HL Deb 10 October 1944 vol 133 cc403-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

2.5 p.m.


My Lords, it is trite and true, I think, to say that of all the major problems in the post-war world the major problem is housing. And it is also trite and true to say that it is the duty of all of us to address ourselves to the solution of that problem with a keen sense of urgency. If that be so, and I think none of your Lordships will dispute it, then I venture to hope that any proposals of a reasonable character which are made for the acceleration of the housing programme will receive favourable consideration at your Lordships' hands. Such proposals I venture to think will be found within the four corners of this modest measure to which I shall presently invite your Lordships to give a Second Reading.

The purposes of the Bill are threefold. In the first place, the object is to extend temporarily the class of house which is eligible for a housing subsidy; the second is to relax temporarily the procedure which exists today for the compulsory acquisition of land for housing purposes; and the third purpose, which is a purely domestic Scottish one, is to assist the Scottish Special Housing Association in their endeavour to supplement the activities of local authorities in the erection of suitable houses where the need for them is greatest. May I ask your Lordships' attention for a very few minutes to the manner in which these three main objects receive effect in the clauses of this measure? In doing so I shall bear in mind the variety and the importance of the business which follows this upon the Order Paper and I shall measure my observations accordingly.

Clause 1 gives effect to the first of the objects to which I ventured to refer a moment ago. Owing largely to the cessation of building houses since the outbreak of war very large numbers of people in Scotland at this moment are homeless. I am informed on good authority that the number of such families in Scotland is in the region of 150,000. In many of these cases they are young people who have been married since the outbreak of war, and are possibly separated to-day by war service. On the cessation of hostilities in Europe, and on the reunion of husband and wife released from war service, the need for homes will be indeed great. Under the existing law subsidies are payable only in three classes of case—for replacing unfit houses; for relieving overcrowding; and for meeting the needs of the agricultural population. It will therefore be seen that subsidies are not to-day available for those who are homeless. Clause 1 temporarily widens the scope of subsidies, and includes within its ambit houses for homeless people. The clause provides that subsidies will be available for any houses which are provided for the working class generally. Clause 1, subsection (1), I may remind your Lordships, is identical with Clause of the corresponding English measure, which is now on the Statute Book. As regards Clause 1, subsection (2), it deals with a certain letting restriction under the law of Scotland, and it frees the houses which are to be built in virtue of the provisions of this Bill from a somewhat irksome and inappropriate limitation.

Then I come to Clause 2. This clause your Lordships will remember, is again identical with Clause 2 of the corresponding English Bill which is now law. I should also add that it deals with the second object of which I reminded your Lordships at an earlier stage. The procedure for the compulsory acquisition of housing land to-day in Scotland—I do not know about England—can be described fairly, think, as both otiose and operose. I am told that the procedure which has to be gone through very often takes six months to complete. Clause 2, accordingly, proposes to expedite the procedure, during two years after the Bill becomes law, by giving the Secretary State for Scotland power to confirm opposed compulsory purchase orders for land for housing purposes "without"—and these are the vital words—"causing a public local inquiry to be held." By this means, two or three months of valuable time, so I am informed, will be saved. But I would point out, if I may, that this waiver of public inquiry does not in any way affect the compensation payable for the land. That compensation will be payable under the Bill, and will be determined as it is to-day by means of arbitration. I may add, perhaps, that a similar provision to this one was given, at the end of the last war, under Section 10, subsection (2) of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1919, for which, as it so happens, I was responsible in another place.

I come to the remaining clauses of the Bill. I can cover them quite shortly without doing them any injustice. They apply it Scotland only. They authorize the Secretary of State for Scotland to finance an Association in Scotland, which is known as the Scottish Special Housing Association, by means of grants and loans from public money. That Association, I should add, is a non-profit-making body, with no share capital, and entirely financed from Government funds. But its operations to-day in Scotland are limited to what are called special areas, and these, in many cases, do not touch the problem with which this Bill essays to deal—namely, that of providing suitable homes for homeless people. Accordingly, it is now proposed that financial aid may be given from this Association, in order to facilitate the housing programme in any area in Scotland which, according to its needs, the Secretary of State for Scotland may determine.

I would only add that the intention of these clauses is not for one moment to supplant the activities of Scottish local authorities in providing houses, but rather to supplement them, also that the clauses are assented to by the representatives of local authorities in Scotland, and are agreed to—which is perhaps most important of all—by His Majesty's Treasury. In these circumstances, I have no hesitation at all in commending this measure to the favourable consideration of your Lordships as a humble and yet a useful contribution to the solution of the housing problem as it exists in Scotland to-day. I beg to move that it be read a second time.

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

House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord TEMPLEMORE.

2.20 p.m.


My Lords, my noble and learned friend, with his usual lucidity, has put the whole case for this Bill before your Lordships. My excuse for speaking on the subject is that some years ago I was a member of a Departmental Committee which studied this subject of Scottish housing. I welcome this Bill as a step towards the improvement of a very appalling situation. The housing situation in Scotland is far worse than it is in England; I think that I am right in saying that overcrowding is six times as great in Scotland as it is in England. One thing which remains in my mind, however, is that although we saw most appalling slum conditions the people who lived there were by no means typical of what might be expected from such surroundings and from such living conditions. I saw very nice-looking, well-dressed people coming out of tenements in which any of us would have found difficulty in remaining presentable. I feel very strongly that these people should receive every consideration, and deserve our best efforts to improve their conditions.

Another thing which remains in my mind is that many of these houses are built so strongly that they will withstand not only the weather but also, I imagine, even the effects of a 12,000-lb. bomb falling close to them. They are built to last for ever. To recondition these buildings or to take them down is going to be a major operation. I hope that the building trade in Scotland has been consulted as to what is to be done with these houses. I am sure that the first step to take is to stop overcrowding by law. I suggest also that temporary houses should be put up for use while these buildings are being reconditioned from a sanitary point of view, so that some of the people now living in them may be able to go back to them when they are reconditioned. As happens in so many other parts of the country, there are old people living in these buildings to-day whom it would kill, I verily believe, if they were taken away from them permanently. I have heard them say: "My son was horn here; my grandchildren were born here." Over a wide area there are a great many people of that type, and if it were possible to recondition these very substantial buildings so that people could go back to them again without there being any overcrowding, I think that the work would be worth doing, and priority should be given to caring for those who are in a terrible position at present.

I am wondering whether the trade unions and the contractors have been brought together on this subject. I believe that a good deal could be done by those in Scotland who know the conditions if they would agree to put their backs into it and see whether they cannot produce houses at a cost which would enable an economic rent to be paid. I believe that to be important not only for Scotland but also for England. I foresee that if this cannot be done a tremendous burden will be cast on the local authorities throughout the whole country, and an enormous sum will be required, which in these days I see little chance of finding, because all the money for the purpose will have to come from the ratepayers and the taxpayers. That is what some people do not seem to realize when they say that the Government or the Treasury will pay; it is the taxpayer and the ratepayer who will pay. If the health of the people is going to be improved, then the housing question must be almost if not quite our first priority. I have great hopes of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. He is a strong man and a bold man, but I think that in dealing with this matter he will have to get out his whip and see to it that everybody does his utmost. I strongly commend this Bill to the favourable consideration of your Lordships.

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