§ Amendments made: In page 41, line 15, column 3, leave out "subsection (2)."
§ In page 41, line 20, column 3, leave out "subsection (6)," and insert "subsections (6) to (8)."
In page 41, line 23, column 3, at end, insert:
or to such persons as are mentioned in paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of the section."—[Mr. Woodburn.]
§ 12.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
We hope that this Bill will bring about the possibility of making some considerable improvements in the housing position, as the result of making use of good property which exists in Scotland and which could by re-adjustment, repair, and modernisation be made into quite good dwellings. I do not propose at this late hour to say anything more.
§ 12.31 a.m.
Even at this late hour, I think it is right that I should say a word or two before this Bill passes on to another place. I would say, to start with, that the intention of the Bill is excellent. I have no fault to find with the intention, but I doubt very much whether it will have the effect which the right hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members desire. I do not know whether we shall get that extra accommodation which we wish, and I will give the reasons why I think that result may come about.
It seems to me that, so far as the private owner is concerned, the grant is not sufficiently large to make the proposition an economic one for him. I produced certain figures in support of that contention during the Committee stage. These figures were questioned by the Lord Advocate and since the conclusion of the Committee stage, I have, through the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman, been able to discuss this matter with certain of his officials. The difference between the official view and my view is simply this, that I have 614 allowed for what I believe to be correct accountancy in that a sinking fund should be provided, and the official view is that no such sinking fund is necessary. So we have a complete difference of opinion, and the matter can only be resolved, I suppose, by consulting professional people on it.
The other difference is that where I took in for repairs, the figures which were given in the report of the Housing Advisory Committee—the MacTaggart Committee—by professional people as being the correct figures, the official view was that these were too high. As the result of making this adjustment, the official figures were put at a profit of 3.3 per cent., while my figures show a loss of £7 on the deal. Of course, if, officially, one is to disregard the evidence which has been given by people who are expert in these matters, one can bring out any figure one likes, but my firm conviction is that the grants which are given will not be sufficient to enable the ordinary owner of property to go in for these improvements which we all desire to see. That, I suggest, is all the more so if it is the intention, as I should hope it is, that tenement property might be improved under the terms of this Bill.
There is a great difficulty here. We are allowed, as the House knows, to increase the rent by 6 per cent. of the sum expended. When the additional rent which can be charged is considered, I think it will be found to be too high altogether. If, for example, one takes a rent of £12 a year for a country cottage and there is an expenditure of £600 on that cottage, then the owner will be enabled to increase the rent by another £18 a year, so that we shall have a total rent for a country cottage of £30 a year. That is too high and no owner of a rural property of that kind would ever expect to get such a rent for his cottage. There, again, I think we shall break down.
§ The Lord Advocate
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain how that position would have been improved if we had accepted the proposition of his hon. Friends to make the percentage not six but nine?
That is a very simple matter to explain because that would have come about in conjunction with a much larger share being borne by 615 the Exchequer than is provided at the present moment. At present 50 per cent. is provided. We are in a dilemma here. If we are going to give the tenants the conditions we desire, this will cost more than the owner can afford. On the other hand, the conditions of the grant allow for rent being charged which the tenants cannot afford. Therefore this Bill is not going to have the effect which we hope. I am afraid that nothing that has been said up to now in relation to this Bill has removed that fear from my mind. The only thing I object to about this Bill is that, as a result of some of these provisions, there may well be a charge upon people less well off than those who enjoy the advantages of the Bill.
We were promised at the very beginning of this Parliament that we were going to get something much better than the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, but after four years, something far less capable of improving the housing conditions of the people of Scotland has been produced. We can only regret that. I sincerely hope that the effects I anticipate may not come about, but I cannot see logically or reasonably how this Bill will improve the housing conditions of the people of Scotland. I think we have set up a facade. Our intentions were good but the means of bringing these intentions into being are simply not to be found in this Bill.
That apart, there is one other thing I would say, and that is to express the very great regret which all of us on this side of the House feel in that there is no provision for seeing that the tied cottage or the service cottage can be put in a reasonable state for the people who do so much for us on the land and who deserve the very first consideration.
§ 12.39 a.m.
