anyone, and, on the other hand, not to give money to a big concern like the National Coal Board to help it provide better houses for its workers.
The last point I want to make is on hostels. In the Report of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee there is a paragraph dealing with what are called "service flats." Many of the friends with whom I have worked in Glasgow, live in these service flats. I agree very much with this Report, which says that there is very little service and that sometimes the rents are exorbitant. Many business girls, apart from teachers, who do not even today have very big salaries, find that they have to use far too large a proportion of their salaries to pay rent for these so-called service flats. I welcome very much the provision in the Bill enabling local authorities to build hostels for this type of person. I hope that they will use some imagination. I hope that these hostels will not be barrack-like buildings but will have some beauty. The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) was worried lest much more work would be put on local authorities, and involving a greater number of staff. I agree that we have to be very careful at the present time in regard to the use of manpower.
On the question of furniture, I have been in houses in which there was a family of young children, with only the father working. In those houses I have seen furniture sufficient only for one room. I am certain that this Bill was meant to cover such families—people who are being moved from old slum property to new council houses. They will 2947 be given the chance of getting furniture and paying for it monthly or quarterly on their rent. That seems a much better method than the old method of having furniture on hire purchase, and being given a certain number of years in which to pay for it. Many had to pay for furniture with money which they ought to have used in feeding their children.
§ Mr. Maclay
I entirely agree about the desirability of furniture being made available for such people, because I, too, have seen furniture in only one room where four rooms were available. But there is no provision in the Bill to make any difference in the kind of terms which will be available for people to buy furniture except, possibly, for a small difference in the rate of interest.
§ Miss Herbison
I hope that one difference will be that payment will be spread over a longer period. I hope that people will be able to pay monthly or quarterly, and that they will have less to pay by that means, than they would have had to pay under ordinary hire-purchase arrangements. This Bill is a good Bill; I believe it will go a little way to help the serious housing shortage in Scotland.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I hope the hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) will forgive me if I do not follow her into the problems of housing in industrial areas, because I particularly wish to speak, in the short time at my disposal, about housing in the rural areas of Scotland, particularly the Highlands. Much has been said about the Debate which took place last Wednesday, but I also remember a Debate which took place on Tuesday of last week, when a very important speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) about the stepping up of beef and livestock production in Scotland, and the Highland areas forming a great reservoir for the production of store cattle.
I would like to ask the Minister how he proposes to house the farm servants who will be required in the upland hill farms, the marginal farms, in remote areas, where the housing problem is so acute. The Joint Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for agriculture in Scotland knows this full well. The 2948 Minister recently acquired 1,000 Swedish houses which were delivered to certain Highland areas. These houses were to be allocated to local authorities for the use more especially of agricultural workers. Allotments were made to the respective crofting counties, of which my own received a due allotment. A very good thing those houses will prove to be, though all of them have not yet arrived. I should like to deal for a moment with the erection of those houses. I understand they are being put up in groups in villages, and are supposed to be for farm servants of the surrounding farms. Those farms, however—and here I am talking particularly of my own area —are several miles from any village. The Secretary of State knows all about the difficulties of housing people in remote areas, but I suggest that he might be able to issue advice to local authorities in the crofting counties, advising them to put up those houses as economically and as suitably as they can, to house farm servants.
One of the arguments in reply to that may be that it is not economical to put them up in ones and twos, and that a group must be at least four houses. I know of a case in one village where four are being put up, and so far as I know there are no prospective agricultural workers to live in them. It would have been far better if two had been put in that village and two in another. These are rather detailed points, but I feel it would be a good thing if the Secretary of State could issue some advice on this subject to local authorities, not only in regard to these Swedish houses, but also in dealing with houses generally in rural areas.
I make no apology for raising again the issue of service cottages or tied houses. The Secretary of State attended a function in Scotland the other day at which he was asked questions on this subject of tied houses by members of the agricultural industry. I understand that he replied that he could not give way on this question of tied houses, because he could not go back to his party and look for their support. They would not support him in the matter.
§ Major McCallum
I got it from one of the weekly agricultural papers, and I 2949 believe that is a fairly accurate summary of the report of the meeting. When my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) was speaking, the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) interjected to ask why should public money be given to private owners to improve their properties. But who gets the benefit of the improvements carried out to these cottages? It is not the landowner or the proprietor, but the worker. It does not increase the value of the property-owner's property in the least. If he is proposing to dispose of the property within a certain number of years he is compelled to repay any grant. The landlord is not getting any benefit out of it. The only person who will get a benefit from it will be the farm workers, and those are the very people whom hon. Members opposite do not wish to see get any benefit, nor do they wish to provide houses for them.
§ Mr. Willis
The interesting thing about this is that the farm workers themselves do not seem to appreciate the benefits that the hon. and gallant Member seems to think they are going to get.
§ Major McCallum
I can assure the hon. Member that in the Highlands, at any rate, the agricultural worker appreciates very much having a tied house. I have been told that by dozens and dozens of them.
§ Mr. Willis
Surely the representative organisations of the farm workers in Scotland are against tied houses?
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) represents very few of them.
§ Major McCallum
What is the alternative? Probably a council house in the village. What rent would be charged for the council house? About £32 a year. That is the alternative that the farm worker has to accept for his tied cottage at a few shillings a week. If hon. Members will canvass the farm workers in the Highlands, I can assure them of the answer that they will get on this matter.
Now I turn to the position of the crofters and the applications they may 2950 make to get assistance for the improvement or reconditioning of their houses. It is probably correct to say that they are not covered at all by the Bill, and that they are covered by the Agriculture (Scotland) Act. I should be glad to have that point cleared up. I am speaking about the crofting community and the improvement or modernising of their houses, in the way in which they were assisted by the 1936 Housing (Rural Workers) (Scotland) Act.
I want to refer to other tied cottages. Within recent months the Forestry Commission have acquired 1,000 Finnish wooden houses for erection in Scotland, on the various plantations, for the forestry workers. In my constituency there is one place on Loch Awe and another in Glendaruel, where the Finnish houses have been lying on the roadside all through the winter. Nothing was done about putting them up. We shall be told that they were covered over with tarpaulins. They were. They were put out there, tarpaulins were put over them, and there they were left for months. I have made inquiries about them from the local authority and I have been to inspect them. I found that, as the result of the winter weather, most of the tarpaulins have been blown off. The wooden houses are lying in sections on the roadside, and are deteriorating rapidly. I am told that even when they are dried out again, to be put up in sections as houses, they will be SQ warped that they will be useless.
There are 30 houses for Loch Awe and about 20 in Glendaruel, some 50; houses in all, and there is very great risk of their being completely wasted. They are good wooden Finnish houses. I am afraid that the trouble lies in some dispute or misunderstanding, or something not being agreed upon between the Department of Health for Scotland, the Forestry Commission and the local authority. It may be something about the sites or the services. I hope that the local authority of the Forestry Commission will be able to have something done about it and so clear up the situation.
I turn to the housing estate which it is proposed to put up at Kinlochmore and Kinlochleven. The right hon. Gentleman may remember that I corresponded with him about these houses and that there has recently been a lawsuit, in which 2951 the British Aluminium Company have suffered very heavily financially, because of the fluorine gasses which have caused much damage to property around Fort William. The local authorities are proceeding with a housing estate there, and the right hon. Gentleman wrote to me to say that the housing estate would come to no harm although it was very near the factory at Kinlochleven. He said in his letter that there was no danger to this site because it lies slightly out of the stream of the prevailing wind. I wonder that a question about the prevailing wind was not put up by counsel in the case of the Fort William factory.
I ask the Secretary of State to reconsider the matter. It is not a question of today or tomorrow; it is a question whether the families living in those 50 houses will, all their lives, suffer the bad effects proved to have been suffered by some people living in the vicinity of the Fort William factory. This causes a great deal of anxiety and disquiet in the Kinlochleven area; I have had representations from numbers of people. Judging from the reception that this Bill has had in the rural and Highland areas of Scotland, I do not think that it will do much to solve the problems of those areas.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. J. L. Williams (Glasgow, Kelvin grove)
I welcome the Bill not because it will be an important contribution to the building of new houses here and now, but because it is a piece of legislation dealing with wider and more far-reaching aspects of housing policy. That is important, and it will tell on the drive for new houses in the years to come.
Like other hon. Members, I am concerned with the question of diverting materials from the building of new houses to the efforts connected with the Bill; I am concerned with this for the same reason as my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mrs. Cullen), because of the large number of people in my constituency who are waiting for houses and depending upon the building drive. I am concerned not only about materials but also about labour. I believe that the labour aspect should be emphasised more than that of materials, and I believe that it is felt in the building industry that in connection with reconditioning we are 2952 spending more proportionately on labour than in the case of new building. We are spending on labour and materials in reconditioning in the ratio of 60 to 40, while in the building of new houses we are spending on labour and materials in the ratio of 40 to 60. That is, no doubt, an arbitrary estimate, but it is at the same time sufficient indication that we should be concerned, allowing for equal scarcity in both cases, about labour even more than about materials.
