HL Deb 18 December 1920 vol 39 cc567-78

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a short Bill limited to housing in Scotland. The provisions of the Bill are in general similar to the housing clauses contained in Part I of the Ministry of Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. When that measure was being discussed earlier in the week several noble Lords opposite declared that they considered that the first portions of the Bill were non-contentious. I hope that this view will still prevail.

Clause 1 of the Bill confers powers on local authorities compulsorily to hire houses for a limited period, till May 28, 1923, when the Rent Restrictions Act expires. Provision is being made for the payment of a rent as fixed by the official arbiter under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. The clause applies to houses without any limit as regards rateable value, and to houses whether empty or furnished, if not actually used as a residence by anyone. The clause was extended to furnished houses at the unanimous request of the Scottish Standing Committee of the House of Commons. Safeguards have been introduced, and the Scottish Board of Health are not to confirm any order for the hiring of a furnished house unless, after hearing parties, they are satisfied that greater hardship would arise by refusing to confirm than by confirming the order. While the clause does not permit the reconstruction of houses taken on let, it permits adaptations and alterations if these can be carried out at reasonable cost, having regard to the period of hiring.

Clause 2, as previously stated, extends the period for payment of the capital subsidy under the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, in respect of the construction of houses under that Act; and this clause is urgent, as the period fixed by that Act expires on December 23 of this year. It is proposed to extend the period for another year. Clause 3 proposes to amend Section 5 of the Additional Powers Art which deals with the prohibition of what is known as "luxury" building, and the main object of this clause is to improve the machinery for carrying that section into effect. Clause 4 authorises a local authority to carry out a housing scheme outside its own district, and to provide, subject to entering into an agreement with the local authority of the district, such services as may be required in connection with housing schemes which would ordinarily fall upon the local authority of the district, such as questions of water and sewage. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 are minor amendments proposed in the. Housing Act, and I hope that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill.

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


My Lords, I should like at this stage to say a few words in strong support of this Bill, which generally I feel should commend itself to the House and should certainly be passed in the interests of Scotland. There is one part of it, however, which I will refer to in a moment, which I must oppose, and I feel that in doing so I shall have unanimous backing, not only from your Lordships, but in Scotland generally.

As drafted the Bill, with the exception Clause 1, eliminates all the objectionable points which were taken exception to by your Lordships' House in another Bill, and I think the Secretary for Scotland is to be congratulated upon having got round those corners. It keeps in all the good parts, ensures the continuance of the grant, and prevents any arbitrary behaviour on the part of what I may term the local Bumble, and the erection of buildings which are unnecessary. It sets Up the requisite machinery to "ginger" slack local authorities. It even admits that we have a Court of Session which is a judicial body with a judicial function, and we are quite refreshed and surprised to find that the ubiquitous Land Court is not in it. The financial arrangements appear to be very reasonable and adequate, and in my opinion are sound, and generally I hope we shall get this Bill, as I feel that we should do nothing to stop anything which will help building in Scotland. There are certain Amendments which I understand may be moved in Committee by tine Government, and which are necessary, but they can be referred to later.

The exception which I have to make is to Clause 1. I cannot imagine any Government, and at all events this Government, wishing to retain Clause 1, or the House agreeing to this clause. It is a clause under which any house, big or small, furnished or unfurnished, of any kind, that has not been occupied for three months, can be seized; the furniture will be compulsorily removed and stored at the unwilling owner's expense, and nothing will be allowed for damage, while only an unfurnished rent will be paid. Nothing is said about damage to furniture in store, nor is anything to be done in the way of putting it back, nor will a penny be given for loss of hire as a furnished house as compared with an unfurnished house. In every case the whole interest on the capital invested in the furnishings, which is probably the livelihood of many poor people, will be lost during the occupation. And then last, but not least, there is nothing in the Bill to cover dilapidations done by the workmen's family in what is termed a bijou residence.

I fancy from what I have heard that the answer will be that we need not be afraid that the Bill will do much harm, that the clause is only going to last two years, that it is only meant to meet special cases that happen in certain parts of Scotland, and that the very existence of the whole scheme would practically make it inoperative. Certainly it could be made inoperative in one way, which shows what a silly clause it is. if you happen to have thirteen houses in one street all you have to do is to have an old lady as caretaker and let her live a week in each, and thus you dish the Bill. If it is going to be so inoperative, why upset the security of thousands of house-owners and ruin, for example, many poor widows whose sons and husbands have fallen in the war and whose whole savings are invested in these houses, which are intended to give an opportunity of rest and refreshment for those who have been working in the cities. If you take these houses away people who have been working in, say, Glasgow will be unable to get a breath of fresh air, and these houses are very important from that point of view alone. These places, which at present are seaside residences, will be ruined under this, Bill.

