HL Deb 22 July 1930 vol 78 cc683-90

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I propose to be very brief in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, because your Lordships are well seised of the general provisions of the English Bill, and this Bill is very similar. The differences between the two Bills are mainly due to different conditions in Scotland and in England. This Bill received a Second Reading in the House of Commons on April 10 without a Division, it was no less than thirteen days in Committee in that House and the debates occupied as much as 500 columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT. It is a tribute to the general desire of Members of all Parties that this Bill should go through that it emerged substantially unaltered, and on the 15th of this month it passed through Report and Third Reading in another place without a Division.

The principal reasons for the application of this Bill to Scotland are to be found in the Report of the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland. This is a large and extremely interesting document, which I do not propose to quote to your Lordships. The Report was generally unanimous. The Commission found that, at the time when they reported in 1917, there were over 120,000 houses required for the then standard of housing in Scotland and, owing to the fact that nearly one half of the inhabitants of Scotland were living in houses of one and two apartments only, the Commission recommended that there should be an increase in the number of houses available of an additional 114,000, making a total of over 230,000 houses to be built in Scotland. A great many efforts have been made since the Report of the Royal Commission to meet the housing shortage in Scotland, but, despite everything that has been done, the whole of the building operations of the last ten or eleven years have merely sufficed to meet the annual new requirements and have failed actually to decrease the requirements disclosed in the Report of the Royal Commission.

The feeling of the Government is that we must now tackle the problem from another side with an attempt to clear the slums, and the object of the Bill that is now before your Lordships is that of slum clearance and a sustained attack on slums and bad housing in Scotland. I do not think that I need go through the chief features of the Bill in detail, such as the intention to extend the powers of local authorities and the simplification of the procedure under which local authorities act. I should like to emphasise particularly the new improvement areas, which enable local authorities to attack systematically their problem of slums and bad housing, to schedule whole areas and deal with areas one at a time, and with each area as a complete whole. I should like to remind your Lordships also of the interesting provision that local authorities will be compelled under the Bill to put forward their housing programme for five years ahead. That will mean that local authorities will have to consider what they are going to do during the forthcoming five years and lay down a programme, and electors and those concerned will be able to see, in the first place that the programme is adequate, and in the second place that the local authority adheres to it.

There is an important alteration in the basis of the Exchequer assistance towards dealing with these slum areas, and I want to emphasise the fact that there is special assistance in the Bill to aid in the erection of the larger houses which Scotland particularly needs. The grant is being made in such a way that there is much less interference with local authorities than has been the case in the past. As your Lordships know, there are three main features. There is the question of the scheduled clearance area, in which every building must be demolished.


I understand that a building has to be specified before being demolished.


That is so. Every building which is specified as being included in the clearance area must be demolished. A building which is satisfactory can be surrounded by a ring and made an island in the area. Then there are the improvement areas, which may be described as potential slum areas—areas which are almost slum areas, or about to become slum areas, and which contain a number of houses which must be demolished and a number which must be reconstructed or rebuilt and improved, and also an area which contains an element of overcrowding. A third point is the individual houses which need demolition and which are dealt with particularly in this Bill.

Clause 9 lays it down that before a house can be demolished rehousing must be undertaken, so that displaced tenants of houses to be demolished can find new houses. The conditions of the grant I think I need not go into, save to remind your Lordships that what is called the per capita grant, the unit grant, is 5s. more in Scotland than in England, not because Scotland always succeeds in obtaining more from the Treasury than England, but because Scotland, being as a rule ahead of England in most things, also has the unfortunate distinction of being ahead of England in slums. Her housing conditions are worse than those of England, and therefore it is important to attempt to meet those worse conditions by a higher unit grant. In the same way, that additional grant spreads throughout the financial proposals. The rural houses will receive £2 15s. instead of £2 10s., and the rates which the local authority may charge are 15s. more per house than are the rates allowed in this country.

I would like to remind your Lordships in passing that this unit grant is a grant calculated on the number of people displaced from a slum area and rehoused in new houses. The unit grant does not apply to the new houses. It is given to the local authority as a lump sum based on the number of people they rehouse, and the local authority can use that lump sum as they like in apportioning the rents which they charge the displaced tenants. That is to say it may not unreasonably be taken by the local authority to charge a lower rent for a larger house where the people are particularly poverty-stricken; but the Bill leaves it to the local authority how they will use the lump sum. We make it a condition that the local authority must charge a definite sum from the rates per house, and the aggregate of the rents of all the houses built must be the difference between the total cost to the local authority and the receipts which the local authority obtains on the one hand as an aggregate grant from the Exchequer, and on the other hand the grant from the rates based on the number of houses.

A question arose in the debates during the Committee stage of the English Bill as to the basis of compensation, and I thought, with your Lordships' permission, and at risk of wearying the House, that I might perhaps explain the reason for the difference between the compensation clauses in the two Bills. There is a slight difference, as was pointed out to your Lordships during the Committee stage of the Housing Bill. In England there is, as regards open spaces—and those of your Lordships who have studied the Bill will realise that this is a factor which is of most interest—a reduction factor for open spaces under the present law and under the English Bill. In Scotland it is true that under the existing law there is a reduction factor, but in the Bill we have altered that so that there will be no reduction factor as regards land from which the buildings have been removed, and which is to be used not for rehousing displaced tenants but for an open space.

That was done because the Scots are very acute in money matters, and they discovered that open spaces which were remaining open as a result of site clearance would have a reduction factor of nearly 100 per cent. and it was felt that that was a form of injustice as regards Scotland which it was desired to remove. As regards the English Bill it was suggested that it might be brought into accord with the Scottish Bill in this matter, and I may say that my noble and learned friend, the Leader of the House, is considering that matter to see whether it is possible that some Amendment might reasonably be made.