The question of reconditioning has been dealt with at length tonight, and I will only speak upon one or two aspects which have been rather overlooked. Mention has been made of Part I which extends the provisions of the Housing Acts from the housing of the working classes to the housing of all members of the community. This is rather more important than some hon. Members opposite have been able to accept, because it goes to the root of society. There has been a tendency in recent years in our big towns to have large communities developing upon an income basis. Indeed the development of our big towns has been worse in that direction, notwithstanding all the modern tendencies, than the development of the small country towns, because, in the latter, despite the class feeling that might be shown, certain geographic limits compel people to live together in one society. Today large towns with large communities are developing which are roughly dissimilar on an income basis. We want to get away from that, because that dissimilarity is undesirable and unhealthy for the development of modern society.
My other point deals with hostels which, so far as I know, have not been mentioned. I believe that local authorities should be enabled to build these hostels for young people and for single people living in big towns who have come in from the country to do the work of those big towns. In my early life I had a lengthy, varied and interesting experience of "living in digs," and I can speak with authority on the subject. It may be argued that the question of hostels is not immediately important. If, however, we are to have large numbers of workers coming into a big city to do the work of that city, it is important to house them in this way. It is a desirable and economic form of housing, I suggest.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Duthie (Banff)
In view of the lateness of the hour, I shall confine my remarks to a few practical considerations of great importance to the North-East of Scotland in general and to Banffshire in particular. At the risk of repetition, I should like to touch upon the position of the tied cottage, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). The substitution of the tenancy form of tenure for the present tied system is something which is causing a great deal of concern amongst country farmers, particularly in the North-East. Each farm has grown through the generations into a self-contained community. These farms are not adjacent to each other and are sometimes many miles apart. This is particularly true of farms in the glen areas. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) said in speaking of Ayrshire farms, what is true of the Ayrshire dairy farm is more than true of the stock and dairy farms in Banffshire and Aberdeenshire generally. The men must live on the job. Anyone who is conversant with the feeding of cattle, the raising of that prime beef of which the country stands in great need, must know that the stockmen and cowmen must be on the job practically all the time; and in view of the incidence of illness amongst the stock; and many other factors, it is necessary that they should be on call practically at all hours of the day and night.
Because of that necessity, the farm cottage—the tied cottage—has come into being and has been the greatest boon to Scottish agriculture. I would point out also that the holding of the cottage by the tenant farmer is part and parcel of a legal contract with the landlord. The tenant farmer is in duty bound to make the service cottage available for the occupation and benefit of workers on the farm. If the cottage is to become untied, the terms of the leases are broken, and a considerable amount of unsettlement, and perhaps unemployment, will result.
We must consider also the position of the owner farmer. Many of our landlord farmers are working farmers who own their own farms. Some very considerable schemes for the rehabilitation of their farm buildings, and of their cottages in 2954 particular, are being held up pending the outcome of the legislation which is now before the House. For the life of me I cannot understand why there should be all this fuss about the untying of cottages, and going to the trouble of putting it in this Bill, because it seems to me that the application of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1933, reduces this problem to mathematical dimensions; it becomes the axiom. "Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another." The cottage ceases to be a tied cottage, but by the application of the Rent Restrictions Act it becomes a tied cottage again.
If I am correctly informed, and my quotation is correct, the 1933 Rent Restrictions Act provides that if the agricultural worker leaves, and a certificate is granted by the agricultural committee that the cottage is required for another agricultural worker who is to take over his job, then that is a ground for getting possession without offering alternative accommodation. I am referring to paragraph (d) of the First Schedule to the 1933 Rent Restrictions Act. If that is so, then all this seems to be a veritable storm in a teacup. It will remain so if the Government gives to Scottish landlords that same assurance which is implicit in the Rent Restrictions Act. If it is intended, however, to alter that Act, then this is a different story and one of which we would take the most serious view. But the fact remains that considerable rehabilitation schemes for farm cottages are held up pending the outcome of our deliberations. What I am saying applies not only to farms but also to lime quarries and distilleries, all of which are integral parts of our farming economy.
Another point upon which I would like to speak is the type of houses erected in the North. Some of the approved types are quite unsuitable for our northern climate. I have a letter which was written by the contractors to the Banffshire County Council, dealing with the inadequacy of the roofs of Cruden houses, from which I will quote. It says:The recent severe gales have revealed serious defects in the construction of the roofs. The specification of these roofs was originally approved by the Building Research Committee and recommended by the Department of Health. We would stress that the roofs have been constructed to the specification and whilst they appear to be satisfactory in the South of Scotland, they do not appear to be able to stand the exposed conditions in the North.2955 In recommending types of houses for the North in future, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will recommend that they should be subjected to the exacting conditions which obtain in an ordinary winter in the North.
I make an appeal on another matter, on which I am sure I will have the ready ear of the Joint Under-Secretary of State, as it concerns members of a community from which both he and I sprang, the fishermen. The fisherman's house has a particular problem which is not common to that of the artisan. Along with his family, his gear must be housed—his nets, his ropes, his buoys, and so on. It is idle to say that they can go into a communal store, because there they cannot be repaired and looked after. From time immemorial, gear has been housed with the family in fishing communities along the Scottish coasts. Present houses supplied by local authorities do not provide that accommodation for fishermen. One of the functions of the fishing industry which is performed in the home is mending the nets. This is done by the wife, daughters and female relatives of the fisherman. That is their task, accepted gladly, and they are expert workers. It is essential that that work should be done in the home. In the houses supplied by local authorities no such accommodation is given.
I was in a Cruden house in a fishing village on the North East coast a short time ago. The house was occupied by a fisherman and his wife and children. One bedroom had to be given up for the repair of nets. If we are to retain our population of herring fishermen we have to give them homes which are suitable for their families and also for their gear. That would almost call for a special type of house to be devised for herring fishermen. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to encourage seaboard local authorities to develop a type of house suitable for herring fishermen, and to see that they are given a special grant to make those houses possible, in ratio to the demands made upon the local authority to house herring fishermen.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Would it not be highly desirable to have a house for the family and an outhouse for the gear?
§ Mr. Duthie
That is done in some cases, but that is not the ideal. I know 2956 the ideal, because I was brought up in a house where the ideal was practised, and it is an attic store for nets. Then the mending can be done in the evening and one does not have to trapes from the house to the store when the mending is completed. Many fishermen in the North have made application to local authorities to build houses with net stores, and so far these have been refused. Many older fishermen living in council houses would be only too happy to build their own houses, but again applications have been refused. The finest earnest of the right hon. Gentleman's intention to do all he can for Scottish housing would be immediately to grant those applications for private buildings which I have put before him quite recently. I make a final appeal on the question of the herring fishermen, even at the risk of reiteration. Because it is something which may have been overlooked in the past, do not let us overlook it now, for the retention of the herring man in his industry is a matter of fundamental importance to this country.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
The hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay) asked us not to go too much into history on this question. I agree with him but, unfortunately, history is something like heaven. It lies about us in our infancy and clings to us all the days of our lives. I am not surprised that the party opposite desire to get away from it, because it is largely due to their history that we on this side of the House have such a rosy future.
I wish to say a word or two about the figures which were put forward by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. McFarlane). I am sorry that he is not in his place, but the figures which he gave must be dealt with. I am not in any way suggesting that he was influenced by any thought of electoral advantage. I am willing to believe that his use of the figures and the fact of the oncoming municipal elections in Glasgow was merely coincidental. Nevertheless, the fact that he lamented the inadequacy of the housing figures in Glasgow implied some sort of blame to the Corporation of Glasgow, which, of course, is dominated by the Labour Party.
2957 The hon. Member pointed out that the number of units of housing completed by the Corporation of Glasgow was 8,000—it is a little more than that, 8,178—in the three years from January, 1945, to December, 1948.
§ Mr. Rankin
It is. I was subtracting 45 from 48. I am glad to see that the hon. and gallant Member's prowess in arithmetic has not deserted him, and has enabled him to correct my error. The figures given by the hon. Member for Camlachie were 8,178, but they are figures which we are entitled to compare with the corresponding figures after the last war, when the party now in Opposition were in power. In that period, the number of houses completed in Glasgow was a little over 2,000—
§ Mr. Rankin
—and the number of houses completed in the whole of Scotland in that period was 8,137. So in the corresponding period after this war the Labour Council in Glasgow had completed more houses in the city than were completed in the whole of Scotland by the Conservative Party when they were in power.
