§ Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
The visit of the House to another place provided me with an opportunity to confer with the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson), who queried a figure which I gave earlier. I was wrong in my recollection of the figure in 1956 which I quoted. I looked these figures up, but, as he has been able to show me from the Scottish Digest of Statistics, a reference to the column at which I looked shows that they are United Kingdom figures. He is right and I am wrong, and I apologise.
Before the House went to another place I was saying that I was disappointed that opportunity has not been taken in the Bill to introduce permanent provisions for rent decontrol. The adoption in England and Wales of gross annual value as a basis for arriving at the rents to be charged for houses remaining under control gives a precedent which we might well follow in Scotland. The pattern of gross annual value which is emerging shows values which are substantially lower than the rents at which local authority and privately owned houses would let in a free market.
In a Written Answer to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay), my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland last week gave the average gross annual value of local authority houses in Scotland. The figures were: Edinburgh, £48; Glasgow, £48; Aberdeen, £46; Dundee, £50; and 1407 then down to £43 in Perth, £41 in the City of Stirling, and so on. I hope that my hon. Friend who is to wind up the debate will indicate that the Secretary of State will give sympathetic consideration to an Amendment in Committee designed to relate the maximum rent which may be charged for privately owned houses remaining under rent control to the gross annual values as ascertained under the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956.
I want to turn to the rent of local authority houses. The Public Accounts Committee, of which I have long had the privilege of being a member, in its Third Report for the Session 1960–61, drew attention to the effects of unduly low rents upon the Exchequer equalisation grants. The amount of those grants is determined by local authority expenditure, which includes expenditure from the general rate fund to meet deficits on housing revenue accounts after the receipt of subsidies. If rents are unduly low it follows necessarily that the corresponding expenditure is proportionately greater and a larger Exchequer grant becomes payable.
§ Mr. Woodburn
Is it not the case that for some time that has not been so and that the Exchequer equalisation grant has been based on notional rents which have nothing to do with the actual rent charged in any local authority?
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
If the right hon. Gentleman cares to look at the Third Report of the Public Accounts Committee—I am telescoping it—he will see that, in effect, the position is as I say. The Committee was informed that between 1938 and 1959 the average net weekly rent for all types of local authority houses in England and Wales, outside the London area, had been increased from 7s. 6d. a week to 19s. 6d. a week, which was the equivalent of 160 per cent, whereas during the same period in Scotland local authority net rents had risen from 5s. a week to 8s. 8d. a week, a percentage increase of only 73 per cent.
During the same period—here I must go carefully, because I must not again make the mistake of quoting United Kingdom figures—the Public Accounts Committee was informed by those in a 1408 position to know that earnings in Scotland had increased by more than 250 per cent, and were only 5 per cent, or 6 per cent, below those in England. The Report of the Department of Health, Scotland, 1959, showed that, expressed as a proportion of local authority housing costs, rental income in Scotland was less than half that of England and Wales, and the corresponding rate contribution was therefore more than double. The House knows that the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, requires local authorities from time to time to review rents and to make such changes in rents and rebates as may be required. The Comptroller and Auditor-General informed the Public Accounts Committee that twenty local authorities in Scotland had not reviewed their rents in the last five years and that one had not reviewed its rents since 1937. The average annual standard rent, excluding rates, of these authorities ranged from 2s. 10d. to 10s. 8d. a week.
We all know that the legal position is that the Secretary of State may not himself assess what is a reasonable rent, but if he feels that a local authority has not itself fixed a reasonable rent he can institute an inquiry, either on local representation, or on his own account under the terms of the Local Government Act, 1947. He has done so as a result of local representation in two cases. There is the Glasgow case where Mr. C. J. D. Shaw, Q.C., now Lord Kilbrandon, made a report in July, 1958, following which the Corporation raised its rents, on average, from 5s. 2d. to 8s. 5d.
Then there was the catalyst case—the one which has brought this provision into the Bill—of the Dumbarton County Council on which Mr. G. C. Emslie, Q.C., reported in February this year, Mr. Emslie found, as hon. Members will see if they read his report, that the council's average rent of 2s. 10d. a week represented less than one-third of the cost of hiring a television set, one-quarter of the weekly cost of hiring a garage and one-half the cost of repairs that had to be done to the houses. This had resulted in a housing deficit in 1959–60 of £286,000, in respect of which an Exchequer equalisation grant of £50,000 became payable. The facts led him to the conclusion that the county council had not carried out any review of rents, within 1409 the meaning of the Statute, between 1950 and 1960, so that it had failed to comply with the law.
What, of course, happened was that the majority on the council were deliberately, and with their eyes open, permitting tenants to occupy houses at 2s. 10d. a week and requiring the other ratepayers to shoulder a net housing burden of 7s. 9d. in the £. That was certainly not "holding the balance evenly between the tenants and the general body of ratepayers." It was, in fact, as the leader of the so-called "No Action Group" on the council admitted, "fortunate for the tenants, but unfortunate for the ratepayers." As Mr. Emslie pointed out in page 19 of his report, it wasA cynical and deliberate disregard of the duty of trust which was and is theirs towards the general body of the ratepayers.
§ Mr. J. Robertson
Would not the hon. Member not agree that this situation was brought about by the rating Act which transferred the owners' rates on to the tenants and that during the passage of that Act the Government spokesman said that there would be no increases of rent by reason of the transfer of the owners' rates?
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
That has nothing whatever to do with the position in Dunbartonshire. If the hon. Gentleman would read Mr. Emslie's report he would see that the causes axe quite other than that. It is all clearly set out in the report. I myself welcome, and I am sure that all hon. Members who are fair about this and who have read the report will welcome, the provision of Clause 29 which provides that where an inquiry has been held and the local authority is found to be in default in its duties under the 1950 Act, the Secretary of State may make a rent scheme and direct that the local authority shall comply with it.
I should like to make one point on this. When a public inquiry has been held and, if it is found that the county or the local authority concerned is in default, I would like to see this as mandatory on the Secretary of State and not permissive. I should like the Secretary of State to be required to make a rent scheme and not just do so if he wants to.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
In the case of a local authority under whose rent scheme council house tenants are paying a higher rent than the notional rents suggested by the Secretary of State, would the hon. Gentleman then make it mandatory on the Secretary of State to enforce that local authority to reduce its rent scheme to his level?
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
Of course not. I believe that it is the right of a local authority to fix what rent it believes to be right. [An HON. MEMBER: "Only one way."] Not at all. I say that where a local inquiry has been held and the finding of the local inquiry is that the local authority has fallen down on its job and not done it properly, the Secretary of State should instruct it to make a rent scheme. This would naturally flow from Clause 29, provided that a local inquiry has been held and the authority had been found in default.
I welcome Clause 32, which provides roughly that where an agricultural cottage, which has been improved by a grant and which is supposed to be in the terms of the grant, occupied by an agricultural worker, becomes vacant, and there is no further use for it as an agricultural cottage, the local authority may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, allow other workers to go into the house as tenants. I think that that is very good indeed. I have only one qualification to make. It hardly seems necessary to bother the Secretary of State with a detail like that. I would have thought that it could have been left to the local authority. There are hundreds of agricultural cottages becoming vacant in the country today. As agriculture becomes more mechanised, the number of farm workers has been cut down, and young couples are leaving the land. I can think of literally dozens of good cottages within reach of my own home in the north east of Scotland which are vacant. It would be a good thing if a local authority were able to allow a lorry driver, say, to go into one of these cottages. A lorry driver came to me the other day who had just got married and who wanted a cottage. Could we let them have one? If we could let such people have these cottages, I believe that it would be a great help in agricultural districts. If the local authority could 1411 say, "I will let this chap have a decent house—a roof over his head—to live in" I do not think we need bother the Secretary of State about it.
The noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) was urging the adoption of modern techniques in building. I was very impressed yesterday to read in The Times, which my constituents will insist in calling "The London Times", an account of a contract worth £5 million placed by the Stevenage Corporation with a well-known firm of building contractors to build 2,000 houses. This contract was thought to be on such a substantial scale as to warrant the application of mass production techniques. Concrete construction will be used for the houses and there will be much prefabrication of components. I should like that sort of thing to be done in Cumbernauld and in the new town, which we welcome, which is to be built in the Lothians. I hope that the Secretary of State will look into this because I think that it is something that ought to be looked at. If we could place sufficient orders so that the big contractors could get on with building the houses that we need, that would be all to the good.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
May I, as the first speaker this afternoon from this side of the House since the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett), join the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) in offering my sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend on his most effective speech. I have known him for many years. I am not surprised that he has so successfully overcome the first hurdle. He has shown this afternoon a quality which has been characteristic of him throughout the whole of his public career and long before that, namely, a spirit of humanity and a humanistic approach to the many problems confronting the people of Scotland, particularly those in Glasgow.
However, I must part company from the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns on the rest of his speech. His speech did not contain one helpful suggestion towards solving Scotland's housing problem. Does he suggest, as 1412 the Secretary of State has suggested, that the terrible plight of the people in Scotland by virtue of their lack of adequate housing conditions has been in any way contributed to by local authorities not having charged adequate rents? I challenge the Secretary of State to show one instance where the policy of a local authority in not charging an economic or near-economic rent for municipal houses has contributed to the present housing situation.
I read that the Secretary of State was to move the Second Reading of a Bill toMake further arrangements for the giving of financial assistance for the provision and improvement of housing accommodation in Scotlandso I came to the House this afternoon in a hopeful mood, anticipating that the right hon. Gentleman would deliver a rousing speech. I hoped that he would give us a clarion call which would arouse everyone in Scotland, in whatever sphere of activity they may be engaged, to make a united effort so that we can once and for all rid ourselves of Scotland's terrible scourge in housing.
I regret to say that I have been sadly disillusioned. When I entered local government almost thirty years ago the same pious platitudes were being uttered. Yet today, thirty years later, the people of Scotland, and especially those in Glasgow and on the Clydeside, are in an even worse plight than they were thirty years ago. What have we achieved throughout the years? Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds further with the Bill, he, together with officials from St. Andrew's House, should make a tour of inspection of Glasgow and the Clydeside. The right hon. Gentleman showed this afternoon that he has failed to grasp the gravity and urgency of the situation. This is because he has not first-hand knowledge of the conditions. I regret to say that the officials in St. Andrew's House are not helping him or the Under-Secretary to appreciate the need and urgency.
Let the right hon. Gentleman temporarily suspend the Bill or delay its further stages. As a former Lord Provost of the City, I ask him to go to Glasgow and look at some of the things which for many years we have been asking to be remedied. He will find a situation which is demoralising. My 1413 hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton spoke of the special conditions in his constituency. It gives me no pleasure, pride or satisfaction to say that in Glasgow we have housing conditions which are demoralising to the individuals who are forced to dwell in them.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
The hon. Member asked my right hon. Friend to suspend the Bill. The object of the Bill is to give increased subsidies to areas such as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. In view of that, does he really want to suspend the Bill?
§ Sir M. Galpern
I do not think that finances alone will help to ease the housing shortage. No one could charge Glasgow, which is the subject of a committee of inquiry, or any other local authority with putting a brake upon housing development, despite the extortionate interest charges. The Secretary of State should make a personal investigation so that he can discover the size of the problem with which he proposes to deal. The problem is largely centred round Glasgow and the west of Scotland. Even the Toothill Report, which was published this morning—there are a number of toots in it, some of them musical and some not so musical—categorically states that Glasgow has a special problem.
I propose to deal with some of the special problems as we see them in Glasgow and as we think they can be remedied. They must be remedied speedily. If the right hon. Gentleman made a tour of inspection he would find that Glasgow has 30,000 homeless families. London has been making a great song and dance—and rightly so—about 3,000 homeless families, but Glasgow has 30,000 homeless families. I want to be quite fair and state that these 30,000 families have never been tenants of houses. They are living in sub-tenancies, in rooms. I do not necessarily mean that they are all herded together in public institutions, but there are 30,000 families who have never had a home. Therefore, in the true sense of the word they are homeless.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton gave details of the conditions of the houses in which other families are compelled to live. These are the people who are fortunate enough to be the 1414 proud possessors or tenants of homes. Eighty-eight thousand of them are housed in accommodation without an inside toilet. I am not talking of baths, which are nowadays regarded as essential. These people have not even got an inside toilet. Three or four families are sharing the same toilet. Twenty-eight per cent, of the houses in Glasgow come within this category of having no inside toilet. All we hear is a speech from the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns and a speech from the Secretary of State telling us what they think is the cause of the trouble, implying that it could have been remedied if only one thing had been done, namely, if a near-economic rent had been charged.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) told the House, we face a great problem in slum clearance, and in Glasgow the problem is becoming overpowering. During the last five years, we have been able to average only 1,381 houses demolished per annum out of our colossal legacy of properties 50, 60, 70 and even 100 years old. Moreover, as we close and demolish houses, an almost equal number requiring demolition the following year comes up to take their place. We make no progress. I doubt whether we break even in slum clearance. I regret to say, also, that our standard of habitability in Glasgow is not very high compared with that of other authorities, but this is forced upon us because, if we were to adopt the same standard as other authorities in Scotland, we should be completely overwhelmed.
These are the sort of things which the Secretary of State and his officials in St. Andrew's House ought to see for themselves. Only then will they learn of the urgency of the tremendous problem in Glasgow and Clydeside.
I mention next what are called farmed-out houses, that is to say, houses in multiple occupation. In the City of Glasgow we have 552 of these, and in them there are no fewer than 4,867 persons. The situation is really desperate. I pay a tribute to what the City Corporation has done over the years. With all deference to what Hamilton has done. I doubt whether any authority in Scotland has made a greater contribution than has the City of Glasgow in these matters. Glasgow has performed an almost 1415 Herculean task in building well over 120,000 municipal houses since the last war. The brake has been put on now only because we have no more virgin sites.