I do not think that we ought to be too certain that the Bill is only to be during the continuance of the time specified. We have already had two examples this afternoon. We have had the Gold and Silver Bill, and we have also had another instance. which the noble Lord who has just spoken gave us, of an attempt to continue something that had been passed for a specified period. In that case it was originally pointed out that it was only for a short period, and now it is thought to extend that time. When once these measures are passed it is very rarely indeed that we are able to get rid of them. The country is very sick of what I may call D.O.R.A. réchauffé, which is a political diet that it is usually being asked to absorb.

I would point out that nothing at all has been done for the middle classes. They have been very loyal to the cause of law and order, and they did splendid work during the war. At the present time they are probably feeling the pinch of the times harder than any other class. They were eliminated altogether from the Housing Bill, and, for various reasons which your Lordships know as well as I do, owing to other people having smaller houses, they are the people who have been most hit under the Housing Act. Millions have been spent on houses for the working men, and I do not grudge that if we get the houses. Now it is proposed to rob the middle classes of the houses that they possess. I quite agree that there are multiple houses which are farmed out and are causing a great deal of trouble and some scandal, but that is in a limited sense and only in certain places, and it could be dealt with without putting the whole country to this extraordinary inconvenience. I mention these points because when the Bill gets into Committee I desire to move that Clause 1 be deleted, and of course the consequent. Schedule will be excised. I hope that we shall not have to go to a Division, but I feel very strongly about it, and if necessary I should ask leave to divide the House. The Bill otherwise is, I think, an excellent one, and we ought to do everything we can to get it through as expeditiously as we have got through another Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I will again ask the indulgence of the House to allow this Bill to go through all its stages to-day. I believe this course will be convenient to noble Lords from Scotland. I understand that the noble Duke who has just spoken is going to move an Amendment in Committee, and there is one Government Amendment of a more or less formal nature which authorises local bodies, with the permission of the Treasury, to borrow at a rate in excess of 6 per cent., at which rate, of course, they are unable to borrow under present conditions. I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.

Moved (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended), That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Stanmore.)


My Lords, I am surprised that we should be asked to pass this Bill through all its stages when some Amendments are indicated which we have not yet seen on the Paper. I do not think that the House should give its consent till it knows exactly what has been done in Committee. I shall say no more at present, but it seems to me a most unusual course to ask that a Bill be passed through all its stages when we have not even been given notice beforehand of the Amendments that are to be made.


In those circumstances I will not take the Committee stage to-day.


May I appeal to the noble Lord. I do not think it is a question of the Committee stage. What Lord Balfour meant was that he wanted to see what happened in the Committee stage before we went on to the next stage. I hope that his Lordship does not mean that he wishes to hang up the Bill. I am sure that he does not.


The point was that we were asked to pass the Bill through all its stages before we had gone into Committee. That is what I object to. I have no objection to going into Committee. I shall wait and see what is done then, and decide whether I shall oppose further progress to-day.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL Of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Power to hire dwelling-houses compulsorily for housing of the working classes.

1.—(1) For the purpose of providing houses, any authority, being a local authority within the meaning of Part III of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, shall have power to hire compulsorily any house which is suitable, without reconstruction, and has not been in the bona fide occupation of any occupier at any time during a period of at least three months immediately preceding the date on which the local authority give notice of their intention to exercise their powers under this section:

Provided that—

  1. (a) this section shall not apply to any house erected after or in the course of erection on the second day of April nineteen hundred and nineteen or to any house acquired for the public service or for the purpose of the statutory duties or powers of a statutory undertaking and reasonably required for those purposes;
  2. 573
  3. (b) the term for which a house may be hired under this section shall be from the date of the hiring until the twenty-eighth day of May nineteen hundred and twenty-three; and
  4. (c) nothing herein contained shall prevent a local authority hiring compulsorily a house which may be adapted for occupation by more than one family at a reasonable cost having regard to the period of hiring.