§ Mr. Rankin
Do not all jump up at once. I am not giving way. Hon. Members opposite know quite well that I give way freely but on this occasion I am sorry that I cannot give way. I say that the performance of the Labour majority on the Glasgow Council has been a better one for the City of Glasgow than was the performance of the Tory Party in the whole of Scotland for the period after the last war. I will say further that if we compare the position in Glasgow today so far as permanent Douses are concerned, we find that Glasgow has built 5,628 permanent houses. More houses were built by the Labour Corporation in Glasgow than have been built in Birmingham and Liverpool combined in the same period of time, and more than the number built in Liverpool and Manchester in the same period of time. So that Glasgow has no reason to be ashamed of its record.
2958 We admit quite freely that it is not as many houses as we would like to see being built. But as I say our efforts have been conditioned by the history of the party that now sits opposite. We have to remember this other fact, that Glasgow might have increased its total number of housing units considerably had it departed from its planning.
§ Mr. Rankin
I know that the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) hates the sound of the word "planning." He is the supreme anarchist and the word "planning" almost chokes him. Glasgow refused to depart from the planning of its housing system and therefore it did not go in for the temporary house. Because of that fact the figures in Glasgow are not nearly so great as they would have been if Glasgow had followed the bad example of Edinburgh in that respect.
I wish to deal with one particular part of the Bill which has not so far been mentioned. I have nothing to say about Parts I, III, IV and V. I cannot understand the fuss which the Oppoosition have been making over this rather mild Measure. Part I, as the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) admitted is merely an extension of a practice already in being. Glasgow already provides houses for its doctors and dentists, and Part I is simply an extension of that. Part III contains nothing new in principle, and so far as Parts IV and V are concerned I do not propose to spend any time on them, because I do not think that there is any difference of opinion with regard to them. I do, however, wish to look at Part II, and especially that part which provides for financial assistance for improving existing housing accommodation. In the Debate so far, the present position has not been explored.
We want to ask what is the present position with regard to the provision of financial assistance for the improvement of existing housing accommodation by local authorities. Provision exists under Defence Regulation 51. Under that regulation, everything proposed in Part II can already be carried out. The local authority can take over abandoned 2959 houses. That is provided for in the Bill. The local authority can take big houses and break them up into smaller houses. That also is provided for in Part II. The local authority can take over houses used by Service Departments, and they can requisition shops for the purpose of turning them into dwellings. All these things can be done at present under Regulation 51. Part II makes no change except that under the Defence Regulation my right hon. Friend must pay to the local authority 100 per cent. of the cost they incurred in requisitioning and improving buildings to make them habitable, while under the Bill he takes 25 per cent. of that cost and puts it on the shoulders of the local authority, and he only pays 75 per cent. If my interpretation is correct, I suggest that in the long run, my right hon. Friend will not improve existing housing accommodation by increasing the burden of cost on the local authority. To me, that is one of the serious features of the financial arrangement.
There is a further point. I have examined the Bill and, so far as I can follow it, there is nothing in it which cancels Defence Regulation 51. Even when this Bill becomes an Act, a local authority will still have the power to say to my right hon. Friend, "We propose to proceed to carry out these provisions under Defence Regulation 51." They have that power. Will my right hon. Friend allow both methods of procedure if this Bill becomes law? Will he allow them both to run concurrently, or will he say to the local authorities who ask for power to take over a building to convert it into smaller dwellings, "You cannot do it under the regulation. I shall compel you to proceed under the Bill." In proceeding under the Bill, he will fling upon the local authorities a burden which, I submit, will compel them not to proceed to carry out these improvements in housing conditions in Glasgow which I hope everyone here wishes to see.
There is this further point which I wish to put to my right hon. Friend. Under the Defence Regulations local authorities have power to requisition buildings occupied by Service Departments, and until recently Service Departments were instructed: "Get rid of these buildings as quickly as you can. When 2960 a local authority comes forward to requisition, do not oppose them. "Within the last month or so Service Departments have been instructed not to get rid of these buildings, but to hang on to them. That means that when a local authority wants to requisition one of these buildings, the Service Departments will resist. I wonder whether they will be supported? I wonder what is the reason for that step? It may be twofold, although I hope that the second suspected reason is non-existent.
That one aspect which I have raised is to me a very serious one, because I represent in the City of Glasgow a Division which has terrible housing conditions. They may not be very different from some others, but I must speak about them. In Marlow Street, in the last two years, the entire end of a property inhabited by human beings just collapsed through sheer exhaustion and lack of sustenance; it fell down.
§ Mr. Rankin
Yes, they were getting rent for it. I have been in a house in Watt Street in which I could shove my two hands into a crack between the sides of the bedroom; the whole building was just slipping down. That house was inhabited by men to whom we are today appealing for increased production—the engineers and the workers on the Clyde-side. The whole of that building is coming down. I had to direct my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that in a house in Blackburn Street, in which human beings were living, the whole side of the building was falling out. I have been in one house in which there was only room for a bed and a little distance to move about in, with a mother and ten children, the oldest 19 and the youngest standing not much higher than these benches, all living there. On Friday night in Midlock Street I stood in a house the tenant of which had that week caught 14 rats. My right hon. Friend has a letter on that subject.
That is only a glimpse at the housing conditions in the Tradeston Division today. I am anxious that this Bill should do something to remedy those conditions. I hope that in limiting the powers which local authorities have today under Defence Regulation 51 my right hon. 2961 Friend is not doing something which, instead of assisting to improve these conditions, may actually make them worse than they are.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
This afternoon and evening we have had an almost all-Scottish Debate, except for the fleeting visitation of the Lord President who looked in, I take it, to see that we were not spending more money than our English colleagues. I think the Secretary of State must be a little disappointed at the reception given to his Bill. He cannot have listened with any less feelings of emotion than I did to the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), and when we remember that the hon. Member for Tradeston speaks for a Division of Glasgow, and that Glasgow has been ruled by a Socialist council since 1934 and by this Government for the last four years, we see how bitter these conclusions must be to him and to those who share his views. We have heard throughout the Debate a great deal about the years of Tory misrule and about the responsibilities for housing in the past. I am willing to accept those responsibilities, but the Members who make such observations must direct them, on this occasion at any rate, rather narrowly to the Tradeston Division, which has had the infinite benefit since 1934 of a Socialist local administration supported today by a national one.
§ Mrs. Mann
Will not the hon. Member admit that when the Socialists got control in 1934 the Government of the day withdrew the only Act under which they could build, namely, the Wheately Act?
§ Sir W. Darling
The hon. Lady is an astute and able debater, but I do not think we had anything to do with the 34 rats—
§ Sir W. Darling
—nor for the collapses through dilapidation. Glasgow has long had power to deal with buildings in ruinous and dangerous condition, and if the hon. Lady has forgotten her municipal experience, then let me have the honour of reminding her.
2962 This Bill has not been given a good reception. I do not think the Secretary of State expected it to get one. If I may put myself in his place, I think he said to himself, "We had better do some tidying up in this matter of Scottish housing. The English Bill has had a good run, so let us see what we can do. England is a bit ahead in housing, so I had better go before the House of Commons and say something about the Scottish position." These little bits and pieces, picked up and cast out from previous reports, are interesting reading but a little flyblown; they are very familiar to us. The right hon. Gentleman has not held office for the whole of the past four years, but he and his predecessors—some are dead and some are fled—have, and therefore he must accept responsibility for the last four years. He will agree that during that time he has not been very well pleased, and do not let him be under the delusion that Scotland is pleased.
The housing position is deplorable, and if a Tory administration or an administration other than a Socialist administration were in power, the veil of the temple would be rent in twain. The mouths of the Socialist supporters are stopped, and quite rightly stopped, by their own inadequacy. They can only rail about the evils of the past, which all deplore and none can remedy. It is in the hands of the Government, inspired by all the genius and apparently commanding all the capital they require. I am not surprised that there are pained looks on the faces of Members opposite. The hon. Lady the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) has gone. I was afraid that she was going to break down because of the tragic condition in which she found herself, unable to blame the Tory Party and unable to move the Minister to achieve anything better.
The problem is a very real one, and we on this side are willing to take all the blame for all the miseries if, having made that admission, the Government will make a start with a new sheet. Look to the past four years, during which the Government have had full power and authority: the achievement has been a very inadequate and tragic one. It is not I but the long eloquent waiting lists in every local authority office in Scotland that cry out. It is those who believed, 2963 rightly or wrongly, that they would get a house when they came back from the war, those who believed Labour would get things done, who indict the Government, and not Members on this side.
The real problem is that there is and always has been a tremendous shortage of houses in Scotland. The remedy, of course, is to concentrate on that shortage, and once the shortage is remedied then overcrowding and slum clearance will fall into their proper place and disappear. That is why those who spoke from our point of view at the General Election recommended, not a narrow approach, but an approach on every line possible. We wanted local authorities to do all they could, and private enterprise to do all it could. We believe that anyone who could build anything better than a shack should be encouraged to do so. Having dealt with the problem of accommodation we would then steadily raise the standards. The Government have chosen one instrument only—the local authority. Those who have served on a local authority know how inadequate that instrument can often be.
