HL Deb 22 July 1935 vol 98 cc693-707

Number of persons permitted to use a house for sleeping.

For the purposes of Part I of this Act the expression "the permitted number of persons" means, in relation to any dwelling-house, either—

  1. (a) the number specified in the second column of Table I in the annex hereto in relation to a house consisting of the number of rooms of which that house consists; or
  2. (b) the aggregate for all the rooms in the house obtained by reckoning, for each room therein of the floor area specified in the first column of Table II in the annex hereto, the number specified in the second column of that Table in relation to that area,
whichever is the less:

Provided that in computing for the purposes of the said Table I the number of rooms in a house, no regard shall be had to any room having a floor area of less than 50 square feet.


Table 1.
Where a house consists of—
(a) One room 2
(b) Two rooms 3

The Duke of Atholl has handed in a manuscript Amendment. It is on page 65, line 25, leave out ("3") and insert ("4").

THE DUKE OF ATHOLL moved, in Table 1, in reference to a house consisting of two rooms, to leave out "3" and insert "4." The noble Duke said: I am sorry that, probably owing to my own fault, the Amendment as originally put down was inaccurate, and there was not time to get it printed again. The two Amendments appear to be similar in character, but really they are very different. I had originally an Amendment on the Paper dealing with rural areas only, but, on making inquiry in the usual way as to whether this was likely to be accepted, I gathered that the official view in some quarters was that overcrowding was more injurious to health in rural areas than it was in town areas, and that, therefore, it was absurd to have a law that was more lax in country areas than in town areas. The reason alleged was that town children apparently are supposed to have a great advantage as far as fresh air is concerned over country children because they can always go to the cinema in the evening and thus leave the house to get properly ventilated. This may be all right in theory, but probably in practice every window would be shut up in the town and every door locked in case burglars got in while the family were at the pictures. I still have to learn that the possibly polluted air of the cinema and the general morale of its surroundings are better as regards fresh air than is the case in the country, but that no doubt the noble Lord who is to reply can explain.

There is not one of us here that does not know that four people, say, a husband and wife and their small girl over ten and her still smaller sister, do not mean overcrowding in the country in a good two-roomed house, with possibly a small bed closet as well, and realising from the Scottish Office that the differences in size are apparently better in town than in the country, I thought I would give the Secretary of State for Scotland or his representative here an opportunity of putting into practice what are apparently the views of the Scottish Office in opposing this Amendment. That is why, frankly, I put the Amendment down in spite of the views of the Scottish Office, though I do not think it is probable they are likely to accept my Amendment however good it may be, because it would mean accepting an Amendment which would be quite wrong under present circumstances. Further, I understand that generally speaking there is a desire in the Scottish Office not to have differences, and, as I have another Amendment down to deal with the rural areas, I thought it was only right to put this Amendment down first for the sake of obtaining the official uniformity which is so necessary in cases of this sort, although to my mind the circumstances are different. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 65, line 25, leave out ("3") and insert ("4").—(The Duke of Atholl.)


I hope my noble friend who is in charge of the Bill will not accept this Amendment, for, in effect, though of course not in intention, it constitutes a frontal attack upon the basic principles upon which the Bill is founded. I think that can be demonstrated very shortly and very simply. In the first place, the Amendment which the noble Duke has moved seems to ignore entirely the fact that the standard of overcrowding which the Bill contains is based first upon separation of the sexes and secondly upon space considerations. This Amendment entirely ignores the first of these considerations, and it seems to me that, as the Government have announced that the Schedule which they have propounded contains in their considered judgment the minimum provision which will ensure that sex separation, anything which interferes with the Schedule as it stands will render that separation very difficult, if not indeed impossible. Such would be the effect, as I see it, of the Amendment which the noble Duke has just moved.