I only want to deal with three other points which are included in the Scottish Housing Bill. Clause 29 allows for ex gratia payments to be made for the expenses of removal of displaced tenants in certain cases, and also for payments for loss of business due to disturbance in case of a clearance area, when those engaged in business have to be removed. There is an interesting point in Clause 23 to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention, and that is that Clause 23 allows for the provision of hostels for single persons. That is one of the difficulties in Scotland which we feel can best be dealt with in that way. The last point I want to bring up is that the Bill extends the provision under which loans can be granted by councils. In the past they could be granted for alterations of houses and for improvements. The Bill extends that provision to repairs, so that loans can be made for repairs which are undertaken by owners in agreement with the local authority.

Perhaps in conclusion I might remind your Lordships that Scotland has one peculiar difficulty in the fact that a large number of people in Scotland are housed in tenement houses, which until recently differed from those in England in that they were frequently owned by a large number of people. You may have an occupier of a flat in a tenement building who actually owns his flat. There is a similar position growing up in this country, I understand, in certain flats in London, such as Grosvenor House. These are not, in the ordinary sense of the word, tenements, but the result is similar. And when it became necessary to consider demolishing a tenement in Scotland it was found that certain of these tenements were owned by people who had taken great care of their houses and kept them in extremely good condition, and yet, for the purposes of the Act, it might become necessary to demolish the whole of that tenement. Arrangements have been made whereby persons who are in fact the owners of property which, included in a tenement, is in very good condition, shall he paid compensation at market value before the actual demolition can take place. I feel certain that your Lordships will desire to press this Bill through as quickly as possible, and I trust that it will be altered as little as possible, so as to secure an early passage for a measure which is very much desired in Scotland.

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


My Lords, I think you will be grateful to the noble Lord for the lucid and terse manner in which he has explained the provisions of this Bill to the House. He said that the differences between the Scottish Bill and the English Bill were due to the different conditions in Scotland and England. Of course, we are accustomed to two Bills on these subjects coming before Parliament, and they do at times differ very considerably, and I would suggest that this Bill in certain particulars differs very widely from that which your Lordships have been considering in regard to England. The noble Lord certainly touched on some of those differences—those in regard to compensation. There the difference is a wide one. I see that in this Bill, unlike the English Bill, it is intended that, in order to reduce compensation to bare site value, the premises must be specified as unfit for human habitation, or dangerous to health; that is to say, that in a clearance area, instead of every house when demolished being simply compensated for at the bare site value, the houses which are compensated only at the bare site value must be specified. Any others will be compensated for at the market value, and not at the bare site value. The noble Lord did explain in answer to a question that as far as possible islands would be made in these clearance areas, which would not include such houses, but where they are included in clearance areas the houses which are to he compensated at bare site value will have to be specified as being injurious for human habitation or dangerous to health. That is one very considerable difference.

Then we come to the reduction factor. The noble Lord touched on that also in regard to open spaces, which I will deal with in a minute. But the reduction factor is only to be applied to premises so specified as dangerous to health. That is another very important difference. Then we come to the third matter, the repeal of the existing law in regard to Scotland. In the English Bill the present law remains; that is to say, the reduction factors are two—the use of land for rehousing the working classes and the use of land as an open space. I gather that that may be reconsidered later as regards the English Bill. That is very welcome news to me. But the noble Lord says that in Scotland people are very acute about money matters, and they placed considerable pressure on the Government to exclude open spaces. I think they have been very wise to do so, and the Government have been very wise to accept those proposals. I hope they will follow the good example in the English Bill as well.

But that is not, as I think the noble Lord was inclined to think, the most important point. I think the most im- portant point of all is this question of the specification of unhealthy premises —that if a house is unhealthy, then only it should be compensated for at the bare site value. Those are the points to which I wish to draw attention. There is a considerable difference, and I hope that when we are considering the two Bills we shall possibly be able to make them more on the same lines, and bring the English. Bill up to the Scottish Bill —not the Scottish Bill down to the English Bill—in these important factors of compensation.


My Lords, I do not desire, having regard to the important business that is before the House this evening, to say more than a word on this Bill. As the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading told your Lordships, it commanded general support from Scottish Members from all Parties in the House of Commons, and, so far as I am aware, your Lordships in all parts of the House are prepared to receive it in a spirit not less sympathetic. It would be surprising if matters were otherwise, for the Bill seeks to meet a demand which has its roots deep in the public conscience, a demand that there he removed as soon as may be and for ever those cramped, dark, and unwholesome dwellings which we know as the slums, and of which there are too many in not a few of our Scottish towns, as well as in many cities south of the Tweed.

It is sometimes said that those who dwell in the slums like the slums. No doubt our remote forefathers were attached to the dark caves which were their homes, and in which they eked out their precarious lives, knee-deep often in mud and food refuse. They knew no better. And some of the unfortunates who live in present-day slums know no better, and so cannot aspire to better things. It is the deep conviction of the public mind that these slums are a disgrace to our civilisation, and that on no account ought we to allow another generation to grow up in these unhealthy surroundings to call these dreadful places home, and themselves to suffer all the degradation and all the loss of physical efficiency which existence under conditions of that nature imposes.

The noble Lord told us, and I am persuaded that he was right, that local authorities throughout Scotland welcome the opportunities with which they will be presented if this Bill becomes an Act. From this side of your Lordships' House there will come one or two Amendments, which I will not say are without importance but which I do not think run in a spirit contrary to that of the Bill, and I hope that those Amendments may be sympathetically received by the Government. Beyond that I desire only to say that I trust your Lordships will give this measure a Second Beading.

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


My Lords, I understand that it would be convenient to noble Lords opposite to take the, Committee stage on Friday. If that is so, we will put it down for that day.