I am interested in Part I of the Bill, which shows that the Government have thought of something new. They are now going to deal with the question of housing all the people, and not only the working class. This, it seems, requires a special piece of legislation. Considering the working class support which the Government claim to have, it would have been wiser if they had first housed the working class. Like Alexander, they are sighing for new worlds to conquer before they have conquered the first. The Government say, "We cannot house the working class so we will change the name. We will abolish the working class, and thereby deal with the situation." That seems clever, but it is not impressive. I do not mind who houses me, but if I have to have a house I want a house and not a baptism. The Government are deserting their duty. They got the votes of the workers. Perhaps the hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. J. L. Williams), particularly, feels that the working class vote is not enough. So, the Government have broadened the basis, and seek the vote of those who are described as the middle class, the salariat. But the middle class do not want Government housing. They 2964 want to provide their own homes. Why not let them? The building societies are only too ready to help them, but the Government are an impediment in their way.
I was struck by the argument in the Debate on the English Bill, in which the Minister of Health made one of those utterances which will make for him a certain place in the political history of today and tomorrow. Talking about the choice of houses, he said:Only a public authority can choose between the relative claims of different applicants for houses. That cannot be done by private persons acting upon private enterprise only."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2133.]It seems that men and women joined together in holy matrimony cannot choose a house. The Minister of Health says this can only be done by a public body. In the bad old days when men and women married they found a house—true, with some difficulty, but they did find one. Now, only a public authority can choose, says the Minister of Health, whose faithful disciple the Secretary of State is no doubt proud to call himself. Gone are the days when an Englishman's home was his castle. His home is now chosen for him by a public authority—and so is his gaol.
§ Sir W. Darling
I do not think I am misinterpreting what he said. He argued that it was not for the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and his bride or for the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) and his bride to choose their homes, but it was competent for the local authority to choose between the abundant merits of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and those of the hon. Member for North Edinburgh. If the hon. Member will read what the Minister of Health said, he will find that it will beat out my assertion. Where there is any dispute as to who shall have the house, the deciding factor is the official, and it is the same type of official who decides whether I go to gaol or not
Part II of the Bill is very interesting because of the admission that there are 2965 houses in this country. Obviously His Majesty's Government would not propose to improve those houses if they did not exist, and so for the first time a Bill is brought before us which declares that in this barren, naked land of Scotland, in which everyone lived in caves under Tory misrule, there were, after all, over one million houses. These are all capable of improvement. These are the houses which the degenerate Tories built, but they must have done their job well because the houses have lasted and they are now capable of improvement. It is asked why they were not improved before? The answer is equally obvious. Taxation has been so severe that the landlords have been taxed almost out of existence. They are called "landlords," but they are neither possessors of land, nor are they lords. They are house providers, who were indiscreet and foolish enough to choose to invest money in house property, for which there was such a low return and so little gratitude. It is because this Government have so heavily taxed the landlord that this animal has now decided not to be a landlord any more. He has left the responsibility to the community, with very much less desirable results to the people in need of houses, and also at greater cost.
The Government have been penalising the landlord for a long time and the sufferers, oddly enough, are not the landlords because, according to hon. Members opposite, they can get away with anything. The people who are suffering are the tenants. When I was a youth there were plenty of houses to let. I remember that my mother had the choice of at least six flats when she wanted accommodation. The agents came to her asking her if she would take this one and they would do up the kitchen, or this other one and they would do up the drawing room. That is not my experience today, nor is it the experience of anyone in this House. What has happened to make houses which were abundant so scarce? I will tell the House. It is because of the busybody interference of public authorities, who have tried to provide houses and have failed catastrophically in their efforts.
Part III of the Bill deals with houses of character. I do not see much encouragement here for individuals. Under this part of the Bill certain allowances 2966 are to be made to local authorities and the Special Housing Association to build houses of character. Why those bodies? Are those advantages only to be conferred on organised bodies who are either the "stooges" of His Majesty's Government or local authorities? Do not His Majesty's Government think that there are persons with ideas in Scotland, who might conceive an idea to build houses of character and should be encouraged? It seems that His Majesty's Government believe that all the intelligence of Scotland rests in committees. They have not seen as much of committees as I have. Individual Scotsmen are more entitled to public confidence than that. On hostels and building experiments I make the same observations. Why are these advantages not being made available to private persons? Why are local authorities alone to be instruments of his blundering folly, when we know that they have failed His Majesty's Government in the task already assigned to them, which is the provision of houses for the people?
When I look at Part IV I note three miscellaneous and entirely objectionable Clauses under which there is the provision of finance for the purchase of houses. That has been done very adequately and successfully by the people themselves. There are a score of first-class building societies. I am not a member of one, nor do I subscribe to any, but these people provide money for this purpose. The Government put their blundering feet into this territory in which they can only operate at a loss. They desire to enter the laundry business. I remark in relation to this that unless they wish to wash dirty linen in public, I do not know why the Government want laundries. The people are satisfied with their own laundries. They are buying washing machines by the score and would buy more if the Purchase Tax were removed. The Government apparently want to set up laundries in every community, whether those communities desire them or not.
In addition, the Government are going to enter the hire purchase business. This is a greedy grab for gold. They are going to take over the Prudential, and presumably would like to take over the Times Furnishing Co. and other distribut- 2967 ing stores. What justification can there be in a Housing Act, which is intended to provide better houses for Scotland, for such futilities as these? These are not the marks of serious-minded men, of men addressing themselves to this task. Scotland desperately needs new houses. The plight of the people is deplorable.
To put on the Statute Book a Bill in which in the aggregate there is nothing but trivialities is an insult to Scottish intelligence. Here we have a few interesting suggestions culled from the specialists of St. Andrew's House, patient men and women who have collected together and presented to the Minister as upon a chalice, these little bits and pieces to embody in a Bill which may satisfy the House of Commons; but it will not satisfy the people of Scotland. It will go through this Bill, Clause by Clause, we find that its sum total is a round nothing. I regret to say that the Secretary of State for Scotland knows that as well as I do.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
May I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? At Question Time yesterday, the Leader of the House assured us that there would be some recompense to Scottish Members for the time allotted to the discussion of the Motion by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). I should like to ask whether the speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland will conclude this Debate, or whether the Debate will continue after; that speech?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member surely noticed that we passed an Order today suspending the Rule. I may call upon the right hon. Gentleman, but that does not interfere with the hon. Member's right if he wishes to carry on the Debate.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)
I have no complaint to make about the reception accorded this Bill. A good deal of the discussion, of course, has been about the various housing problems of hon. Gentlemen, and they have made no reference either to the provisions of this Bill or to what is contained in it. For instance, the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) had an Adjournment Debate 2968 all of his own in the middle of the discussion of this Bill on the necessities of Highland housing and the distribution in the Highlands of timber houses and other matters. Some of these points have been dealt with in Adjournment Debates and in other ways, and I am sure that hon. Members would not wish me to take up the time of the House in replying to these various matters which were interposed into the discussion of the Bill.
I should like to deplore what is becoming a habit of some hon. Members opposite of taking every possible occasion to depreciate Scotland and Scotland's affairs. The way they come into this House and elevate English Ministers really is very sad. If they can cast any slur upon Scotland, they have not the slightest objection to doing so. If they can depreciate Scottish Ministers and make them appear in the public eye as something of no importance, they go out of their way to do it. There is an old Scottish proverb which says, "It is an ill bird which fouls its ain nest." I hope that this will be kept in mind by these hon. Members when bringing these things against their own Ministers and countrymen.
The problem of Scottish housing is not something new, nor is its solution anything new. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) was, I presume, speaking for the Conservative Party; therefore, I gather that it is no longer the purpose of the Conservative Party to use the local authorities as an instrument for the building of houses, should that party ever come back into power in this country. That is a change of policy. The hon. Member condemns the use of the local authorities for this purpose so far as the Labour Party are concerned, but when Mr. Willink was Minister of Health in 1944, he told the House that, however much we might believe in private enterprise, most of our houses would be built by local authorities.
But the problem of housing in Scotland is much more serious than this silly party talk. It is going to be extremely difficult for anybody who tackles this problem to solve it. I would remind hon. Members that, in the years between the wars—in the whole 20 years—only 400,000 houses were built. Now we are expected to build 500,000 in three years. It is certainly a 2969 flattering expectation which hon. Members opposite have of us, but if one talks seriously, one must admit that, if only 400,000 were built in 20 years, it is an impossible demand on the building trade to expect such an achievement when the trade is depleted and disorganised, and when there is a shortage of materials which never existed between the wars. Sixteen thousand, five hundred houses a year were put up between the wars, but 21,211 permanent houses were built last year in Scotland. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) said he could not find these figures in the Report. That is because he had not counted in the permanent aluminium houses—a total of 1,500. In the same time after this war as after the first, 25 times as many houses have been provided in Edinburgh.