The problem of farmed-out houses has become so desperate that the Corporation is contemplating the introduction of something which was known in the Victorian era, namely, "ticketed" houses. I do not know whether the English Members are aware of what that system is, but there was such a system many years ago. Now, the City of Glasgow is being forced to consider the licensing of farmed-out houses in order that it may be able to control the number of people per room and ensure that certain minimum standards of decency in toilet accommodation and cooking and water facilities are provided by the owners.
At a conservative estimate, the City of Glasgow today requires no fewer than 75,000 houses as quickly as possible. We are here discussing a Bill and financial proposals which do not even start to make a dent on the problem. With the exception of the two referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridge-ton, we have no virgin sites left. What has the Secretary of State told us which will give some comfort, encouragement and hope to the people of Glasgow and Clydeside that they can look forward to decent housing conditions within a measurable distance of time?
I will tell the House how Glasgow is tackling the problem. We are dealing with it in a two-fold way, by overspill and by the creation of new towns. Glasgow has concluded agreements—I think the Secretary of State might have referred to this—with thirty-seven authorities in Scotland which have undertaken to provide 8,585 houses for overspill families from Glasgow. That number will be matched by a similar number under the Special Scottish Housing Association, which will give us altogether a total of 17,170 houses. The new towns of Cumbernauld, Glenrothes and East Kilbride under their present agreements are to provide 4,800 houses and they hope ultimately to provide for the City of Glasgow 15,800 houses. Those totals represent the maximum possibility open to the City of Glasgow 1416 at present and, as I have said, the magnitude of the problem is shown by the need to have 75,000 houses quickly and the presence of 30,000 people homeless.
How successful has the overspill arrangement been? At 18th October this year, the number of families rehoused totalled 2,960. The number of families nominated by the City of Glasgow for rehousing in overspill areas is 1,175. In preparing and introducing a Bill of the kind now before us, the Secretary of State ought to have looked at the mechanics of rehousing under the overspill arrangement. As most hon. Members will know, the system is that an individual who desires to go to an overspill area applies, not to his own local authority, but to the area of his choice. He has to complete a quite lengthy questionnaire, answering, among others, questions about the nature of his employment and his skill. The authority to which he applies scrutinises his application. Then the Ministry of Labour steps in. It is very co-operative, and it checks whether the individual has made a correct assessment of his skill. The overspill authorities do not want people unless they are likely to go into jobs in the area.
After the applications have been vetted, they are sent in batches of twenty to the City of Glasgow, and it is for the Glasgow Corporation to determine how many of those who have applied and successfully passed the scrutiny of the overspill authority will have their applications approved and accepted by the City of Glasgow.
In my view, any question of whether a man has a job to go to should be omitted from the overspill arrangements. There are very many people who commute from distances much further than the distances of some of the areas with which we have entered into overspill agreements. Literally hundreds of people travel daily from Edinburgh to Glasgow who could quite easily stay there. Hundreds of people travel 20 to 50 miles into Glasgow.
A contribution was made in this House some time ago which agreed with me that overspill arrangements depend on the individual finding a job in the overspill area. It should be left entirely 1417 to the individual to make up his own mind as to whether he is prepared to commute between an area of his own choice or an area in which he has obtained a house and Glasgow. In the movement of industry from Glasgow, which is linked with overspill arrangements, we find that industrialists and manufacturers are loth to move out, and it becomes very much harder for the people to satisfy the overspill authority that they will be able to get a job. I propose, as has been proposed in this House before, that we should abandon the present system. I say that we should let the individual choose whether he wants to travel or not.
Surely there should be incorporated in a Bill of this kind some provision about the disposal of houses vacated by people who are successful in getting houses in overspill areas or new towns. What is happening to these houses? We in Glasgow have found that only a fraction of the houses which are vacated by these people is offered for letting by the private landlords. The majority of them are put up for sale.
§ Sir M. Galpern
I will come to that question in a moment.
Some provision about these houses should be incorporated in a Housing Bill because this is a matter which is intimately linked with the overspill and new town arrangements. Local authorities should be empowered to be able to control houses which are vacated by people who have moved from one area to another under an overspill arrangement and they should be entitled to nominate as tenants of the vacated houses people from their own waiting lists. At the moment local authorities possess no powers to enable them to make use of these houses. In Glasgow, we find that people from outside the city are buying the vacant houses, and our own housing problem becomes more aggravated. At some time in the future the circumstances of these people may change. They may not be included in the Prime Minister's forecast that people will be earning £1,000 a year in ten years' time and they may throw themselves on the tender mercies of the local authority. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider this proposition that 1418 power should be given to local authorities to control the letting of these houses as they become vacated by people leaving the city under an overspill arrangement.
We have heard a great deal about the great financial contribution which is being made by the Exchequer to housing. The Kirkintilloch local authority is seeking an early meeting with the City of Glasgow because it says that it cannot carry out the obligations into which it has entered. I think that it entered into an arrangement to provide 450 houses in Glasgow. It has not done very much in that direction. The authority wrote to Glasgow Corporation saying that it must have an urgent meeting with the Corporation's representative because of the financial difficulties in which it finds itself.
I do not know why Glasgow has a problem such as this. Other areas escape it, including those in the south of England. I do not know Glasgow's sin of omission or commission that it should be saddled with this problem. We are doing our best to deal with it, but, because the Kirkintilloch authority is to receive only £14 a year for 10 years, it says that this is wholly inadequate and that unless it can be substantially increased the authority cannot proceed with the arrangement into which it has entered. As soon as that gets out—it is out now—we can rest assured that many other local authorities will fall in behind Kirkintilloch and will express similar dissatisfaction with the financial arrangements. What does the Secretary of State propose to do about this matter? He is as well aware as anyone that the Kirkintilloch local authority has indicated its dissatisfaction about the arrangement into which it has entered.
The question of finance has been the corner stone around which most of the argument so far has developed and around which it will probably continue to revolve. I wish to be fair to the Secretary of State and to the House and to deal quickly with the economics of a house which I am not pricing too high and where the rate of interest is very reasonable. Let me deal with a house in the City of Glasgow which costs £2,250. At 5 per cent., the annual loan charges on that house amount to 1419 £118 17s. 3d. After 60 years, £4,830 in interest will have been paid on it. Repair and management costs amount to £11 a year, making a total expenditure of £129 17s. 3d.
Let me take the new subsidy. As far as we can judge, Glasgow will very narrowly qualify for it. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to confirm that Glasgow will just manage to qualify for it. We estimate that Glasgow's new subsidy will be £32, and, therefore I will base my calculation on that sum, leaving the amount to be obtained from rent and rates £97 17s. 3d. The Secretary of State said that there will be a notional figure of £53. That is something which the Secretary of State will readily accept and for which he will probably award the Corporation councillors medals. Let us assume that the rents in Glasgow are raised so as to enable us to reach that figure of £53. We are still left with a balance of £44 17s. 3d. which has to be met from the rates.
With the subsidy of £32 and with the notional rent and the rate fund contribution, the City of Glasgow will still be left to find from the rates a deficit of £44 17s. 3d. I should like the Under-Secretary when replying to give just one reason why the City of Glasgow in particular should have to face a situation of this kind. I should like the hon. Gentleman to note also the fact that last year Glasgow paid away in interest charges on its housing account £5,374,141.
We are told that the Bill will assist the provision of houses because private builders will erect them. I should like the Under-Secretary to quote any instances in Glasgow and Clydeside of private enterprise erecting house property for letting. The reason why private enterprise has not done so is the high interest charges. I do not know any instance of house property having been built in the City of Glasgow within the last twenty years by private enterprise for letting. The economic rent for such property would be so high that it is impossible to find tenants quickly for that type of house.
It has been suggested that if only Glasgow had had a proper level of rental we would have been saved much trouble and would not be in our present plight. 1420 Let me remind the Government that the situation is the very reverse. There have been cases when local authorities have built houses but, because economic rentals were fixed, they have had to advertise for tenants to take them over. Because they tried to have something like an economic rent, they were unable to get tenants.
The redevelopment of Glasgow is another big problem. After the redevelopment areas are cleared away, Glasgow is building to a density of 150 rooms per acre, the highest density in the country. Only 40 per cent. of the people from the demolished houses will be rehoused in the redevelopment area and 60 per cent. must go elsewhere. Therefore, we have a problem of 200,000 overspill because we have so many areas urgently requiring redevelopment but we can only rehouse 40 per cent. of the people in those areas. Therefore, Glasgow is forced to build multi-storey flats.
We have no more virgin sites. When the Secretary of State gave way to me in speech this afternoon, I asked whether the proposal of a £40 flat-rate subsidy would cover a local authority which had to build multi-storey flats. The right hon. Gentleman did not know the answer and said that his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would deal with it when replying to the debate. I can give the answer. Glasgow is still further penalised and punished.
In the first place, Glasgow has its big housing problem. Secondly, we have no virgin sites. As a result, the only way to help the people who require accommodation is to build upwards. The proposed £40 flat-rate subsidy represents only two-thirds of the additional cost of having to build high. That is a gross injustice, particularly for an authority which would wish to spread itself out if it had the opportunity to do so.
Clause 8 relates to the power to reduce or abolish subsidies. The uncertainty is bound to worry local authorities. This power is linked closely with Clause 39, because it is obvious that the only way that subsidies could be reduced after ten years would be by the Secretary of State looking round, deciding that the rents in certain areas were too low and, after local inquiry, forcing 1421 local authorities to introduce what the Minister would describe as more realistic rentals. The Secretary of State practically admitted as much. That is the only way by which it can be done, by pushing up rentals and enabling the Secretary of State to say that there is a balance and that, therefore, the subsidies should be either cut or abolished.
When a local authority has been taken before a committee of inquiry and the committee recommends a certain rent structure, which the local authority either does not operate or which the Secretary of State does not regard as being adequate, will the Secretary of State continue to have power to impose his rent structure upon that local authority or must he repeat the process and have another court of inquiry?
There are several other points to which, I hope, the Under-Secretary will make an effort to reply. In my opinion, the situation in Glasgow and Clydeside is so serious that it warrants the setting-up of a special committee of inquiry to examine the whole position. That is not in any way to cast aspersions on the local authorites, to whom I pay tribute and will continue to do so. I was a member of a local authority for over twenty-five years. My view is that we need a special committee of inquiry, including members from the local authority and outside people, experts, too, who would be charged with the duty of examining the whole position of housing in Glasgow in particular and in Clyde-side generally.
In my view, housing in Glasgow and Clydeside has now become a regional matter. It has reached the stage when it is impossible for Glasgow and the surrounding authorities to deal with it on an individual basis. A committee of inquiry could consider this aspect also. The problem is such an urgent one that the committee could cut across the divisions between certain local authorities. There should be less red tape and there should be a coming together of Glasgow and the surrounding authorities to see whether, once and for all, we could make a genuine improvement in housing conditions.
The 1951 census showed that 15 per cent. of people in Clydeside lived more than two in a room whereas in the remainder of Scotland only 9 per cent. 1422 lived two in a room. The English figure was 1 per cent. There may have been a slight improvement by the time of the 1961 census but, even so, the disparity must still be just as great. There is great need for Glasgow and Clydeside to get together to see how far the problem can be solved.
I have referred to the job qualification for an individual who seeks a tenancy in an overspill area or a new town.
There should be specially low interest rates, if not the complete abolition of interest rates, to deal with the special and peculiar problems afflicting Glasgow and Clydeside. There should be more new towns. We cannot help it if they become dormitory towns, but the provision of new towns is the only way to solve the problem.
I have referred to the powers of requisition, and unoccupied houses have been mentioned. On Whit Sunday, 1960, there were 4,356 unoccupied houses in Glasgow, the bulk of them in the sort of area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton so that they were not big houses. They had boards displayed to say that they were not to let, but for sale. Local authorities, particularly those like Glasgow, should have power to acquire those unoccupied houses. Finally, local authorities should have power to control the price of building land. The price of land and the price of house building and interest charges make a combination which it seems impossible to defeat.
I hope that the Secretary of State will accept my challenge. If he and the Under-Secretary make the tour which I have invited them to make, they will scrap the Bill and give us something much more imaginative.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) speaks with a wealth of experience as a former Lord Provost of Glasgow. I agree with him that this is a partial problem in Scotland in that certain areas, particularly the City of Glasgow, are very much worse than others. But I do not agree that the Bill should be scrapped. Housing subsidies 1423 in England and Wales total about £61 million. Those payable in Scotland in the financial year 1961–62 are nearly £19¾ million. If Scotland's population is about one-tenth of that of England and Wales, we are getting proportionately three times more subsidy. Admittedly we have a great need of it, but this is a valuable Bill in that it distributes that amount of subsidy to where it is needed.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) said that there were dozens of empty farm cottages in his area. He is extremely fortunate, because that is not the case in mine. I have in my hand a report of the Medical Officer of Health for Wigtonshire who, to take one example, quotes a two-apartment cottage in an appalling condition of dampness with no water, toilet, or other convenience and inhabited by two adults and five young children. The tenant is an agricultural worker who has been on the same farm for more than five years. Such conditions should not exist in this modern age.
I welcome the provision in Clause 4 that a subsidy for agricultural housing by a local authority may be as much as £44. At the same time, I doubt whether that will be much use in an agricultural area. I have obtained some figures which show that the subsidy spent on agricultural housing is equal to only 1 per cent. of the total housing subsidy in Scotland.