But that is not all. In addition to that, the Amendment which has been moved clearly postulates that the standard which the Bill contains relating to overcrowding is too high. I very respectfully but very emphatically desire to dissent from that view, especially when. one remembers that the standard which the Bill contains is not one which is for to-day or to-morrow merely, but for the next fifty or sixty years, during the lifetime of the houses which are to be constructed, and when one also remembers that overcrowding in Scotland, as I ventured to remind your Lordships on Second Reading, is ten times worse than it is in England. If these things be so, as they undoubtedly are, and if further I remember that four or five responsible public bodies in Scotland which were referred to by the Secretary of State for Scotland in another place, having full knowledge of housing conditions and housing requirements in that country, were all for stiffening rather than relaxing the standard which the Schedule of the Bill contains, then I feel that my humble opinion receives support which makes it much more valuable than if it were an opinion expressed by myself alone. Further, I remember that in England the pressure brought to bear upon the Minister has been in the direction of raising the standard rather than lowering it, and I remember also that in England, where rooms are smaller, generally speaking, than in Scotland, this standard will press more heavily on this side of the Border. It appears to me therefore that no case has been, or can be, made out for lowering the standard which the Bill contains, which is a minimum standard and would be accurately so described.

The noble Duke's second Amendment seems to me objectionable on quite different grounds, which I shall presently express. On this particular Amendment I would like to add that it seems to ignore what the Secretary of State said in another place with reference to the interplay of the subsidy and the standard. As I understood the Secretary of State's observations, they came to this—that there is a direct relation between the standard in the Bill and the subsidy payable under the Bill. Any tampering with the standard, any lowering of the standard might logically be followed by a lowering of the subsidy, which I venture to think would be entirely deplorable it the view of every responsible public body and private person on the other side of the Border. For myself I shall be no party to adopting a standard in this particular matter for Scotland which is lower than the standard adopted for England. In that view I resist the Amendment, and I would respectfully urge the noble Lord in charge of the Bill not to accept it.


The noble Duke has altered the form of his Amendment but I hope he will allow me to make my answer to the original Amendment because by so doing I shall cover both his Amendments. As he has already anticipated the Government are not prepared to accept this Amendment. Apart from temporary modifications of the standard which may be necessary in particular areas in the early stages, for which provision is made in Clause 4, it is essential, as the noble Lord, Lord Alness, said, that the standard should be nation-wide in its application. From the point of view of health, decency and comfort there is no reason for enacting a lower standard for two-apartment houses in the country than is to apply to houses of the same size in the towns. The rural community is entitled to as good a standard of housing accommodation as the urban.

The noble Duke referred to the opportunities that exist in the country for enjoying fresh air, but I would like to point out to him that the Bill is not merely one to regulate sleeping space but also living space. In bad weather and in the winter time—and no one who has not been to Scotland can realise the dark nights in the winter in the country—country people are obliged to live more indoors than people in the towns to whom amusements and methods of spending their time outside their homes—but under cover—are available. From this point of view it is important that living space in rural houses should be at least as great as that in town houses. The Amendment would however operate in the other direction.

Apart from these considerations there is the very strong objection to the Amendment that it would not adequately secure the fundamental principle of sex separation upon which the standard is based. The standard in the Bill is the minimum standard which, in the Government's view, will permit the proper separation of the sexes in all cases. As that standard is lowered, sex separation becomes increasingly more difficult or impossible. It would be impossible, for example, under the Amendment if a two-apartment house were occupied by a family consisting of a father, mother, a grown-up son and a grown-up daughter. The fact that rooms in country houses are sometimes large—and this is by no means the general case throughout the country—does not in any way affect this aspect of the question. For purposes of sex separation it is not the size of the rooms that matters but their number.

On the general question the Government are firmly opposed to any proposal which would have the effect of lowering the standard in the Bill. They take the view that it stipulates the minimum accommodation which must be provided for reasons of health and decency and for the provision—especially in the smaller houses—of adequate space to working-class families in which not only to sleep but to live and move about. The Government have, indeed, received representations that the standard is too low. This view is held by the Scottish branch of the Society of Medical Officers and the Institution of County and Municipal Engineers. Similarly, the Royal Sanitary Association of Scotland have urged that if any change is to be made it should be in the direction of raising the standard rather than of lowering it. These opinions show that the views of responsible bodies in Scotland, in close touch with the housing requirements of the country, are averse to any alteration of the Bill such as is proposed in the Amendment.

