HL Deb 06 August 1919 vol 36 cc537-48

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I should like to take the opportunity of joining in the welcome which has been accorded to this Bill in your Lordships' House, and to associate myself with everything the Lord Chancellor said as to the necessity of facing the housing conditions in Scotland. I am in hearty agreement with the Report of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland as to the necessity for immediate and drastic reform, but while welcoming the arrival of the Bill I must at the same time deplore certain of its provisions.

It will probably be admitted by your Lordships that on three lines this Bill is open to attack. Firstly, it imposes practically the whole of the re-housing in Scotland as a duty upon the local authorities; in the second place rural housing is not faced by the Bill, and certain sections of rural housing, such as crofter rural housing, is even by the Government admitted not to be dealt with by the Bill. The third point of criticism is on the question of occupying ownership, and especially the question of the possibility of co-partnership. I would like just to say a word or two on these three points. Firstly, on the question of local authority control. I do not think it can be too often insisted upon that the first and most important thing in the matter of housing in Scotland is the actual building of houses. To confine the whole action to the action of local authorities is to handicap yourselves in arriving at the state of things which we all desire. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that only 3 per cent. of the houses in Scotland have been built by public authorities in the last thirty years. The total number of houses built has been over a million, and the total number built by local authorities is under 3,500, of which 2,100 have been built in Glasgow, and only some 1,400 in the rest of Scotland. Therefore to impose upon an authority so inexperienced as the local authority the duty of building 250,000 houses, which is the number required in Scotland, seems to be giving to bodies without the necessary experience work which is quite outside their powers.

I say that you practically thrust the whole burden of building houses upon local authorities by this Bill. I say this because anybody who has followed the history of building in Scotland at all closely, is well aware of the steep gradations which exist in the figures as to the number of houses built in one year and another. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that there was practically a drop of 34 per cent. in the numbers of the building trade in Scotland between 1901 and 1911. In the City of Glasgow before the war there were built houses at the rate of 5,300 a year. In 1910 the number had gone down as low as 280, and in 1911 to 200. Without going too far into the political side of the question, a great many of your Lordships believe that this absolute failure in house building in the period 1910–11 was in large degree due to a measure which we know well in this House. It is therefore a fair argument that housing is apt to be affected by legislation, and experience shows that it is directly affected by the action of local authorities who compete on what is considered to be unfair terms with the private builder.

I do not wish to pursue this matter too far, but I do wish to insist upon the point that if you wish to get houses built in the numbers which are required in Scotland, the Government are acting on a wrong policy in adopting a policy which will make the local authorities the only house builders. We have just had a sporting argument on the subject of fox hounds. I say it would be exactly similar if Lord Willoughby de Broke were, before riding at one of the stiffest fences in Warwickshire, to tie up three of his horse's legs. The Government is by its action and its failure to recognise private as well as corporate action handicapping itself enormously in facing this problem, which is one of the most difficult and important questions which have to be faced.

Then as regards rural housing. Your Lordships have admitted that this Bill does not touch the crofter housing question at all. I submit that it barely touches the agricultural servant's question either. I would like just for a moment to recall to your Lordships what has happened over this question of rural housing both in the country and in another place. Members of the House of Commons showed the very greatest dissatisfaction with the Bill in its connection with rural housing. Conferences of various bodies were called, and practically at the demand of the Grand Committee the Secretary for Scotland attended a meeting in Edinburgh at which the whole of the county councils, the three Government Departments concerned, farmers, and representatives of all the country pursuits, were represented, and at which a practically unanimous resolution was passed, declaring that rural housing was not faced by the Bill and could not be faced unless the question of grants were considered.

It is very clear why rural housing cannot be faced by local authorities. If one takes the question of rural authority housing to the last analysis, one must agree that housing by the local authority is housing for the employer who neither houses his employees himself nor pays them sufficient wages to allow them to house themselves. It is different when dealing with the towns. The labour there is not necessarily that of a single individual. Labour can move from one employer to another, and it is not seen that housing by the local authority is really a subvention to low wages or failure to meet housing obligations. This is not the case in the country. In the country each individual works—I am talking of rural housing—for a special employer. In the town, and also admittedly in some villages, you have that community of interest which arises through the advantage resulting from the whole level of housing being raised. Individuals can then pass from one better house to the next. In the country the question of the tied employee makes this impossible. Therefore, unsatisfactory as this Housing Bill is to English agriculture, it is still more unsatisfactory in Scotland, for there we have practically universally the tied house system in agriculture.