The main agricultural occupations in my part of the world are milk production and hill farming. In such farming the agricultural worker has to live in an isolated area and probably a long way from a road. I do not see how a county council can build cottages on each farm to let to agricultural tenants. There are many difficulties. How would the rent be collected? It would be an awful job for the rent collector. If the farmer quarrels with the worker, is the worker to be put out and a new one put in by the county council, or is the farm not to be run? Provision of that sort of housing must be undertaken by the farm owner himself.
In the case I have given, the rent could not be more than 2s. 6d. per week—there is probably no rent charged. There is absolutely no incentive to an owner to 1424 improve the house, because he knows that the maximum rent he can charge under the wages agreement is 7s. a week. Nothing gets done until the ploughman goes off to Glasgow, or threatens to go. If he does go to Glasgow, he makes Glasgow's housing problem worse.
On present agricultural wages it is not feasible to take 10 per cent. of a wage as being a reasonable rent for a house. The proportion may be all right for a worker getting £15 a week, but 10 per cent. is too much for a man earning £9 a week. One way to deal with this difficulty would be to raise agricultural wages to about what they probably ought to be, say £12 or £13 a week, letting the farmer charge an economic rent for the house. If it were a good house, he might be able to charge up to £2 a week. If the worker preferred to live in a hovel, he would pay only 2s. 6d. and he could put the rest of the money in his pocket. Economic forces like that must enter the solution of the housing problem.
Under Clause 4 a subsidy of £44 a year for sixty years is to be paid to a local authority. The total is £2,640, but for the ordinary private owner who builds a new house the subsidy is only £300, which is considerably less than the grant of £400 which is paid for improving an old house under the 1952 legislation. That merely leads to a position in which people in the country tend to tinker up old houses because they get a bigger grant for doing that than for building a new house. That is economic madness. When the grant for building a new house was first introduced in 1938 it was £200, or, roughly, 50 per cent. of what it cost to build a house in those days. Today, at £300, it is nearer one-seventh.
Under the Farm Improvement Scheme, which has been a tremendous help to the countryside in the supply of new fixed equipment on farms, the grant payable is 33⅓ per cent., but cottages are excluded. Yet cottages are definitely part of the fixed equipment of a holding. That might be thought to be illogical as housing comes under one Vote and agriculture under another, but under the Hill Farming Scheme one can get a grant of 50 per cent. towards the cost of a new cottage. So there is no logic in this situation and I hope that the 1425 right hon. Gentleman will reconsider it, because the need for agricultural housing in my area, and, no doubt, in other areas of Scotland, is very great.
Dealing with the urban areas, I think we must be very alarmed at the housing conditions which have been described by the hon. Member for Shettleston and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett) in what I thought was an excellent maiden speech. On the other hand, going back to 1945, if one had been told then that in the next sixteen years one in three families in Scotland would have moved into a new house, one would hardly have believed a problem could exist.
A report has recently been issued by the Alliance Building Society. Referring to Great Britain, it says that we shall need 8 million houses in the next twenty years. Some blame is put on the Registrar-General for not appreciating that the birth rate would go up and that the population would increase so much. But in Scotland, according to the last census, the population has hardly risen at all. Therefore, I do not think we can blame the housing shortage in Scotland on an increased population.
It is partly because old houses are falling into disrepair at a greatly increased rate. What is happening is that the rent is not sufficient to cover essential repairs, and they do not get done. The tenant moves out, and a slightly worse tenant comes into a slightly worse house. Over the years that tenant leaves, the house gets still worse, and a worse tenant still comes in. Eventually the house comes into the hands of one of the people who are the problem in the Welfare State, an old couple with very little means, or perhaps an old lady.
I think that local authorities must rehouse that type of person. It is no good saying that if the rent is decontrolled there will be more houses to rent in that type of case. I think that the local authority must build houses for people like that, preferably two-apartment houses, because if an old lady falls ill she wants somebody, perhaps her daughter, to live in the house and look after her.
I therefore welcome the provisions for building houses for the elderly, not only by local authorities but also, as the 1426 Secretary of State for Scotland said this afternoon, by housing associations who will be encouraged to provide housing estates designed for this type of person. On the other hand, it is entirely wrong to give the impression that all council house tenants are in the same position as the old lady or the old couple whom I have described. The figures I have show that the average industrial wage in Scotland—and these figures come from the Department of Health publication—is £14.
§ Mr. J. Robertson
If the hon. Gentleman examines the report again, he will find that the Department of Health obtained that figure from the Ministry of Labour, and that it is the figure for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Brewis
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I heard of his remarks, but I was not here when he made them. In another speech he gave a figure of a little over £13.
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman must read HANSARD correctly. The figure of £13 was the figure given in the White Paper, and was the figure for the United Kingdom. The figure I quoted as my estimate was £12.
§ Mr. Brewis
I thank the hon. Gentleman for this estimate, but I do not think it affects my argument very much.
§ Mr. Brewis
The present policy over rents undoubtedly leads to certain disadvantages. One is the disadvantage of immobility, because people are prevented from moving into more suitable areas. I understand that in Kelvingrove there are a lot of old people. They would probably be better off if they moved out of the centre of Glasgow, but as there are no houses to rent they cannot go. Again, one often finds a father and mother in a big house. The children have married and left. The parents would probably much prefer a smaller house if only they could get one to rent. Similarly, and this is the worst condition of all, one finds a young married couple who cannot find anywhere to live and so go to live with mother and father.
I should welcome any houses which were for rent. The hon. Member for 1427 Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), giving a high example, thought that they would have to be rented at £4 a week. I am prepared to accept that there are people who are prepared to pay £4 a week rent. Perhaps not the ordinary man, but there are people in Scotland who earn wages above the average as well as under the average. There are people coming into Scotland, perhaps as managers in a new industry, who want a slightly better house, and every new house reduces the housing shortage because it means that someone moves out of an overcrowded house or ceases to live with his in-laws.
In the United States, a very much higher proportion of a person's wage or salary goes in rent. The figure was quoted in the Glasgow Herald, and is as much as 25 per cent. In Canada anybody who earns more than six times the rent of his house cannot live in a council house. There are people who are prepared to pay more rent. I do not want to press this point, but the housing shortage is so serious that, in connection with the Newington Lodge business in London, one lorry driver said that he would be prepared to pay even £5 a week to get somewhere to live. Some people can pay much higher rents than the average rents in Scotland at the moment.
What the Secretary of State for Scotland regards as reasonable is to raise the rents to approximately those in England, to about £1 a week.
§ Mr. Brewis
Yes, rates have to be paid in addition.
As regards the Glasgow overspill question, I have glanced through the Toot-hill Committee's Report which calls for considerable redevelopment in Scotland. At the moment, the overspill is concentrating on giving mare population to small towns on the outskirts of Glasgow, or else creating new towns like East Kilbride, Cumbernauld, and the one proposed at Livingstone, all with a population of under 100,000 people.
The average Glaswegian does not want to go to a small town. He is probably more an urban person than an oppidan person. He wants the amenities which one finds in a large city. The difference is probably this. When one travels in 1428 a tube train in London, one is not looked at by other people as one is in a small town. If one walks down the street in a small town people look at one and greet one, and if one happens to be a stranger there one is looked at even harder. The Glaswegian is an urban dweller. He wants hotels, parks, a first-class football team and the kind of amenities which go much more with city life.
§ Sir M. Galpern
The hon. Gentleman said that there were exceptions and that people could afford to pay more than £4 a week in rent. Similarly, some Glasgow people are prepared to go to the quieter rural areas for the sake of their health and for the benefit of their families. I do not think it pays to generalise.
§ Mr. Brewis
I accept that immediately. Stranraer, in my constituency, has entered into an overspill agreement, and if any people go there, from now on they will be welcomed.
We want more new cities in Scotland, and by cities I mean places with over 250,000 inhabitants. My right hon. Friend should consider making the proposed new town of Livingstone very much bigger. We have the Bathgate factory there, and it should be possible to bring more industry into areas where more labour is available. Another alternative would be to take an existing Scottish burgh and redevelop it by building big blocks of flats around it, making it a much bigger place. There are some very formidable difficulties about developing the centre of a burgh, but if we look ahead for two or three decades we find that we must consider this point and also remember that in an existing burgh there is a certain communal feeling, which is very useful for people coming in. America has had some experience of new "green belt" towns. They have tended to become dead places, without any community spirit growing up through churches being built, and so on. They have tended to be merely dormitories.
When we hold our Scottish debates English Members are seldom present, and we seldom think of the English aspect, but the two countries are joined together. The population of England, especially in the south, is becoming enormous, and it will tend to increase 1429 still more if we enter the Common Market. There will be a spread of urban development right across Kent and Sussex. People ought to be better distributed in this island of ours. It is not reasonable for an industrialist to say that a Factory in Wick or Thurso is out of the question. Such an argument is like an American saying that no factory could be made to pay if it were not within 400 miles of New York. It just is not true. The Government must consider the situation with imagination, and consider building new cities or developing some of the new towns as cities.
I very much welcome the Bill's provision for subsidies in respect of multi-storey buildings. These are very desirable, and are to be seen much more on the Continent than here. I also welcome the subsidies for house building, because in this country it tends to be far too slow and costly. In Germany practically no bricks are used. Concrete blocks are used instead, and enable the Germans to get the job done much quicker and probably much cheaper. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that point. I also welcome the small subsidy for amenity building.
Lastly, I welcome the Bill and the redistribution of subsidies which it entails.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I hope that the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely. I have some very good notes of my own, and I intend to get their contents on the record. The hon. Member is a young man who has liked the country all his life, and I know that there are many slums in our rural areas—many places which are quite unfit for human habitation. Many of them have no water laid on, but despite that some of them are subject to flooding. I do not think that the solution he advocates is the right answer to the problem. The only real answer is the creation of village communities by the county councils, and a getting away from the idea that we can keep farm workers segregated in lonely countrysides. We must provide for them a community life and a community spirit, in a community village.
I welcome any of the provisions of the Bill which give more power to the local authorities and which give them a 1430 greater stature. I even welcome the money that the Minister is giving to co-operative housing associations if they will produce more houses, but I have great doubts about the real intentions of the Government in bringing forward the Bill.
There is undoubtedly an intention to increase rents. That is one of the main intentions. Another declared intention is that, somehow or other, private enterprise shall be brought into the swim. We should consider this matter more carefully for a moment or two and not deal with it merely on the surface. In the main, most of the housebuilding operations which take place in local authority areas throughout Scotland are already carried on by private enterprise. It is therefore clear that the Scottish Office, the Secretary of State and the Joint Under-Secretary are not really concerned with the private enterprise employees and builders who are doing the work.
What they are really concerned about are the people who support the Conservative Party and who have money invested in the Prudential or in banking houses which will provide the money for housing development, and whose shareholders will therefore have a bigger and quicker return on their capital investment. It is no use talking about the need for private enterprise house building. Private enterprise houses are going up in every local authority area which cares to build them.
Quite apart from the scorn poured by the Secretary of State upon local authorities and town councils and their tenants, and what they do and do not do, the building of municipal houses in Scotland has put many townships and burghs on the map. It has enhanced their rateable value. It has given them a borrowing power that they did not formerly possess, and has placed them on a higher rung of the local authority ladder than they formerly enjoyed. These points are never mentioned by the Secretary of State. One would think that municipal house building was a continual drain and dragging down of the community in which the houses were being built, but it is much more than that.
I welcome certain of the Bill's provisions. I welcome the changes provided 1431 for by Clause 21, which will allow local authorities to proceed direct to make closing or demolition orders, and so stop the time lag caused when an unsightly building is demolished and it is impossible to trace the owner. That is a big improvement which I am quite sure that Scottish local authorities will commend.
I also welcome the provisions in Clause 22 which enable local authorities compulsorily to acquire sites after demolition. This will enable a lot of mopping up to be carried out in town centres and other areas where houses are being demolished. Clause 23 links up with this Clause to enable local authorities to make a charging order in favour of themselves for the recovery of expenses incurred in demolishing buildings which are the subject of demolition orders. But these are but slight adjuncts to the main purpose of the Bill.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State has returned to the Chamber during my speech. He usually comes in when I am speaking and I appreciate the interest he takes in the facts which I continually reveal to him. If the right hon. Gentleman reads the previous part of my speech, about the stature and strength of local authorities and what has been achieved by municipal housing, I think that it will do him good. Undoubtedly he is worried about the heavy deficit on the housing revenue accounts of our local authorities. Let us examine the causes of these deficits.
First, I put the heavy increased interest charges which are the direct responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman. Secondly, I put the large reduction in subsidies; and the Secretary of State may add a third cause, which is too low rents. Let us examine these causes carefully, sincerely, objectively and dispassionately. I consider that the heavy increase in interest charges has had the greatest impact. Recently a Question on the subject was addressed to the Secretary of State by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) and the Minister's Answer showed how interest rates affect the average Scottish local authority house. In 1951 an average house costing £1,500 to build had an impact of interest charges amounting to £54. In 1961 that figure 1432 had risen to £107, which is £1 short of an increase of 100 per cent. Undoubtedly this has greatly affected the position and is responsible much more than rents for the deficit in the housing revenue account. But I have yet to hear tile right hon. Gentleman reefer to it at meetings at which he has discussed the housing problems which are engaging the attention of earnest men and women in Scotland.
§ Mr. Manuel
My hon. Friend will be aware that it is only when one is unable to obtain the money from elsewhere that one is allowed to go to the Public Works Loan Board. First, the would-be borrower is sent to the public market.