The standard in the Bill is admittedly not an ideal one and, looking to the demand for better living conditions among the working classes, the trend in the future will almost certainly be towards something better. But in the meantime the Government think that the standard proposed is a reasonable and practicable basis for the improvement of housing conditions at the present time. The financial assistance which is to be given to local authorities for the provision of the additional accommodation necessary is based on the standard contained in the Schedule, and if that standard is lowered a subsidy at the high level contemplated in the Bill would not be required. On the other hand, any proposal to reduce the subsidy would not meet with the approval of local authorities or of Scotland as a whole. For these reasons the Government cannot accept the noble Duke's Amendment. I might repeat what I have said on other occasions that the standard will not come into operation until after the appointed day and that there are provisions in Clauses 4 and 5 which will permit it to be relaxed temporarily to meet exceptional circumstances.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE DUKE OF ATHOLL moved, in Table I, in reference to a house consisting of two rooms, after "3", to insert "in rural areas 4". The noble Duke said: I have had the advantage of hearing the considered reply of the noble Lord to what I am going to say and I have also, of course, had the great advantage of listening to the eloquence of a great lawyer, who has, if I may say so, taken up the brief of the Government and is here as a special pleader. The noble Lord, Lord Alness, and I are good friends and so he will not mind my saying that. I regret that the Amendment which I now move is not printed on the Paper; it is, after "3", to insert "in rural areas 4". That is to say four would be the number in big roomy rural houses, consisting of two large rooms and possibly a bed closet.

My last Amendment was moved to show how ridiculous the situation can be under this Bill, and I think that the noble Lord who spoke against it was quite able to prove that point. This Amendment is to show how serious the position is. My opinion is exactly the oposite of that which pertains in the Scottish Office, and of what was said by my noble friend Lord Alness. While I think that the suggestion that more than three people mean overcrowding in a two-roomed house in an urban area, is in most circumstances possibly exaggerated, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that four people in a fairly spacious two-roomed house in a country district is not overcrowding, more especially when the question of the sexes can be properly adjusted. On the question of overcrowding, I think the noble Lord who is moving the Bill said, touching the question of the sexes, that you might have a father, a mother, a daughter and a grownup son in the same house. There does not seem to be much reason, as they are pretty old, all of them, by this time, I take it, why the father and the grownup son should not sleep in one room and the mother and the grown-up daughter in the other. Still, that shows how very little the Government know about the shifts to which people who are hard-up are going to be put.

I have been given various reasons why the Bill has been drafted in this way. The first, and one that leaves me perfectly cold, is that there is an English Bill, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Alness, and it must not be said that Scotland is less careful of her "weans" than England. Probably, if the English Bill had never been started, this one would not have ended where it is now. This is an inferiority complex in the minds of certain people who are not quite sure of themselves. The second reason is in order to force proprietors to add a third room to all these houses under the Rural Housing Act, which will not be allowed to operate in future unless this condition is made. It is unnecessary to point out to your Lordships that it is more than likely that the amount of money allowed under the Rural Housing Act to be given in assistance will not be sufficient, and that the proprietors will then be forced to pay a contribution which is entirely out of proportion to the scale at present laid down. Failure to do this will cause a house that is otherwise perfectly good to be condemned, and the farm will have to do without the ploughman's cottage, although perhaps a little renovation to make the house watertight, a water supply, sanitary arrangements, and perhaps better ventilation, would have been good enough.

The third point is that it is intended to use all possible Departmental pressure to do what they call "force" people not to sleep in the living rooms, which is a general custom in Scotland. That room probably contains the only fire in the house, and certainly the only fire that the inhabitants in certain cases can afford to light. It is all very well for the Secretary of State for Scotland. to propose that the future holders of that high office are to live at Government expense in a centrally-heated house in the Castle at Edinburgh, but it is a very different thing for a ploughman with a family on a so-called living wage of thirty-five shillings per week to furnish a house, and provide light and fire in three rooms, and feed and clothe his bairns as well, during the rigours of a Scottish winter. We were told, however, in making this protest that nothing would be done until the appointed day, which, as far as I can make out, is as distant as the Greek Kalends. They tell us, which I think is absurd, that we need not be alarmed at all, and that it will not be enforced at once. That being the case, what on earth was the good of putting these tied houses into the Bill? We are told that it will get the people accustomed to the future proposals—what I may call "parlour-minded"; but it will also be the means of setting up nervousness and irritation all over the country, and a feeling of insecurity. It is not only a waste of your Lordships' time; it is also politically dishonest.