The result is that a village which can be helped by the local authority only supplies a very minute portion of the houses required by those who work on the land. From the practical point of view, if one regards the question of whether these rural local authorities are going to improve the housing conditions, one is faced with this fact. In all directions it will obviously be necessary that there must be some driving power before you can get the necessary consideration and vote on the subject. In county councils where you have a division both of interests and of politics it is very difficult to see what can be done. Outside the agricultural labourer, who only takes a very small part in county council work, it is difficult to see exactly which class is going to give the necessary vote to get rural housing through. It will be very difficult for the landowner to vote houses for himself at the public expense, or to vote for houses for other proprietors who have not housed their farm servants properly. The farmer, on the other hand, will not see his way clear to vote for the landlord having houses at the State's expense. Again, it is difficult to see how the crofters, who represent so large a number of small holders, are going to be enthusiastic about voting houses which they are to pay for but of which, under the Bill, they are not going to have the least advantage. It is therefore difficult to see where the necessary driving power is to come from to get the rural housing question adequately faced. The unfortunate position in which any member of a county council would be who bad to put in motion either by direct or indirect action the machinery by which he himself would get some advantage out of the local grant can easily be realised.

My third line of criticism is in regard to the slight attention which has been given to the possibilities which underlie occupying ownership by co-partnership tenants. Your Lordships are no doubt aware that in England a Co-partnership Tenants' Society exists which in 1909 had only some £36,000 invested in land, and which by 1914 had an interest in land and houses that amounted to £1,500,000. I submit that if this question of housing had been faced on broad and comprehensive lines an opportunity would have been afforded for the men who have returned from abroad once more to resume their occupations as workmen. Moreover, the Government had a great opportunity of doing something for those who wished to acquire houses and become occupying owners.

I have given your Lordships an example of the extent to which co-partnership tenancy has been worked in England, and I will now turn to Scotland. In Scotland we had even before the war several successful instances of co-partnership ownership. I need not point out what the advantages are to the country during a time such as we are likely to go through of having a number of returned soldiers on the land with the stability that is given by having a definite stake in the country. Had that been done it would have been a measure which, I am sure, would have had the greatest support from every class of the community. The high wages which are paid at present would have made the acquirement of a house much more possible than was the case in the past. I will give your Lordships an example from Scotland. In the town of Falkirk men acquired their own houses with wages which in those days only averaged something like 25s. a week. Notwithstanding the rise in the price of building it would have been possible, had the Government faced this question in a broad and liberal way, to have very much increased occupying ownership. From the experience that I have gained by addressing meetings in Scotland on the subject I am quite satisfied that the demand for occupying ownership has increased and is increasing, and if it had been faced adequately by the Government we should have had considerable results in that direction.

In conclusion, I would like to say that every well wisher of Scottish rural housing must regret this Bill as it stands to-day. I do not believe that you are going to make real progress in rural housing, and, from the remarks that one hears from time to time not only from Members of Parliament but also from the Government officials who have been travelling about the country, one feels that they have no more confidence than we have ourselves in the development of rural housing. I was informed to-day by one who is most likely to know that not 50 per cent. of the rural county councils in England had sent in schemes, and we have seen Ministers going about the country trying to "ginger up" the local authorities to do the work.

I admit it is essential that action should be taken, but I think it is not so much that the local authority is on its trial but that this Bill is on its trial, and that it has been shown that the Government is not likely to face the rural housing problem. At the present time the lips of members of the Government are full of phrases such as "back to the land," but if this Bill is not a success in the rural areas (as I think we are bound to admit it is not likely to be) you are actually subsiding the towns at the expense of the country. You are voting these large sums of money, which are not going to be spent in the country because the method of spending that money is not suitable, and you are going to subsidise the building of more houses in the towns and increase the rate at which the people will flock from the country into the better houses in the towns.

Our position in this House is such that we are unable to offer any constructive Amendments which are of the least value. You have seen the treatment which our Amendments in the English Bill have received in another place. I am certainly not going to take the trouble to put down Amendments which I believe would help the working of the Act, because Parliamentary arrangements are such that they would be ruled out without consideration in another place. But I would ask your Lordships seriously to consider that as this Bill, drafted as it is, entirely fails to face the rural conditions, you should seriously consider the question of making more use of public utility societies than the Bill does. I would suggest that the Regulations of those societies should not form part of the Bill, but should be settled by the various executives, and that the Government should insist that these Regulations should be such as to allow those people who wish to build in the country to take advantage of the meagre opportunities which they have. Otherwise rural housing will not improve; it will get worse.

