§ Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Pryde
Year by year the problem of providing food for our people becomes more intense, and we must make the employment conditions in the agricultural industry as attractive as possible. I contend that we shall not in Scotland attract people to the land if we force them into tied cottages. Only quite recently, by Question and answer, I elicited from the Joint Under-Secretary of State that in my own constituency local authorities were building sufficient cottages for agricultural workers to remove all fear and apprehension. It has been demonstrated in this House in past years that every farm worker does not need to live near the farm. I am proud to say that in both Midlothian and Peebles we have seen to it that adequate accommodation is being provided for our agricultural workers.
The oldest farmer in my constituency, in Peeblesshire, did not wait for Government assistance. He himself built two fine cottages for his workers. His complaint against the Government is that he cannot get people to come and occupy those houses and work for him because he is in such an isolated part. The Government have withdrawn the train service there upon which agricultural workers depended, and the transport authority has not allowed sufficient licences for road transport.
§ Mr. Woodburn
On a point of order. Would it be in order for me to ask the Government Front Bench whether the attention of the Scottish Ministers has been drawn to the fact that the debate has recommenced?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
That is not a point of order. It is a comment which can be made.
§ Mr. Marples
Perhaps I might intervene only to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the previous business collapsed earlier than was anticipated.
§ Mr. Marples
It stopped earlier than was anticipated. We have sent for the Scottish Ministers. I am Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in England and Wales, and I shall make notes of the hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Mr. Pryde
I get every issue of the organ of the agricultural workers in England, and instead of looking at the front page first I always turn to the back page where I find each month the number of agricultural workers who have been evicted from agricultural cottages. We shall never by this means attract sufficient people to the land. In Scotland we have given a lead in providing agricultural cottages for our people. Surely it would be far better to spend money in this way rather than trying to patch up old worn out slums which have long outlived their usefulness, and which have no real drainage. It would take far more than money to recondition those houses than to build new ones. I ask the Secretary of State to listen to the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) and withdraw this Bill.
The problem does not seem so serious to the large cities. We in Scotland doff our caps to the great City of Glasgow, especially under Labour rule, which has tackled the question of housing in their area so adequately. We must always remember that at least two-fifths of Scotland's population is centred in the city of Glasgow. I regret that I cannot say the same about Edinburgh. Only recently when travelling south from Edinburgh I heard one of my constituents say to another "By Jove! Hasn't Edinburgh Corporation got a move on since Mr. Wheatley "—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East —" put them on the spot."
We in the counties always try to make every effort to work in accord with the Scottish Office. Our transfer scheme of providing houses in Midlothian for redundant miners from Lanarkshire is, I think, an illustration of the co-operation of the local authority with the Department of Health in Scotland. I appeal to the Scottish Office to try to take the local authorities with them in this respect, for by this means they will alleviate the problem of our local authorities under our rating system.
§ 7.59. p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
This evening we have heard much that has been wise and some that has been witty both on the subject of the Exchequer grant and many of the provisions which the Bill does and does not contain. Turning at once to the provisions in Clause 6 for the rehabilitation of damaged, decaying and rotten property, I cannot help commenting that there seems to be a lack of provision in the Bill for the re-conditioning of abandoned property. That problem seems to have been left un-tackled. Further than that, one would wish to see in a Bill of this kind some provision for the particular difficulties that arise in connection with the new towns.
There are in Scotland two new town corporations, one of which has proceeded a little way with the provision of new dwellings for needy inhabitants. The other, that is East Kilbride, has been in existence for something like five years, and many of the suggestions that have been made and many of the taunts that have been flung at my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland would apply as well to the East Kilbride Corporation as to anything which my right hon. Friend has proposed or has already promised.
I noticed, for example, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) described the figures used by my right hon. Friend as being a gross deception—[An HON. MEMBER: "Fraudulent."]—a fraudulent deception. We have been told of phoney figures and of figures even too phoney even to deceive. I propose to say that indeed these very phrases could be used appositely with regard to the East Kilbride Development Corporation, which exists in my constituency.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leigh)
On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman said that he proposed to give figures with regard to the East Kilbride Development Corporation. Is it in order to bring the East Kilbride Development Corporation into this Bill?
§ Mr. Maitland
I am not suggesting that I would bring in figures in direct relation 700 between the Bill and the Corporation, but I suggest that the Corporation has special problems which any Scottish Housing Bill is bound to encounter. I am in the hands of the House, and if this is ruled out of order, I will resume my seat, I am reminded that the new towns, of course, receive the subsidies and share in them.
May I suggest that this question of new towns is a wide and extensive problem, and, in the case of East Kilbride, is one that deserves the very closest scrutiny. This ill-fated, prematurely begotten, prematurely born, weakling child is a story of tragedy and disappointment. It was plainly designed to produce a new town of some 45,000 people, but at the end of five years, at the end of the expenditure of £1½ million of public money and after the Corporation has been paying out a wages bill of—
§ Mr. Marples
On a point of order. Is not it a fact that the Bill which the House is now discussing provides for the subsidy to be paid for both local authority houses as well as houses built in new towns?
I understood that the hon. Member was not discussing that. He was discussing the new towns corporation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I take it that my hon. Friend will be allowed to discuss houses that would be built, and that he is entitled to make references to the corporation so far as that is incidental to the main subject, which is the building of houses.
§ Mr. Maitland
As I understand the position, I am in order to refer to the actual construction of houses for which the East Kilbride Corporation is the responsible agent. May I have your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I am right?
The hon. Member is in order if he is dealing with houses which come within the provisions of this Bill, but if he is dealing with the new towns corporations that is a separate issue.
§ Mr. Maitland
Thank you for that Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I hope that my interpretation of it will meet with your approval and with that of the House. The houses are built by a local authority. There has been abundant reference this evening to local authorities. This particular local authority is the East Kilbride Development Corporation which is responsible. Since, however, the matter is one of contention, I shall be happy to leave to another occasion the unfolding of this tragic story of hopes deferred.
Let me mention one simple fact about the building of houses in East Kilbride. It was the intention of those who allowed the scheme for house building there that there should be accommodation for some 45,000 people. At the end of five years, there are in fact 389 tenancies. I have it in writing from the Chairman of the Corporation responsible that, although 389 tenancies have been let in this new town, only 33 of those have gone to rehousing of persons living in insanitary property, and another 43 are awaiting houses out of this 389. The story with which we are confronted is one of—
§ Mr. Woodburn
While it is very interesting to hear to whom the houses are let in East Kilbride, I take it that the Bill refers not to the letting of houses, which is a very wide subject, but to the financing of houses. I can understand the pertinence of the East Kilbride housing finances, but what I cannot understand is the question of the policy as to whether houses are let to people coming from insanitary property or people coming in to staff the industries in East Kilbride. That seems to be something outside the scope of this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Further to that point of order. Surely the Bill does deal definitely with the letting of houses to certain people. Strong adumbrations were made by hon. Members opposite against the letting of houses to certain people under certain conditions, the agricultural grants in particular. Hon. Members opposite indicated that they 702 would oppose that. I suggest that to separate the building of houses to let from letting houses—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not wish to quarrel. It was not a question of letting houses; it was the conditions under which people were to get the houses.
The Bill has to do with the provision of houses, and letting may be part of the provisions. In so far as that has to do with the provisions of the Bill, it is relevant to the Bill, but not otherwise.
§ Mr. Maitland
I do not want to waste the time of the House in erring substantially from the essential subject of this debate. There has been discussion already about the letting that should take place. We have had that from the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) in referring to agriculture.
§ Mr. Pryde
The question of housing in East Kilbride comes within the scope of another Act altogether, the New Towns Act.
§ Mr. Maitland
I thank the hon. Member opposite for his kindly, witty and agreeable intervention. We are, however, back on the point of providing houses, and I have a question I wish to put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland with regard to the building and provision of houses. I wish to ask him whether or not he is satisfied that this Bill is so drawn as to encourage the provision of more houses in the new town of East Kilbride where there has 703 been a lamentable failure to reach even declared targets.
I submit that there are many different causes for this lapse in the East Kilbride Development Corporation's activities. I should like to know, whilst naturally being willing to go forward loyally with the Secretary of State in the same Lobby, whether indeed the Bill will assist the promotion of house building in this case where completions are running at the rate of about 10 or 12 a month, very little more than last year, and where the housing curve is practically a straight line—
§ Mr. Maitland
It hardly appears at all. Apparently hon. Members opposite understand the allusion I was making. I should like to inquire whether the pledge which has been made in public by the Development Corporation to get 500 houses completed this year is in fact in sight of achievement, and whether the present pace of completion shows any sign of such an achievement being attained.
I should like to inquire whether the determined plan described to me by the general manager of that Corporation to build 800 houses this year is within sight of completion and whether this Bill will assist to that end. I should like to know whether the pledge described to me by the chairman of the Corporation that they would build 1,000 houses this year is within sight of completion and whether the Bill will assist to that end.
Without wishing to trespass unduly upon the patience of the House, or the humour of hon. Members opposite, or above all on your patience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should like to ask whether the Secretary of State has the whole fabric and organisation of house building at East Kilbride under his constant care and consideration. I have been patient in listening to a series of irrelevant interruptions, and I simply conclude—no doubt to the pleasure of the Opposition —with the observation that a Bill which makes no particular provision for the difficulties of a new town corporation may indeed prove to deserve some amendment on Committee stage; but nonetheless I shall, of course, support the Bill.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
During the course of my speech I wish to refer to some of the remarks of the Secretary of State. I hope that the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the devious paths of the East Kilbride housing problems, as I am not well aware of the problems of that area.
I wish to deal with a question posed by the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray). I was present during his speech, and it appeared to me that his main case, so far as saving in cost was concerned, revolved round the question of smaller rooms being provided in municipal houses. He gave the information that he was not sure whether he knew enough about the subject to say whether that was of any real value or not. In my opinion, as one who has had a fairly lengthy local authority experience, our problem in Scotland has been because we have had too many small rooms for far too long. Scotland has had far too many small houses and that has been one of the reasons for the extent of our problem. I hope that we are not to have accommodations arrived at in order to try to solve some aspects of our housing problem by further depreciation of our housing standards.