The reduction of subsidies was a blow to local authorities and frustrated or destroyed their hopes of grappling successfully with the housing problems in their areas. There is no doubt that the increased interest charges and the halving of the housing subsidies are the real reasons for the morass of debt and the heavy deficits on the housing revenue accounts of local authorities. Were it not for the impact of these two things the Secretary of State could not have high-lighted the question of too low rents, as he has done so often.
The full picture has never been given. I do not advocate rents which are too low. I adhere to the principle of a reasonable rent. But the issue has been clouded and confused because of the speeches made by the Secretary of State. I wish to take the opportunity later in my speech to clear up some of the points at issue and to put the picture into correct focus. So far as I can discover, there is no record of the right hon. Gentleman telling the meetings he has addressed on this subject about the impact of lower subsidies and increased interest charges. Surely the Minister will agree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). If the Minister wishes to persuade private enterprise to build houses for sale, he will not be successful if money is to be provided only at interest rates amounting to 6¼ per cent., 6½ per cent. or 7 per cent. I agree completely with my hon. Friend that under 1433 those circumstances the Secretary of State will be unsuccessful in his endeavours to get what he terms private enterprise houses.
In the White Paper on Housing in Scotland there is an indication that something is wrong because more than one-third of the houses in Scotland are owned by local authorities. That is stated to be wrong because local authorities are tending to become monopoly landlords. But, in any area where one-third or more of the houses are local authority houses, if the people are not pleased with their landlords they can sack one-third of them each year, and in three years can be rid of the lot. We cannot deal with the landlords of privately-owned houses in the same way. Therefore, I think that the point about local authorities being monopoly landlords is wrong. The democratic rights of tenants of all categories in those areas will enable them to get rid of the members of the local authority, and I wish that we could get rid of private landlords as easily.
§ Mr. Maclay
As the hon. Gentleman has recognised, I am following his speech with great interest, but I do not think he is correct in suggesting that I am casting a slur on local authorities. In the interests of housing of all types it is not desirable that any one agency should become monopolistic. To say that is not to cast a slur on the local authorities. I made clear what are the functions of local authorities.
§ Mr. Manuel
I do think that it would be more democratic to allow people in an area to make the decision rather than that it should be made by the Secretary of State as an individual. This is the way we carry on government, and I would hope that the Secretary of State is not now putting a Khrushchev kind of look about him in order to try any dictatorial stuff in regard to the local authorities aspect of this Bill in Scotland
Despite no sign of revolt, and despite the fact that our local councillors are carrying on to the best of their ability, devoting their lives in trying to create the city beautiful in their own little areas in the best way they can, against the very great impact of interest charges, reduction of the subsidy and so on, the Secretary of State, in looking at their 1434 work, does not seem to have much faith in them. All he can say is that his great cure for all the ills in the non-provision of houses and all the other things which he sees in the local government spectrum is an increase of rent. I want to devote a little time to a paragraph in the White Paper on Housing in Scotland (Cmnd. 1520). The reasons are clearly given in the White Paper for the insertion of Clause 3 in this Bill. The White Paper, on page 6, deals with rents, and I wish to read a sentence from paragraph 17, which says:On the 1960 average rent of just over 9s. a week"—it is actually 9s. 1d. a week—the tenant of a Scottish local authority house meets rather under a third of the cost of providing and maintaining the house; an English local authority tenant, with a rent of about £1 a week, meets almost three-quarters.Let us examine this a little closer. During 1960, as is indicated there, local authority tenants paid just over 9s. per week in rent. The English local authority tenants paid rents of about £1 per week, but will the Secretary of State agree that in the case of the local authority which was charging that 9s. 1d. per week, that is, the same rent as pre-1956, which is not so long ago—I hope the right hon. Gentleman is getting the point—the actual rent fixed by the local authority would have been 18s. 2d. per week then? The right hon. Gentleman reduced it to 9s. 1d. by the Rating and Valuation Act in order to take off the weight of owners' rates from rented property in Scotland. I know that there was a difficulty and that something had to be done about the need for new valuation in Scotland. I admit that, but what I completely disagree with is the highlighting of the lower figure in every speech which the Secretary of State makes, without indicating the figure which the local authorities themselves by resolution decided was to be the rents of the houses.
I have gone to some length to obtain this true picture, and I want to quote an average figure from an average burgh in Scotland. I take a good Ayrshire burgh, which has integrity written all over it, which has never seen graft in all the hundred years in which it has been in existence. To take an average pre-1956 local authority house, the rental was £30 a year. Do not let us forget that that 1435 figure was then the valuation for rating purposes. The Secretary of State then decided that the local authority tenant should pay owners' rates, and owners' rates on such a house were considered to be £14 a year. So the Secretary of State took £14 off the rent and brought it down to £16, and said: "You will still pay the £30 a year, but the £14 owners' rates will not be called rent any more."
The right hon. Gentleman rambles about the country and says these things. Imagine the feelings of these respectable town councillors who have never had any kind of criticism and who have had nothing but commendation for their splendid housing schemes in their areas. One of them was even the subject of a document which was sent round to all local authorities as illustrating the way in which housing should be planned and developed. Then it is indicated to the tenants that they are being charged only £16 rent for their local authority house, whereas the figure was £30.
What actually happened? It is time hon. Members on both sides of the House realised that this was a very clever confidence trick. I admit that something needed to be done about rating and valuation, but instead of the Government doing it, and taking to themselves any ignominy for any injury that might result, they have done it in this way. They have said to the local authorities, "Your rents are too low and you must put them up." The poor local authority tenant is still paying £30 in rent for the house, and these tenants do not understand. They are not politicians like the Secretary of State for Scotland. As for the local authorities, they landed themselves in a morass of difficulties, because of having to put up the rents. I wish the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) were in his place now, because he talked about too low rents, and the point was made perfectly clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson).
Therefore, I should like the Secretary of State to understand that in the case of the houses about which I am talking—those with the so-called £16 rental—the local authority has now increased the rental to £36, and the tenants last 1436 year paid a total amount of rates and rent of £55 15s. In the current year, 1961–62, despite the fact that the rates have been reduced from 26s. 6d. under revaluation to 20s. 3d., rent and rates paid by a local authority tenant are now £74 9s. 6d. That illustrates the trend of what is happening in Scotland. It is a fairly hefty increase, and I do not think that anything so disheartening to any town councillors as what has been said by the Secretary of State should have happened. That is on the record at last.
§ Mr. Maclay
Far be it from me to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I have been wondering whether we were in Wonderland, except that I would not accuse either the hon. Gentleman or myself of being Alice. He was saying the most surprising things. What happened before 1956 was that nobody had any idea what they were paying in rent, because they were paying rent plus an element of rates, and it was only after 1956 that people realised what the true rent was.
§ Mr. Manuel
That is not quite right. I was treasurer of a burgh for a time. In that rental of £30 it is true that there was an element of owners' rates, but the general revenue rate was applied to the occupier distinctly. There was no question of a mix up. We knew the element of rates in the £30. There is no confusion unless the Secretary of State is confused.
Despite the fact that the Secretary of State tried to play this down when I made an interjection in his speech, I am rather concerned about Clause 8. He is taking great new powers such as no Secretary of State has had before. The Clause says:The Secretary of State may from time to time by order direct that, in respect of approved houses of any description specified in the order, or such houses in any area so specified, exchequer subsidies under this Part of this Act—This is a deplorable departure from accepted practice. I want to underline what I said in my interjection. I am sure that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), because 1437 of his local authority background, will support me. We must have regard to the impact of interest charges on a debt which is piling up over fifty or sixty years.
- (a) shall cease to be payable, or
- (b) shall be reduced to such amount as may be specified in the order, or
- (c) shall be payable for such reduced number of years as may be so specified."
If local authorities are taking on contracts to erase from town space bad housing conditions, they should at least know the size of the rate burden they are carrying. If we are faced with the situation in which they pay interest on money borrowed for houses at 7 per cent. over sixty years and the Secretary of State says that at any time over ten years he can do away with the subsidy, we shall be in a very difficult position to make any real progress.
In Clause 29 the Secretary of State is also taking great new powers which will give him mandatory authority to fix rents where he thinks fit. He will tell me that that is to be done after inquiry, but it still gives him power to do so where he thinks fit. I think these Clauses 8 and 29 are an insult to the integrity and intelligence of local authorities. In the description of the burgh which I gave is the trend which has been present in recent years among many local authorities It has been to tackle these rent problems realistically. Now the Secretary of State brings in mandatory powers to force them to do this when they were moving along very nicely. There may be a few who have not done so, but his inquiries could have cleared that up without these great powers.
I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton was wrong to remind the right hon. Gentleman of his speech on behalf of local authorities in the past. That speech was not the only instance. We can remember his speeches about giving greater power to local authorities and to the effect that the man in Whitehall does not know best. Nor does the man in St. Andrew's House know best, but here the man in Whitehall suggests that he knows best. The right hon. Gentleman was making those speeches in his flightier days when he lived on the East Coast. No doubt the breezes there inspired him to make more pithy speeches and he said things which gave rise to very keen situations in this House during the period of the Labour Government.
Now he has burned all that and it is behind him. I am convinced that 1438 Whitehall does not know best in these things. Looking at the long-term plan of the Government, it appears that they are to take more and more power from local authorities while at the same time making local authorities find more and more money from ratepayers and less from Government sources. When this Bill becomes an Act, will it be used to enable more houses to be built in Scotland? I think that fewer will be built. I am fortified in that belief by the White Paper, Cmnd. 1522, in which it is shown that the provision for housing investment in 1962–63 is being cut by £1 million. That must mean that fewer houses will be built.
I think that the saddest feature of this Bill is the lack of trust shown in our Scottish local authorities. Local authority people are tending to become disheartened. I appeal to the Secretary of State when we reach the Committee stage to amend the Bill and to strengthen the powers of local authorities, not weaken them and treat them like school children who must be kept to the straight and narrow path of moral rectitude in financial matters.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
Now that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has achieved his ambition of getting the Contents of his notes on the record, I wish to refer to the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett.) I have listened to a number of maiden speeches, but I do not think I have ever heard one so modestly and capably delivered and characterised by such sincerity. I felt that he was speaking from the heart. Hon. Members who were present had a model from him of how speeches should be delivered if they are to be effective.
I have to contrast his modesty and sincerity with the speeches made by other hon. Members opposite. The difference was incredible.
§ Mr. Hendry
I did not say "insincerity". I said I was contrasting the hon. Member's speech with others made by hon. Members opposite. I did not say "insincerity", far be it from me. What we have had from other hon. 1439 Members opposite has been pretty good constituency stuff which people in Scotland will read in the newspapers. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire has spoken about whether this Bill will lead to any more houses being built in Scotland. That, of course, is not what the Bill is for at all.
§ Mr. Hendry
It is not the Secretary of State who builds houses nor the local authorities who build houses. The building industry builds houses. What the Bill is trying to do is to provide a series of priorities and to clear up a thorough mess. I was extremely interested to read in the People on Sunday something about the building of houses. The People is not a paper notably in favour of the policies emanating from the present Government. In fact, it is very much inclined to favour the policy pursued by hon. Members opposite. On Sunday it had a heading:London's Record—a Disgrace to Britain".It gave in large letters the names of the two men it blamed, and also published pictures of them—the chairman of the London County Council and the head of the housing committee. These are not particularly notable hon. Members of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Hendry
It has a lot to do with it, for the building industry and not the local authorities build houses, and the Secretary of State is trying to get the priorities in the right places.
§ Mr. Hendry
If the hon. Gentleman will finish making remarks I can get on with my speech. This Bill provides evidence of great political courage on the part of the Secretary of State. It shows a spirit of endurance and doggedness which has characterised him for many years. Hon. Members opposite must be aware that if I think 1440 the occasion demands I will criticise my right hon. Friend, but in this case 1 give honour where honour is due. I have always said that the Secretary of State has remarkable political courage, and he is certainly showing it in this Bill.
My right hon. Friend is letting the fair wind of commonsense blow into the jungle which has grown up in Scotland around rents of private, municipal and all other houses. He is taking some steps—possibly not many—along the road to removing Scotland from the horrible position it is in at the moment of being the laughing-stock of the world.
§ Mr. Hendry
I am not exaggerating the position when I say that. It stems from a legacy of years past, but Conservative Governments in the last ten years have shown what the position is and have attempted to clear it up.
§ Mr. Hendry
In the last two years I have taken a particular interest in this matter. On 5th April, 1960, I raised the question of houses in Dunbartonshire being let for 2s. 10d. a week. At that time I got a rather dusty answer from my right hon. Friend, but I focussed that disgraceful situation in the Press in Scotland and, I hope, to some extent in England.
§ Mr. Hendry
I am talking about rents charged in 1960. On 9th March, 1961, I again asked by right hon. Friend what he was proposing to do about 623 temporary houses lot by a Scottish local authority—it was Stirling County Council—at an average weekly rent of 2s. 5d. If these figures did not make Scotland the laughing stock of the country, they should have done. I am proud that my right hon. Friend has had the courage now to seize the bull by the horns—
§ Mr. Hendry
—and take steps to cure this nonsensical situation. The 1441 cause of this nonsensical situation in Scotland is the fact that there was an element of rates in rents, and it was not until proper action was taken in 1956 by a Tory Government that the position was brought home to the people of Scotland.
The Sorn Report made some extraordinary disclosures, particularly about the controlled rents of private houses. It disclosed that there were cases in Scotland where the reduction of owners' rates from the rent payable actually produced a minus quantity.
§ Mr. Hendry
No it is not, and the hon. Gentleman will find that what I am saying was the fact if he will cast his mind back to what actually happened.