§ Lord William Scott (Roxburgh and Selkirk)
It is not comparable. Will the Secretary of State say whether the 21,000 odd houses built last year were actually built or finished last year?
§ Lord William Scott
That is what I thought. A great many were started a year before—[Interruption]—Well, the Secretary of State said they were built last year.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Hon. Members must know that that is always the case. Very few houses are finished in the year in which they are started. All these houses have been provided since the war, and 25 times as many were built in Edinburgh in the same period after this war as compared with the first war. To say that we are not providing houses is grossly to mislead the population. Hon. Members have asked why more houses are not built. I can tell them that I met representatives of the building trade at a public conference at which there were members of the Press. The Press men put questions, and one of the answers of the building trade representatives was that the reason for the slow-up in the building of houses was that we had asked the trade to do more than it could undertake.
I have already pointed out that the building industry is disorganised and depleted; it cannot get all the materials we would like. In other words, it was 2970 a question of more haste, less speed, because contractors who had taken on a large number of contracts could only do a portion of them, with the result that there was a lack of economy, wastage of effort and the very conditions that the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok described—a rise in cost and an uneven flow of materials spread over too many projects. Therefore, 18 months ago it was my duty to bring that sort of thing to a stop by getting materials concentrated in a flow where it could be put into the houses.
The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) raised one of the fundamental points about this Bill—why should public money be given to private owners of property to improve that property? It is very unfortunate that this question cannot be discussed objectively, just as many housing problems cannot be discussed objectively, because the history of landlords in Scotland has created such a prejudice that no reason can appear to enter into anything concerning landlords. Therefore, however reasonable may be some of the arguments put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok about the difficulties most landlords are having, it is almost impossible to give those questions impartial consideration because of the prejudice created by landlords in the past by their behaviour in regard to rents and tenants. Landlords today are undoubtedly suffering for the sins of their fathers.
Let us take Glasgow. Undoubtedly the great problem arising in Glasgow is that house property which is becoming steadily worse is being offered to the local, authority; the property is in such a condition that the landlord will no longer keep it up and the local authority finds it impossible to do anything with it either. That means that the local authority is faced with the responsibility of providing new houses for the people in those properties, and that is not only costly to the local authority but costly to the State. If these houses could be maintained in a proper condition, even to give the local authority time to accomplish their job, it would be an economy both to the State and to that local authority. That is the first reason why money is being given to private persons to maintain property in a condition which wilt make it last longer.
§ Commander Galbraith
What is the good of doing that when a man has already suffered and the loss will only be increased?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I will come to that. I am answering the hon. Member for North Edinburgh. If a house can be maintained for 30 years and made into practically a modern house at half the cost of a new house, that will still be an economy to the public. Therefore, from the point of view of the public, this is being done first of all. It is clearly the case, whatever we may think about it, that people who are homeless and requiring new houses, who are overcrowded and require new houses, who are living in substantial old houses that are not likely to be condemned, are all qualified tenants for new houses and it will be a long time before they can get the advantage of going into new houses.
This Bill is not for the benefit of landlords, but for the benefit of tenants. It is not the landlord who gets the benefit. It is amazing to me how many people there are who are prepared to refuse these benefits because for some theoretical reason they think the landlord will benefit. I cannot understand it. I have known persons who, though skilled men, would refuse to repair windows for their wives because it was the landlord's duty to do it. That is really fantastic. The whole purpose of this Bill is to try to give the people who live in substantial old houses some of the amenities they might get if they moved into new houses.
Why should they get them? They get them for the reason that they themselves pay taxes and rates and are thus paying a contribution to give houses to other people. They are themselves entitled to share in the benefits the State is providing, as are the people who get the new houses. In this Bill every care, perhaps too much care, has been taken to see that no benefit of a financial kind goes to the landlord. The hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) pointed out that some landlords are losing money on houses. I defy any hon. Member to show how any landlord can take money out of a house under this Bill. Even if he sells it he has to pay back to the Government any advance that they make.
§ Mr. McFarlane
But why should a Scottish landlord be placed in an invidious position compared with a landlord across the Border?
§ Mr. Woodburn
That point has been raised and I will come to it. This Bill gives no financial advantage to the landlord. There is considerable doubt whether the private landlord, unless he is very generous, will actually go the extent of using this Bill to make repairs to a house. It is an entirely false idea that the landlord is going to get any financial benefit from the Bill, and the question is whether the inducement is sufficient to make the landlord do anything at all. That is a question which can only be proved in practice.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are keen about people owning their own houses, but I notice that not one of them has commented on the benefit that comes to owner-occupiers under the Bill—that any person owning a house can get a grant from the Government to improve the house. We have heard much about the railwaymen, who out of 18s. a week which they received in wages, managed to save up to buy their own houses. Some of them are substantial, decent houses and they could be improved. These men can get a grant if they are prepared to make a contribution as well. The fact of the matter is that this Bill will enable the local authority to provide help to individuals for the housing of people, and to provide help to individuals going out of their way to improve their houses.
On the subject of tied houses, we are told that the landlord cannot do anything under the Bill and yet the farmers are complaining that they cannot have its advantages. If there are advantages, they will go to the landlords in the urban areas and in the rural areas. So far as the agricultural tied houses are concerned. I may say that I have met the farmers and the farm workers and they cannot agree about the tied houses. It is not for me to set up as an arbitrator and force something on people who do not want it. This Bill is for the benefit of the farm workers. The other day I addressed farmers about this, and was asked several questions. One man who put a question did so in such a manner that he was clearly concerned about the power to evict people. The attitude of mind which 2973 he represented makes it impossible for a Government to give powers to evict people at a moment's notice. It is this eviction of people at a moment's notice that has made for all the bitter feeling about the tied houses. No Government would give powers to evict.
Scottish farmers assure me that they want to keep the tied houses because of the goodwill between themselves and the farm workers. The Government are not going to interfere with this goodwill between farmers and farm workers. If they will explain to the Government what they want, I shall be prepared to examine it. I am not prepared to take sides in a fight of this kind, and it is up to the farmers and farm workers to come to an agreement. Farmers have an advantage under the provisions of the Agriculture Act: if they are prepared to provide a new house for a farm worker, they will get a grant for replacing a tied house, which gives them a considerable advantage.
The question of long waiting lists was mentioned. The Government have helped to create long waiting lists as they have provided people with full employment, which gives them wages from which they can afford to pay rent. If there were two million people unemployed and in the state in which they were between the two wars, there would be no waiting lists for houses. The full employment of today, the fact that people are prosperous, that young people are able to get married and that old people are able to keep their houses where formerly they were driven out by poverty in old age, have intensified the housing problem.
§ Commander Galbraith
The right hon. Gentleman said that before the war there were no waiting lists. Surely he is mistaken?
§ Mr. Woodburn
I did not say there were no waiting lists. I said that if there were two or three millions of unemployed, there would be no waiting lists. The small waiting lists before the war were due to the fact that a number of people could not afford to ask for new houses, and some did not think that they were entitled. A new psychology exists among the people. [Interruption.] There is no question at all. If the hon. Member will go into the Canongate of Edinburgh he will find people living in one room. They deserve new houses. 2974 Prior to the first war, and between the wars, they did not know what new houses were. There is a new spirit abroad which causes disturbance only to those who would like people always to be quiet and content. I welcome the demand for new houses, and hope that people will never be content with slums and degrading conditions.
The hon. Member for Banff raised a point about fishermen's houses. If he looks at Clause 20 (3) of the Bill, he will find that:A dwelling shall not be deemed for the purposes of this Part of this Act to be used for purposes other than those of a private dwelling-house by reason only that part thereof is used as a shop or office, or for business, trade or professional purposes.That brings fishing cottages well within the definition of "house." Another question raised was whether a tied house had to be untied before application could be made for a grant. Under the Bill as it stands it is the case that it would have to be untied first, but we can see that a reasonable point has been made, and will consider it before we come to the Committee stage.
Several other points were raised. Many will come up again on the Committee stage. Regarding furniture, the supply is not going to be very much different than it has been. In the old Acts it would appear that the practice was to supply furniture to the house, and although it has been supplied to the tenants it was not very clear what the law actually said. The Bill merely makes certain in a legal form the position in regard to the supply of furniture to tenants going into such houses. It has been a great convenience and in some places has made all the difference between a new home and just walls in an old home.