§ Major Anstruther-Gray
The point of my speech was to encourage experiment and research, not only in economy of space, but in economy of material, economy of method and standardisation. If we do not want to pay more in rent, rates or taxes, we must find economy in production.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am concerned at present only with the plea for smaller rooms, and I believe that in the ultimate that would cause greater expenses to Scotland in its health bill and its provision of health services. I am convinced that our bad record in tuberculosis and children's diseases can be attributable to the herding together in tenements and small rooms far too many of the people of Scotland.
§ Major Anstruther-Gray
That is attributable to overcrowding, too large a population in a room. What I want to 705 get is many more houses, so that although the rooms may be small, they will not be overcrowded.
§ Mr. Manuel
There is a limit to the number of people who can live in a small room or sleep in a small room. Of course, if the hon. and gallant Member is wanting many more small rooms and much larger houses—six or seven-apartment houses—I do not know the standards he is using. But since the Labour Government was elected there has been a material change in the health of the people. Our children need larger rooms because they are taller and heavier. We are rapidly getting to the position when the children of the working class will be somewhat similar in stature to the hon. and gallant Member. This change is borne out by statistics over the past seven years.
If there is research into design with a view to a more economical design, I am sure that we shall get such benefits as there are from scientific resources, rather than from reducing the size of the rooms in houses below the minimum standard laid down by responsible people in the Health Department. It is only in recent years that we have come anywhere near equality with England in the size of rooms. There have been many years of agitation for this equality and I should be most loath to see Scotland slipping back to the position that existed before the agitation commenced.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot rose—
§ Mr. Manuel
If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to finish this point, I will give way. He has held responsible positions in the past, including that of Minister of Health, and I am quite sure that he would not lend his support to any scheme for smaller rooms as indicated by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think he will find that generally England has smaller rooms but a greater number of them and Scotland has larger rooms but fewer of them. He should keep that in mind.
§ Mr. Manuel
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot ride away with that. He knows that 60 per cent. of the 706 houses in Scotland are only two-apartment houses, and those apartments do not compare in size with the rooms we find provided for the people in England.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not wish to go on interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I would say that his argument rather supports the one that I was making. No doubt he has heard of the big single end, into which everyone piled in a muddle. That was more conducive to overcrowding and particularly to the transmission of disease than was the case when there were smaller rooms and more of them, where segregation could take place.
§ Mr. Manuel
In reply to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, I would say that my experience of single rooms was that they were usually in the attic space of the house where there was a low ceiling, with the result that in a large area of the room a person could not stand upright. That is my experience of the single end about which he talks, and I do not think we should encourage that type of room at all.
I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian to consult with his own local authority members, and I am quite certain that they will not support his contention that we should have smaller rooms below the minimum standards laid down by the Department of Health in the Scottish Office. I am quite certain, too, that the Department would not allow local authorities to build such rooms and so deplete the standards reached after many years of struggle.
I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) back in his place, because he also introduced a rather contentious note. He tried to indicate, though not very succesfully, that during the period of the Labour Government no encouragment had been given to the local authorities because costs were rising and no additional subsidies were provided. His researches into this matter have not been very deep, because he has completely overlooked the impact of the equalisation grants on local authority finances. If houses were costing more and making a greater impact on the rates, then there was compensation for the local authorities through the increased grants which eased the burden of housing expenditure.
707 I was disturbed at one suggestion he made. He indicated—I do not want to deal too much with figures because they were extensively dealt with in his splendid speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes)—that the tenant of a council house—I take it he was dealing with a four-apartment house—was being aided to the extent of £56, and he spoke as if the tenant were the owner and were getting this £56 each year. That is completely wrong. It is the local authority which gets the help, and it is the people in the particular local authority area which owns the houses who collectively bear the burden and who collectively get the rents from them.
I am utterly opposed to the repeated attempts by certain hon. Members opposite to drive a wedge between the people in municipal houses and the people in privately-owned houses nearly all of whom want to get into municipal houses. We should remember that, if it were not for the added valuation created in local authority areas by the building of municipal houses, there would be an additional burden on the rates which have to be paid by the occupiers of privately-owned dwellings.
When one thinks of a city like Glasgow, or even of the smaller burghs of the country, like Ardrossan, one realises just what this extra valuation means to the rateable income of the local authorities. If such housing had not been undertaken, the bulk of the people in these places would be very much worse off. We should drop this idea of trying to put people in privately-owned houses against people in municipal houses.
I have gone into this question with meticulous care and I have discovered, when comparing the wage-earning classes in municipal houses with those in privately-owned houses, that the former are paying more in rates than people in the older type of houses simply because the people in that sort of a dwelling are not paying such a high rent. We are being driven into the position where local authorities are having to put more on to the rents of municipal houses so that the tenants are paying more than the occupants of privately-owned houses, who in many cases have far greater and much better amenities.
708 I wish to warn Tory-controlled authorities that if they continue this tendency much longer the county councils, acting on behalf of the small burghs so far as valuation is concerned, will be forced to reassess those areas and increase the valuation of these privately-owned houses. So if the authorities to which I have referred want to look after their friends in that respect, I would ask them to go easy with regard to the raising of rents.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that the purpose of building houses was to provide homes for the people, and in 1946 a basis, which was related to costs in those days, was found for a subsidy to be given to the local authority. The hon. Member himself has admitted that it is the local authority, the local community as a whole, that is creating and benefiting by these values. Surely that is not an argument for asking the State to subsidise without limit the creation of those values.
§ Mr. Manuel
I appreciate the point of that intervention but I am not satisfied, as I shall try to indicate, that the subsidy position is satisfactory so far as the local authorities are concerned.
I am convinced that if a local authority is confronted with the position of having to fix rents and arrive at a figure which they think is equitable according to the wages being earned in the district, they should not further aggravate that position by increasing rents, thereby keeping food and clothing from the children and the people who are going into the houses in order that they may be able to pay the rent. I am convinced that what extra sum is required should be obtained by means of the rates and be met in the aggregate by the whole burgh. That will be more equitable than putting that liability on those who live in municipal houses and raising their rents to such an extent that all those anomalies to which I have been referring will be caused in regard to the owners of private cottages. I wished to make that point in reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Dumfries.
I wish to deal with several points that were made by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I was rather intrigued by the fact that, in almost his first sentence, he said that during the first five months of 709 this year 10,000 houses have been completed in Scotland. That was the figure he gave, and I do not blame him for trying to take some of the credit for it, although there is no real credit in it for the present Government.
The right hon. Gentleman is following the example of the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, who at meetings and at Conservative Party rallies and on the wireless have used the same example and have asserted that the present Government, in the first five months or the first quarter of this year were doing much better than the Labour Government did in the same quarter of the previous year. We all know that this is a phoney argument.
We have heard this week of things that were said to be fraudulent, but really this is a most fraudulent statement because these 10,000 houses were all begun under the Labour Government and have only been completed since the present Government have been in office. Surely the Government are claiming no credit for that?
The houses were authorised and were allocated to the local authorities by the Labour Government, and the building of every one of these houses was commenced in the lifetime of the Labour Government. We know that it takes from 11 to 13 months to complete a house in Scotland, and we have as yet had no houses completed which have been authorisd by the present Government, and we shall be very fortunate if we get any this year. I hope that we shall hear no more of that claim—the claiming of credit for things with which the Government have had nothing to do.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
The right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) also mentioned this point in his speech. I did give a purely factual statement. I also gave the figures for 1949 and 1950, which were nearly 26,000. Obviously the figures for 1951 follow on, as do the completions in the first five months of 1952. I have stated nothing beyond the facts.
§ Mr. Manuel
I appreciate that point, but I am also quite well aware of the intention, because the right hon. Gentleman did say at the end of these remarks that that figure was 20 per cent. better 710 than the same quarter of the preceding year. Why did he say that if he was not drawing the distinction between the quarter in this year when his Government were in office and the quarter in 1951 when we were in power?
During previous discussions on the subsidy position we had great doubts whether there would be the fillip that the Secretary of State thought that there would be to people to buy their own houses. We had great discussions and heated words because of the increase in houses which could be built for sale. He informed us that of these 10,000 houses 9,804 were built for letting. This shows the very large number that were built for letting, and the very small proportion of the 10,000 built for sale. In total during the five months only 196 houses have been built for sale.
That is a complete repudiation of all that was said from the Government Front Bench in previous debates, because local authorities have shown quite clearly that they want none of this policy. They do not want to add to the houses for sale, and whether the Government are against it or not they mean to continue building houses to let.
§ Mr. Stuart
If the hon. Gentleman says that I was taking credit for the number of houses completed in the first five months of this year, he cannot pretend that the houses built for sale would have been completed by now, if we only altered the ratio so recently.
§ Mr. Manuel
No, the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong, of course, because did not Glasgow immediately agree to the sale of the Merrylee scheme comprising 622 houses? So every local authority had the opportunity to sell every house which became completed during the five months.
§ Mr. Stuart
They had the power to sell before. But I was talking about building more than selling. They had the power to sell the houses at Merrylee. They had the power to sell them, if they wished, under previous legislation.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I would remind hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that this is not the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Manuel
I will try to respect your Ruling, Sir; I am sorry if I strayed. So far as houses for sale are concerned, I will merely say that Glasgow did repudiate that policy completely from November of last year to May of this year. During that period there were only eight houses actually sold and occupied. Therefore, even with the decision of the local authority and with the subsidy available, there was no attempt by the people of Glasgow to take up these houses. The policy has now finally departed and the houses will go to the people who really need them.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am delighted. I have converted the Secretary of State for Scotland. He reiterates, "Now all is well," and we have arrived at complete agreement so far as Glasgow and its housing is concerned. I think, however, that the subsidies outlined in this Bill are completely inadequate to deal with the present position. I am certain that the tempo of municipal housebuilding in Scotland will slow up as time goes on. That is inevitable. The local authorities, especially the less progressive authorities, are getting into a position where they are afraid of the debit side of their housing revenue accounts.
Most of us are being consulted by the treasurers and town clerks of our burghs, who are asking us for help in trying to meet the position. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central adequately dealt with the subsidy position. He showed clearly that the subsidy outlined in this Bill will only meet the increased interest charge. I ask the Secretary of State to have another look at this position and also to consider the increased on-cost charges of labour and material. There is no indication that we shall have any substantial drop there.