In certain circumstances, the 20 per cent, addition and the other additions permitted by the 1920 Act fell to be disallowed, In at least one burgh the owners' rates were as high as 16s. in the £. If my calculations are correct, 20 per cent. remains, and if over 20 per cent. was deducted one was left with less than nothing. Thus a ludicrous position could take place.
§ Mr. Hendry
An hon. Member opposite has already spoken of a situation where the actual ratepayer did not have the faintest idea what he was paying in rent and rates. That position continued until 1960 in Dunbartonshire, when the deficiency in municipal housing caused a charge on the rates of 8s. 10d. in the £. In one of the worst cases in Stirlingshire the actual rate poundage applicable to municipal housing was as high as 13s. 5d. in the £. That was a deplorable state of affairs, and it had to be dealt with.
Thus, my right hon. Friend made an inquiry into the Dunbartonshire case and ultimately took steps to make Dunbarton County Council raise its rents to a reasonable figure. My right hon. Friend had difficulty in doing this, and hon. Members know well that Dunbartonshire and Glasgow were obviously not carrying out their statutory duties in fixing the rents of their houses. They did not exercise their discretion properly. I believe that they acted in bad faith; 1442 they ignored every factor which was essential to be taken into account in deciding the amount of rent to be charged, and obviously some drastic steps had to be taken to bring them to their senses.
My right hon. Friend did that, despite the difficulties he had in doing so, and as long as even one local authority in Scotland will behave in that way the powers my right hon. Friend is taking in this Bill are more than justified. If I may criticise the Secretary of State in one respect it is that the powers he is seeking are not drastic enough. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]
§ Mr. Hendry
A rents scheme will be made after an inquiry, but that inquiry must be instituted by someone. My criticism of the Bill is that it does not specify by whom that inquiry is to be instituted. In the case of Dunbartonshire, a number of public-spirited citizens spent a great deal of money, time and energy finding the facts, initiating an inquiry and putting those facts before it. I do not think that it is justifiable that public-spirited citizens should have to go to these extremes, and I should like the Secretary of State to take powers to initiate such an inquiry. It would seem that if local authorities are going to behave in the sort of way I have described the situation is so serious that the powers being taken by my right hon. Friend are not strong enough.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not like this, but in my view the rents of council houses in Scotland have been kept artificially low for political purposes.
§ Mr. Hendry
It is obvious that that has been done because there is no earthly reason why any local authority should charge absolutely ludicrous rents like 2s. 5d. a week for modern houses.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that a Tory-controlled council in Dunbartonshire did this for political purposes?
§ Mr. Hendry
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that it was no Tory 1443 majority that did this—[Interruption.] He knows full well that the committee that fixed these rents was Labourcontrolled—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
I go as far as to say that I believe that in the matter of council houses there has been absolute corruption of the electorate. In certain counties in Scotland—I need not mention their names, because hon. Members opposite can apply it to their own county or burgh, as the cap fits—more than half the houses are council houses and, obviously, if any candidate in municipal or county council elections shouts from a loudspeaker van, "I am in favour of low council house rents," he is buying votes—
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned Dunbartonshire a good deal. I do not want to argue with him about Moderates, Independents, Conservatives or others, but the fact is that the affairs of the Dunbartonshire County Council have been controlled, while I have been there, by the Moderates and Independents, whatever their alignment may be—and it was not Labour.
§ Mr. Hendry
I withdraw not one word of what I have said. In certain parts of Scotland this has been a complete scandal and, in other parts, people have not recognised what the house rents are and what they should be. The average rent of council houses in Scotland is £23 odd a year. Any Englishman, whose average council house rent is £1 a week, would laugh if told that. He would say, "And I thought the Scots were business people!"
I welcome the powers that my right hon. Friend has taken. The reasoned Amendment refers to discretionary powers. The Bill contains discretionary powers, but the powers that my right hon. Friend is taking are not half enough. I should like to see him be even more severe. I should like him to go to the length of fixing what he considers to be a proper minimum rent for a council house in Scotland—
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will tell the House 1444 whether he, through his professional interests or through his family, has any interest in private landlordship?
§ Mr. Hendry
I have not mentioned private landlordship. I am speaking of council houses, and I will not have red herrings like that drawn across the trail—[HON. MEMBERS: "Just take the rent."] I suggest that my right hon. Friend might very well have laid down as a suitable standard the gross annual value fixed this year by the local assessor in each local authority area. Personally, I do not think even that is half enough—[Interruption.]—because there are a great many people living in council houses who can very well afford to live elsewhere or pay a proper rent, but that is probably the ideal to work to.
I have taken the trouble to consult the various local authorities in my constituency, and one of them thinks that that would be a jolly good thing to do. It is rather a pity, however, as my right hon. Friend said, that a good local authority which takes a sensible point of view should be forced to lose its discretionary power because of the black sheep among local authorities—
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, according to the latest rent return, the small Burgh of Huntly, which I believe is in his constituency, has an average council house rent of £17 12s. 5d., when the average for all the burghs is £23 8s.? Will he tell us whether these amounts are fixed by the town clerk of Huntly for political purposes so that the electors have been corrupted like so many others?
§ Mr. Hendry
The hon. Gentleman's information is not quite up to date. He should know that the Burgh of Huntly has increased its rents since that return.
It is not my intention to be dictated to by my local authorities. On the other hand, I regard it as my duty as a Member of Parliament, who takes an interest in these things, to advise my local authorities, and that I am ready to do—
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry
I have spoken in the hope of bringing it home to people in Scotland that these rents are absolutely nonsensical. It has taken a great deal of courage on the part of my right hon. Friend to introduce such legislation as this. I am thoroughly glad he has done so, and 1 am perfectly certain that the sincerity and integrity he has shown in facing up to this problem will be to his own benefit in the long run.
Leaving municipal houses for a moment, I want to quote from a letter from one of my own constituents who owns a privately-owned house. He says:… my tenant is a railwayman … and for six rooms I am allowed to charge £13 13s 4d. per annum as rent.That is 5s. a week for six rooms. It is true that the house does not have modern conveniences, but how can a landlord who is a working man provide modern conveniences when he receives such a rent—
§ Mr. Hendry
The gross annual value of that house, as settled by the assessor, is £30. If the assessor says that a reasonable rent for that house is £30 there is no reason why the man should not be allowed to charge it. I join my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) in his plea to my right hon. Friend to go further by fixing proper rents for privately-owned houses as well. My right hon. Friend promised to do that before, and I suggest that it was contrary to the party's manifesto not to do this. It is not a question of releasing any house from control but of giving effect to a proper adjustment of rent, which was dealt with only in an interim way in 1957.
This is a matter of very great importance. In my constituency it is very common to find that proper rents are not allowed to be charged for privately-owned houses. I would remind my right hon. Friend that a jobbing plumber charges 9s. 1d. an hour. That is what it costs if one wants to change a washer on a tap, plus the cost of the washer, and it is absolutely impossible to pay out very often from such ludicrously low rents as I have mentioned.
In England, the landlord is allowed to charge twice the annual gross value as 1446 fixed in 1939. In Scotland, we have new gross values based on the fair rent in 1961, and I ask my right hon. Friend to think along those lines.
I wish to mention the question of privately-owned houses in connection with the slum problem. As I said at the beginning, it is the intention of the Bill to get the priorities right, and every hon. Member knows full well that one great priority in Scotland is to get rid of the slums. I dislike the use of the word "slum", because a slum is not a house; a slum is something which a house comes to be. I ask my right hon. Friend to give thought to the reason why many substantial properties become slums, or what I prefer to call deficient houses.
§ Mr. Hendry
Many could be made fit for human habitation.
I express sorrow that my right hon. Friend has tried in the Bill to short-circuit the procedure to deal with such houses. It would be much more useful to encourage local authorities to deal with that type of house under the present procedure, to give teeth to the present procedure and to make sure that local authorities exercise it. My right hon. Friend has gone a long way to bring houses up to a proper state.
§ Mr. Hendry
I own one private house—the house in which I live.
I ask my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to increasing his public relations organisation to persuade local authorities to get on with the reconstruction of many old houses. This is often a task not so much for private enterprise as for local authorities. If my right hon. Friend goes to the burgh of Denny and Dunipace he will see what has been done there by the town council, which took a block of old property, some good and some not good, and reconstructed it into one unit. That policy has not been followed to any extent by local authorities in other towns, and I ask my right hon. Friend to take steps to make known to local authorities the advantage which there 1447 is in doing that sort of thing. Although it does not say so in the White Paper or the Bill, it remains the position that if a local authority takes steps along these lines the subsidy will be neither £12 nor £32 but one half of the estimated annual loss. That is very important for a local authority. I ask my right hon. Friend to suggest to local authorites that this is a very good way of dealing with an extremely difficult problem throughout Scotland.
Turning to the question of subsidies, there is a great deal of dismay on the part of local authorities generally, and particularly in my part of Scotland, which regard themselves as canny and careful. It would be very useful if my right hon. Friend explained, possibly by means of regional conferences of local authorities, what is his purpose and what he expects them to do. He is trying to bring housing in Scotland into a sensible situation, and if that is properly explained to local authorities, I believe that they will agree to co-operate with him along these lines.
Undoubtedly there are a number of points in the Bill which can be improved in Committee, and I will reserve comments for then. I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that. Many of the points could, however, be dealt with by better public relations and better explanations to local authorities. In principle, however, the Bill is the work of far-sighted statesmanship and an example of political courage, strength and determination. I say that deliberately.
§ Mr. Hendry
My right hon. Friend has undoubtedly weighed the possibility of immediate unpopularity against ultimate good. He is looking at Scotland through the eyes of a statesman. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh as much as they like, but if they think about this they will back him in what he is doing. I ask him to go on with his job not only of clearing slums but of preventing the formation of more slums. We in Scotland have a reputation for independence. Houses must be paid for, and if the people in Scotland can afford to pay for them, they should do so. If they can- 1448 not, then, as my right hon. Friend says, they can get rebates. If the Bill is put into operation it will go a very long way not only towards clearing up this horrible mess but towards getting things in Scotland in perspective and ultimately getting Scotland proud of itself, with a proper standard of housing.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I have been amazed by what we have heard in this debate on the Housing (Scotland) Bill. First we were told by the right hon. Gentleman that this is a Measure to deal with a housing situation in Scotland which is unsatisfactory, and that it would help him to so finance housing that there would be an extension of housebuilding in Scotland. Subsequently, however, we were told that this Bill had nothing to do with increasing the supply of houses. It has been obvious from the debate that there is only one motive for the Bill. That motive is, by the processes which have been going on since 1951, to bring the housing of the people, any sort of people, once again into the commercial field of investment. That is what the Government want to do. That is why we cannot get an answer to the question: what is a fair rent for a house?
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) congratulated his right hon. Friend on establishing a rent approximately equal to the gross annual value, but when he was challenged as to what the rent should be, although he had congratulated his right hon. Friend, he said that it ought to be twice as much, because that would be nearer the rent figure for commercial investment in speculative building. This is another stage in trying to get houses back into the commercial field. I do not think that will ever be done again in any industrial society. The time for private enterprise, whether by commercial finance or by private building, has gone.
Apart from the building of luxury service flats outside the centres of industrial cities, I do not believe that in the rural districts and provinces of the industrial areas the provision of houses will ever again be a commercial investment. It certainly has not been since 1919. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not of houses to let."] That is what I mean by commercial investment. There is not one 1449 contractor in this country who could build a house at a reasonable price and sell it at a profitable figure if it were not for the building societies providing the finance. I do not think that solicitors could arrange the necessary mortgages to satisfy the demand for houses.
What is the position down South? I read in the report of a building society, of which I am a member, that because of the rent situation in London, and the pushing up of rents, the demand on the building societies in the Home Counties by people who want to buy houses has gone up to such an extent that the building societies can no longer find the funds. Because of the high interest rates, they cannot attract money into the societies. Everything that has been done by the Government makes the financing of houses more difficult every year. The building societies are in such a position now that their liquidity is not sufficient for the whole of the financing that is required. They have had, almost, to lay down a rule that unless a man has regular employment and almost a guarantee of regular employment and has over £1,000 a year they are very reluctant to finance his buying a house.
The Government have been preaching, at least since the war, that they wanted to encourage home ownership but what they are in fact doing by high interest rates is to compel people not to go in for home ownership. A Conservative council in my area had a man on its housing list for nine years. He was a professional man with an income of over £1,000 a year and a secure position. In my own house one Friday night I convinced him from my own experience as an owner-occupier that he would be better off if he bought a house through his local authority. I told him what to do. I told him about the Treasury Order introduced by hon. Members opposite to enable people to own their own houses. He went to the Tory local authority and saw the provost and the town clerk. Each of them sent him to the other. He told them that he had seen me. They said to him, "It is all right for Bence to talk about that, but we have never done it here". He rang me a fortnight later and said, "As it is such a lot of trouble, they have decided to allocate me a council house". He is now living in a council house. This is nonsense.
1450 We hear a lot about owner-occupiers subsidising council tenants. The burgh of Milngavie has a rent scheme under which the people subsidising the low-income groups in council houses are not all the ratepayers. They are the tenants in council houses with good incomes. Therefore, the main contributors to the subsidy to the low-income group occupying council houses are council house tenants. Does the Secretary of State intend to tell the Milngavie Town Council that this is unfair? It is not merely people with high incomes in council houses who should subsidise the low income groups. All the ratepayers should do this, whatever houses they live in.