Reference has been made to laundries and meals. Municipal wash-houses have never been objected to and I hope no one will object to local authorities helping people to be clean whether in linen or in anything else. Where these facilities can best be provided by local authorities, then the local authorities will do it, but it is not intended that the local authorities will start up great competitive laundries or restaurants of that kind. They can supply restaurants under the Civic Restaurants Act. This is a question relating to hostels for old people and seeing 2975 whether meals and laundry can be supplied to hostels, as well as other amenities.
Questions have been asked about labour and materials for new houses. It is not our intention to divert labour from new houses for this purpose, but it is known that about 45 to 50 per cent. of the building trade devotes itself to jobbing work. There is no reason why the small type of houses should not get their share of that jobbing work, and there are many villages where a great deal of labour which does not go into the building of new houses could be available for this purpose. I would like hon. Members to remember that all houses are not in towns and that many fine and substantial cottages in the better villages could be given greater amenities by some additions, without disturbing the tenant at all. There may be no change in the tenant and the work could be done while he is in the house. Then there was a question about development charge. Development charges often raise difficult legal points, but it is not likely that development charge would be chargeable in many cases under this Bill. If development charge does come in, it qualifies for grant as part of the expenditure on the job. The grant goes towards development charge as part of the whole expenditure.
I want to deal with the question of the 6 per cent. The question was raised as to why a distinction was made between Scotland and England. I agree that as between the landlord in England and the landlord in Scotland, this cannot be considered fair to the landlord in Scotland. But this is not a problem that has arisen just now. We did not establish the Scottish rating system. It was there before Labour was in office, when there were several Housing Bills. They dealt with the matter before Labour came into power, and they had the same rate of increase for England as Scotland.
In the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, it only amounted to 3 per cent. in England and Scotland and only on one-third of the cost. In 1935 the rate was increased to 4 per cent. We are giving 6 per cent. on half the cost. We have to keep in mind the tenant because if 6 per cent. on £300 is to be charged, that is £18 extra on the rent. What the tenant can afford to pay must be taken 2976 into account as well as what the landlord can afford, and there must be a balance between the two. It may be that neither can afford to pay the cost of this work at the present time, but nevertheless we hope that costs will not always remain as high as they are and that they may come down. If the rate were raised to 8 per cent. it would mean that the £18 would be raised to £24 extra on the rent.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Yes, it would be plus rates. I suggest that this is a fair compromise, but if the question of English and Scottish rates is to be considered it must be considered in a different atmosphere from this Bill. There are enough anomalies already and the solution will have to come forward in a more comprehensive way. Incidentally, the party opposite was in power for a great many years and they never tackled the problem. If Members opposite have any solution to offer that is acceptable to all concerned, I am willing to have a look at it. This is again a question of imposing some settlement on one section with which the other section does not agree.
I have met landlords from Glasgow, and they have put before me the problem of maintaining houses at present rates. They have pointed out that about 30,000 houses are likely to become dilapidated and fall into the hands of Glasgow Corporation, when they will become a liability instead of an asset. I have no reason to doubt that that is what they foresee. I suggested to them that they should go to Glasgow Corporation and that the two sides should get the facts. I told them when they agreed upon the facts to come to me with them, and that then I should be prepared to see what would be the solution. I have also consulted Glasgow Corporation, but according to the Corporation, when they have met the landlords on previous occasions and there has been any question of the Corporation taking over any properties, the prices have miraculously gone up.
If the landlords want to come to some arrangement with Glasgow Corporation to solve their problems, they must approach the matter in a reasonable way. I shall certainly try on my part to use my influence to get the Corporation to approach the matter in a reasonable way. 2977 This is like the tied cottage problem, with the two sides not agreeing while the property is falling into decay. If these people get together the landlords must play their part and make a contribution towards a solution. There is no point in going to the Glasgow Corporation—I may be doing them an injustice—and demanding a price equivalent to a new house or capitalisation of the rent they have been receiving for 80 years.
§ Mr. Woodburn
After they have been drawing the rent for 80 years and are still drawing it. We want them to consider this problem reasonably. Under this Bill the corporation will have an opportunity to deal with a great deal of this property, and if they are prepared to take it over and if it can be modernised the landlord must get rid of his liability on reasonable terms. The terms must be reasonable and the corporation must accept them as being reasonable. The corporation will then find an economy. They will be able to maintain people in good houses, for whom they would otherwise have had to provide new houses.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison
Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember that a Committee was appointed in 1945 on the question of rating and presented a unanimous report?
§ Mr. Woodburn
With all respect to that Committee, the Report did not receive a unanimous acceptance. A great many people have to be consulted before what is in a report can be given legislative effect.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. and gallant Member means that it was a Committee comprising individuals from all parties. All individuals in all parties are not reasonable, but some individuals in all parties may be. Members of the Committee may be very reasonable when sitting round the table, but that does not mean that their report is acceptable when it is made, because all the prejudices of the past of landlords and local authorities then come out.
The progress of the work started by this Bill will take one or two forms. First 2978 of all, it is clear that the first step will be the sub-division of existing houses to form new houses. It will not be possible in the immediate future to join up houses and thus reduce the number of houses to form better ones. That will be the second stage. The third stage may be the conversion of non-residential buildings into residential buildings. But the progress will be gradual and will provide an opportunity for ingenuity on the part of people all over the country in ways which perhaps we do not see at the moment. It is wonderful how solutions are found to problems in our little towns and villages. They often find ways we do not see, and it is useful to give them this power to help themselves. I am a great believer in the Government giving help for people to help themselves.
There are a great many other parts of the Bill which it is impossible to discuss tonight, but during the Committee stage I am quite sure that many of the points raised tonight will be threshed out in greater detail, and it will not be because of lack of ingenuity on the part of hon. Members if we do not find solutions to the problems. The Bill then will not be less good than it is now, and if experience is any guide it may be better.
§ Mr. Rankin
Will the Minister say a word on the point I raised with regard to his powers under Defence Regulation 51?
§ Mr. Woodburn
Powers under this Defence Regulation still exist for the purpose for which it was made, but it is a different purpose from the purpose of this Bill. Powers under the Defence Regulations were always meant to be temporary powers for war purposes. The powers under this Bill are intended to be permanent, and to become part of the law of the land.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I have explained to the hon. Gentleman that the powers under the Defence Regulation will still exist when this Bill is passed. The powers in the Bill do not override the Defence Regulation, which will continue to be used for the purpose for which it was intended.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Colonel.J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
I want to make a few comments on this Bill because this is, as far as my constituency is concerned, an important occasion. The truest words spoken this evening have been those used in the last few minutes by the right hon. Gentleman when he answered some of the political prejudice poured out notably by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) and to a lesser degree the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin). It would help if this jobbing-back into the past and mutual recriminations were stopped, but I must make the comment that the right hon. Gentleman, in his remarks on this subject—while he was calling for a truce so to speak on political prejudice—could not forbear from joining in himself, so deeply has this prejudice entered even into him.
The right hon. Gentleman called attention to comparisons between the First World War and the Second World War. What must be learned is that the circumstances were completely different. There had been no, or virtually no bombing, and there had been houses empty at the beginning of the First World War waiting for occupants. At the beginning of the Second World War there was a waiting list for houses. At the beginning of the First World War there was nothing like the demand for houses that there was at the beginning of the Second World War. No political parties staked their reputation on housing, and all the circumstances occurring after the Second World War—
§ Colonel Hutchison
On the contrary; if that is the hon. Gentleman's point, in 1914 there were 17,000 empty houses in Glasgow.
§ Colonel Hutchison
I am talking of the city of Glasgow, to which the hon. Gentleman, with great temerity, as he does not represent a Glasgow constituency, referred. He went on to extremely thin ice in doing so and in holding up to obloquy the Government between the wars. The hon. Member for Tradeston said that in four years the Government had succeeded in building 8,000 houses in Glasgow. In 1929, in one year, private enterprise and the local authorities combined produced 6,300. I remember standing for the Glasgow Corporation in 1935, and my opponent promised that if the Socialist majority on the town council was continued in office, they would build 10,000 houses a year. They never did. From the day they got control of the Glasgow Corporation, and gradually cut off all private enterprise and went in for direct labour, the number of houses went down and down.
Today's shortage and the disgraceful housing conditions in Glasgow—because I do not join issue with hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on this matter—owe their origin to the blind dogma of the Socialists who controlled the City Corporation in the period immediately before the war. Those are facts, and if the hon. Gentleman studied them a little more closely, and came to Glasgow more often to see what happened, he would know them. But his political prejudice is such that he cannot listen to this subject in an objective way. I refer him to the Secretary of State.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that this 6 per cent. was carefully thought out and considered. I must accept what he says, but it looks to me as if this Bill were a classic example of what we complain of so much, of Scottish Bills being tacked on to English Bills like a dinghy to a yacht, and being dragged through stormy seas in which such a craft is quite unsuitable.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Perhaps the how and gallant Gentleman was not here at the beginning, when I pointed out that this Bill originated in Scottish conditions. When I have said that, I think he ought to accept it, and not repeat this slur on Scotland.