If these tendencies continue, with the wage claims which are lodged and the increases in the price of materials, obviously the right hon. Gentleman will have to grapple again with this problem of subsidy. He will have to meet it in a more realistic fashion. I am convinced from what I have heard from local authority officials and members that they are most annoyed with the right hon. Gentleman. Scottish local authorities feel that the area 712 of disagreement between the Scottish Office, the right hon. Gentleman and themselves is too large. There must be some other method of trying to solve this question of subsidy.
The Scottish local authorities feel that the subsidies will fail to help them with their huge housing commitments. Most of them still have headaches over the problem of the large number of sub-tenancies and overcrowded and unfit houses which they have to replace. They consider that they are not getting sufficient help in this connection. There are many places in my constituency where these subsidies will give no real help. I am thinking of Dreghorn, Springside, Dalry, Irvine, Beith, Kilburnie and many other places where there are hundreds of old houses in old miners' rows which are rapidly falling into a state of complete dilapidation and becoming unfit for human habitation. The local authorities are at their wits' end.
Are people to continue living in these intolerable conditions? How long will the people stand for that way of life while the local authorities squabble with the right hon. Gentleman as to the amount of the subsidy to enable them to meet their commitments? This subsidy is too small. In some areas there seems to be a complete disregard of the domestic problems of house provision which the local authorities must meet.
There is the question of under-building. In some areas of Scotland that does not assume large proportions. I should imagine from what I have seen that the problem in Glasgow ought not to be of large dimensions compared with that in Greenock or other areas in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. There is the problem of subsidence in the mining areas, and the position is that some local authorities have to face this intense problem of added on-cost because of under-building, and they are not being helped in any way to meet that extra commitment.
If all local authorities had that commitment, there would be no unfairness in it, but when others have no under-building and no mining subsidence, such as the local authorities have in the areas which I have indicated, surely it is time that we took some cognisance of the added cost involve in those areas?
713 Glasgow has provided figures for a recent scheme which show that it costs them £154 per house for under-building. If it has cost Glasgow £154 per house, what is it costing the burgh of Greenock, which is building houses on the hillsides around and where there is no flat land on which to build? What about the local authorities in Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, and particularly in the mining areas of South Ayrshire, so ably represented by my hon. Friend, who could very adequately deal with this problem, because of the large amount of subsidence due to the huge quantity of coal which has been extracted in the area which he represents?
We have got to the stage that, taking all things into consideration, and remembering the added costs and dearer money, it is now time that we were setting up some independent committee of inquiry. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a definite question. Is he prepared to set up an independent committee to inquire into housing costs in Scotland—a committee that will arrive as a fair subsidy, taking into consideration the question of under-building, the added costs of materials and the dearer money policy of the Government?
The area of disagreement between the local authority associations and the Scottish Office has been so extended that we must now turn to some really independent committee of interested and competent people who are prepared to take a broad and fair view of the position and consider how best they can arrive at the successful re-housing of our people in Scotland, without delaying them any longer with the interminable squabbles between the local authorities and the Scottish Office on the amount of the subsidy.
I hope the Secretary of State will give favourable consideration to that suggestion, and, if possible, that he will recommend to the quarters where the decision lies that such a committee should be set up. I am quite sure that it would receive great favour in Scotland, and that the local authorities would be delighted to present their cases to such an impartial tribunal, which could then decide, on the facts, what is the best subsidy to be given for the further development of Scottish housing.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I apologise to the House, for I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but, in a discussion like this, it is very difficult for those of us who are vitally interested in this matter to refrain. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has broached a very interesting topic—not merely that of the adequacy of the subsidy, but of the conditions under which it is to be given. It might well be that this matter should be further inquired into, but I beg the hon. Member to remember that, when he appeals to Caesar, to Caesar he must go, and I do not think that either the local authorities or this House would willingly see these great matters taken entirely out of their hands. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, then, what is the use of a committee merely to inquire into this matter if, at the end of the day, we have to have it all over again here on the Floor of the House?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman talks of delay due to the squabbles and arguments which go on. I really think he will find that the very point he was making with some vigour against my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) is exactly one of the points into which such a committee would go.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Then, I suppose, he would draw the terms of reference with that excluded, as a consequence of which we would have an argument lasting the whole night regarding them. The question of lower costs must come in, and with it the question how best to utilise the materials that are available.
Let me comment, too, on the very paragraph dealing with this in the Report we are discussing. The hon. Gentleman sought to give my right hon. Friend what we in Scotland call a "flea in his lug" about the question as to whether he had really assumed credit for what he was not entitled to assume credit, namely, the improvement in building in the current year.
I am inclined to remember the great epigram of Field-Marshal Joffre when he 715 was asked who won the Battle of the Marne. He said, "I cannot tell you, Madam,"—for it was a lady who asked him—"but if it had been lost I can tell you who would have lost it." Although my right hon. Friend might not be entitled to the credit for the houses which have gone up, I am quite sure that if the figures had gone down he would have been blamed for it.
§ Mr. Manuel
I assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that I am certain his right hon. Friend would not have been blamed for it unless it could have been proved that his was the responsibility.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I would not place any limit to the ingenuity of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire on, so to speak, connecting those two things together. I am sure that if he had not done so, his right hon. Friends would have found their ingenuity equal to the task. But let me point out what the paragraph says. Giving an account of the reasons for the slow up in the previous year, it says quite clearly:At the end of 1951, however, there were reasonable prospects of an improvement in housing output. Some 40,000 houses were under construction, the labour force on new housing had increased, and plans were being developed for making materials go further by the building of a larger proportion of smaller houses and by the use of more economical designs. The Government had also announced their intention of expanding the country's housing programme as rapidly as circumstances allowed, although in the prevailing economic circumstances it was not possible to estimate precisely the rate or the scale of the expansion.I think this indicated that a favourable climate for house building had arisen under the present Government, and I will say that if an unfavourable one had arisen, none would have been more willing to draw attention to it than hon. Members opposite. The building of a larger proportion of smaller houses and the use of more economical designs must certainly come in. I find a certain sense of unreality in a discussion such as this when I, like the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, always keep remembering the people who are living, as he mentioned, in dwellings such as the worn out miners rows which I knew well when I had the honour to represent the division of Lanark and which is now so ably represented by my hon. Friend.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Yes, I have been around, and I have had my ups and downs. I do not complain about life. Once I was returned by a majority of 18,000 and once by a majority of two. I have also known defeat. All these things go to make up a Parliamentary career. For all my life I have, at any rate, been closely connected with the industrial Clydeside, and for 20 years or more with the worst housed parts of Clydeside. Everybody knows the conditions under which these people live.
I feel that some of the schemes which have been developed for people in much better circumstances really seem to ignore the existence still of these festering slums in which health and even decency is almost unattainable. A certain review of the housing position with a view to concentrating first upon cleaning out these areas would be a very valuable thing indeed. But much more will come from discussion in this House and the cut and thrust of debate than would come from the rather academic inquiries of any committee however distinguished. I would sooner see greater numbers of new houses even with smaller rooms and lower ceilings and many of the things which have been so animadverted against so bitterly. I remember the time when ceilings were lowered from 8 ft. 6 in. to 7 ft. 6 in. Very few of my constituents are over 7 ft. 6 in. in height—
§ Mr. Manuel
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman saying that the roof should only just clear one's head? I want him to recognise that when I spoke of a committee of inquiry it was only because I prefaced that remark by indicating that there was an area of disagreement between the local authority association and the Scottish Office which had now become wide, and the rift was so deep that we needed to try and bridge it somehow.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not deny that at all. This is a process, if not of bridging a rift, at least of measuring and plumbing it, which is the first thing one does before erecting a bridge. A height of 7 ft. 6 in. gives a reasonable clearance even if we go to bed with our hats on, which is generally regarded in Scotland as a sign of a very lively evening.
The difficulty before us is that we have two problems in Scotland—to tackle the housing of the people in general and to 717 clean out the slums, and they are almost two separate problems. The worse problem now is the slums. There are still in our country conditions of which we must all be heartily ashamed. All of us who go down at weekends to take our "surgeries" must be heart-broken by the problems presented to us by people often willing to pay higher rents—because nowadays, very often a good deal of money comes to these homes—but who are totally unable to secure decent houses.
I rejoice in the greater number of houses which the present figures show. I would glory in a greater number; and if one could secure a greater number even by providing smaller rooms, but a greater number of them, I certainly would be prepared to trade that against the continuance of the horrible conditions with which we are so familiar in the areas with which we are best acquainted.
A close examination of the technical problems, such as that of under-building, subsidence, and more particularly of modern higher building is desirable and necessary. My friends in the high altitudes of the ultra-housing circles say they do not want high buildings. They say that flats are a very expensive form of housing and that tall buildings are really a mistake. But many people on Clydeside want to live near their jobs.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
There is great need of lifts in these taller buildings. A great many old people say that they want a room on the ground floor, but there are not enough ground floors to go round. When winter comes these old people living two or three stories up in the old tenements are almost imprisoned in these places where there are no lifts. There are people with rheumatism and bad hearts who have difficulty in walking who have to climb up and down stairs in Glasgow, and to them any modern building with a lift that could take them up and down would be a release from prison. That would also apply to many of the mothers with young children, to whom dragging their families up to the top of these old tall buildings is a perfect nightmare.
I do wish that in our examination of this subsidy it were possible to connect the problems a little more closely with individual requirements. The danger is 718 that that would mean delay, and the first necessity is for speed. To make too meticulous an examination of the circumstances of each particular local authority or of the areas within each local authority could very easily defeat the object which we have most in mind, namely, the speeding up of house building. Undoubtedly the granting to local authorities of a sum with which they have to work as best they can is the quickest way of handling the problem.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire seemed to me to adopt a dangerous line of argument. He seemed to suggest that these new houses were so profitable to local authorities that the more they could get built the better it would be. I thought that he very nearly gave away the case which he was trying to make. The whole story he was trying to make was that more subsidy was needed, but his whole argument was that new houses were such a good thing that his burgh of Ardrossan would have been very badly off if it had not had these 1.000 new houses.
§ Mr. Manuel
The point I was trying to make was that it would have been worse off than it is at present under this Government. There are commitments which apply to a small burgh which are different from those of a large burgh. I say that their increased borrowing power, because of the added valuation given by municipal housing, is good compensation. But it has nothing to do with the subsidy position as such.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I have the honour to be a Freeman of the Burgh of Lanark, which is a small burgh if ever there was one. I do not wish to be led away into that argument.
