HL Deb 04 August 1919 vol 36 cc256-61

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Housing and Town Planning Bill for Scotland, it will not be necessary that I should attempt to enter into the matter with the detail that would be necessary had it not been for the fact that the English Bill corresponds almost entirely with the proposals in relation to Scotland, and all that I said in moving the Second Reading and in the later stages of the English Bill is applicable to the present proposals.

The only reason why I think it necessary to detain the House for a few moments is that I have been asked by one or two of your Lordships who are specially interested in Scotland to explain one or two points in relation to the proposal. It may therefore be convenient that I should make a short explanation. The first point that it is important to make here is that, the housing conditions in Scotland are, as was brought out by the Report of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, even worse than in England, and your Lordships ought clearly to appreciate what the real state of affairs in Scotland is to-day in this grave matter.

According to the estimate of the Royal Commission, the shortage of houses in Scotland at the date of their Report—the year 1917—amounted to 236,000. The Commissioners arrive at this figure by a consideration of what was required to restrict the limit of overcrowding to a reasonable extent and of the number of existing houses which are indisputably unfit for human occupation. The information which has been supplied since then rather goes to show that the conclusions of this Commission were under rather than over the mark. Many of the existing houses are in a shocking condition. They are without sanitary arrangements of any kind.

In the year 1911 there were 129,730 one-roomed houses; that is equivalent to 12 per cent. of the total number of houses in Scotland. There were 409,000 two-roomed houses, which is equivalent to 40 per cent. of the total number. The distribution of the population of Scotland in one-roomed and two-roomed houses was 8 per cent. in the case of the former, and 39 per cent, in the case of the latter of the total population. The comparable figures in England may usefully be noticed. They are 1 per cent. as against 8 per cent. for the one-roomed population, and 5 per cent. as against 39 per cent. for the two-roomed population. These indisputable figures make it plain that the need for such a Bill as this is even more urgent in the case of Scotland than it was in the case of England.

With those general words I will make a very few observations as to the clauses in the Bill for which I ask a Second Beading. It is divided into five Parts under the titles respectively, "Housing of the Working Classes," "Town Planning," Acquisition of Small Dwellings," "Improvement of Housing," and "General." The first is "Housing of the Working Classes." This Part of the Bill consists of 30 clauses which, with certain exceptions—of which I shall say a word in a moment—are contained in almost identical terms in the English Bill. The first two clauses, that deal with the duty of local authorities to prepare and carry out housing schemes, are, with very slight verbal differences, the same as Clauses 1 and 2 of the English Bill. Those of your Lordships who have followed both Bills will have observed that Clause 3 of the English Bill. which provides for the county council acting in place of the local authority, does not find any place in the present Bill. In Scotland the local authorities for the execution of the Housing Acts are the town councils of boroughs, the district committees in counties which are divided into districts, and the county council if the county is not so divided. It was not considered advisable by those who are familiar with these matters that the county councils—which except in the last-mentioned cases are not housing authorities and do not possess housing staffs—should come in as intermediaries between the Board and recalcitrant local authorities. It was thought that. I his would tend to delay, and, in the interests of expedition, if a local authority neglects its duty it was thought better that the Board should act without the county councils being imported. I should not have thought it necessary to mention this, but a suggestion was made in Committee in the House of Commons to introduce this clause, but after debate it was abandoned.

Clauses 3 and 4 require the Board to act in the place of defaulting local authorities, and the only point of difference between the English provisions and these worth noticing is that, to meet the views which were expressed in Committee, words were inserted providing that the Board must hold a public local inquiry through some person not in their employment before they themselves proceed to act. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 contain certain financial provisions for recouping local authorities on losses in their housing schemes; and Clauses 8, 9. 10, 11, 12 and 14 are identical with the clauses which have already met with your Lordships' approval in the English Bill. Clause 13 contains an amendment of the Entail Act which is intended to give greater facilities to an heir of an entail to dispose of his land to the local authority to provide houses for the working-classes. Those of your Lordships who understand Scottish law and practice will observe that Clause 14 of the English Bill, which conferred on local authorities power to acquire water rights, is not in this Bill. The reason for the ex- clusion is that the English Public Health Act, 1875, does not exist in the Public Health (Scotland) Act of 1897, which provides a simple process by which local authorities can acquire water. Clauses 20 and 21 correspond with Clause 24 and 25 of the English measure, but Clause 22 has no equivalent in the English Bill.