I am not going again to enlarge upon crofter housing which I discussed the other night, but I trust we shall receive something more definite from His Majesty's Government about crofter housing policy than we received front the noble Lord opposite. We have had experience in the past in the Highlands of these vague promises of reform in crofter conditions. But the existing crofter is not of the slightest interest to the politician—it is only the possible crofter who could be put into an impossible deer forest where there is imaginary land on which he can settle, but on which, as a matter of fact, he does not want to settle, who is of the slightest interest to the politician. We had exactly the same proposition in the 1911 Bill, and, although £200,000 per annum was voted, I have proved absolutely right in the statement I made then that none of this money would be of any benefit to the existing crofter. And, in regard to this £2,500,000 which are going to be used under the Land Settlement Bill, unless the strictest instructions are given to the Government that the crofter housing question is to be faced on adequate lines that money will not be employed to put the houses of crofters on Government land into the same condition as prevails on the average privately owned estate in Scotland. I hope, therefore, the Government will consider, in view of the unfortunate position of the rural housing, those questions of the Regulations for public utility societies, and also the question of the crofters who are actually to-day on the soil.


My Lords, I should like entirely to endorse everything that the noble Lord has said. He has represented the case well to your Lordships. Housing in Scotland is admittedly bad, and, although probably not by any means the whole of the shortage comes from the so-called "People's Budget" of 1909 that is the main reason why the housing in Scotland at present is so very bad. It has certainly turned out a Budget for which the people were made to suffer in lack of houses, and now the country has got to pay huge sums—probably three times what it would have cost to build these houses by private enterprise. I know, for instance, a certain case on my own estate in a large town where it was proposed by a society to have a small garden city. They were going to have a hundred acres for cottages, negotiations were well forward, the 1909 Act came in, and nothing more was heard of it. And there have been similar cases in many places.

My noble friend has pointed out the great danger to the rural districts. As your Lordships who have lived in or visited Scotland know, on farms in Scotland practically the whole of the farm servants' houses are situated in close proximity to the farm buildings, whereas in England the labourers live in the villages. That is one reason why in this Bill it is almost impossible for the local authorities, even if they are willing to do so, to provide accommodation for farm servants. Numerous people throughout Scotland have considered how under this Bill assistance could be given to improve the conditions of the housing of the farm servants, and no one yet has come anywhere near a solution, and His Majesty's Government have not been able to give any light on that very serious question.

We have not only got the difficulty that money is going to be provided for the local authority, and practically the local authority only, for purposes of this kind, but, in addition, they have a prior call on all material. I know on my estate, where probably the housing is quite as good as on most others, we found it possible during the war to undertake a great deal of work with labour and materials, but in that case, where we did not expect or want any grant, there has been enormous difficulty in carrying it out because we were unable to obtain material, on which the local authorities had a prior claim. Under this Bill they have the sole claim.

It is no good in future years coming to the landowners of Scotland, as the Government probably will do, and saying "We want to put the people back on the land, and you have done nothing for them." At the present time it is impossible for landlords to do what they wish in providing the necessary accommodation, but when it comes to providing houses for any of these discharged and disabled soldiers it is even worse. I myself have had cases, as I daresay your Lordships have, of disabled soldiers who wanted a small amount of land for poultry or something of that kind. In Scotland there is some difficulty about the land which is chiefly under lease, but the real difficulty is housing. It is a perfect mockery to talk of "back to the land," and to tell these discharged and disabled soldiers that they are going to be well provided for, if at the same time conditions are made not only not to improve housing in rural areas but actually to make the matter more difficult than it has been in the past. There is a serious shortage of houses in Scotland.

Although I am afraid it is not possible under this Bill for your Lordships to make such alterations as will make the measure effective, I hope His Majesty's Government will look seriously into this question; because if they do not I am sure that before long there will be not only great disappointment throughout the country but the people will feel that they have been deceived, and then there will be trouble. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has put down several Amendments to bring the Bill somewhat into line with the English Bill. I am glad he has done so. There are certain other Amendments which, perhaps, might be desirable, but I think, speaking generally, if the Government will accept Amendments to bring the Bill into line with the English Housing Bill there will not be much difficulty in the Committee stage. I trust that the Government will bear in mind what my noble friend Lord Lovat has said. I am sure that His Majesty's Government and your Lordships would like if possible to put the thing on a sound footing so that we may in reality have an opportunity of keeping the land in cultivation, employing as many people as possible on the land, and supplying small holdings to men who are either wholly or partially disabled


Your Lordships will hardly think it convenient that I should attempt anything in the nature of a full reply to the elaborate speech made by Lord Lovat. I was glad to note that the noble Duke if not extravagant in his praise for the Bill at any rate was less pessimistic about it than was Lord Lovat.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, but I should like to say that I welcome the Bill. I think it will solve a great many of our troubles in Scotland, although I believe it is open to the three objections to which I called attention.