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of order. Quite frankly I must appeal to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I think that some of us are beginning to feel in the road here. Is the debate a private one or is it open to other hon. Members?
I would remind the House that we are on Second Reading, and that here has been a good deal of interruption.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I have never known the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) to be backward in coming forward when he wanted to express his views and opinions to the House. I only say that I think the argument which the 719 hon. Member for Central Ayrshire brought up was certainly not a private one. It was the very core and essence of our problem. I do not wish to interrupt the conversation which the hon. Member for Tradeston is carrying on at the moment; but he complained rather bitterly that a private debate was going on. I would point out that our debate was under the auspices of Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the debate of the hon. Member for Tradeston with his friends is going on entirely without any rules of order.
We are trying to examine the question (a) whether the subsidy is adequate and (b) whether all possible conditions to diminish the burden upon the tenant—who is the final person about whom we are worried—are being adequately explored. One of the points which have been repeatedly brought up is that a lower cost of the houses would be very desirable if one could bring it about. If we are to have a lower cost of housing we must examine boldly whether there are any economies in the use of materials which can bring that about.
I do not think that is a private debate. I think it is the very essence of the great discussion which is taking place. I wished to follow up the very interesting argument which was opened up by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. I do not think that the tenant, at the moment, can demand a higher subsidy from the taxpayer than is allowed for by the figures which have just been given. But I do say—and I think we all recognise it—that the burden falling upon local authorities and tenants at the present time is very severe. We must take every possible step to examine how it can be reduced.
I think the Bill should certainly obtain a Second Reading, as I am sure it will, and without a Division; but I do not see that it solves or goes near to solving the problem of housing in Scotland. It may well be that the line along which we are going will lead to very great difficulties. It behoves us all, therefore, to bend our minds continually towards solving the real problem—and that is the burdens upon the taxpayer and the ratepayer and the tenant. Those burdens have increased, are increasing and ought to be diminished, to use an old Parliamentary 720 phrase. Until we can find some way to do that, we have not solved the problem which the people of Scotland sent us here to solve.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I intervene in the debate for a very brief period and I hope that in doing so I shall not break with precedent. I feel that the attention of the House ought to be directed to one important essential in the provision of housing, which I take to be the purpose of the Measure before us, and that is the shortage of cement.
The intention of the Bill is to make the way of the local authorities easier from the financial point of view, and I do not in any way intend to depreciate the need` for dealing with the financial burden which rests upon the shoulders of our local authorities. But I know that the whole House will agree that the housing problem will not be solved merely by the provision of money. Houses cannot be built with £ notes. We want cement, we want timber, we want bricks and all the other essentials needed for the erection of the houses.
It is because cement is now in short supply that I want to ask the Secretary of State to face the problem which that shortage has created. On 10th June I raised this question with the Minister of Works and asked him if he could assure us that sufficient supplies of cement were available for all works in progress. He replied to me that he was satisfied that the general arrangements for the production and distribution of cement were adequate, but he went on to say thatwhen cement has to brought a long way local shortages are liable to occur.He pointed out thatexceptionally heavy demands recently in Scotland for defence and other purposeshad helped to create this shortage, although supplies were much greater than they were last year. Yet they have not been sufficient. He then assured me thaturgent steps are being taken to increase the supply still further."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June, 1952; Vol. 502, c. 7.]In today's "Glasgow Herald" I was able to read some of the results of the urgent steps which the Minister of Works assured me on 10th June were being taken, because yesterday the convenor of the housing committee in Glasgow Corporation complained of the continued 721 shortage of cement for housing in Scotland. I am not seeking to make any party capital out of this, because his predecessor, the convenor in the Tory local authority which preceded the present Labour majority in the city, supported Councillor J. R. Duncan in this protest which he made about the way in which Glasgow Corporation was being held up in its house building by the lack of cement. But Councillor Macpherson Raitt took a further step. He said that successive Governments appeared to be satisfied if the Home Counties were supplied, and Glasgow had been compelled to bring cement from London by road at a much inflated cost, and the position, said the former convenor—that is, Councillor Macpherson Raitt—is thatthere is a glut of cement in London and shortage in Scotland.The reason evidently which is supplied to the Corporation for this shortage is that there is a lack of shipping but surely it seems totally insufficient that we should say cement cannot be brought from London and the Home Counties, where there is a glut, to Scotland, where there is a shortage, simply because there is a lack of shipping. If that be true, what is wrong with using our railways for that purpose? Perhaps, that is a matter into which the Secretary of State for Scotland may be able to look, along with the Minister of Works.
But I think the House has got to probe this matter a little further, and ask, apart from the question of transport, why there should be a glut of cement in London and a shortage in Scotland. That prompts me to look at the agency for the distribution of cement, and to look also at the terms under which this agency operates. So far as I understand the position, the agency for the distribution of cement in this country is the Cement Marketing Board. It is representative almost wholly of the large contractors in cement, and this strange position exists in the distribution of cement that the large monopoly contractors are given a rebate of 1s. 100.½d if they are contractors for more than 1,000 tons of cement per year, but the small dealer is given no incentive whatsoever.
As an illustration of how that works out, let me quote what happens with the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. I am using this merely as an illustration. The largest consumer of cement in 722 Scotland is the Hydro-Electric Board. It consumes 100,000 tons of cement in a year, but it cannot be its own contractor. It has got to give out supply to private contractors who get 1s. 10½d. rebate for every ton delivered to the Hydro-Electric Board, and that costs the Board £10,000 per year.
There is obviously money in that, and I do think that the method, the agency, and the terms under which it operates for the distribution of cement are things that ought to be inquired into, because obviously if it carries on on those remunerative terms, then it is going to be easier, more profitable, for it to work in London, where we have an immense population in the City and its environs of nearly 10 million people, twice the population of the whole of Scotland. Methods of distribution are easier; there is quicker profit; there is more advantage to the monopoly who are engaged in the distribution of this cement that we require in Scotland for the provision of those houses which, we are all agreed, we should have today. I submit that that is something the Secretary of State ought to examine, and I hope that he will take up this matter.
I assume, I think correctly, that he is anxious to speed up the production of houses in Scotland. I am sure there is no difference between us about that. But if he wants to do that he must see, not merely that the financial path of the local authorities is made easy, but that the materials essential for turning that money into houses are made more accessible than they are at present.
We are told by those engaged in the work that the cement is there but that it is located in only one part of the country. I suggest that the method by which that cement is distributed is a bar to its fair allocation throughout the country, and I hope the Secretary of State will take up this matter with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Works and see that Scotland gets her fair share of the cement so that she can undertake the housing programme she needs.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)
I apologise that I was unable to sit through the whole of this debate. I was here to listen to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and that of the right hon. 723 Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil). I then had to attend a Select Committee upstairs so that I missed a great many speeches which I should like to have heard. I shall not be long, and if I am repetitive, for the reasons I have given, I hope I may be regarded as someone who merely wants to underline one or two points which have already been made.
The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) gave the impression—I am sure erroneously—that the Cement Marketing Board was a monopoly. It is not a monopoly. The Cement Marketing Board is merely the distributing agent for Associated Portland Cement. As he well knows, the cement we see in Scotland is not produced in Scotland. It is produced in the South of England, where there is a great quantity of chalk. It is merely a natural feature of the geography of our land that the chalk happens to be chiefly in Kent and other places like that, where many companies are competing in the production of cement, which is then sent by sea up the East Coast to Grangemouth and Leith, and further north to Aberdeen, where it is distributed to meet our needs for housing and defence works.
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in saying that there was a serious shortage of cement earlier this year, and I do not think we can altogether exempt Scottish contractors from some share of the blame in not stocking up, although I understand that they were urged to do so by the Minister of Works. My information is that they were overtaken by a sudden and unexpected demand for defence purposes and found themselves short of cement early in the season. The position had to be put right by the Minister of Works, who actually imported a quantity of cement from Belgium to Scotland to rectify the position.
§ Mr. Rankin
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the position is now rectified in the face of the words uttered yesterday, not merely by the convenor of the Glasgow Housing Corporation, but by his predecessor in that office, who said that the shortage of cement for housing purposes not merely in Glasgow but in Scotland as a whole still exists?
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I do not deny that. But I understand that imports from Belgium and other countries overseas have now stopped, that the position is rapidly improving, and that by the end of this month the supply should have caught up with the demand.
I rose to make two points, and I shall make them, as I promised, as briefly as I can. The first one is to express my thanks, as I have no doubt many other of my hon. Friends have expressed theirs, for the fact that Her Majesty's Government have been able to include in this Bill the reconstitution of the old housing rural workers' grants. It is a great thing for the country districts of Scotland that once again we are able to get grants for the improvement of cottages occupied by agricultural workers—these grants which to the great regret of many of us, and no less to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who told us so in his opening speech, were so foolishly and so irresponsibly withdrawn by the Labour Party when the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts were allowed to lapse in the early days of the Parliament of 1945.
The whole country, I think, is now agreed broadly upon the need to give every possible assistance to our home agriculture, and to do all that we can to make it possible for our farmers to produce as much as they can from our own soil. I cannot believe that there is any real division of opinion in the country as to the desirability of ensuring that everyone in the country has a decent house, no matter what his terms of employment or his conditions of service.
I remember very well that the Hobhouse Committee in 1947—I think, in their Fourth Report—said that they considered that as long as tied cottages existed they should have the same standards and amenities as other cottages. That is a view to which, I think, all of us on this side of the House will most warmly and heartily subscribe. I have in my hand a copy of the old scheme of assistance under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926.
I believe from conversations I have had with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) that he has already brought this point to the attention of the House—that under the old Act the condition for giving the grant 725 was that the houses which were to be improved must be for the occupation of agricultural workers,or by persons whose economic condition is substantially the same as that of such workers.I am sorry that it has not been possible to put words of that import into this Bill. Important as it is that we should help farm workers, I am sure that it is desirable that we should do what we can to provide decent housing conditions for people in similar economic conditions—forestry workers, estate workers and so on.