Clause 22 provides for the periodical publication of details of progress in connection with approved schemes; it was inserted at the instance of a private Member in Committee, and it may be worth while considering it when the matter is before this House. It was not thought by the Government. that there was no great necessity for it, but on the other hand there was no particular ground for resisting it. Clause 27 is the next which varies from the English Bill. It provides that Part I of the Act of 1890, which deals with improvement schemes, may with the consent of the Board apply to districts other than boroughs in cases where the Board are of opinion the conditions approximate to those of boroughs. This carries out a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland. I need not say anything about town planning or Part II of the Bill, because the provisions are substantially the same as those in the English Bill. The same observation applies to Part III which, as I pointed out, is concerned with the acquisition of small dwellings.

I pass to Part IV which deals with the improvement of housing. This Part has a number of provisions which deal with the improvement of housing not contained in the English Bill, the only clause on the same lines being Clause 26, which provides for the making of by-laws respecting houses divided into separate tenements, which are analogous to the provisions of Clauses 41, 42, and 43 of this Bill. The clauses under consideration are intended to give effect to certain proposals of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, which proposals are founded upon very strong evidence, to make the reforms now made which are urgently required in Scotland. Clause 41 provides for the compulsory making of by-laws in boroughs on such matters as the maximum number of houses to be erected on a certain piece of land, and so forth. I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with any other individual clause until I approach Clause 46. That clause makes a small amendment of Section 40 of the Public Health (Scotland) Act of 1897 which provides for the purifying of houses in a filthy condition, with the result that it is no longer necessary for the condition of the house to be injurious to health before the local authority can take action. The only other clause with which I need deal is Clause 46. That clause is intended to remove the hesitation which town councils have shown in building houses outside their boundaries. Clause 46 provides that, on an application by a county council for the extension of its boundaries, the Sheriff (who deals with such applications) is to take into account amongst other things the number of houses to be erected on the ground which the town council desire to include within their boundaries. There is some intelligible hesitation on the part of town councils to build on ground outside their boundaries houses the rates upon which would go to another authority. Under this clause the fact that they are going to build these houses will furnish a prima facie case for including such ground within their boundaries.

I have now called attention to every clause of importance in which this Bill differs from the English Bill, and I think I have dealt with all the points with which one or other of your Lordships has asked me to deal in moving the Second Reading. My noble friend Lord Lovat, in an appeal addressed to the Government a few nights ago, raised the case of the crofters, and complained with- great force and weight that their case was not dealt with in this Bill. My noble friend Lord Crawford pointed out that it was by no means from want of sympathy with the crofters case or from want of appreciation of the urgency of dealing with the matter that the conclusion had been reluctantly reached that the framework and the constitution of this Bill were wholly inapplicable to tie conditions existing in the crofters' area, and that their case—although it must be met at an early date—was not one that could conveniently be dealt with in the framework of this measure. I now ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

LORD LOVAT rose to speak—


I am very sorry. I put very deliberately the Question that the Bill be read a second time, as I rather anticipated that the noble Lord would want to speak, and I looked round to see whether he was going to rise. I am afraid it is now too late.


I do not think that your Lordships would object to my saying a word.


The Bill has been read a second time. On going into Committee the noble Lord can make the same speech that he now wishes to make.


It is impossible to make a Second Reading speech in Committee.


That is so. But on the Motion "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee" you can make your speech.