HC Deb 12 December 1961 vol 651 cc408-18

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McLaren.]

12.46 a.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I want to discuss tonight the persistent and pernicious problem of Glasgow's housing conditions.

I want to urge, first, the immediate need for Government action to facilitate and expedite existing arrangements and agreements with other local authorities which have agreed to take some of Glasgow's overspill. Secondly, I urge that where the Glasgow local authority asks for changes of the zoning within the city for rehousing the Minister should give urgent consideration to this matter. Thirdly, but most important, I urge the great need for a review of the present slow progress of house building within the new towns, which seem to hold out the best prospect of making the greatest contribution to the solution of Glasgow's problem.

Only on Saturday last delegates of the Scottish Trades Union Congress and of the Labour Party met and passed a resolution in which they condemned as pathetically inadequate and deliberately deceitful the Government's latest proposals to meet the housing needs of Glasgow. All of us have a sense of shame that thousands of our fellow citizens are condemned to live in appalling slum conditions, which, in turn, breed apathy and social irresponsibility. The Government have not shown the vision and readiness to act on a scale large enough to meet the social challenge of Glasgow's housing. I refuse to believe that in a world teeming with the marvels of science and the skills of our people we cannot end these living conditions much earlier than at the moment seems to be projected.

Glasgow's basic problem today is the lack of sites within the city on which to build houses. This problem has been known for ten years and more. Despite Glasgow's admirable record of having built 117,000 houses since 1920, her waiting list today is about 115,000. The greatest need for years to come will be more council houses for renting. One hundred thousand of Glasgow's total of 328,000 houses are estimated to be unfit and not capable of improvement, according to the Medical Officer of Health.

Another problem is that each year that passes 23,000 of the total number of houses become obsolescent. Since Glasgow is building about 3,300 houses per year, the new houses are doing no more than replacing those which becomne obsolescent. Consequently, the hard core of 100,000 remains.

I shall not go over all the details which have been so often recited in the House. I merely remind the Minister, once again, that in the second half of the twentieth century half the families in Glasgow have no bath in their homes and that one-third of the families have to share outside water closets. Even the minimum of civilised living conditions are not provided.

The plain fact is that unless sites are provided in the near future house building in Glasgow will grind to a halt. The Secretary of State can help in three ways. He has before him now the proposals contained in Glasgow's quinquennial review. There is one proposal, in particular, which I urge him to look at. It concerns the area of Summerston, in my constituency.

I know the difficulties. The Secretary of State has to decide between housing, coal and agriculture. Several objections have been lodged. I am under no delu sion about the difficulties. In the deliberations which have gone on for five years the Corporation has suggested that, since its proposals about Summerston are only part of major considerations in its review of the city redevelopment plan, it would be unfortunate and frustrating if the many other proposals which are not objected to were delayed because of lengthy technical disagreement. But that is exactly what happened.

A Secretary of State who has a proposal before him for five years, and knows Glasgow's situation, is not seized of the urgency of the problem. My plea is that he should expedite the less controversial decisions. Is it not possible to introduce some elasticity into a position which urgently merits attention? Is it not possible to make known now interim decisions on various sites where no objections are taken, so that the local authority can proceed to put building in hand at once?

The second way in which the Secretary of State could help is in respect of requests by the local authority for the changing of zoning in the city. Involved are 46 sites covering 630 acres, all of which are outwith the intended 29 redevelopment areas. All these 46 sites have not been submitted to the Secretary of State for decision—I admit that. I understand that five of them are included in the quinquennial review. Where there are no objections, however, against any of these proposals, could not the Secretary of State let the local authority know, so that it can get on with the job?

I can understand the questions and decisions confronting the Secretary of State about open spaces in an already overcrowded city. The argument is that open spaces in a few places are too large, whereas the alternative would be to have smaller open spaces in more places. Why cannot he give consent where there is no objection? Could not flexibility be introduced without his waiting for the whole plan?