I cannot quite make out why the noble Lord in charge of the Bill states one case—that this thing will never happen, it is a long way off—and then at another moment he says that it is the first thing they are going to do when the flag drops. He cannot have it both ways. It would be far better to say that in the meantime these houses do not come under the Act, though it is hoped that special legislation may be introduced with regard to them later on. The Rural Housing Act as it at present exists is quite sufficient to deal with these cases, and should be continued indefinitely. Possibly it needs to be strengthened and urged in some respects, but it is unnecessary to put these rural tied houses within the Bill for the purposes of this Act. In any case, if they do have to be put under the Bill for the purposes of what I may term "English symmetry," let it remain there, and let us allow in the meanwhile that it is not an actual or potential offence for four people to live in an airy two-roomed house in a. country district. If you stated which of the two rooms they were to sleep in, we might understand something about it. The two rooms are of exactly the same size in most cases, yet it is lawful to sleep in one and unlawful to sleep in the other—I am assuming that the sexes are correct. The bed closet at the back of the house is not to count as a place to sleep in unless has an area of fifty square feet, but if it is properly ventilated I am not at all sure that it is not the best place in the house for sleeping purposes.

I hope that noble Lords will support this Amendment, upon which I am going to divide, because it is perfect nonsense to say that the two children of a working man cannot sleep in one room, provided they are of the same sex, and that is what this Bill says. The reason given for it by my noble friend Lord Alness is that we must copy England. I venture to say that our rooms are, as a rule, rather bigger in Scotland than in England. But there it is. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, is going to blaze the trail, I suppose, for the English platoons that are to follow him into the Lobby; every Scottish Peer here, with the exception of one, whipping up the rear. He is going to lead them on, while the whole of the other Scottish Peers—and they are very knowledgeable, most of them, on this subject—have spoken against, it. It seems very strange that this Amendment, if it is rejected, is going to be rejected by English Peers, who know absolutely nothing, or very little, about these conditions in Scotland. They are doing a very ill turn indeed to the people of Scotland in the country if they do not support this Amendment. It makes no difference to the Bill at all. I am not in the least ashamed of being inferior to England. on something which I feel rather strongly about, and I suggest that noble Lords here from England should leave Scottish Peers to settle this business themselves, without having to be tied to what I may term my noble Lord's tail on this occasion.

Amendment moved— Page 65, line 25, after ("3") insert ("in rural areas 4").—(The Duke of Atholl.)


The noble Duke has said that no other Scottish Peer is against this Amendment, but I may say what I said on the Second Reading, that it is very undesirable that we should have in Scotland a lower standard than that which prevails in England. If the noble Duke goes into the Division Lobby I shall vote against him.


Supposing in the English Bill they said you were only to have two people in a house, I suppose the noble Earl would do the same.


Wait and see.


I speak with some knowledge of Scottish housing in rural districts, and I know that there they bring up large families in health and strength, without any illness, and I do not consider that the standard will be lowered by the Amendment of the noble Duke, whereas I believe that hardship will be entailed on many families if the Schedule is adopted as it stands. I trust that the Committee will accept the Amendment.


Before we proceed to a Division, I hope I may be allowed to say two things. In the first place, it seems to me extraordinarily difficult to set up and apparently stereotype differential treatment of two sections of the Scottish community—those on the one hand who live in the towns, and those on the other hand who live in the country—and to impose on the former a higher standard of comfort, decency and health than is imposed on the latter. Secondly, so far as I can judge from a study of the Bill, all the elasticity and all the relaxation for which the noble Duke pleads will be found within the four corners of the measure, if he will read Clauses 4, 5 and 83.


Before we divide, I would like to say a few words. I agree that the question of sex separation is essential. So far as I understand the Amendment, there is no proposal to alter the provisions which deal with the sex question; but surely it is quite absurd to say that supposing a husband and wife are living in a house with two children over ten, a little child over ten is to be counted as a grown up person, and the parents may not put two children to sleep in the same room. It would be quite absurd to make such a strict provision as that. There is another point which has not, I think, been referred to. The noble Lord spoke about a higher standard of comfort and so on, but is it giving a higher standard of comfort to compel a working woman to keep a house with many more rooms than are required, or than she and her husband are able to furnish? I have again and again found in two-room houses that the tenants were not able to furnish more than one, and have stored potatoes and the like in the other room.