That is the first point I want to make, the desirability, if possible, of slightly enlarging the eligibility for receiving an improvement grant by approved people of substantially the same economic circumstances as farm workers. The second point I wish to emphasise is that there should be some increase in the £600 limit for improvement grants. That £600 limit was laid down in Section 111, subsection (4), of the 1950 Act, the principal Act. There it was stated that the maximum expenditure which will be considered for improvement purposes is £600. The grant was not to exceed 50 per cent. of that amount.
That amount of £600 was not fixed for the first time in the 1950 Act. It was fixed in the 1949 Act and since 1949—as can hardly be disputed—there has been a very considerable increase in building costs. If £600 was the right amount in 1949, it surely cannot be adequate in 1952. It is true that the Department has power under subsection (4) of Section 111 of the 1950 Act to increase that amount of £600 if the consent of the Secretary of State is first obtained. The grounds on which the Secretary of State gives consent to an increase over £600 are where the costs have been unusually high for one of two reasons, or perhaps for a combination of both.
The first reason is where there has been an attempt, or is to be an attempt, to preserve certain architectural features in the building to be improved and for that reason the cost of the work is greater than it would be if it were just a utilitarian attempt to improve an unattractive cottage. The second reason is where there are specially high local building costs because of the distance from quarries, brickworks, or anything of that 726 nature and where the property is in an isolated position.
Apart from these two special circumstances, the Secretary of State does not give consent to any expenditure in excess of £600. One can understand his reasons. One can understand that he is naturally anxious at the present time of shortages of labour and shortages of materials not to make more demands on that limited supply of building labour and materials than is absolutely necessary. But recently the Department, in my view quite rightly, increased the amount in respect of which local authorities may issue licences for repairs and maintenance. Having done that, one would think it quite reasonable to grant some extension of the amount by which that £600 can be exceeded.
The real mischief is the ludicrous, absurd and fatuous situation that if the work exceeds £600, even by £2 or £3, it is ruled out altogether from grant. Unless there are special circumstances which I have outlined, such as unusually high building costs or a desire to preserve special architectural features, if the work of improvement is estimated to cost £605 or £610 no grant can be given. One would think that the proper thing would be to allow the first £600 to be eligible for grant and if the work is going to cost £700 to allow a 50 per cent. grant on the first £600.
I apologise that I was unable to be here throughout the entire debate, and I am sure that much of what I have said has been said before. However, I believe it to be right, and I would be glad if my right hon. Friend will hear us on these points in Committee, and that when he hears us he will be sympathetic and meet the points we have tried to make.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Hubbard (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
Unlike the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), I have sat here throughout the whole of this debate, but like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), I had made up my mind not to take part in the debate, athough it is very difficult to remain in one's seat during a housing debate, particularly on Second Reading. We are all very keenly anxious about houses. I have listened to many housing debates during the short period I have been a Member of this House.
727 As one would expect, there are points of difference between Members on the other side and on this side, though not on the main question of the provision of houses. It is a very bad thing indeed that the housing of the people of this country should be thrown into the political arena. That is something nobody wants. We all have different ideas on the subject, but at no time have I ever accused any hon. Member opposite of wanting to restrict the building of houses, nor am I going to do so now.
There is one thing I should like to say now, however, and that is that during the eight and a half years I have been in this House, this is the first time that I have seen a Measure on housing coming before the House where there has been such a lack of agreement with the local authorities. We must all regret it, because while we may debate this subject of housing and score debating points one against the other, at the end of the day, although we have got to provide the Measures that make house building possible, we have got to depend upon local authorities to erect the houses and we require the utmost co-operation from them.
As I say, it must be a matter of real regret even to the Secretary of State that we cannot get the agreement on this Measure that is essential for full co-operation with the local authorities so that the people requiring houses may get them. What are the grounds of disagreement? First of all, there is the question of the amount of the subsidy. Obviously, rates throughout Scotland and south of the border vary and an average must be struck. Local authorities contend that £33 is a fair rate, whereas the Secretary of State fixes a figure which is much higher in arriving at what he considers is a reasonable subsidy. In so doing I think he injures himself, the Government of which he is a member and the people who need houses. Obviously the more it is to cost a local authority to build houses the higher the rent will be.
The Government are today asking people—and I do not quarrel with this—to refrain from or to restrict demands for increases in wages and incomes. At the same time the cost of living is, for many reasons, going up, and the portion of income that the ordinary wage earner—and there are many low wage earners 728 in Scotland—has to pay in rent makes his position extremely difficult when at the same time rent is increasing. Clause 7 of the Bill makes provision for doubling the amount of money to be paid by the local authority into the repairs fund. That also has a tendency to increase rents. Those two things are happening together.
Houses have to be built for people who need them at a rent they can afford to pay. There seems to be no sense in fixing a subsidy and making arrangements for the building of houses if people whose need is greatest are to be precluded from taking those houses because of the fear that they will be unable to afford the rent.
I am one of those who think that the rent for a good house is a charge which any sensible person would be willing to meet. A good house is essential for the welfare of the people themselves and their children and for the health of all the family. There comes a point, however, when a person who may have been waiting for years for a house, and who has in mind the increase from year to year in the rents of houses, is in a dilemma when he reaches the position when his turn for a house comes.
The subsidies provided in this Bill will make it possible for the building of houses to continue, but such a person as I have mentioned may be confronted with the problem, "I can have a house but how can I, with a wage of about £5 a week, afford the rent of £42 which has been suggested? That will take far too large a slice of my income." That will defeat the whole purpose for which the Bill is before the House. Therefore, I hope that we shall be able to overcome the difficulties that exist at the moment between the local authorities and the Secretary of State.
I wish to be brief, because I know that the hour is getting late and that there is other business to come before the House; and as I said at the beginning of my remarks, I had not intended to intervene in the debate. There is, however, a further point I wish to make relating to Clause 7, in which provision is made for the doubling of the amount of money that is to be set aside by local authorities for the repairs fund—an increase from £4 to £8.
729 The higher subsidy to be paid to the local authorities for the building of houses is to be effective for all houses completed after February this year, which is not unreasonable. But the £8 instead of the £4, which is in that part of the subsidy that might be called the local authority subsidy, applies to all the houses that have been built by the local authority under all the Housing Acts. That means bearing on the rates a local subsidy extending back over a very long period, while at the same time the higher subsidy to be paid by the Government only applies as from February this year.
This provision may be necessary, because it is essential that when a house has been built it should be kept in good repair. It would be madness if a local authority allowed the repairs fund to get too low. Some provision is necessary to ensure that local authorities have a repairs fund sufficiently large to keep their houses in good repair. Many local authorities are not in that position, however.
It may be necessary to provide the Bill for a figure of £8, but we want a definite assurance in respect of local authorities who have no worries about their repairs fund. I am thinking of my own constituency, which at the moment has a surplus of about £40,000 in the repairs fund, and who at no time—although it may be different in the future if the rate for repairs per house is exceeded—ought to be called upon by Clause 7 of this Bill to pay £8 instead of £4. That, in fact, means that a town like Kirkcaldy, which has a surplus in the housing repairs fund, has to pay nearly £19,000 a year; which is an additional charge on people already faced with higher costs for food and so on.
I do not think that is the intention of the Minister. I know he has powers under previous Acts not to insist on this charge of £8 being imposed, but I want it made clear that there will be no compulsion upon local authorities, who do not require to increase their repair fund or to double it from £4 to £8, by the passing of this Bill. I do not think there will be, but I want a definite assurance that such a guarantee will be given to local authorities.
I hope that as a result of this Measure we shall continue building houses, and 730 that we shall have an even closer relationship with the local authorities charged with the responsibility of putting into effect the legislation which we pass in this House; and that the Secretary of State for Scotland will keep in mind the need for strict control over the provision of these houses so that they will not be let at a figure which will make them prohibitive to even the lowest paid wage earner. Then, whatever may be our views on other matters, so far as the housing of the people of Scotland is concerned we shall move along as we have done in the past, and make the best of the various Statutes placed on the Statute Book.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
We have heard an interesting debate and one which has been slightly less controversial than is usual with Scottish debates.
Before I make any comment, I think I should extend our congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) on what was, in effect, his maiden speech. We look upon Whips in this House as strong silent men. While outside the Chamber we all know that they are capable of speaking; inside the House there has never been much evidence of it. But today we have had an example that when a Whip does decide to make a contribution to our debates he can make an effective one. I think most hon. Members will agree that my hon. Friend did it in a charming way. He proved that he had thought out his subject carefully, and he presented it to the House in an agreeable way. I am quite sure we can genuinely look forward to hearing him again.
As a matter of fact, this debate was opened by an ex-Whip, the present Sec retary of State for Scotland. On one occasion he created a great surprise in the House when he spoke and broke his silence for the first time. Since then he has done a considerable amount of speaking. He takes an unfair advantage of the Opposition in that, by being so disarming in presenting his Bills and in making his remarks, he makes it difficult for my right hon. and hon. Friends to be controversial with him. He assured one of my hon. Friends that he sticks so closely to the facts that there should be no need for any contention about them because they are the facts. However, this Bill is not 731 quite so innocuous as that. As my right hon. Friend said, naturally we are not opposing the granting of this subsidy, nor are we opposing the Resolution which will make possible the financial provision.
This is not the Bill we expected from the Government. Since 1945 every successive Secretary of State has been canvassed by hon. Gentlemen opposite to put right the great defects in the whole finance of Scottish housing. I have listened to many speeches about the iniquities of Scottish rating and the difficulties of the local authorities and the landlords under that system. These matters were pressed upon us with great urgency. In view of that, it surprised me that this Bill came along and that the Conservatives did not introduce a measure to clear up all these defects about which they had complained for so many years. I can only conclude that that is because they do not believe in planning even their own policy before they come into office. No doubt in due course some proposals on that line may appear.
My right hon. Friend made clear one of the defects of these proposals. He said that they provide cover only for the increase in the interest rates as they affect directly the loans to the local authority. He said that they did not cover the indirect effect of the increased interest rates on the costs incurred in the building of the houses themselves. It would appear, even on the Government pledge to recompense the local authorities for the costs resulting from the increase in the Bank rate, that not only should the direct cost of loans to local authorities be covered, but also the effect of the increase in the Bank rate on the cost of building houses.