It has been argued that the Secretary of State should not use his powers when a local authority is over-charging council house tenants but only when it is under-charging. This is a typical Conservative approach. If anybody is undercharging, put the snoopers in. If anybody is over-charging, take the snoopers away.
§ Mr. Bence
I have read somewhere that the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) is a farmer, so he should be interested in what I am about to say. The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) has said that private enterprise should build more houses for letting. Hon. Members opposite talk about subsidies going where they are needed. Private enterprise cannot build a cow shed for cows unless the farmer is given a subsidy. How in the name of fortune will private enterprise build houses for human beings without subsidies if it cannot build cow sheds for cows? Building contractors and financiers cannot build cow byres without the Government paying a subsidy to the farmer, because the farmer cannot afford to pay for them. He might be able to pay for them if he sold his "Jags". I have sometimes been asked what test I would apply before I paid a subsidy to a farmer. I should find out how many cars he had registered for his own pleasure and that of his wife and children.
§ Mr. Bence
What I am saying has a lot to do with housing. Many farmers could have received grants for building agricultural cottages, but cars are very expensive. They thought that it was better to use their resources on buying cars and give up the idea of trying to get a grant to build cottages for labourers. This is why there are so many bad cottages, as the hon. Member for Galloway knows very well. A farmer does not get a subsidy for putting a roof over a car but he gets one for putting one over a cow. This is the sort of society in which we live. If people were interested in housing human beings and giving them decent homes, they would apply the same principle to housing the people as they apply when they decide to equip our policemen and our soldiers whom they ask to defend us. We should cut out all this nonsense of financing housing in the way we do.
Let us finance the housing of the people through the Ministry of Housing. Let us have a capital sum below the line. In a few years, it will be self-financing. Let us cut out all the nonsense about interest rates. Let us house our people in the way we equip them when we go to war. That is the way to do it. We should not dream of having Measures of this sort if we had to equip our people to defend the country; we should lose the war before we started it if we did. That is why we are losing the war against bad housing, because we are fiddling about with financial principles, pandering to the moneylenders, pandering to the principle of usury. Physically, we can house our people. But, because of the sacrosanct laws of the moneylenders and bankers, we say we cannot do it. It is utter nonsense, and, to my mind, all this is a waste of time because in a few years we shall have to have another Bill because we shall have failed again.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House. Does he not agree that our financing of the new towns is done on the basis he advocates?
§ Mr. Bence
The arrangements for the new towns are a sort of compromise. I am fed up with compromise on this matter. I was in Bridgeton in Glasgow not long ago. When I went home I was more depressed than I have ever been in my life. In the second half of the twentieth century there are people living in conditions worse than those I remember from 1910. We have had about three housing Measures since I have been in the House.
§ Mr. Hendry
Does the hon. Gentleman remember that his Government produced a major housing Measure in 1950 but failed to produce the houses?
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
We produced far more houses than the Government are doing this year.
§ Mr. Bence
When the war ended, those of us who wanted new houses realised very well that, if this country was to get itself on its feet and if we were to repair all the war damage, we should have to wait a little longer for houses. There was so much work to be done in order that we might earn our own living in the world that we had to wait a little while. Everything could not be done at once. I remember hon. Members opposite saying in those days that the Labour Government were trying to do too much for the people. Now, after ten years of being in power, this Government have done—I was going to use a word which would have been out of order—an awful lot too little, and not because the physical resources were not there but because they are all schizophrenics. They want commercial satisfaction, but they are afraid to retreat too far.
I have this question to put to the Secretary of State. Under the Bill, he has statutory power to take action if a local authority fixes rents in a scheme which he regards as unjust. I use the word "unjust". A local authority could fix a rent which was really unjust to many tenants—I do not say to all tenants but to a large minority of the tenants. The sum total of the rent income from 1453 the authority's houses could be a splendid sum, making the whole scheme almost economic. However, having regard to the injustice that that rent scheme imposed upon a minority of citizens of the burgh within the housing scheme, would the right hon. Gentleman take power to force the local authority so to adjust its rent scheme that that injustice was removed? That is what we want to know. We know that he will act if the rent is too low, but will he act when it is too high for people whose incomes are such that they cannot afford to pay it? What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Will the right hon. Gentleman use this power to act when an injustice is being done as well as when a local authority is helping to increase the revenues of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the expense of the working population?
I now wish to refer to a point which was raised by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. I think he said that between 1938 and 1951 earnings in Scotland had increased by 220 per cent. and that the increase in England and Wales during a similar period was 160 per cent. He also said that rents in Scotland had increased by only 70 per cent. whereas in England they had increased by 200 per cent. I am sick and tired of hearing this. I have heard it so many times. I remember a tenant telling me that some costs that she had to bear had been increased by 400 per cent. I asked, "What used you to pay?" She said, "Threepence". A business man in Clydebank used to give the office boy 3d. as a tip. Now he gives him a shilling. Therefore, the tip has increased by 400 per cent.
Anyone who knows anything about industry in the United Kingdom knows that in 1938 the wages of light engineering workers in the Midlands and the Home Counties were about 2½ times as great as the average engineering worker's income in Scotland. When I packed in my job at the British Motor Corporation, I obtained a smiliar job in Scotland for half the wages, although there had been a 220 per cent. increase. I am sure that on the income which I was receiving I could not pay the rent that the Secretary of State expects people to pay. So let us have less of this nonsense of comparing percentage 1454 increases as between England and Scotland. The wage of Scottish workers in 1938 was a disgrace and it was almost impossible for any man to raise a family and to pay a fair rent at the same time. Workers today do not pay the rent that we used to pay. Historically, employers in Scotland built the houses for their employees. They said to their employees, "You can live in a house for 2s. a week. We will employ you at 30s. a week and make £3 out of it." In England, speculative builders build the houses.
It is no good asking the Secretary of State to withdraw the Bill. We know darned well that he will not do that. But I hope that those who consider the Bill in Committee will do everything in their power to destroy Clause 290.
§ Mr. Hannan
I am following my hon. Friend's remarks with great interest. Since we have a wage pause, does he not think that we should also have a rent pause?
§ Mr. Bence
I am one of those who have felt for a long time that, in the interests of the producers in this country, the Government should introduce a wage freeze, or, as I would call it, an income freeze. I would freeze the incomes of the stockbrokers, the moneylenders and the owners of land. I would wipe out the Clause in the Bill under which, even though the landowners can get a fancy price for their land, we the taxpayers have to pay them a subsidy through the local authority. I would freeze the monkeys' incomes. I take strong exception as a taxpayer to paying subsidies to people who own things and can blackmail us into paying a hell of a price for them.
This is a shocking situation. We are subsidising all sorts of people who do not produce anything. They merely cause a lot of trouble for the rest of us. We should have had a freeze on the incomes of landowners and moneylenders. What their contribution to society is, I should like to know. As an engineer, I could never understand why, with all our steel and raw material, we could not produce anything unless the moneylender said so. I should have thought that the moneylender could not live unless we produced the food, clothing and shelter for him.
1455 It seems to me that we cannot do anything with this person whom we call the moneylender. The Bill patronises him. It will force up rents and make local authorities pay high prices for land. A figure of £1,000 an acre is mentioned. The people who make the money from it are often not the people who have done the work on it.
An hon. Friend of mine told me of the landowner who, before giving permission for a business to be established on his estate, required 33⅓ per cent. of the profits without putting in any of the money. He is prepared to let a business man build up a business on his estate and to pay an annual feu of 1s. or so, provided that the owner of the business hands over 33⅓ per cent. of the profits. I would rather go out of business than submit to this kind of blackmail.
I am sorry to see that the Secretary of State has left the Chamber. We are sick and tired that people living in the slums of Glasgow, those living in council houses in Milngavie, those who moved from Glasgow to Kirkintilloch and the people of Clydebank, many of whom, especially widows and pensioners, live in these slum houses at these so-called low rents, find on their transfer to new houses that the reduction in their material standards is terrific because the rent for them is so high.
When I hear the right hon. Gentleman pay what I call nothing more than lip-service to these things and the need to get on with rehousing our people, I know very well that all the forces are arrayed to prevent and frustrate the solution of the problem of housing our people, and housing them in a way whereby all of them pay rents of such a nature that the income which is left to them permits them to enjoy what a scientific and technological civilisation can give them.
I give the Under-Secretary this reminder about hardship. I said it at a public meeting last week. Twenty years ago, it was a hardship if a woman's gas cooker was out of action and she had to cook on the fire. Today, it is a hardship for the young woman with a family who does not have a washing machine. The conception of hardship should rise as we improve our techniques and produce more and more. In terms of the 1456 present-day society, any person who cannot have and enjoy what modern science and technology can provide in the way of a refrigerator, a washing machine or a television set is suffering hardship. I hope that this will be kept in mind when we get the next Bill to succeed this one after it has failed.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
On a point of order. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether due notice has been taken of the fact that no hon. Member on this side of the House representing the eastern areas of Scotland has been called to take part in the debate? While there is a housing problem in Glasgow, there is no reason why hon. Members from the east of Scotland should not have had an opportunity to speak about their housing problems.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I very much regret that a number of hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have not had an opportunity to speak. The reason is that if speeches are very long, there is time for fewer of them. That has been our experience today.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow Central)
This has been an exceedingly good debate and it has provided us with the opportunity to highlight many aspects of the housing problem which concerns us in Scotland. Many constructive suggestions have been advanced, and I trust that the Secretary of State will pay some heed to some of the constructive suggestions which have emanated from this side of the House.
I associate myself with the congratulations which have been extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett) on his excellent maiden speech. It was an informative speech delivered with a great depth of sincerity, and I congratulate him on his performance this afternoon.
The noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) expressed his intense dissatisfaction with Scotland's housing programme, and I need only say that I entirely agree with him. The Government's record, 1457 with the continual decline year after year during the past seven years, is shocking. Between 1953 and 1960, there was a decrease in building of more than 9,000 houses a year—in a country which has perhaps the worst housing record in Western Europe.
The noble Lord seemed to be some-what disturbed about decontrol and said that he thought that rent control should be abolished so as to enable exchanges to take place, especially among old people. He should realise that decontrol would only cause more difficulty and would enable landlords to increase rentals to any limits, which would be of no advantage to the old people.
The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) referred to the desirability of building up existing towns on a large scale by the export of Glasgow's overspill to such towns. I entirely agree with his observation.
This is not a Housing Bill, as it is called, but a rent Bill, or a rent herring Bill. It is a Bill which will not produce another single house in Scotland. Our problem is such that we require more and more houses and the Bill lamentably fails to provide the houses which are so necessary in Scotland.
Paragraph 3 of the White Paper says that the housing needs of Scotland are still very great. I am glad of this belated admission by the Government. We have a housing problem in Scotland the magnitude of which is unsurpassed by that of any other country of comparable size in Western Europe, and I make no apology for outlining the extent of this problem.
There are over 200,000 applicants on local authority waiting lists, of which over 40,000 are homeless. We have the problem of approximately 300,000 slum houses, and the great overspill problem of Glasgow which is to export 300,000 of its population to other parts of Scotland. This is the problem, ugly in its nature, and soul-destroying in its effect, and I can find no proposal in the Bill Which will expedite the solution of it.
Most of my hon. Friends, and many hon. Gentlemen opposite, have dealt with the default procedure for dealing with local authorities who fail to carry out their obligations in regard to the fixing 1458 of rents. The Secretary of State for Scotland has taken unto himself the right to make a rent scheme for all or any houses under the management of a local authority. This proposal is a complete repudiation of the demands and sentiments so often expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. On numerous occasions their attitude has been that the maximum amount of freedom, liberty, and independence must be given to local authorities in running their affairs.
Indeed, the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) once said:I take the view, … that local authorities ought to be regarded as responsible citizens and bodies, and that they should be free to maintain the dignity, integrity, and good order of their burghs without interference from Whitehall, or St. Andrew's House, …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 28th November, 1950; c. 1768.]The Secretary of State for Scotland has obviously changed his mind very quickly indeed on this matter, for as recently as 4th July last, speaking on rents, he said:Some authorities have taken action, but many authorities have still a long way to go before their rents become realistic. Although I appreciate that all this will take time, I have no intention of relaxing pressure to try to achieve higher rents all over Scotland. I am certain that in the end good sense will prevail, and I do not think that any hon. Member would wish to argue that the general responsibility for fixing rents should be taken out of the hands of the local authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 4th July, 1961; c. 17.]It is abundantly clear to me that, once the right hon. Gentleman makes up his mind, no power on earth can make him stick to his decision.
This is supposed to be a Housing Bill. I want to quote from paragraph 8 of the White Paper. It says:There is, therefore, an urgent need to stimulate further progress by private enterprise in Scotland, and it is one of the objects of the Government's housing policy to do this…That sentence reveals that private enterprise has gone out of business in house-building in Scotland.
It is worth recalling why it has gone out of business. The history of the matter began no less than fifty years ago. In 1911 the Government appointed a Royal Commission to go into the whole question of the housing of the 1459 working classes in Scotland. The Commission sat for six years, and issued its Report in 1917. It said that it found:…gross overcrowding and huddling of the sexes together in the congested industrial villages and towns.We still have it today, fifty years later. It also referred to awidespread absence of decent sanitary convenienceswhole townships unfit for human habitation, and clotted masses of great slums in our city. It said that all the troubles it had been investigating were due to the failure of private enterprise to provide and maintain houses in quantity and quality. It was driven to the conclusion that the sources and forces that were then available had failed to provide anything like a sufficiency of houses and that in particular they had failed to provide houses of a reasonable standard of accommodation and habitation. It therefore recommended that the State should put on to the local authorities the responsibility for seeing that sufficient houses were built. It said that the Government should, from central sources, provide the funds necessary to make up the inevitable difference between the economic rent of the houses and the actual rents obtained by the local authority.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to the next part. The Commission went on to say that it was opposed, taking into account the behaviour of the builders, the landlords and the landowners in the past, to any attempt to get private enterprise to tackle the job even with the aid of subsidies. That Royal Commission certainly did not mince its words. I hope that the Secretary of State will have some regard to it, because it is akin to the situation confronting us today.