I want to quote a letter which sets out the problem clearly. Again, it concerns an area in my constituency. It is in the Milton area. Apparently, the Department of Health has been in correspondence with the Corporation at least since last October. There are 20 acres of concrete here being transferred from the Parks Department of Glasgow to the Housing Department. I understand that this has been agreed between the two departments, but the letter makes this case: The sub-committee agreed that representations should be made to the Department stressing the urgency of the situation and asking if, in the special circumstances, the Secretary of State might be prepared to agree to development proceeding before that date. It is hoped that some machinery can be found whereby, in cases of urgency, the Secretary of State still approves changes in zoning in advance of general decisions on zoning in the quinquennial review. I do not need to elaborate the point. It is admirably set out in that letter.

My third point is that these suggestions—important as they are and involving 20,000 to 30,000 houses—are quite inadequate to meet the gigantic operation necessary to satisfy Glasgow's needs and for replacing wasting houses. The Secretary of State should have a look at Glasgow's overspill arrangements, not only with other towns but with new towns. Is the Under-Secretary of State satisfied with the speed of building in the new towns? The figure of production of houses is fantastic.

This is not criticism of the good people on the new town corporations. I believe that they are suffering, as are representatives of local authorities, from Government restraint and inhibitions. But to tackle the problem of building in the new towns would be getting to grips with the matter. The provision and building up of the new towns is the real answer, but it needs greater energy, imagination and drive than have so far been displayed by the Government.

My researches seem to show that in this, as in other things, there is a great gulf between the Government's promises and their accomplishments. This situation was known to the Government ten years ago. It was known that sites within Glasgow's central area would be used up. The question of a new town for overspill was referred by the Secretary of State to the Clyde Valley Regional Planning Committee. That Committee reported in December, 1953, and recommended as a matter of urgency that the new town of Cumbernauld should be built. Obeying that injunction to urgency, with his usual great alacrity, the Secretary of State considered the matter. Three years afterward, with a great beating of drums and breasts and sounding of tocsins, the Secretary of State announced that Cumbernauld was designated. The next move was to introduce the Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Act in May, 1957.

I will not go into details, but the Government extolled the virtues of that Act and said that it would make a magnificent contribution to rehousing Glasgow's long-suffering people. In an unguarded moment of folly or excess of enthusiasm, Lord Craigton, who was then the Joint Under-Secretary of State, said during the Committee stage of the Bill: …we look on this operation that is, overspill— as a sort of"— his words— first ten-year plan. Let hon. Members note these words: Within that period the target is to provide 15,000 houses with Glasgow's boundaries, either on new sites or in central redevelopment; another 15,000 in overspill areas of other local authorities; and another 20,000 in the two new towns."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 7th May. 1957; c. 811.] The overspill areas and the new towns together in the ten years from 1957 were to provide 35,000 houses. To put it another way, that was 3,500 houses annually for ten years. Now, four years later, when we should have 14,000 houses if the plan had worked—and it did not—we have only 2,900, according to the returns of the Glasgow local authority for 1st September, 1961. There can be few of the many disastrous operations undertaken by the Government whose gravity has exceeded that of this problem of Glasgow's overspill, and I would like to hear the hon. Gentleman's defence and explanation of the figures which I have quoted.

Does the blame lie with the local authorities? If it does, what has he done about it? Does the blame lie in the terms of the Act? If so, what has he done about amending it? Does the hon. Gentleman know that only 37 out of the 226 local authorities had overspill agreements as at 1st December, and that after four years? Of that 37, nine had no houses under construction a year ago. If the hon. Gentleman can say that some houses are now under construction, so much the better, but what does he have to say about Kirkintilloch, which was one of the most enthusiastic local authorities at the beginning and which does not now want to proceed? The town of Johnstone has said the same thing.

Does the hon. Gentleman still think that 35,000 houses will be provided in the ten years? If he does, I refer him to what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says in the recent White Paper about reaching targets. It is always targets, targets, targets, with populations being built up from 50,000 to 70,000 in these new towns. The Ministers who make these declarations go home glowing with virtue, because, in their own minds, they have built another 20,000 houses. This is an astounding situation. The Minister goes on to say: It is intended that building for overspill, now running at nearly 2,000 houses a year, should rise steadily and that altogether 60,000 overspill houses should be provided within twenty years. Some people will have to wait for twenty years.

