HC Deb 30 June 1969 vol 786 cc192-7

Amendment made: No. 34, in line 17, after 'tenancy;', insert: 'to provide for the increase of rents of houses belonging to certain authorities without notice of removal'.—[Dr. Dickson Mabon.]

11.15 p.m.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

May I congratulate my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite, including those from the Liberal Party, who have participated in the excellent progress of this Bill. It has passed through the Scottish Standing Committee and established a record for speed of transition. May I also congratulate those who have taken part on the very constructive way in which they have argued the provisions of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) described the Bill as the most important Scottish Bill this Session. I agree. In my opinion, it is one of the most important housing Bills for many years.

The Bill contains the first major revision of the slum clearance law for more than 30 years, and for the first time introduces in Scotland a positive minimum standard for houses. By integrating the statutory codes for slum clearance and improvement and by giving a greater incentive for improvement the Bill opens the door for fruitful co-operation between local authorities and private owners. In introducing the Bill my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said: Legislation alone can never cure the problem of bad housing in Scotland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 18th March, 1969; c. 7.] The Bill provides the framework, but the effective action depends on the help and co-operation of local authorities, owner-occupiers, landlords, tenants, builders and particularly the leadership of local councillors. They have done a magnificent job so far in extending the output of new houses in Scotland and I hope that they will with equal energy get on with the task of stepping up the rate of clearance to a level which will enable Scotland to get rid of its plague of slums within a short period of years.

11.18 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

I wish to thank the Minister of State for the tributes he paid to my hon. Friends for the examination of the Bill. Hon. Members on both sides have done their best in the short time available to improve the Bill. On the question of timing, I must make it clear that it has seemed to us that the Government have got their legislaion mixed up, in as much as this Bill was in the queue after the Planning Bill and the Education Bill. This meant that we have had an unusually short period of time to take it through its stages here before it goes to another place.

Having said that, the Minister will agree that hon. Members on both sides have co-operated fully in a difficult programme so that we could examine the particular points and try to make changes in the Bill to improve it. I am glad to say that the Minister has accepted a number of our suggestions made in Committee and later. We are sorry that he has not been able to accept more.

The Bill seeks to produce a new system for the improvement of older houses and we hope that it will prove to be an effective system. It is now left to those who have to try to make the Bill work—and the Minister has mentioned some of them—to operate this system. We hope that it will be more effective than previous systems and we on our side will do all we can to ensure that the stock of houses that we have in Scotland is fully used and that those with plenty of life in them, which need improvement and repair, are saved and used fully to help provide accommodation, along with the new houses being built.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

There is a rule of thumb that I have for Government legislation, which is that the best thing we can do with whatever they put forward is to throw it away; on the whole, we would be much better off without it.

This is one of those very rare exceptions, I can scarcely think of any other, where, on balance, we have to give a Third Reading to a Bill which will serve certain useful purposes. That is why we have been able to treat the Bill in a receptive and agreeable fashion. On reflection, it is a pity that this receptive fashion should have been to some extent disturbed by the Minister of State, at certain points, when he made attacks on some Scottish local authorities and their housing records, attacks which were not justified by the facts—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to what is in the Bill and not discuss other matters outside it.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I would not dream of doing any such thing, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the attacks made by the Minister of State were within the terms of the Bill on various of the Clauses that we discussed earlier. However, I will not try your patience by pursuing that further.

While, together with my hon. Friends, I welcome the Bill in general, it does not go nearly far enough. In particular, the terms of Part IV are totally inadequate to deal with a grave injustice which has persisted for many years. To my mind, it is intolerable that people like landlords in my constituency, who have small individual properties, in an excellent state of repair, with all modern conveniences, are receiving such low rents. I had a case last week of a landlord who was receiving, for a fully modernised property with three rooms, kitchen and bathroom—the lot—a rent of £16 10s. a year. It is intolerable that these people should be invited to wait for three or, perhaps even four more years before they can obtain the benefits of upgrading under Part IV of the Bill.