§ Mr. McInnes
It is the Report of the Ballantyne Commission which was appointed in 1911 and reported in 1917. Let me tell the Minister that it is worth while reading.
I regret that the Secretary of State has made no provision in this Bill, which he calls a Housing Bill, for dealing with 1460 landlords and property owners who deliberately keep rented houses unoccupied in order to sell them. I remember vividly, as no doubt will my hon. Friends, that during the proceedings on the Rent Act we were told by the right hon. Gentleman in no uncertain terms that the Act would create a greater pool of houses for letting than ever before. Let us see what has happened and take the example of the City of Glasgow. I apologise for doing so, because I think that Glasgow has been over-emphasised in this debate.
In 1956, before the introduction of the Rent Act, there were 2,953 unoccupied houses in the city. In 1960, three years after the Rent Act had been in operation—the Act which was to create this greater pool of houses for renting—we discover that the total number of unoccupied houses in Glasgow at Whitsun, 1960, was 4,356. As I have already indicated, these houses are held unoccupied by the landlords so that they may be sold to the get-rich-quick speculators who in turn let rooms to families who, unhappily, can find no other accommodation in the city.
§ Mr. McInnes
I am still dealing with private enterprise to convince the right hon. Gentleman of the unwisdom of the contents of his own Bill.
In Burnbank Gardens, Glasgow, off the Great Western Road which the right hon. Gentleman will know, six houses were let to accommodate thirty-seven families. In the same area two adults and nine children occupy a single apartment. These rooms are rented by the get-rich-quick speculators at 27s. 6d. to 35s. 6d. a week, and this takes place in a city which has 25,000 homeless people and 120,000 people on the council's waiting list. The right hon. Gentleman tolerates it and takes no action about it.
Why does not he take any action? I find that in the housing legislation relating to England the Minister of Housing and Local Government has made provision for dealing with a some what similar situation existing in England and Wales, and particularly in London. I wish to quote from the 1461 White Paper which was issued in connection with that legislation:One of the most acute housing problems still left is the multi-occupation by families or lodgers of many large houses designed originally for use by single families. There has been no proper conversion, and the houses are without adequate cooking or sanitary facilities for the numbers now living in them. Often as a result the houses are decaying and the living conditions are disgusting.Such houses are mainly to be found in large cities.… Structurally, they may still be sound, but they have been made squalid by over-occupation. The living conditions in property of this sort are often far worse than in many of the outworn small houses occupied by a single family which are, rightly, having to be pulled down as slums.If the English Minister can take action to remedy that situation in England and Wales, why cannot the Secretary of State for Scotland make a somewhat similar provision in this Bill, so that it might put an end to this ruthless exploitation of an elementary need?
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
It is my recollection—I am speaking from memory and I may be incorrect about this—that in my early days as a Member of this House, I had a complaint exactly on these grounds from Edinburgh. I discovered then that the local authority, certainly in Edinburgh, has complete powers to deal with this situation, and I imagine that the same would apply in Glasgow.
§ Mr. McInnes
The hon. Member's early days are far beyond me.
Surely the Secretary of State will now make up his mind to take action on this matter. He is due to take action some time. He is entitled to take action against property owners in Scotland, because, after all, he has introduced more legislation beneficial to private landlordism than any other Minister in history. We have had the Housing (Rent and Repairs) Act, the Rating and Valuation Act and the Rent Act, and the Government have also introduced standard grants and discretionary grants. In paragraph 11 of the White Paper there is specific mention of the provision of discretionary and standard grants, and it indicates that in Scotland advantage is not being take of these grants.
May I indicate to the right hon. Gentleman that in Glasgow there are almost 170,000 privately-rented houses to which these grants apply? I am sure 1462 that the right hon. Gentleman will be greatly encouraged to know the way in which the landlords and property owners of Glasgow have responded to these provisions for standard grants and discretionary grants. There has been one application from a landlord, as distinct from an owner-occupier, for a standard grant—one application from all the landlords who own the 170,000 houses in Glasgow. Regarding discretionary grants, applications covering eighteen houses have been received from landlords. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will express his gratitude to the landlord who applied for the standard grant.
Above all, and no matter which way we look at the housing problem, I consider that the greatest deterrent to the building of houses is high interest rates. The Secretary of State today in his opening speech said that he did not desire to deal with the question of high interest rates. What a dodger he is.
I have had this worked out by the city chamberlain in Glasgow. Today a house costing £2,200 with interest charges at 5 per cent. would involve an annual outlay by the local authority of £116 for the repayment of loan and interest and £11 for repairs and management, a total of £127 per year for sixty years.
§ Mr. McInnes
No, I am sorry, I cannot.
Assuming that we increased the present rent level in Scotland by 150 per cent., that is, from £22 10s. to £56—which is even higher than the figure the right hon. Gentleman suggested—and assuming that the Exchequer subsidy amounted to £32 as provided for in this Bill, there would be an annual income of £88 as against an outlay of £127. Local authorities, therefore, are taking 150 per cent. increase in present levels and, taking this "attractive" subsidy—at least the right hon. Gentleman considers it attractive—into account, they are faced with a deficit of £39 per annum for sixty years. That is a total over sixty years of £2,340.
§ Mr. McInnes
I am not compelling the hon. Lady to listen. She could be better employed no doubt.
Under this Bill the Secretary of State takes power to reduce or abolish subsidies after a period of ten years. This introduces an element of considerable uncertainty and could well cause a local authority to think twice before letting itself in for a heavy burden of loan charges.
All this arises from the fact that the Government persist in the use of the monetary weapon, the Bank Rate. They persist in using the Bank Rate to regulate the course of the country's economy. Why, I have never been able to understand. By so doing they place an intolerable burden on local authorities, a burden which is a national responsibility. Why do the Government not use the Budget or another economic weapon such as taxation to deal with the regulating of the country's economy? I am afraid that if they were to adopt the budgetary method or the method of raising taxation, the country would realise that they "have never had it so bad".
I reiterate what I said earlier: this Bill will not assist local authorities to solve Scotland's housing difficulties. It will do nothing to add even one more house. It is a mean, miserable and mournful Measure, unworthy of the Secretary of State, and we shall register our protest by dividing against its Second Reading.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
I must begin my speech by congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton (Mr. J. Bennett) on his maiden speech. I certainly would not have had the nerve to make my maiden speech the day after I had taken my seat. Although he is a very new Member, he acquitted himself very well. He made a good speech, one that was to the point and short. I hope that we shall hear a lot of him in the 1464 future and that he will not pick up from his hon. Friends, any bad habits, such as the long rambling speeches which they often inflict upon us in the Scottish Commitee.
§ Mr. Galbraith
It is customary in winding up to say that we have had a good and interesting debate.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Unfortunately, I find myself immediately having to cross swords on this very point with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes). I must confess that it has been rather a disappointing debate, not so much for what has been said or the criticisms that have been made, but for the basically unconstructive, unimaginative approach of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Indeed, many of them have scarcely dealt with the Bill at all.
I should have liked to have an indication from them of the points they dislike so that I could have done my homework before the Committee stage. Last Session the English had a somewhat similar Bill and an Amendment was put down to it which contained some of the criticisms in the Scottish Amendment. But the English Amendment at least had the grace to recognise that the Bill introduced some improvements. There is no recognition of that in the Amendment now before us.
I admit that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) had one or two kind things to say, for which I am grateful. The terms of the Amendment, however, are utterly irrelevant to the solution of the housing problem in Scotland. Accept the lot of them and it would bring no improvement, no vast increase in the number of houses being built.
I should now like to say a word on the matter of interest rates which has excited a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. This is a hoary old chestnut which the Opposition persist in regarding as a hot potato.
§ Mr. Galbraith
If one looks at the interest charged in relation to one particular house and makes the sort of calculation that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) made, it amounts to a substantial figure. But to look at the problem in that way represents an outmoded attitude, like so much of the thought of the party opposite on housing matters. Local authorities are well aware that if they spread the load and pool their resources they will find that the high interest rate is no deterrent to continued building. It is simply tilting at windmills to suggest that the level of interest rates is a serious deterrent.
Last week, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire asked me a Question—and I apologise for not being present when he spoke tonight—
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)rose—
§ Mr. Galbraith
No, I cannot give way. I have a great dead to get through —and in not giving way I take my lead from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central.
Last week, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire asked about the number of local authorities which during each of the last four years had not had any houses under construction. My reply showed that this year there were fewer authorities not building than in either of the past two years. It is the case that of those that were not building only ten—and those ten were very small burghs—out of a total of 231 local housing authorities in Scotland had indicated that it was for financial reasons that they were not going ahead with building.
Let us look at the situation in Glasgow. Does the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central, with his great knowledge of Glasgow, seriously suggest that building in that city, which we both have the honour to represent, has declined by about half over the past five years because of financial difficulties, or uncertainties, or high interest rates? Of course that is not the answer. He knows as well as I do that the reason for the decline is that there is simply not the space to put the houses on. That is why housing has declined in Glasgow. Indeed, the 1466 hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston blew the gaff there when he admitted that the reason was not finance.
If finance were an obstacle, why should the corporation be trying to amend the town development plan in order to allow house building to go on in areas scheduled for open spaces? That is what the hon. Member for Bridgeton told us. But so far from Glasgow being deterred by the so-called financial difficulties which hon. Members opposite imagine exist, the corporation is keen to build houses on any spot it can find—
§ Mr. McInnes
I definitely say that finance in Glasgow is a consideration, but the greatest consideration there is the lack of land. The right hon. Gentleman, or his predecessor, was advised in 1952 that Glasgow would be without a single site by 1960, and that is what has happened.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That is exactly what I am saying. Interest rates have nothing whatever to do with the biggest housing problem of all in Scotland, and the hon. Gentleman might have admitted that instead of talking of interest rates.
As for multi-occupation, which is another matter he raised, this is one of those occasions where we have not done what we are always being accused of doing—slavishly following the English. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) rightly suggested, the reason for our decision is that local authorities have existing powers that are adequate to deal with this problem.
The hon. Member for Shettleston made a very helpful speech this evening. He again let the cat out of the bag, for which I am grateful—
§ Mr. Galbraith
Yes, two cats out of one bag—when he said that the problem of housing was largely local. However unpalatable it may be to hon. Members opposite, the truth of the matter is that in many areas the housing problem is practically solved. Indeed, one large burgh in the industrial area has found that the problem of overcrowding in the existing stock of houses could be 1467 solved if the town could rearrange its tenants according to the numbers in their families.
This shows the physical extent—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name it."] Yes, I will give the name—it is the Burgh of Paisley —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This shows the physical extent of the success of our housing policy, which only my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) seems to recognise for what it is worth. I did not say anything about slums. I was referring to overcrowding, and if hon. Members look in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow they will find that I referred to overcrowding. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central doubts my word, he will find the word "overcrowding" on my notes.
But while in some areas the housing problem has been solved, there are, as is recognised in the White Paper, other areas where there is still a massive housing problem to be solved, and that is why the Bill has been introduced —to concentrate in the areas which need it most the help which is given by way of Government subsidy. What is wrong with that? It is what hon. Members opposite are preaching the whole time. They want the wealthy to pay more in order to help the poor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear hon. Members applauding. If that is good philosophy for dealing with individuals, equally it is good philosophy for dealing with local authorities.
All that we are doing is saying to the local authority with ample resources that it will receive a lower subsidy so that a higher rate of subsidy, up to as much as £56 per house, can be paid to the poorer authority. We are adopting the Socialist maxim of giving to each according to his need. Whatever gloss hon. Members opposite may put upon it, the fact is that if they go into the Lobby tonight against the Bill they will be voting against a Measure conceived in the humanitarian spirit of giving help where it is most needed.
Turning to the Amendment again, I think that what is worrying hon. Members Opposite most is what they describe, using Parliamentary language, as the "excessive discretionary power" of the Secretary of State, but what, in their more expansive moments, they probably regard 1468 as my right hon. Friend's dictatorial powers. This criticism comes strangely from a party which when it was in power, proclaimed in answer to objections, "We are the masters now."
§ Mr. Galbraith
An ex-member of the Labour Party.
In fact, what do these discretionary powers amount to? First, there is the power to alter the key figure of £60 in the light of changing circumstances. Secondly, after 10 years there is the power to alter the amount and the period of the subsidies granted under the Bill. These may seem pretty wide powers, but the Secretary of State cannot invoke them without first of all obtaining the approval of the House. Strictly, therefore, the Secretary of State has no discretionary powers at all. Any change which he desires will need the authority of the House in the ordinary democratic way before it can be implemented, and there is adequate provision against any improper exercise of his powers. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) believes in counting heads, and that is all that we are doing.
The reason these provisions have been included in the Bill is that no one can see what the position will be like in 20 years' time, far less in 60 years' time. One has only to think back 60 years to the reign of Queen Victoria to see how utterly ridiculous it is to suggest that the rate of subsidy which was proper then would necessarily be proper today. If, looking backwards, one can recognise this, surely one can appreciate that the same argument applies to the future.
This is not retrospective legislation as the hon. Member for Hamilton suggested it was. It does not affect subsidies already in existence—it affects only new subsidies payable under this Bill. There is nothing retrospective about it.