§ Colonel Hutchison
I said I accepted it, but that it had the appearance of someone in England having thought of 2981 this 6 per cent. and it being consequently incorporated in a Scottish Bill. If this 6 per cent. is fair in England it cannot be fair in Scotland, with the different rating conditions. It may be that the cure is not an alteration of the percentage. It may be—and here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—that the whole question which bedevils Scottish housing is the rating system, and the sooner that matter is tackled and put right the better.
Hon. Members on the other side were afraid that £90 million was to be spent on improving the property of private individuals. I am satisfied that, as the Bill stands, no money will be spent in that way. Hon. Friends of mine have shown that the effect in rural districts is likely to be negligible, because the system of tied houses is such that this Bill cannot have any effect. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok has shown conclusively that as regards urban housing it will be of less than no effect. One may say that the landlord classes should rise to a height of altruism and philanthropy which should prompt them to accept a grant on which they are going to lose money, so as to be able to do something of this kind. But I have been unlucky, because whenever I made the suggestion to hon. Members opposite that they should accept some houses free, and I have offered them a chance to do it themselves, they did not accept. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that pourparlers were going on with property-owners in Glasgow in an effort to reach some conclusion in what is really a desperate state of affairs, as the hon. Gentleman has himself admitted.
I want to make only one more observation, and it is an observation along a line which has not yet been touched upon. The crux and purpose of the Bill is to provide more accommodation. I will support any measure which will provide suitable accommodation in the quickest possible way. It must be realised that when you start to recondition or to repair houses, you must take away some labour and some materials from new house building. The question is whether you are going to get better results with one than with the other, or whether you are going to get the best results by combining the two operations. It seems to me that you have a different problem in different 2982 places. Where you are reconditioning houses, in the main you use more labour and less material. Where you are building new houses, you use more material and less labour. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the situation differs in different parts of Scotland. He has, for example, the problem of moving miners from Lanarkshire to Fife, where new houses will be required, and, perhaps, the situation in Glasgow, which has been outlined so vividly by a number of hon. Members, where reconditioning may well produce results more quickly.
But it is a curious commentary that in the Economic Survey for 1949, it is stated that the aim was to reduce the labour force for house building over the whole country by 164,000 individuals. In fact, they did not achieve that figure, and many of the manpower targets as shown in the Economic Surveys were not attained. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman has realised that it is intended to reduce the building labour force of the country. It may be that the Government will be more successful in achieving a reduction this year than it was last year. How is that going to affect his plan? I suggest that this Bill may do very little, unless a careful census and plan is made of where reconditioning can more fruitfully be applied, and where the best results will be obtained through the building of new houses.
The Bill is a "curate's egg" Bill. Parts of it are good, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) suggested. I, for my part, and I believe that we on this side of the House generally, welcome the intentions, but in many of the Clauses of the Bill the method has gone sadly astray. It is that method which we on this side of the House will have to try to improve, and to put right, during the Committee stage.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I believe that in the concluding part of his speech, the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) has touched upon the weakness of this Bill; but I believe that on the whole the Bill should be given a fair trial and a proper welcome, in so far as it makes a contribution to the solution of the housing shortage of Scotland. I believe it has now become universally accepted that 2983 the housing problem of Scotland is by far the greatest social problem of all. I do not think that the Secretary of State has answered the question about the labour force. I have raised this question before, and I should like to ask if labour is to be diverted from the building of houses to this process of patching up? Here I speak with some 20 years' experience on a small local authority facing the housing problem; and, over that period, I am glad to say, we succeeded in solving the problem in so far as we were able to rebuild 83 per cent. of the houses in that area. If World War Two had not occurred, we should have been able to solve the problem in that Scottish town.
Does the Secretary of State realise the supreme urgency of giving greater attention to mobilising the labour force, both for the houses required in the great cities, and for those needed in the countryside? Like all hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies, I get regular letters from constituents asking me to do something to get the houses so badly needed. These letters always seem to come in a shoal after some county council or town council has made its allocation of houses. I have collected a large batch of documents from constituents; and every letter represents a personal tragedy. They bear upon this Bill, and I should like to know how it is going to help solve the problem of these people It is only the building of houses on a very large scale that will solve it. The labour force which we have today is utterly inadequate for the gigantic task in front of it.
I have a letter from an old lady living in a village in Ayrshire, and she says:We are living in one apartment, not fit for a pig, and I should like you to raise the subject when you speak in Parliament. We are twenty years without accommodation. We have two sons, twelve years in the Services, and is it right that they should come home in April to, the likes of the conditions we live in?Here are two men coming home after giving the best part of their lives to their country to a house without water or any sanitary accommodation. What is to happen to that family under this Bill? One may patch up the houses, but in this case, where are we going to put the eight people? They are not miners, or agricultural workers, so that there is no 2984 special provision for them, and there is absolutely no hope for them under this Bill at all. I have another case from a country village. This is a constituent who says there are eight in the family, with a girl who is a nurse, two boys, a girl of twelve and one of three-and-a-half. This constituent says it is a sin to have them all in one room:We have to go to the farm for our water, and we have no sanitation. We have been in the house for 17 years, and my husband is a painter with Ayr Corporation.How are we going to solve the problem of these people under the Bill? You cannot patch up their houses because you must find some other accommodation for them.
I have a third case—that of people living in a tied house owned by the National Coal Board. From the village of Muirkirk, I received a pathetic letter from a miner, who said:There are three of us working, lying on the floor and there are people talking about us not getting a house. There are 10 of us in a single dwelling. There is no lavatory and no wash-house: in fact there is nothing here. I had the 'cruelty' man here to the children, because it was impossible to send them clean to school.These are human problems—not the problem of the grim town slum, but of the country slum, the small collection of insanitary houses in the countryside. It is just as serious a problem in its own way as the gigantic problem of the Gorbals. I want to know how this Bill meets that problem. I cannot see how patching up houses here and there will help us in the big, gigantic drive which we all think is necessary in Scotland at the present time.
I am seriously perturbed about the whole question of building labour. I can go round Ayrshire and see scheme after scheme slowing down and breaking down because we have not mobilised our building labour force. I do not see that this problem is being tackled as seriously as it should be. We have heard in this Debate about the 21,000 houses per year. There is an estimated shortage in, Scotland of between 400,000 and 450,000 or even 500,000 houses, so we are faced with the fact that at the rate of progress last year it will take another quarter of a century before we shall see Scotland decently housed.
2985 I want to see this problem tackled as a military operation because during the war, munition works and aerodromes were built in record time. I want to see the same drive, the same imagination and the same intensive purpose on the housing front as we showed in making the aerodromes and erecting the munition factories during the war.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not think that the right hon. Member for Woodford is particularly interested in housing. I have seen him in the big spectacular debates on battleships and bombers, but he never seems to show the slightest interest in housing. I am very doubtful if the right hon. Member has ever been in a municipal house in his life.
The Secretary of State for Scotland talked about a sort of reserve labour force at present engaged on repair work, but if it is to be transferred from this repair work to other repair work, it will not help us very much. The report of the Department of Health for Scotland for last year states that the shortage of joiners, plasterers and painters accounted for 640 out of the 957 labour vacancies on housing schemes at the end of the year. We start 1949 with a shortage of 640 joiners, plasterers and painters—all key workers. I can see, when this Bill comes on to the Statute Book, that in the small towns and the agricultural districts, where there is more of a property-owning complex, the Secretary of State will have to employ more officials to prevent the local builder taking his workers from housing schemes.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) lives at Mauchline and I live at Cumnock. We are at present faced with the fact that the biggest plasterer between Mauchline and Dumfries will not undertake to offer himself for any new housing schemes. That is the position today. Now this legislation is complicating what is necessary for the housing drive and I urge the Secretary of State to look very carefully at this power which is being given to the local authorities.
I want now to make some constructive suggestions. First, I want to stop the recruiting of workers from the building 2986 industry into the Forces. I believe that is absolutely essential. If hon. Gentlemen will follow this to its true logical conclusion they will support me in my claim that the plasterers, joiners, electricians and all the other skilled workers needed for the housing drive should be as exempt from military service as are agricultural workers and miners. In the House the other day I raised the question of the village blacksmith being exempt from military service, and after a little struggle I succeeded in getting him exempt on the ground that his work was necessary to agriculture. I am sure that the Ministry of Labour recognised the justice of that claim. Surely if the village blacksmith is to be exempt, it is logical to argue for the exemption of the joiners, plasterers, plumbers and other people who are essential if this work is to go on.