Therefore, it is for that reason above all that I greet the Bill with very modified rapture. It is justice very long deferred into the future. I suppose, however, that to be able to greet a Bill from the present Government with any form of rapture at all is a welcome change.

11.22 p.m.

Mr. David Steel

I would not like the Third Reading of the Bill to pass without my being able to say that this is one of the few Bills on which I have actually enjoyed serving in the Committee stage. I think it is a good Bill and one which is for the improvement of the housing situation in Scotland.

If we accept, as, I hope, we are all moving, however slowly, towards accepting, that housing is a basic human right, we can say that this modest Bill goes one step further in the direction of creating that human right as a reality in Scotland. Of course, standards are not high enough. What one person may regard as a minimum status of tolerance might not be acceptable to most of us even in this House as tolerable living conditions. We will want to see the standards improved over the years.

The Bill has thrown up important discussion. One conviction which it has underlined, certainly in my mind, is that we shall never cure the position of Scotland's older houses until we rid ourselves of the legacy of the dilemma of private landlordism in Scotland. We are in the impossible situation that if a landlord is to get a fair return on his capital, the tenant has to pay an extortionately high price for the value of the property which he inhabits.

If, on the other hand, the tenant is to pay a reasonable rent for the property which he inhabits, the private landlord is often in a situation in which he will not be able to improve the property or keep it up. Therefore, I hope that over the years we will see encouragement to home ownership, co-operative housing and municipal housing and the phasing out as rapidly as possible of the sector of private tenancies which we have known in Scotland.

I believe that the people of Scotland are well aware of the deficiencies of our housing situation compared with that south of the Border. I say that because the House might be interested to learn that the public response to the Shelter organisation in Scotland since—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I must draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that we can discuss only what is in the Bill—in other words, how the Bill will operate. We cannot discuss things that we would like to see in the Bill or suggest what should be taken out of it.

Mr. Steel

What I am about to mention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is very relevant to how the Bill will operate, because one thing with which I am closely concerned is the encouragement of housing associations, which will make use of the provisions in the Bill for increased rents.

What I wanted to tell the House was that one of the main sources of revenue of housing associations in Scotland will be money raised by Shelter. Since this organisation set up its own office in Scotland in the autumn it set out very carefully a financial target for its first year of operation, bearing in mind its experience in England, and it has had the very pleasant surprise of having been able to raise within Scotland in four months the amount of money which it had set as its target—in the first year of operation. This, I believe, is testimony to the awareness of the public in Scotland to the very cruel housing situation which exists in some parts of the country.

I should like to put a question to the Minister following the very encouraging reports in the Press of the development of clamp-on units in the older housing, and the fact that the Scottish Special Housing Association said that it had spent only £100,000 of the £1 million allowed by the Government for the improvement of older properties. If we are here passing a Bill to encourage more improvement of older properties I wonder what role the S.S.H.A. has to play in this. The reason given for this very small expenditure was that it was permitted to spend only £2,500 on doing each conversion.

I would suggest that most housing associations operating in this field used grants available under the old legislation and were able to make conversions usually at a cost of about £1,600 and not at the £2,500 level. I wonder, first, whether the S.S.H.A. ought to be in this field at all; but, if it is in the field, I wonder if it should have such exacting standards. I do not believe that the Bill deals with matters such as flush-fitted doors and matters of that kind, and whether we can, in this legislation, bring houses up to modem council or S.S.H.A. building. This should be borne in mind when this money is available for the improvement of older property. The association ought to take this into account when it has still £900,000 left to it for this purpose.

Finally, I very much hope that we shall see more housing associations in Scotland. I do not mean housing associations of the commercial kind. I mean voluntary bodies of the kind which exist only in the major cities and, occasionally, in towns like Greenock, where, perhaps, they have been actively encouraged. It is true that most of the small burghs in Scotland which do have the problem of older houses do not have any voluntary associations in their midst to help deal with this problem. This is something which ought to be encouraged, and the passage of the Bill, I hope, will make that easier.

I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage in another place, as the Minister expressed in Committee the possibility that it might be in operation by the end of the Summer Recess. I hope that we do not delay it any longer. I wish it a speedy passage and all success.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.