§ Mr. Ross rose—
§ Mr. Galbraith
I will not give way. A change will be proposed to the House only where there has been such a major alteration in the economic circumstances of the country as to make it unreasonable to maintain the previous rate of subsidy. In those circumstances, the whole basis of housing finance would be altered 1469 anyway, and the possibility of a reduction in subsidies ten years from now should not, I suggest, worry local authorities any more than the many other imponderables which inevitably lie ahead and are likely to affect us all in our daily lives. What seems particularly to stick in the gullets of hon. Members opposite is the strengthening of my right hon. Friend's default powers in relation to local authority rents. Yet Clause 29 is not a device to enable my right hon. Friend arbitrarily to raise rents.
§ Mr. Galbraith
If the hon Gentleman will wait a moment, I will tell him. Rent fixing will normally remain the prerogative of the local authorities, which are the best judges of local conditions. My right hon. Friend cannot just instruct a local authority to implement what he considers to be a fair and reasonable rent scheme. Before my right hon. Friend can do anything under the Bill, there must first of all have been a public inquiry. It is only after the inquiry, when it has been established that the local authority has clearly failed to carry out its duty—it is only after it has been established that it has failed to carry out its duty—that my right hon. Friend can act.
My right hon. Friend is, after all, the watchdog to see that local authorities carry out their duties. There is nothing new about my right hon. Friend having these default powers. He has always been able to bark; and now this Bill gives him some teeth so that on those few occasions when it may be necessary to do so he can bite as well.
We on this side of the House have no desire that rents should be high for their own sake. I wish that hon. Gentlemen opposite could get that into their heads. All that we say is that the rent structure should be reasonable and that it should take account of the real increase in wages that has been achieved under a Tory Government during the last ten years. There is nothing unfair about a reasonable rent policy coupled with a rebate scheme. Indeed, this too is based upon one of the favourite socialist maxims—"From each according to his ability"—and that is all my right hon. Friend will ever ask anyone to pay.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
If that is so, why is it that the Bill in framing rent rebate 1470 schemes will not allow them as part of the allowable expenditure within the local authorities calculations?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I should have thought that it would have been very obvious to the hon. Gentleman why that is so. I do not intend to explain it to him just now. It is sticking out a mile away, but it is a long explanation.
This more reasonable rent policy, which under my right hon. Friend's influence I am glad to say, more and more local authorities are adopting, will not only be fair as between different types of ratepayers—and this seems to be something which hon. Members opposite always disregard in their calculations—but which will also have the benefit of helping local authorities' finances about which hon. Members opposite are so concerned.
Where there is a heavy deficit on a local authority housing account, there is bound to be pressure to economise. We have only to look at the poor standard of amenities and lack of adequate landscaping in some housing schemes to see what happens when an unnecessarily low rent policy is pursued. Instead of having any advantage, the tenants suffer because the layout has been skimped and they have to live in unnecessarily drab and desolate surroundings. Furthermore, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, a low level of rents stamps an area as industrially and socially old-fashioned, and expanding industry does not like coming to it. Therefore, it is utter folly for us to perpetuate this set-up when we should be doing everything in our power to attract industry to come to our country.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that for several years he and his right hon. Friend have been insisting that local authorities should cut out the frills in their housing schemes? Has he not been imposing economies on local authorities to keep down housing costs? Why should he now complain about the plans he imposed on local authorities?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. If he reads my speech he will see what I am getting at.
1471 Another advantage of more reasonable rents is that it will encourage the better-off tenant—
§ Mr. Galbraith
—If the hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper, the Bill and the letter my right hon. Friend has sent to Dunbarton County Council, he will know what we mean by reasonable rents. Another advantage of more reasonable rents is—as I was saying—that this will encourage—this is one of the main purposes—the better-off tenant to leave his council house and provide himself with private accommodation, so making room for those on the waiting list who cannot provide for themselves.
Clause 11 contains a further encouragement to the better-off tenant who may feel that he ought not to be a council house tenant but who does not feel like buying a house of his own. This clause allows Exchequer advances to be made to housing associations for co-operative ownership schemes or for houses to let at economic rents. We believe that it is quite wrong that people should be faced with the alternative either of staying on in a council house or having to buy a house of their own. Many people would prefer to rent a house, but unreasonably low council rents have prevented the demand for this type of accommodation making itself felt. We hope that the Bill will rectify this.
These are the advantages which will flow from local authorities adopting a more reasonable rent policy. Yet the Opposition by their speeches tonight and by their Amendment seek to prevent my right hon. Friend from acquiring powers which will enable him to ensure that local authorities adopt the new attitude towards rents which is essential if each housing agency in Scotland is to produce of its best. If the House denies my right hon. Friend these powers, it is certain that the situation will not improve.
On the subject of rents I had expected a little more support from the Opposition. I do not want to bore the House, but I have here quotations from the late Mr. Bevan, from the right 1472 hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), and from the hon. Members for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) and Hamilton, all of which more or less say—I will quote only the hon. Member for Hamilton—"Rents are on average too low and should be increased…"
§ Mr. Galbraith
It is all on the record, yet what is the hon. Member doing? He is doing something which will prevent rents rising, because he is denying my right hon. Friend the teeth which are necessary to ensure that local authorities do not default in their duty. It is all on the record. When it comes to a debate, the old Adam rises up in them and they are haunted—particularly the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence)—by the spectre of housing as a social service. It is the same in everything—they have this schizophrenia, this split mentality. They are split on defence, on further nationalisation, and on rents. No wonder they do so badly at by-elections.
Low rents have been the bane of housing in Scotland for far too long. This is referred to again today in the new Toothill Report. Low levels of rent were, perhaps, once justified by low wages. But now unreasonably low rents are doing untold damage—damage to the tenants, damage to the local authorities, damage to the homeless, and, indeed, damage to the whole Scottish economy. I had hoped that on this subject we might have had a fresh approach from hon. Members opposite, particularly in the light of the remarks of the hon. Member for Hamilton. But no. We on this side are called the Conservative Party, but it is the Opposition who are the dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries. When those who have the interests of Scotland at heart try to introduce into the local authority rent structure a new sense of realism, all we have from the benches opposite is prevarication and a refusal honestly and openly to come down on the side of what hon. Members must know in their hearts is the only answer to the housing problem of Scotland, that is, a combination of reasonable rents and a humane rebate system.
1473 In this Bill we have tried to be constructive. We have tried to look ahead and provide new weapons with which to attack bad housing, not on one front only but on all fronts. We have tried to help local authorities by redistributing Exchequer money so that it goes to those with the greatest needs. We have tried to help them tackle the problem of slum clearance by improved procedure. We have tried to help tenants in substandard private houses by increasing the return on money spent on modernisation. We have provided a stimulus to private building and to the development of houses to let at economic rents. None of those things contains the whole answer by itself; but together they make a constructive contribution on a number of different fronts towards the improvement of Scottish housing.
The Bill will be an encouragement to all the different agencies on whose enthusiasm and enterprise, as well as the Government's, depends the improvement of Scottish housing. It is in this go-ahead, forward looking, flexible and adventurous spirit that I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
This is a disastrous Bill, the successor of several Measures each of which has failed during the time it has been operated by the Government opposite to solve any of the problems or justify one of their contentions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said, when the Rent Act was introduced we were told by the Under-
§ Secretary of State, now Lord Craigton, the Minister of State, that in Scotland we should see the "For sale" notices coming down and the "To let" notices going up. In fact, this has not happened, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) reminded us earlier this evening.
§ Again, the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act, 1954, has failed to do anything to improve the stock of houses in Scotland to any appreciable extent. The Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Act, 1957, also has failed, as the Secretary of State had to admit today. Indeed, the failure of that Act passed only four years ago has led to the introduction of a new Bill today.
§ This is not a Bill dealing with houses. It is not even a Bill dealing with rents. It is a Bill primarily concerned with the moneylenders. When the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary argues that interest rates are irrelevant, he forgets that, if an economic rent were charged in Scotland, the charge would have to be—
§ Mr. Michael Hughes-Young (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury) rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 221, Noes 159.1477
|Division No. 11.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Brooman-White, R.||Currie, G. B. H.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Arbuthnot, John||Bryan, Paul||Danoe, James|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Buck, Antony||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry|
|Barlow, Sir John||Bullard, Derrys||Deedes, W. F.|
|Barter, John||Bullus, Wing Commander Erlo||de Ferranti, Basil|
|Batsford, Brian||Burden, F. A.||Digby, Simon Wingfield|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Doughty, Charles|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Chataway, Christopher||Drayson, G. B.|
|Bidgood, John C.||Chichester-Clark, R.||du Cann, Edward|
|Biffen, John||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Duncan, Sir James|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Clarke, Brig. Terenoe(Portsmth, W.)||Elliott,R.W.(Nwostle-upon.Tyne,N.)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Cleaver, Leonard||Emery, Peter|
|Bishop, F. P.||Cole, Norman||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn|
|Brack, Sir Cyril||Cooper, A. E.||Farey-Jones, F. W.|
|Bossom, Clive||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Farr, John|
|Box, Donald||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Fisher, Nigel|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Corfield, F. V.||Foster, John|
|Braine, Bernard||Costain, A. P.||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Brewis, John||Crowder, F. P.||Freeth, Denzil|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Curran, Charles||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Gammans, Lady||Lilley, F. J. P.||Roots, William|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Lingtead, Sir Hugh||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Litchfield, Capt. John||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)|
|Gilmour, Sir John||Lloyd, Rt.Hn.Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Russell, Ronald|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Longden, Gilbert||St. Clair, M.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Loveys, Walter H.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Goodhew, Victor||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Seymour, Leslie|
|Gower, Raymond||MacArthur, Ian||Sharpies, Richard|
|Grant, Rt. Hon. William||McLaren, Martin||Shaw, M.|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Green, Alan||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Grimston, Sir Robert||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Gurden, Harold||McMaster, Stanley R.||Speir, Rupert|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax,)||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Maddan, Martin||Stodart, J. A.|
|Harrison, col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Maginnis, John E.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Maitland, Sir John||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Hastings, Stephen||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hay, John||Marten, Neil||Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Mawby, Ray||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Hendry, Forbes||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Taylor, F. (M'ch'ter & Moss Side)|
|Hicks Beach, Maj. M.||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Teeling, William|
|Hiley, Joseph||Montgomery, Fergus||Temple, John M.|
|Hilt, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Morgan, William||Thornton, Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Neave, Airey||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hobson, John||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Holland, Philip||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Hollingworth, John||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John||Panned, Norman (Kirkdale)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Hopkins, Alan||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Walder, David|
|Hornby, R. P.||Peel, John||Walker, Peter|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P.||Peyton, John||Wall, Patrick|
|Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Hughes-Young, Michael||Pilkington, Sir Richard||Webster, David|
|Hurd, Sir Anthony||Pitman, Sir James||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pitt, Miss Edith||Whitelaw, William|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Pott, Percivall||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Prior, J. M. L.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho||Wise, A. R.|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Pym, Francis||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Woollam, John|
|Kimball, Marcus||Ramsden, James||Worsley, Marous|
|Kitson, Timothy||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Lagden, Godfrey||Renton, David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Leburn, Gilmour||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Mr. Noble and|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Mr. Gordon Campbell.|
|Ainsley, William||Dodds, Norman||Hill, J. (Midlothian)|
|Albu, Austen||Donnelly, Desmond||Hilton, A. V.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Holman, Percy|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Houghton, Douglas|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Hoy, James H.|
|Baird, John||Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Evans, Albert||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Benoe, Cyril||Fernyhough, E.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Finch, Harold||Hunter, A. E.|
|Benson, Sir George||Fitch, Alan||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)|
|Blackburn, F.||Fletcher, Eric||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas|
|Blyton, William||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Forman, J. C.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Bowles, Frank||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Galpern, Sir Myer||Kelley, Richard|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Gooch, E, G.||Kenyon, Clifford|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Gourlay, Harry||King, Dr. Horace|
|Cliffe, Michael||Grey, Charles||Lawson, George|
|Collick, Percy||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Ledger, Ron|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Grimond, J.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Darling, George||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hannan, William||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Deer, George||Hart, Mrs- Judith||Logan, David|
|Delargy, Hugh||Hayman, F. H.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Dempsey, James||Henderson, Rt.Hn.Arthur(Rwly Regis)||MacColl, James|
|Diamond, John||Herbison, Miss Margaret||McInnes, James|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Swain, Thomas|
|Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Probert, Arthur||Symonds, J. B.|
|McLeavy, Frank||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)||Randall, Harry||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Rankin, John||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Mallalleu, E. L. (Brigg)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Manuel, A. C.||Reid, William||Thornton, Ernest|
|Mapp, Charles||Reynolds, G. W.||Timmons, John|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Mason, Roy||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Weitzman, David|
|Mendelson, J. J.||Ross, William||Wells, William (Walseil, N.)|
|Millan, Bruce||Short, Edward||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Milne, Edward J.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Whitlock, William|
|Moody, A. S.||Skeffington, Arthur||WiIkins, W. A.|
|Moyle, Arthur||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Neal, Harold||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Small, William||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Noel-Baker, Rt.Hn.Philip(Derby,S.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Oswald, Thomas||Sorensen, R. W.||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Owen, Will||Spriggs, Leslie||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Padley, W. E.||Steele, Thomas||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Peart, Frederick||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Pentland, Norman||Stonehouse, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Plummer, Sir Leslie||Stones, William||Mr. Charles A. Howell and|
|Popplewell, Ernest||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John||Mr. McCann|
|Prentice, R. E.||Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).