(2) For the purposes of this section a house shall be deemed not to have been in bona fide occupation at any time during the period of three months as aforesaid, if such house has not been continuously inhabited as a dwelling house for at least one week in the said period of three months.

(3) The provisions set out in the First Schedule to this Act shall have effect with respect to the compulsory hiring of houses under this section.


I move the excision of Clause 1. I have already spoken on the subject.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 5, leave out Clause 1.—(The Duke of Atholl.)


I hope that the House will retain this clause. In certain districts in Scotland there are many houses used only for summer letting which stand empty for the greater part of the year, and in many of those districts there is great housing congestion. The purpose of the clause is to enable the local authority to relieve congestion by temporarily acquiring the houses.


May we not have a little further explanation upon this? It seems to me a hardship, if a house is required for summer letting, that because it has not been used in the winter the local authority should have power to commandeer it. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill the noble Lord advocated it on the ground that if it did not pass greater hardship would result than if it did pass. If it is a greater hardship to the community as a whole it is a fair matter for consideration. But if it is a greater hardship to the individual who owns the house then I think that individual should be fully compensated for the public use to which his property is put. We are living in times of great difficulty, and I do not want to stand in the way of anybody having a house who reasonably can get one, but I do not think that the community should commandeer private pro- perty without making quite sure that the individual whose property is taken is fully compensated.

Clause 1 is to a certain extent a simple clause, but it refers to the First Schedule of the Bill, and if your Lordships look at the First Schedule you will see it is obvious, if it stands as it is now in the Bill, that the individual who has a furnished house which is being taken from him—especially in the case in which he only uses it in the summer, during which time only he would have the power of deriving revenue from it—might have his furniture seriously damaged, and there is no reasonable chance of his being compensated for the loss. I personally never thought of deleting the whole of the clause, but I should like to have some assurance that there will be reasonable compensation for the individual whose property is prejudiced for the benefit of the community.


There are one or two anomalies in this clause. It is one of the curious features of it that whereas under the Rent Restriction Act a person is unable to turn a tenant out of a house, the tenant thus having security, in this Bill the Government is taking compulsory powers to do what under the Rent Restriction Act the owner is unable to do.

There are other features of the clause which I think are objectionable, and as it is very late in the session I hope that my noble friend who is representing the Government will give way. He has said that he does not wish to force the Bill through its further stages if there is opposition. If this clause remains in the Bill I think we must ask the Government to put off the Report stage so that we may be able to put down Amendments, because I think a great many Amendments will be required in this clause. Possibly it is the same with the others, but if this clause is deleted I think your Lordships might let the others go through, although there are certain objections. I hope the noble Lord opposite will reconsider the matter between now and the next stage.


I persist in my Amendment to excise Clause 1—which answers all objections.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 7 agreed to.

LORD STANMOREmoved, after Clause 7, to insert the following new clause— 8. In section thirty-one, of the Housing, Town Planning, &e. (Scotland) Act, 1919, and in section ten of the Housing (Additional Powers) Act, 1919, the words 'the issue of any share or loan capital with interest or dividend exceeding the rate for the time being prescribed by the Treasury,' shall be substituted for the words 'the payment of any interest or dividend at a rate exceeding six per centum per annum' and for the words' payment of any interest or dividend at a higher rate than six per centum per annum, respectively, and any public utility society or authorised association shall have and shall be de[...]med to have had power, notwithstanding anything in their rules or constitution prohibiting the payment of any interest on loan capital at at rate exceeding six per centum par annum, to raise money on loan at a rate of interest not exceeding the rate for the time being prescribed by the Treasury as aforesaid.

The noble Lord said: I think this new clause explains itself.

Amendment moved— Page 6, after line 23, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Stanmore.)


I am sorry that I cannot agree with the noble Lord that the clause explains itself. As far as I can understand it, it is an extremely complicated clause with a great deal of reference in it. It may be all right, and I think it probably is so. But surely I am entitled to ask why, if this clause was deliberately intended, notice was not given of it. It seems to me to be courteous to give notice of Amendments of this kind, so that one can see and read and consider them, and while I offer no opposition to the clause going into the Bill I think we should not take the Report stage until we have seen it actually in print. If we can see it in print between now and Monday the Report and Third Reading can be taken together early next week. I should like to see this clause in the Bill before I offer any opinion upon it.