Then with regard to the standard differing from that in England, I deplore this attempt to make everything Scottish fit in and follow what is done in England. We in Scotland have our own customs and habits, which are ingrained in the people, and you cannot change them. Why should you do so? It is not many weeks since owing to a motor breakdown we went into a cottage and the woman there who knew me, although I did not know her, gave us a most excellent tea, and it was none the worse because there was a bed on the other side of the room. It does not make it inconsistent with comfort or cleanliness that you have people occasionally sleeping in the kitchen. I support the Amendment, and I do not think, having regard to the much larger rooms we have in Scotland as compared with those in England, that by accepting this Amendment we shall be lowering the standard in Scotland. The conditions are different in the two countries, and I therefore think that we ought to have different regulations.


As the noble Duke allowed me to give my answer to his Amendment, I will not repeat it, but I only want to reaffirm the view of the Government. I would also like to say that it is very difficult to come to any satisfactory definition of rural areas. If the noble Duke means county areas lying outside burghs, there are areas falling within the jurisdiction of county councils which are definitely industrial and urban in character. In Lanarkshire, for example, there are areas like Cambuslang and Bellshill, with populations between 10,000 and 20,000. It would be anomalous to permit two-apartment houses in these places to be occupied on a lower standard than similar houses in many small burghs which are little more than villages, with populations of only some hundreds.

On Question, Whether the proposed words shall be there inserted?

Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

First Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule [Provisions as to the compulsory purchase of land in connection with redevelopment in accordance with a redevelopment plan]:


There is a consequential Amendment to this Schedule.

Amendment moved— Page 67, line 42, leave out ("the redevelopment") and insert ("redevelopment, or for securing the use of the land, in accordance with the redevelopment plan").—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

Second Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Third Schedule [Local Authorities' contributions]:


There are one drafting and one consequential Amendment to this Schedule.

Amendments moved— Page 74, line 42, leave out ("paragraphs") and insert ("paragraph"). Page 75, line 6, leave out ("paragraphs") and insert ("paragraph").—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

Third Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Fourth Schedule agreed to.

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 8; Not-Contents, 44.

Aberdeen and Temair, M.[Teller.] Strange, E. (D. Atholl)[Teller.] Kinnaird, L.
Lamington, L.
Polwarth, L.
Lindsay, E. Exmouth, V.
Morton, E.
Hailsham, V. (L. Chancellor.) Onslow, E. Faringdon, L.
Plymouth, E. Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller]
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)(L. Privy Seal.) Stanhope, E. Greville, L.
Strafford, E. Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)
Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)
Northumberland, D. Bertie of Thame, V. Newton, L.
Cecil of Chelwood, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Bath, M. Halifax, V. Rennell, L.
Linlithgow, M. Mersey, V. Rushcliffe, L.
Reading, M. Sanderson, L.
Alness, L. Seaton, L.
Breadalbane and Holland, E. Arnold, L. Snell, L.
Feversham, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Stanmore, L.
Graham, E. (D. Montrose.) Bayford, L. Stonehaven, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Berwick, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Darcy (do Knayth), L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine) Templemore, L.
Munster, E.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Fifth Schedule [Consequential, drafting and minor Amendments]:


This is a consequential Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 76, line 31, column 2, insert: ("In Section seventy-three, in subsection (3) for the word 'same' there shall be substituted the word 'advance'; and in subsection (4), in paragraph (b), the word 'solely' shall be omitted, and in paragraph (c), the words upon the security of any land or houses solely' shall be omitted after the words 'proposed to be burdened there shall be inserted the words 'in pursuance of subsection (2A) of this section and for the words the houses on the land burdened' there shall be substituted the words 'houses or other work on land so burdened')." (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The next is a drafting Amendment.

Amendment; moved— Page 80, line 18, after ("be") insert ("and always to have been").—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Fifth Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Sixth Schedule [Enactments repealed as from the commencement of this Act]:


There are two consequential Amendments here.

Amendments moved— Page 82, line 45, column 3, at end insert ("Section ninety-one") line 48, column 3, at end insert ("In Section one hundred and nineteen, the definition of 'Public utility society' ").—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Sixth Schedule, as amended, agreed to.