I rejoice to hear what the noble Lord says. If noble Lords when they found it necessary to involve us in their censure gave us at the same time such compensating refreshment, it would greatly relieve the tasks of Ministers. I am glad to hear what the noble Lord says, though I confess I did not gather that impression from his speech. The noble Duke adopts the same view. His conclusion is that if this Bill is brought into line with the English Bill as it left this House it is a measure which, if it does not make the full contribution he hoped for, at any rate makes a considerable contribution to this problem.

It must not be supposed that the Government in adopting this Bill did not give the deepest consideration to its tenour and to the alternative methods by which their object might have been attained. I am sure that my noble friend did not intend—when he referred to the mockery of saying "Back to the land"—that a serious effort has not been made. No one can say that the Government has not laboured ever since the Armistice in the preparation of these schemes, and the best expert help available has been consulted throughout. The Scottish Office contains many people who are highly experienced in these matters, and the Government have resorted also to the advice of many others on all these points. I can see what the noble Lord would have preferred. In the interests of what he called the "tied house system" he would have preferred the method to have been adopted of granting subventions on a large scale to Individuals instead of proceeding through the agency of the local authority. All I can say is that this matter was carefully considered but it was deliberately rejected. It would certainly not have recommended itself to the House of Commons; it was the clear view of the Government that the House of Commons would not have sanctioned such a course. The Cabinet itself, I say plainly, took an express decision upon this particular point, and, apart from the view taken of it in the House of Commons, they were opposed to it because they formed the deliberate opinion, after taking the best possible advice, that it was preferable to proceed through the local authority. The noble Lord, I may say in passing, was not content with mentioning his pessimism in regard to Scotland but he brought it across the border. In regard to what he said as to the number of schemes presented by local authorities in England, may I say that a far larger number have made their schemes than might have been expected. It must not be forgotten that a great deal of complicated work has had to be done.

I may, perhaps, deal with another observation made by the noble Lord. He said that he hoped there would be regulations under the public utility society provisions which would secure to him what he wanted. I also hope that there will be definitions under that branch of the Bill which will give him what he wants. In addition, I may inform him that this was one of the objects of the Government in introducing that part of the Bill. I think that it is not only probable but certain that there will be regulations under this part of the Bill which will give great satisfaction to the noble Lord. May I also point out to him that Clause 19 says this with regard to loans— Where the owner of a house or building applies to the local authority of the district in which the house or building is situated for assistance for the purpose of carrying out works for the reconstruction, enlargement, or improvement of the house or building, and the authority are of opinion that after the works are carried out the house or building would be in all respects fit for habitation as a house or houses for the working classes, and that the circumstances of the district in regard to housing accommodation are such as to make it desirable that the works should be carried out, the authority may lend to the owner the whole or any part of such sum as may be necessary to defray the cost of the works and any costs, charges, or expenses incidental thereto.… The noble Earl will see that in subsection (4) of Clause 19 "owner" is defined as including "joint owner, fiar, feuar, and lessee under a lease recorded under the Registration of Leases (Scotland) Act, 1857." That gives considerable power. I think we must proceed to the Committee stage. Everybody knows that only by a detailed examination of the clauses in Committee shall we be in a position to consider how far some of these gloomy predictions of the noble Earl are well-founded. The noble Lord asked that the Government should make some further statement than was made by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, the other night. The noble Lord must not suppose that answers are given here without some care being taken about them. It was not possible to say more. I thought the noble Earl said a great deal. It is impossible, of course, for the Government to issue bulletins, at intervals of about three days, with reference to their views. The noble Lord must really take it that what was then said expressed the intention of the Government. I consider the noble Lord underrated the very genuine desire which was displayed in the speech of tie noble Earl to do something for a section of the population which the noble Lord has referred to. He returns to the charge and demands, after I think about three or four days, that a new statement should be made, which I think it is not possible to do.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[Lord DENMAN in the Chair.]


I beg to move that the House do now resume. We propose to take the Amendments to this Bill on Friday.

House resumed.