I want to ask the Minister about the new towns. What is happening in Glenrothes, for example? Last year, 372 houses were built. This year, only 260 have been built. Lord Craigton paid a visit to East Kilbride and said that the population target was now 70,000 instead of 55,000. He asked the Corporation to maintain a rate of 1,000 houses per year. Yet fewer houses have been built this year than last year—919 as against 1,000.

How will Glasgow's problem be solved by means of the two new towns projected by the Government for the primary purpose of assisting in the rehousing of Glasgow's population? I hope that the Under-Secretary has some good answers. Does not he thinks—as a Member for a Glasgow constituency; my next-door neighbour, in fact—that it is high time that he or the Secretary of State, together with two or three other Glasgow Members, asked the local authority what its problems were, and tried to meet them? Cannot he give us an assurance that the frightful plight of many people in Glasgow will be met sooner than is projected in the declarations we have had in the past?

1.2 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

The principal reason which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) has in raising the subject of the new towns and Glasgow's overspill is, I am sure, his desire to see the people of Glasgow better housed. I go all the way with him in wanting to get this done as quickly as possible.

Before dealing with the points which the hon. Member raised, I must point out, in fairness to Glasgow, that since the war over 64,000 new houses have been completed within the city. It is a very substantial achievement, to which it is right to pay tribute. As a result of all this building the position has been reached—as the hon. Member recognises—where there is now very little housing land in Glasgow. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 people will have to be found houses outside the city boundaries, which will involve the building of approximately 60,000 houses.

As a preliminary to the hon. Member's review of the progress that is being made with overspill in an attempt to satisfy this need, he asked me several questions about possible means whereby more houses could be built in Glasgow.

First, he suggested that some of the parks and open spaces might be used for house building. As I am sure he is aware, any proposal to build on areas zoned as open space in the Glasgow Development Plan must come from the Corporation itself. So far, no proposals along these lines have been received by my right hon. Friend. If any such proposals were received, he would be able to consider them—and this is the difficulty—only after they had been open to objection and after a public inquiry had been held. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the allocation of land for housing, for open spaces and for all other purposes was very carefully considered by the Corporation at the quinquennial review of the Development Plan. The Corporation decided against any encroachment on the parks and there, for the time being, the matter rests.

I should also direct the hon. Member's attention to Chapter 8 of the Corporation's Survey Report, which shows a considerable deficiency, even at present, in the amount of open space available in Glasgow.

The second point made by the hon. Member concerned certain areas at Summerston to the north, and at Darnley, to the south of Glasgow. In the quinquennial review the Corporation suggested that those areas should be rezoned for housing. The hon. Member tonight has been pressing me to ask my right hon. Friend to give an early decision on this proposal. My right hon. Friend is, of course, aware of the urgency of the problem; but I must point out that owing to the great complexity of the issues involved the Reporter who conducted the inquiry was not able to circulate the factual part of his report until October. Until the whole report has been received—and it has not yet been received—my right hon. Friend can make no comment.

The hon. Member indicated that he knew what a complicated matter this was, involving not only Glasgow's need for land for building, but also the needs of the National Coal Board and the claims of the green belt. I am sure that he will realise, therefore, that with the best will in the world it will be some little time before my right hon. Friend can come to a decision. Certainly, in coming to a decision, he will have in mind the points made by the hon. Member.

I turn to the main part of the hon. Member's speech in which he was rightly concerned with the progress of overspill. I say "rightly', because it is in overspill that the solution to Glasgow's housing problem will argely—but not, as I hope to be able to show, entirely—be found. There are two kinds of overspill: first, in the new towns, and, secondly, in the form of expansion of existing towns. Expansion agreements have been made with various towns throughout Scotland for the building of 15,000 houses for Glasgow overspill. Admittedly, the bulk of this programme is still on paper, but the fact that it even exists on paper shows a welcome willingness on the part of towns far afield to consider helping Glasgow. It is a form of long-term planning which, I should imagine, would appeal to the hon. Member.

Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

New industries should be brought to the area.

Mr. Galbraith

That point is, naturally, very important. If the hon. Member for Shettlestone (Sir M. Galpern) had attended the Adjournment debate last week he would have heard my remarks on that subject. So far, I have been talking about work on paper.

As for actual achievements, I should point out that the number of houses provided and in course of construction outside the new towns in overspill agreements of the second sort I mentioned amount to 2,697—which represents about 10,000 people. The hon. Member suggested that there was a falling off in enthusiasm, but that is not my information. He referred, in particular, to Kirkintilloch; but that town has completed its overspill agreement and is now considering another. I cannot think where he got his information about Johnstone; my information is that right across Scotland, from Johnstone in the west to Arbroath in the east, all the local authorities concerned are pushing ahead with substantial programmes of building.

I think that the hon. Member was being unduly despondent as to the new towns themselves. In East Kilbride, for the last three years, from 1958 to 1960, about 1,000 houses per year have been built. I admit that this year there was a serious drop; but this was not due to any lack of drive or determination, but simply to difficult soil conditions. I am very glad to say that those difficulties have now been overcome and that over 1,000 houses are under construction in East Kilbride and that the Corporation hopes to be back to its average output soon. Neither my right hon. Friend nor the Corporation will be satisfied with an output of fewer than 1,200 houses per annum, and there is good hope of getting that annual output by the end of next year.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State did last year the very thing which the hon. Member has invited me and my right hon. Friend to do in this connection. He had a meeting with Glasgow Corporation, followed by meetings in the new towns which are already bearing fruit in increased output. To that extent we have, perhaps, forestalled the hon. Member.

I explained in an Adjournment debate last week, what the position is in Glenrothes, and in view of the time I will not repeat the argument. At Cumbernauld, the third of the new towns, the build-up in the number of houses being completed is going ahead satisfactorily. In 1958, it was 121; in 1959, it was 200; and, in 1960, it was 251; and in the first nine months of this year it was 447—which is an annual rate of output of nearly 600. In the five years it has been in existence it has completed 1,000 houses. That rate of progress has been bettered in only one other new town—and I refer not only to Scotland, but to the whole of the United Kingdom.

As a result of this expansion, coupled with the recovery of East Kilbride, we expect that the three new towns will complete 2,000 houses next year against 1,500 this year. In addition, the fourth new town at Livingston is likely to be producing houses in 1963, and by 1965, when its output will be going up steadily, we can reasonably expect that the output from the new towns and from expansion of existing towns will be about 4,000 houses per annum.

Incidentally, this rate of building is, on the face of things, higher than the rate Glasgow would need to have over twenty years to meet their estimated total requirement of 60,000 houses outside the city. I agree, however, that even more houses are needed.

The hon. Member asked for my help and I hope that I have shown him that the picture is not as black as he had supposed. I assure him that the Government are anxious to encourage the various authorities to press ahead as fast as possible. The hon. Member asked for my help, and I ask for his. In addition to the public supply of houses, there is still great scope in Scot land for the building of more private houses both for owner-occupation and for letting. What is holding up this development which would help so much to solve the Glasgow problem is the unreasonably low rents which are being charged.

Sir M. Galpern


Mr. Galbraith

The financial advantages of highly subsidised—

Mr. Hannan


Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Member must accept what I am saying. He had his speech of 13 or 14 minutes.

The financial advantages of a highly subsidised and low-rented house are such that those who might otherwise consider providing themselves with a house, either as owner-occupiers or as tenants, and are able to afford it, are being deterred from doing so just because of the good bargain which they are fortuitously enjoying. I therefore hope that, if the hon. Gentleman is anxious to solve the Glasgow housing problem, as he appears to be, and if he is concerned about it in the way in which I am concerned about it, he will support my right hon. Friend in endeavouring to get local authorities to charge more reasonable rents.

Mr. Hannan


Mr. Galbraith

I will not give way.

It is clear that the hon. Member did not expect me to end this Adjournment debate on this note. But it is only the combined effort of both public and private resources alike—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Tuesday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past One o'clock.