Most of my hon. Friends who have spoken are expert in local authority building matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) presented very largely the case for the local authorities. That case has been put to Members on both sides by the local authorities. On this occasion there has been an absence of the enthusiasm which used to be shown for presenting the local authority case by hon. Members opposite.
I was astonished that hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), deliberately opposed that case and suggested 732 that it was exaggerated. The hon. Gentleman actually discouraged the Government from giving any further assistance to the authorities in addition to that which they have had in the past. How the hon. Member for Dumfries will justify his efforts to the local authorities in his constituency I do not know. His constituency needs a good deal of assistance if it is to do its duty to the citizens. In some parts of that constituency it has taken over three years to build some of the houses. If the hon. Member knew his constituency well enough, he would recognise that the local authorities require encouragement and not discouragement from the persons who represent them in this House.
Many pertinent points have been made. No doubt they have been noted by the Government. I do not desire to repeat them now, but there is one point which I wish to emphasise. It is a great mistake to think that we are discussing some new benefit to the local authorities. The local authorities will be no better off when this Bill is passed than they were before this Government came into office. This Bill makes no difference to the subsidies to the local authority.
What is happening is that the Government are providing the local authorities with a subsidy which they are forcing the local authorities to give to the banks through the Public Works Loan Board. The Board has to pay extra to the banks or to the Consolidated Fund for borrowing money. It passes that extra cost to the local authorities. Now the Government are reimbursing the local authorities with a subsidy which they are forcing them to pay to the Public Works Loan Board.
The Bill, when originally introduced for the English side of the Border, was explained by the Minister of Health as being a by-product of the Government's financial policy, and he said that it was as such that it had to be discussed. The Minister of Health said that this was the context in which we must discuss the two objects of the Bill, the first being to deal with the balance of payments position and the second to stop inflation, but a more ramstam method of securing those objects could hardly be imagined.
First, the Chancellor of the Exchequer switches a whole lot of payments internationally to settle the balance of 733 payments abroad, and then attempts at home to switch income and taxation in order to change the balance of payments at home. He takes £160 million from the food subsidies in order to give to people who already have too much another £1 a week in relation to Income Tax, and he unsettles every wage settlement in the land.
He then comes along and, in addition, raises the Bank rate to put a check on industrial production, and presumably a check on full employment, and he goes out of his way to make, as a consequence, an increase in the Public Works Loan Board's rate of interest to the local authorities. That has the effect of unsettling all the financial arrangements of the local authorities.
There was no need to increase the Public Works Loan Board rate. At the time it was clearly intended to check local authority enterprise in many directions. It was an indirect method of bringing this stop to local authority enterprise, but that could have been checked by direct methods. This indirect method had the immediate effect of bringing the local authorities up against the proposition that they either had to stop house building or go on the rocks as far as finance was concerned. Of course, when it was announced, the storm broke out. The local authorities, by their pressure, immediately compelled the Government to give a pledge that they would restore the position by this method of reimbursing the local authorities for the extra interest which they have to pay on these loans.
The proof that this was unnecessary is this. When the Bank rate was raised for the second time, the Government did not proceed again to raise the rate charged by the Public Works Loan Board, and therefore they need not have done it the first time. That would have been a much more sensible thing to have done, without having to introduce this Bill to restore and patch up the rent which they had made in local authority finance.
The justification offered us was that the loan rate had to be raised, otherwise it would be a hidden subsidy. It is quite true that if we met the interest on the loans of local authorities, that would be a hidden subsidy. I think it would be a pretty open one, but it would be an 734 indirect subsidy, and the question is when this interest rate becomes a subsidy and when the subsidy becomes, as it were, a demand on the local authorities.
I should define it as the cost of providing the money, but the Government have offered no evidence to the House that there has been any real increase in the cost of providing the money. It was done by the deliberate action of the Government themselves in putting up the price of money, and was not due to any increase in the cost of money, because there is a distinction between the two. It was quite clear that, if the previous policy of checking the local authorities had gone on, there would have been no hope at all of ever getting the 300,000 houses. In fact, there would have been a steady decrease in the number of houses built.
This does not by any means restore the position, and therefore it is not surprising that the local authorities have said, "Thank you for nothing." The only result has been a waste of effort in the local authorities, a confusion of their financial relationships, and the raising of local authority resentment to boiling point, while this Bill has done nothing to assuage the injured feelings of the local authorities.
We have to admit that the local authorities were already having difficulties before the interest rates were raised. They must have been already pressing the Government with their troubles arising out of rising costs, and it appears to them as adding insult to injury that the Government, who by their deliberate action have raised the interest rates, should now come along and recompense them only for part of the cost which they have imposed on the local authorities.
As regards the local authorities, the position is that their conditions are such that they are likely to be discouraged from proceeding with house building, and those conditions arise entirely from the Government's action. First of all, there has been a general unsettlement of the feeling of security that has existed among the population for the last seven years. People were beginning to feel that their incomes were assured, that they could undertake steady payments, and that they would be able to go on paying rents and other costs for years to come because of their steady employment.
735 The shattering of the feeling that there is going to be full employment has unsettled the minds of great numbers of the population. These people will now be afraid to undertake the rental of houses when rents are high. The very suggestion that rents should be £42 is apt to stampede people away from any intention of renting houses. It ought to be borne in mind that—as has been the experience of my right hon. Friend in Greenock—where towns have had to build at some distance outside, it is not only the rents which the workers have to pay, but also the high travelling costs. Such travelling costs represent a large part of the cost of living of the average worker who gets a new house at some distance from his work.
Therefore, the local authorities are faced with the problem that there is a group of people who desperately need houses, not only for personal reasons but from the point of view of the health of the community, but who are more and more being placed in the position of being unable to pay the rents asked. It is true that the Secretary of State has not said that rents should be raised to £42, but that sum having been taken as a notional rent it is a pretty broad hint to the local authorities that that is the rent for which they should ask.
Therefore, if local authorities are faced with the position of having to offer people houses at a rent of £42, people who even now are turning down houses at £33, then they are going to be driven to the position of either not being able to let the houses, or of stopping the building of houses until they see the possibility of getting tenants for them.
So here we have a problem from the tenant's point of view. In part, the building costs have been rising, and it may be that this will cause a rise in rents. I sympathise with the Secretary of State in discouraging local authorities from aiming at a price of £1,900. He certainly has provided them with an inducement to get the price down to below that figure.
I was surprised today that in all the discussion about solving this difficulty it never struck anyone that there might be the possibility of cutting down the price of houses without lowering the standards simply by lowering the price. I am satisfied—and I was satisfied when I was 736 Secretary of State for Scotland—that the building trade could cut a good deal off the price without any detriment to the houses by simply increasing the efficiency of their trade.
I suggested to the building trade employers and to the workers that as an experiment they should knock £100 off the price of the houses, and that they would be surprised how quickly they would find means of economising to that extent. That suggestion had a little success for a few weeks, but one of the problems of that trade is that no one seems to know what a house costs to build; I recommend to the Secretary of State that he should probe whether all the people who contribute to the building of a house, the "rings" who supply certain of the fittings, and the people who supply the cement and a good deal of the other materials, could not be induced to do what Ford's have done, take a chance and cut something off their prices. That would make one contribution which would not affect anybody very seriously and it might start the right process of trying to bring prices down instead of our having to find means continually to pay increasing prices.
I want to emphasise one point on behalf of my hon. Friends. One Clause in this Bill proposes to give help for the building of houses for farm workers. There is no hope of keeping people on the land unless they are given decent houses in which to live. The proof of that is that the farmers who in the past gave their workers decent homes—and I can mention a few even in the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Astruther-Gray)—never had the slightest difficulty in keeping their workers.
We took urgent steps to try to provide houses for agricultural workers and we gave extra financial assistance for the purpose. But my hon. Friends feel that a condition which must be attached to the giving of public money is that power must not be placed in the hands of private people to turn a family out into the fields without notice in order to sack a man from his job, and to penalise men through the loss of their homes.
I know that farmers in Scotland say that it does not happen, but at a meeting at which I addressed farmers one of them rose to emphasise the need for these 737 grants and gave as his reason that he wanted power to turn a man out because he was not doing his job. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is his house"] If it is his house he may have the right to do that and we cannot prevent it by law, but my party will not agree to public money being subscribed for the purpose of building houses so as to give an individual an arbitrary power to turn people out on the street without proper investigation.
§ Major Anstruther-Gray
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential in the interests of agriculture that shepherds' houses should be retained to house the men who at the time have to look after the sheep?
§ Mr. Woodburn
That is perfectly true, and in the assistance which we offered to the farmer there was no difficulty about that. The position was that it was not left to the farmer or to the farmer's wife to quarrel with the employee or his wife and to decide that he must go. The farmer had to go to the sheriff and obtain an impartial judgment that the man had to leave his house. The man had to have some opportunity and there had to be some investigation, and as long as there was that provision there was no difficulty about farmers obtaining possession in Scotland.
We take the view that the local authority should provide the houses and at the same time provide some assurance against the kind of injustice which my hon. Friends have quoted. At any rate, there is bitter opposition among farm workers in Scotland to the provision of public money for tied houses. On one occasion I met the farmers and the farm workers on another matter and took the opportunity of telling them, "I will leave you together to discuss this question and to come to some arrangement which will be satisfactory to both sides so that the community can help to provide houses for farm workers." I am sorry to say that the farmers could not come to any agreement with the farm workers.
We certainly cannot agree to the provision of public money by a one-sided arrangement which would give dictatorial powers to farmers who, however good, cannot be trusted with such powers over the lives of their fellow men and women. We disagree with this idea 738 of providing public money without proper protection for those who occupy the houses. It is quite true that the great majority of farmers are quite decent and get on quite well with their workers, but that does not deprive us of the duty of providing for the people who are not decent—and those people occur in every walk of life.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has at least adopted the provision made in the 1950 Act for guranteeing that if the money is provided the benefit goes to the farm worker. So far as it is possible by law, every provision is made to see that nobody can profit out of State money given for this purpose, and that the benefit goes purely and solely to the person who lives in the house. From that point of view, I welcome the introduction of the Clause, which I was instrumental in putting into a previous Bill. I am satisfied that it ensures that people will not be able to sell public money at a profit and that they must repay it if they are going to depart from the conditions which have been imposed in that regard.