I wish to associate myself with what the Secretary of State said in moving the Third Reading. I join with him in hoping that the Bill will do something towards the better housing of the people of Scotland, but I very gravely doubt whether it will succeed in the objectives which it sets out to achieve. I find myself in the difficulty tonight of not being able either to condemn or approve the Bill, and I must damn this Bill with a measure of faint praise. My hon. and gallant Friend 616 the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), in the earlier part of his speech, went into some details—not many—with regard to the financial provisions of the Bill. I do not propose to follow him in that, but only wish to say a few words about how the Measure, if it secures its passage through the House and through another place, may operate or fail to operate so far as the agricultural community in Scotland is concerned. I am sorry that political prejudice—it is not too strong a phrase—has prevented His Majesty's Government from doing something really big in the Bill for the better housing of the people in rural Scotland. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) should treat that remark of mine with such hilarity.
§ Mr. Speaker
Gentle remarks addressed to someone over there do not reach me. I should like to hear what they are.
§ Mr. McKinlay
On a point of Order. I must protest. The hon. Gentleman cannot move me to tears, so I must smile.
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly at liberty to behave as you Mr. Speaker will allow him, but when I was interrupted I was regretting how the rural community will come off after the passage of this Bill through this House and another place, and the hon. Gentleman did not seem to receive this as one who knows something about rural Scotland should have done. The agricultural community in Scotland is penalised by comparison with the other sections of the Scottish community, and it is political prejudice on the part of His Majesty's Ministers which has moved them to do this. After all, the agricultural community is the biggest industry in Scotland if not in Great Britain. According to the figures, the agricultural community bulks larger in Scotland than it does south of the Tweed. I see that the Lord Advocate shakes his head.
I am so glad to hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman despairs of his own party, and that I have elicited from a prominent member of His Majesty's Administration that, so far as Scotland is concerned, he despairs of the way in which rural housing has been dealt with. If we have done nothing else tonight we have been successful in drawing that simple confession from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We are being told so often in this House and in the country—indeed His Majesty's Ministers are making it a pre-election campaign—that the Government have done so much planning: they may have done something on paper for agricultural communities, but they have completely failed to produce any practical plan, and when they read the Clause in this Bill relative to housing grants they will see that what I am saying is completely true. If they had wished to do something for the housing of the rural community and, thereby, for the security of agriculture in Scotland, they would have listened to our pleas in Standing Committee—I refer to that only in a passing word—on the question of tied cottages, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok referred tonight. But political prejudice prevented that and, as a consequence, this Bill leaves hon. Members on this side of the House in the same degree of despair about better housing for the rural community in Scotland as that to which the Lord Advocate has just confessed.
It may be said that I have only damned this Measure with faint praise, but I have done my best about it. I end by joining the Secretary of State in hoping that the Bill will do something for the people of Scotland, generally, although I realise that for agricultural workers little or nothing has been done. Even if anyone were prepared to divide upon the Third Reading, I should not be willing to vote against the Bill.
§ 12.46 a.m.
I feel something should be said from the back benches on the Government side in reply to the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie). I am glad that Clause 15, to which he takes such exception, has not been changed and that, instead of listening to the views of an hon. Member for an agricultural area, 618 my right hon. Friend has preferred to listen to the views of people who actually live in agricultural areas, who work in them and who have to live in the so-called tied cottages. They have continued Government policy in following the conclusions of the Committee on Rural Housing which said that it should be an aim to reduce tied houses to the minimum. I do not want to pursue that further.
I think the Bill will give local authorities some power to deal with what I think is one of the major problems confronting Scotland in housing. The first job, of course, is to build new houses. We must carry on with that and not reduce it because of the introduction of this Bill. The fact is that, no matter how many new houses we build in Scotland, even supposing we double the number, we shall be left with this hard core of 30 per cent. of the houses in Scotland which are sub-standard. I am convinced that local authorities, using the powers in the Bill, will be able to attack this problem and do something towards its solution.
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), I despair of getting the private property-owner to show the public spirit that would be necessary to apply the Bill in the same way, but I think people who are owner-occupiers will find this a useful Measure. That applies in particular to those poor people who have been gulled in the last year or so into buying property in tenements which are by no means up to modern standards. They find they have paid inflated prices but that they still need to bring the property up to standard. They will find this Measure beneficial. The Bill is a useful Measure which will help to improve the conditions of housing in Scotland.
§ 12.49 a.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I should not like the House to think me discourteous. I should like to thank hon. Members for the co-operation they have given. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) said the Bill was worth nothing. I cannot understand why he got so excited about nothing being applied to rural workers' cottages. If it is worth nothing, why should he be worried about these cottages not being included? The Bill will benefit local authorities, owner-occupiers and others. 619 The proof of the pudding will be in the eating of it, and we shall have to wait and see what can be done under the Bill. I thank hon. Members for their co-operation.