Whatever your Lordships wish in the matter shall be done, but my noble friend could not give notice until the Second Reading stage had been passed, so that it would have been impossible for him to do what has been suggested. I must confess, when I heard. it, that it appeared to me to be an un-appetising paragraph, but it is very simple really. All it does is to provide that a local authority which has lost the power of borrowing money at a rate exceeding six per cent., for technical reasons which are set out and which I need not explain, shall have that power restored to it. That is all that the clause does. I call quite understand that Lord Balfour of Burleigh feels anxious that matters which are difficult to follow should not be introduced at this late stage, but that is all that this paragraph means.


May I point out to my, noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that at present the public utility societies are tied down to six per cent. and cannot possibly get money at that rate of interest. They must pay the ordinary market rate; otherwise they could not get their money and could not do their work. I agree with the noble and learned Lord that there is really nothing in this.


After what the noble and learned Lord has said, I withdraw my objection if he concurs that this is not only reasonable but simple. All I have to say is that when I came down here I could not know there was to be any Amendment, and I think as a matter of policy it would be fair as a rule that we should see a thing in print before we lose control of the Bill.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

First Schedule:

Provisions as to the Compulsory Hiring of Houses by Local Authorities.

1. Where a local authority propose to hire a house compulsorily under this Act they may give notice in the prescribed manner to the owner of the house of their intention so to do and may make an order the purpose in the prescribed form.

2. The order shall be published, and twenty-one days' notice thereof shall be given to the owner and any tenant of the house in the prescribed manner.

3. The order shall be submitted to the Board and shall be of no effect until it has been confirmed by them, and prior to such confirmation the owner and tenant, or either of them, shall be entitled to be heard by the Board in opposition to the confirmation of such order: Provided that, in the case of a furnished house, the Board shall not confirm the order unless, after giving all parties concerned an opportunity of being heard, the Board are satisfied that greater hardship would be caused by refusing to confirm than by confirming the order, and provided further that the Board shall not confirm any order where the estimated cost of any alterations or adaptations (including cost of removal and storage of furniture is, in the opinion of the Board, in excess of what is reasonable, having regard to the period of hiring; confirmation by the Board shall be conclusive evidence that the requirements of this Act have been complied with, and that the order has been duly published and made and is within he powers of this Act.

4. No compensation otherwise than by way of rent shall be payable in respect of the house compulsorily hired, and in the case of a furnished house no compensation otherwise than as after-mentioned shall be payable in respect of the furniture in the house or the loss of profit arising from the letting of the house as a furnished house, and in determining the amount of the rent or other sums payable no additional allowance shall be made on account of the hiring being compulsory.

5. Notwithstanding that the amount of the rent or other sums payable has not been determined, the local authority shall be entitled to enter into possession of the house as soon as the order has been confirmed by the Board.

6. In default of agreement as to the amount of rent or other sums to be paid by the local authority, or as to the other terms of the tenancy (including the delivery up of the house in proper condition), the amount of the rent or other sums payable or the other terms shall be fixed by an official arbiter appointed under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, and the provisions of that Act shall apply for the purpose, subject to such necessary adaptations as may be prescribed.

7. In fixing the amount of rent to be paid regard shall be had to any sums which may have been, or may require to be, spent by the local authority in putting the house into a condition reasonably fit for human habitation.

8. Where the amount which was originally estimated as sufficient to put the house into a state reasonably fit for human habitation subsequently appears to the local authority not to be sufficient for that purpose, the local authority may, with the consent of the Board, apply to have the rent payable re-assessed by the official arbiter.

9. In the ease of the compulsory hiring of a furnished house there shall be payable to the person to whom the furniture in the house belongs such compensation in respect of the removal and storage of the furniture as the official arbiter aforesaid shall, in default of agreement, determine; and if the furniture shall not have been removed prior to the date when the local authority enter into possession of the house, the local authority may make arrangements for the removal and storage of the furniture.

10. In this schedule the expression "prescribed" means prescribed by the Board, and the expression "owner" has the same meaning as in the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897.

THE DUKE OF ATHOLLmoved to leave out the First Schedule. The noble Duke said: This Amendment is consequential upon my first Amendment which your lordships have accepted.

Amendment moved— Leave out the First Schedule.—(The Duke of Atholl.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Remaining Schedule agreed to.

Amendments reported.

Bill read 3a and passed, and returned to the Commons.

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