The question is: What are the possibilities before the country in trying to deal with this problem? Hon. Members said, quite truly, that there is a tripartite arrangement and that the houses must be paid for. That is very sound psychology. The argument is, who is to pay? The tenant does not want to pay, or is unable to do so; the local authority does not want to pay, or is unable to do so, and the State does not want to pay, or is unable to do so. Therefore, the problem is, if the houses are to be built, who is going to pay?
If the cost is to be divided, how is it to be divided amongst those three parties? Even Solomon would not have been able to satisfy all three of them. As I have said, there is the other party which has been left out—all the builders and the suppliers, who, so far, have not been asked to make their contribution. The Secretary of State might keep that point in mind. But so far as the other three parties are concerned, there are certain possibilities which are open to local authorities. It is a most amazing thing to go into the problem of the rents which are charged in Scotland. They have been built upon a multitude of Acts, including the Slum Clearance Act. Some rents are £15, 739 but in one part of my constituency miners are being asked to pay £42 with another £20 in rates. These discrepancies are enormous.
Some local authorities have got over the problem by spreading and equalising rents over all the local authority houses; but even here they come up against difficulties, because in a place like Clydebank, where the houses were practically all destroyed and where there is a town consisting almost entirely of new houses, they have not got the old houses over which they can spread their rents and therefore they have all to go on to the new tenants.
If the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland)—who is always so anxious to criticise and damage the reputation of East Kilbride—would look into some of the difficulties which arise from the fact that it has to build new houses and has no other houses over which it can spread the cost, so that the new houses must be charged at the full economic rent, he would see that the problem of East Kilbride is one that is not common to the county or to any of the other towns in Lanarkshire.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that he was among those who intervened on points of order when I was developing this very theme. So far as seeking to damage the reputation of the Corporation is concerned, I was seeking to expose frauds where they existed and to shed light on darkness.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Gentleman was starting to complain that the houses were not let to the people in East Kilbride but were being let to people who were coming into East Kilbride. East Kilbride was a new town developed outside Glasgow and the houses there were not intended only for the people of East Kilbride.
§ Mr. Maitland
I was not allowed to proceed with that part of my argument. What I said was that there were families from insanitary homes who remained unhoused while they saw other people getting the new houses that were being built.
§ Mr. Woodburn
That applies in every town in the country and the only cure is more houses, but they cannot get more than their share.
§ Mr. Maitland rose—
§ Mr. Woodburn
There are other possibilities for local authorities, and some are trying to achieve a balance of rents within the community. I despair of how this can be done over Scotland as a whole, and I shall congratulate the Secretary of State if he is able to solve this problem. I looked at it several times. If, with greater enthusiasm and greater efficiency, he can bring about the rationalisation of rents and the rationalisation of the whole system of housing in Scotland, I am sure that we on this side of the House will be only too ready to congratulate him.
A point has been raised about the different economic status of people occupying these houses. One of the problems which we had to face was that if housing in the future was to be largely the responsibility of local authorities, it could no longer be justified that people who were not of the working class, which was the definition in the old Act, should be deprived of any opportunity of ever getting a new house. In the Housing Act we removed restrictions on the local authorities which had limited them to the provision of houses for members of the working class. If local authorities were to build new areas and create new communities, it became necessary for them to provide houses for different sections of the population.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The hon. Gentleman may think it was a stupid policy, but he can have no experience or he would know that some of the great housing schemes which were carried out before the war, where they were all of one class, have led to great psychological distress, because a population of one class can never supply the elements which are required to make up a happy community. In a community there must be houses for old people, small houses for single people, houses for doctors and teachers, a house for the parson, houses for nurses—all types of houses for all types of people to make up that community. We cannot build houses without churches. All these things have to be taken into account when planning a community. I 741 am afraid the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) does not appreciate the problem or he would know that a local authority must be able to provide all the types of house which make up a balanced community.
§ Mr. Williams
This is the conflict between the two parties. We believe that the strong should help the weak. The right hon. Gentleman believes that somebody who is strong should be helped by the weak.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I am afraid the hon. Member for Exeter does not even know about the enlightened policy of his own party, because his own party believe in no such nonsense as that which he has announced. The strong do help. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not know, but the people with the biggest incomes pay the biggest taxes.
§ Mr. Woodburn
We take the view that the person who pays his taxes according to his ability to pay, is entitled to the benefits of the community in the same way as anyone else. We do not segregate a community into classes. Each may have a different status in a community, but they are all treated as citizens, one equal with another, in receiving the benefits from the community.
§ Mr. Williams rose—
§ Mr. Woodburn
The problem facing the Government is this. They have not been able to satisfy local authorities that they have done the local authorities justice, and I do not see that there is any possibility, once the Money Resolution has been passed, of increasing the subsidies. Indeed, that may not be the right way to solve the problem.
I want to suggest to the Government that even at this late day they have a simple means of helping the local authorities without interfering with their Bill and without altering the subsidy. It is this. There is no reason why they should not reduce the Public Work Loan Board's rate to the local authorities. There is no need to increase it, and it is quite possible to decrease it. I would recommend to the Secretary of State that 742 he bring before the Chancellor the possibility, in this problem of satisfying the local authorities reasonably—I do not suggest he should do more than that—reducing the Public Work Loan Board's rate to the local authorities.
While we take exception to certain parts of the Bill I think I ought to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Health on their success in over-turning the original policy of the Government to raise the rates to the local authorities without giving them any recompense in the form of this Bill. There is no doubt that it was something of a triumph both for him and the Minister of Health to be able, after the Government had intended to check all this growth in the local authorities, to get from the Government some reimbursement of these interest rates. I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman into saying exactly how.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Well, I was congratulating both the right hon. Gentleman and the other Minister—the right hon. Gentleman mentions the Minister of Housing and Local Government—because I gather that both right hon. Gentlemen took part in getting this reversal by the Government of their original policy of checking the expenditure of local authorities. I think myself that the Government are mistaken in their policy of raising the Bank rate. It obviously has had an effect in accelerating unemployment. I am perfectly certain that the effect of this is going to be to discourage local authorities from pushing ahead as far as they can.
If the right hon. Gentleman is sincere, as I believe him to be, about getting as many houses built as possible, I think he must have a conference with the local authorities to find out what is real in the difficulties they place before him, and try to do something to make it possible for the local authorities to do what they can in the way of building houses. I think that he would be entitled to exact from them that they should do all that is in their power in their own areas to solve their own problems.
It may be that it is going to be a difficult matter to get complete agreement, 743 but I think that there is, at least, the duty on the Government to meet the local authorities and to give them the feeling, at least, that the right hon. Gentleman is going to examine their problems sympathetically to find out where differences are. If they are wrong with their figures, that can be put right; where there is a dispute about figures, the facts can be ascertained. Once agreement is got on the facts, the question is: What is just in face of the facts?
I hope that, as a result of what has been said by my hon. Friends, with their great experience, and of the sympathy expressed by hon. Members with the local authorities in their difficulties, the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can to bring about a reconciliation, and a speeding up of house building even beyond the present limits.
§ 10.19 p.m.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Commander T. D. Galbraith)
I should like first of all to join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) in congratulating the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) on what was, as the right hon. Gentleman said, practically a maiden speech, and I am sure the whole House will agree with what has been said as to the manner in which the hon. Gentleman presented his case, and that the House will desire that he should break his self-denying ordinance more frequently in the future.
Now I turn from that rather pleasant duty to one, that I feel, is not so pleasant. I feel the House ought to resent the implacations which were made in the course of this debate—and ill-concealed implications—as to dishonesty on the part of officials of the Scottish Office. That was perfectly clear from a number of speeches, and I think it is very much to be regretted.
It was perfectly clear in the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), and, so far as I could understand it, it was not much concealed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself.
If there was any imputation or construction by which my remarks could be interpreted as an attack upon the officials of the Department, I immediately and unreservedly withdraw them. My remarks were directed to the fact that it seemed to me that the Ministers responsible had not offered the evidence for the assumptions upon which their arguments proceed.
I am very glad to have that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, but I must say the impression gained from those two speeches, to which I listened with the very deepest interest, was the one I have stated. I am very glad to hear what he now says. As for the levelling of such a charge against my right hon. Friend, if such a charge was levelled, my right hon. Friend is perfectly willing to face up to that, and I am quite sure that before I conclude I shall be able to convince the House that that charge was altogether unjustified.
There was then a further charge made against my right hon. Friend by the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil), the charge of discourtesy, which he knows perfectly well is altogether unjustified and a charge which could never be levelled against my right hon. Friend. That charge was absolutely untrue. My right hon. Friend met the local authorities and listened to everything they had to say on 21st March of this year, and having listened with the utmost sympathy to everything they had to say, informed them that it was with regret that he had to maintain the position which had already been announced. So the charge of discourtesy had no foundation whatsoever, and the right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed.
There were a lot of charges flying from the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, he had little to say except to level charges. He also said there had been no proper consultation. Exactly the same measures of consultation were taken as during the times when he and his right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling were Secretary of State. What does the right hon. Gentleman think of five consultations with officials of the Department, one consultation with the Under-Secretary and one with the Secretary of State? If that is not consultation, I do not know what 745 is. That is a charge which should also be withdrawn.
He also said that no concessions were made. Concessions were indeed made. Wherever we found that we had neglected to take something into account the matter was rectified to the extent that we considered justified. On this occasion, as on all previous occasions, the basis taken was the tender prices. On this occasion we went beyond that at the request of the local authorities. They asked that some allowance should be made for any subsequent rise in the cost of labour or materials, and an allowance was made in that connection. That is something which has never been done before.
The hon. Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel) indicated that my right hon. Friend was taking all the credit for the increased number of completions since he had assumed his present office. I hope the hon. Gentleman will read in HANSARD tomorrow what my right hon. Friend had to say, when I think he will find that my right hon. Friend took no such credit for himself. It is obvious to one of even the meanest intelligence that we could not have completed any houses if there had not been houses left for us to complete. What I think my right hon. Friend can take credit for is the greater tempo which is now to be seen in the building industry, the greater flow of materials going to the sites, the greater elasticity in local authorities' programmes, and also the greater number of houses under construction at the present time. Let me say, as has been remarked by some hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, that credit is also due to the building industry and to the local authorities who act as the agent of the Secretary of State in these matters.