I believe that all people who have experience of the building trade should be brought out of the Forces and that the Minister of Works should be asked to release essential housing workers employed by his Department from the vast army of people engaged by it. It is a substantial army, because in reply to a question which I asked him on 4th April, the Minister of Works said that there were 27,500 building workers employed on works for the Service Departments, 4,100 were employed in building houses for the Services, and 362 of these were employed in Scotland. So I suggest that there is here a substantial margin for transferring building workers who have necessary technical experience.
Housing should have first priority. I ask the Secretary of State to make up his mind. There is a strong public opinion in Scotland determined that this housing problem must be tackled in a really urgent and realistic manner. After all, housing is a thing that remains. Large sums of money may be spent on bombers and a few years afterwards they are obsolete. We have heard different figures about the cost of houses during this Debate. At the present time the cost of one bomber is £300,000, the cost of about 200 houses.
The hon. Gentleman cannot go any further in that matter. He has made his point very cleverly.
§ Mr. Hughes
I want to follow the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentle- 2987 man the Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) who said that the Economic Survey suggested a reduction of the number of building workers in industry. The Secretary of State for Scotland should put his foot down in the Cabinet and say to the powerful Ministers there, the Service Ministers, that we must have priority number one in houses if we are ever to solve it. The Prime Minister visited Glasgow last week and said that Communism was being created by bad conditions. We have built 21,000 permanent houses in Scotland last year. But we need about 450,000. At the present rate it will take 20 years to solve the problem. If we leave this housing problem for another 20 years, we are going the surest way to create Communism and discontent in this country. I wish that hon. Members for Scottish constituencies would take the same attitude toward housing as Parnell took about Home Rule for Ireland, and get at the Government until they force them to realise the absolute necessity for a change in their policy.
We have tremendous headway to make up in Scotland. We have some of the foulest slums in the world. I have seen the slums of Moscow and New York. Those of Glasgow are worse than any. We have houses and hovels that are a shame to all. I believe this Bill will be a step in the right direction, but I hope that the Secretary of. State for Scotland will impress on the Ministry of Labour the need for mobilising more workers in the building force. It is only by mobilising the labour force in the country that we shall get the houses needed throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I am sure that all hon. Members admire the pertinacity of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in pushing his subject all the time, and hope that it will have some effect on the Government. We are all concerned with the urgent need for providing more houses in Scotland. It may be that there is something wrong in the psychological attitude toward the provision of houses: they are not going up quickly enough, but this is not the occasion to enlarge upon that subject. I am not certain that 2988 this Bill will alleviate or improve the psychological attitude toward housing in Scotland. We on this side welcome the release of all forces which can contribute to the housing drive in Scotland.
There are points in the Bill which, on the face of them, tend toward hastening a solution by allowing private individuals to come in, as a right, to participate in the building, rebuilding, conversion and improvement of houses. As the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) has pointed out, it is not certain that we are really getting to the roots of the matter. On 31st December, 1948—the date on which we had the last quarterly statement, three and a half years after the end of the war —some 35,000 permanent houses had been completed by local authorities. There were under construction at that time double that number. What was more, sites approved amounted to those for 273,000 houses.
This Bill puts into the hands of the local authorities all the licensing for improvements, and all the giving of grants for improvements, conversion and so forth. What likelihood is there that local authorities will give these facilities when they have this enormous amount of outstanding work of their own on their hands? The Under-Secretary—and I also should like to congratulate him on his first major appearance at the Box—really let the cat completely out of the bag because he admitted that in the initial stages they would have to be "rather selective." Those were his words. The hon. Member for Kelvin-grove (Mr. J. L. Williams) said that this was a long-term Bill and that we could not look for effects in the near future, but is that going to create the correct psychological atmosphere? People are going to be aware of their rights under the Bill. There will be long waiting lists at the local authorities of applicants ready to improve their houses, and that includes putting in water, sanitary arrangements, and all the rest.
On what basis can a local authority possibly decide priorities? The Secretary of State made a contribution to that when he said that the first step would be in subdivision of houses, secondly in joining up, and thirdly in conversion of non-residential buildings. He did not mention the 2989 question of general improvement. I take it that that would be going on all the time but it shows the great difficulty we are in, in this matter. I am not at all certain that this is going to work out very well. I am afraid that far from being "rather selective," the Bill is going to be highly selective.
The local authority is given power to make grants towards the improvement or conversion of houses, where the cost is not less than £100 and not more than £600, but we should know whether the Secretary of State has discretion to vary either figure either way. Then we find that the amount of the grant is entirely at the discretion of the local authority—it may not exceed one-half. Is one-half to be the maximum to be granted in every case or is it within the discretion of the authority to give what it thinks right and proper and discriminate between applicants? We may point to the discretion given in the Bill. The State is to contribute three-quarters of the grant given to the local authorities but this may also be reviewed. It may be scaled down to two-thirds so that the local authority itself is in a difficulty and does not know what its ultimate liability is going to be.
That is a psychological error in the Bill. I deplore these discretions. If one is to give a grant of one-half, it may be one-half or a grant "not exceeding" one-half. It is wrong to give a discretion and to allow a suspicion of favouritism and discrimination to come in. It will create an entirely wrong psychological attitude. I deplore this error in the Bill and I hope we shall have an opportunity to correct it in the Committee stage. So much on the general matter.
There are two further observations I have to make. Clause 21 deals with the supplementary grants of £5 per annum in respect of houses built of stone. I want to refer to this because it greatly concerns my part of the world. I was disappointed by what the Under-Secretary said because he gave a narrow interpretation of that Clause. It gives a grant in order to preserve the character of surroundings and he narrowed the surroundings more or less to gaps in the street and historical monuments. I think the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) referred to the necessity of using local material and having the materials required for the climate. Stone is the 2990 traditional building material in Scotland, although we have a few bricks in one corner of the country. I should have thought that the correct policy was to encourage the use of stone. What is the position regarding the committee set up to look into the question of the use of stone in Scotland? We seem to have waited a long time for its report. Was the report before the right hon. Gentleman when he reached the decision to put in a grant of £5 and limit it to this very narrow extent?
Hon. Members have referred to the tied house. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banff in this connection. He says that the North-East of Scotland is particularly affected, but I can tell him that other parts of the country are affected as well. Previous Bills have sought to benefit workers and agricultural workers, but in Clause 1 of this Bill we wash out the workers and in Clause 2 the agricultural workers. The Bill is supposed to confer advantages on everyone except the agricultural worker. It is a remarkable thing that within the last week we have had a threat of a strike of miners because someone who was not a miner was put into a miner's tied house, whereas here the Government are on strike, so to speak, by encouraging people who are not agricultural workers to be put into agricultural tied houses.
The right hon. Gentleman has said "let the two sides get together," but he knows the wide difference between the representative body of the farmers and the so-called representative body of the farm workers. Surely it is up to him to give a lead in the matter. It may be that along the lines of contract of service lies the solution; but somehow a solution must be reached. Suppose that what the Minister of Health has said takes place. He obviously wants houses to be untied so that the farmer and the agricultural worker may get the advantage of the grant. What happens in the event of the occupant of a cottage deciding to leave his occupation as an agricultural worker? If that happens, a certificate can be applied for to the Department of Agriculture, and if he does not leave, the matter goes to the sheriff. The trouble is the delay that ensues. On the one hand, the farmer must have someone to carry on the work and to live close by; and on the other hand, he does not know whether 2991 he will obtain possession of the cottage or have to build another. It should be possible to reduce that delay and even to abolish it altogether, which would be a step in the right direction.
One thing is quite certain, and that is that the solution to the tied cottage problem should not be attempted in a Bill of this kind. That is wholly wrong. Apart from that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence) has pointed out, the Government have in fact departed from their pledge to do something in the place of the Rural Workers' Housing Act of 1926. The right hon. Gentleman said that in that Act there was a grant of only one-third of the expenditure. This Bill substitutes, if it can be called substitution at all, a half on condition that the cottages are un-tied.
That is a wholly improper method of dealing with the matter, the more so because the effect of this action is psychologically wrong. It is going to cause friction between the farmer and his employee who will be demanding the improvements, whereas the farmer quite naturally will tend to hold off for a more reasonable solution. This to my mind is certainly not the way to increase the production of food for the people; it seems an unworthy method of dealing with it, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman should have followed the Minister of Health, at any rate in this matter. I am sure the Secretary of State will not claim that he initiated this. In this part at any rate he has followed the Minister of Health and not for the better. In conclusion I congratulate him on the very fair way he summed up tonight, and I hope that his followers will "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" what he has said.
§ Mr. Woodburn
With permission of the House, I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question about the use of stone in building. The difference in the cost of building in stone as distinct from brick is much less than would be given under this Bill. I am sorry that in his closing remarks he referred to this silly business of Scotland following England. I explained that I had met the representatives of the farm workers and they are adamant against any money being given on tied cottages in Scotland. He should accept that statement and not repeat the other.