Before dealing with the main argument which has been put up in the course of this debate, I should like to endeavour to answer certain specific questions put to me. The right hon. Member for Greenock asked how long the Public Works Loan Board rate of interest would be retained at 4¼ per cent. I can only refer him to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in winding up the debate on the Budget on 17th March. I will read what he said to the House:It is not the intention of the Government to make any change at present in the rates 746 currently charged by the Board. It is far too early to say the effect of the increased Bank rate on the market, and particularly on longterm rates, and, therefore, I propose to make no prophesy about the matter or to give any answer today about the satisfactorily arranged inter-relationship which has taken place between the housing subsidies and the rates charged."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 2053–4.]
Are we to take it that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not in a position to give any undertaking about the operation of these rates?
I do not think that is a question which I should be expected to answer. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will put that question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in due course.
I did, with great courtesy, indicate that I knew that could not be answered offhand when I put the question some two hours ago, but it is fundamental to the consideration of this Bill and to the adequacy of the Bill, and I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is scarcely being courteous, after being given all that notice and after all these consultations about this Bill, if he is unable to give us an answer at this stage upon that fundamental aspect of the Bill.
The answer which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave still stands. That is quite sufficient for the right hon. Gentleman at the present time.
May I turn to a question which I was asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maryhill? He asked me for my opinion as to the sale of houses. I am afraid that I would be out of order if I were to give my opinion on that matter, but I may, perhaps, be allowed to say that those who are capable of buying and do buy their own houses are much to be commended because they are, in fact, relieving their fellow citizens of a considerable burden of taxation.
Then, if I understood the hon. Gentleman the Member for Maryhill correctly, he spoke of charging economic rents. Where tenants can afford to pay the economic rent, I am sure that is something which is very much to be desired in the interests of the whole community. According to notices I have seen, some tenants, now being aware of the position, are offering to do so. They are in fact 747 not willing to be subsidised by those who are possibly less well-off than themselves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence) asked me what happened when the cost of improvements exceed £600, and a similar question was also addressed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson). The position, in fact, is, as was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), that the local authority may ask the Secretary of State's consent to accept an application above £600, and if he is satisfied as to all the circumstances a grant may be paid not merely on the £600 but on the higher figure.
I want to reiterate the warning which was implied in what the hon. Member for Angus, North and Mearns said, that the conditions are exceptional and it must not be taken that everyone can possibly qualify. I have taken note of the other point which my hon. Friend made and which I will see is looked into.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) asked if this Bill would apply to East Kilbride. Yes, it will, and we hope it will help. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) raised the question of the supply of cement. I would remind the House that Scotland produces less than one-third of her cement requirements, and the rest has to be shipped from the Thames. It is very difficult in peak periods to arrange that it arrives regularly, but every step is being taken to endeavour to see that the shortage does not occur again. I am very sorry that such a shortage of cement should have occurred as it did in Glasgow, but we have succeeded in speeding up deliveries to Scotland this summer. So far it has amounted to no less than 21,700 tons a week, an increase of about 20 per cent. over what was happening last year.
I have been struck during the course of this debate by the fact that only two references were made to the extension of the improvement grants to tied cottages. Until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling spoke, I thought we had succeeded converting the Opposition to the view that it was necessary for Scottish agriculture to have tied houses and that agricultural workers were as 748 much entitled as any other section of the community to decent living conditions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that, because there is no doubt they have not had those conditions as the result of the action of the late Government in not carrying forward the provision of the Housing (Rural Workers) (Scotland) Acts.
§ Mr. Manuel
That does not mean to say that we deliberately prevented agricultural workers getting good houses. No doubt the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be aware that in the rural areas throughout Scotland in the last six years more new houses have been built by the local authorities entirely for agricultural workers than has ever been built at any other period.
And many of them are now occupied by people who are not agricultural workers.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, I thought some of the strictures made against the Government by the Opposition as to the amount of subsidy were somewhat rich. The Government lately in office fixed the subsidy in 1946 at £23, and since then the cost of a house has increased from £1,130 to £1,551 but there was no increase in the amount of the subsidy. What happened was that the amount of the deficit falling on the rates in 1948 had gone up to £6 14s., in 1949 to £14 12s. and, though there was a drop the following year, to £9 9s., that was effected by the Government increasing the assumed rent and reducing the cost of the house. It rose again to £10 2s. in 1951. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite who were partly responsible for that situation have little cause to comment or complain about what the present Government are doing.
§ Mr. Woodburn rose—
If the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to finish this part of my remarks I will give way. The hon. Gentleman for Glasgow, Central summed up the position very well when he said that local authorities in the last five years had exceeded the statutory rate contribution by £51 million. That is absolutely accurate, and we know who it was that was responsible for that. But no doubt if there was a Division tonight 749 the hon. Gentleman would be in the same Lobby as his hon. and right hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to be unfair. He has forgotten one very important consideration. Assistance was given according to need by means of the equalisation grant which, for instance, gives the constituency of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Macpherson) as much as 8s. 11d. as a contribution to its rates.
I thank my hon. Friend for his assistance. What about the City of Glasgow and the complaints about the working of the grant at present? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with that? He should not bring that matter up too often as far as it affects Scotland. I do not think that it will curry much favour with the local authorities.
I should like to deal with the main points of the debate. First, there was the argument about the figure chosen by the Government in relation to the capital cost of a house. There has been no mystery about this. It has never been concealed from the local authorities for one moment. They were told at the time exactly how we arrived at it.
May I make my own speech in my own way? I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman. If he will look after his own speeches and let me look after mine I shall be grateful to him.
§ Mr. Hubbard
We have heard a great deal about the negotiations with the local authorities. I hope that they were conducted on a much better tempered plane than this debate.
The hon. Gentleman does not need to worry about my temper. I can look after it perfectly well without any assistance from him.
A question was raised about how we arrived at the figure of £1,765. It was quite simple. We simply took all the tenders approved for the last six months of last year and the first month of the 750 present year, and that was the average figure which resulted. The local authorities have known that from the beginning. The local authorities suggested that £1,900 was the correct figure. Our inquiries were far wider than theirs. We were unable to agree to their figure. The figures which we gave for the tender prices were completely accurate. There is no question of deception.
§ Mr. McInnes
The hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated that the inquiries of the Department covered a far wider field than those of the local authorities. Am I correctly stating the position when I say that all the tenders which the Department had under review were given to the finance officers of the associations and that from them they detected all the weaknesses which were in the calculations of the Department?
I will not argue the point. I have answered the hon. Gentleman. I consider that the information available to the Department was much greater than that which could possibly have been available to the local authority associations. I want to say, because it is of importance, that agreement was obtained with the English local authorities on the figure of £1,525. That should be kept in mind. It is generally recognised that the proper difference between the cost of a house in England and one in Scotland—allowing for our different weather conditions and the stouter construction required—should be about £120.
From the figure of £1,765 a deduction of £130 was made in respect of low-cost designs. It is clear that there may be great differences of opinion as to whether or not that is the proper figure. But it was the figure that the advisers of my right hon. Friend in these matters considered was correct. I may say that we did reduce that figure to £115. We thereafter added to it £15, because while the negotiations were going on we were permitted to put wooden floors into 50 per cent. of the houses in Scotland and that meant a saving of £15 per house on the average.
751 I know that local authorities can argue that it is not the figure to have taken, but on the other hand it is what our advisers believed to be correct. May I say to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central that never, so far as I can ascertain, was any agreement made to reduce that figure to £100?
I am not dealing with that. I have given the hon. Member his answer.
Let me take up the question of the criticism of the notional rent figure which was adopted of £42—
Are we to take it that he is quite unwilling, despite his certainty, to submit this to the independent test of any kind of fact-finding organisation? Is that the answer?
The right hon. Gentleman was telling us a few minutes ago that he was not levelling a charge of dishonesty against the Scottish Office—
I think I was improper in suggesting that the Minister was dishonest, and I unreservedly withdraw. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman will nevertheless understand that I am anxious that these facts should be tested as facts, although I was improper to suggest that it was dishonesty which actuated the Minister.
I consider it is an insult even to be asked to submit them to a test. The figures are the figures proved over a period of seven months, and that is the figure on which we stand. [Interruption.] This is a Government which intend to govern and not be ruled 752 by a body outside the House of Commons.
The local authorities contended that the correct figure to be taken was £33. I understand they contend that is the average rent now being paid. I do not know on what basis they find that. One hon. Member has suggested it was too high. At any rate, I am not in a position to say whether it is correct or not. But I would point out that certain local authorities are already charging rents of £40 and more, both in the counties and in large burghs as well as in some 40 small burghs. I say again, how can we in Scotland possibly justify a notional rent of £33 when the notional rent for England is £46 17s.?
No, by common sense. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) spoke about the proportion of earnings to be applied to the rent. I could give him some information about that, but time is so short that I cannot go into the matter at present.
May I take the question of repairs and maintenance, the notional figure being taken at £11—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, £8."]—no, repairs and maintenance is £11. The figure for repairs is £8. That is the figure which the local authorities gave us as the cost of repairs at the present day, so it does not seem to me that there is much dispute about that point. I would say this, in view of what has been said about the large repair funds in the hands of local authorities.
These funds have been reduced since the beginning of the war from £10 15s. per house to £4 4s. per house, and I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to be good enough to study the Rating Review of 1951 of the Municipal Institute of Surveyors and Accountants which says that many of the local authorities have only £2 per house left in their repair funds, and that a number of them are in debit.
I think that amply covers the point made. I am very sorry that my time has been so restricted, but I will join with the right hon. Gentleman opposite who wound up for the Opposition in the hope, which is the hope I am sure of every Member of this House, that the 753 provisions of this Bill may speed up the building of houses for the people of Scotland.
But let me say that the thing that should worry us most in regard to housing is the high cost of building at the present time. My right hon. Friend is doing everything in his power to find ways and means of keeping down the cost. The architects of the Department of Health have produced low cost designs of houses which, while maintaining the standards of building and rooms of adequate size, have cut out all unnecessary circulating space.
The architectural profession have done what seems to be everything that is possible at the present time. I join with the right hon. Gentleman opposite when I say that it is now up to the industry to show what they can do. They can rely on the Government helping them in every way they can. I commend this Bill to the House.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Redmayne.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.