§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MORRISON
My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of the Housing (Scotland) Bill. During the past few weeks a Housing Bill for England and Wales has been passing through its various stages of your Lordships' House. The Scottish Bill now before you is the counterpart of that Bill. Its main objects are the same, and I 312 can sum them up in four short sentences. The first object is to extend the powers of local authorities to deal with the housing, not merely of those usually referred to as the working classes, but of all members of the community. The second is to make financial assistance available to local authorities, to private persons, and to housing associations, for the improvement of existing houses. The third is to provide certain new special subsidies for other purposes; and the fourth to make certain amendments to the Scottish Housing Acts so that they will form a more comprehensive and flexible instrument of housing policy.
In view of the debates which we have already had upon the English measure, your Lordships will not expect me to deal in much detail with the provisions of the Scottish Bill. But I should like to say something of how the Bill differs from the English Bill, and to invite your interest in some of those provisions which are common to both Bills but which are of particular significance to Scotland. Of the common provisions, the most important to Scotland are undoubtedly those in Part II of the Bill, providing for financial assistance to local authorities, to private persons and to housing associations for the improvement of existing housing accommodation. A housing policy for Scotland, however, could not be regarded as well balanced or even adequate if it did not take into account the conservation of existing house property as well as new building. Your Lordships know, I think, how solidly constructed are the stone houses built in Scotland in the days before the First World War. The interiors of many of these houses, however, belie their external appearance. Thousands of them are seriously deficient in sanitary and other conveniences but are well worth improving for the benefit of the families who must continue to live in them for many years to come. Large numbers of them are conveniently sited in relation to places of work and community services. Indeed, it is in the national interest to prevent such houses from getting beyond the stage when they are suitable for improvement at all.
These were the main conclusions reached by the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee in the MacTaggart 313 Report on Modernising our Homes published in 1947. Part II of the Bill is based upon the recommendations in that Report. The terms of the Bill are so drawn as to cover not only the improvement of a house as it stands, but the subdivision of a large house into several dwellings, and the combination of small houses in tenements and terraces to provide larger dwellings and thus relieve overcrowding. There is considerable scope for the combination of houses in Scotland, which is still a country mainly of small houses. But as combination involves the loss of separate dwellings, much of this form of improvement will have to wait until the new housing programme is sufficiently advanced to make it easier for alternative accommodation to be found for displaced families. Indeed, it will be obvious to your Lordships that an improved programme must be closely dovetailed into the new housing programme in order that we may avoid diverting labour and materials from what must still have first priority—the building of new houses in areas where they are most needed.
As in the English Bill, the grants to private persons are available only for houses which are owner-occupied or which are occupied on an ordinary tenancy basis. Grants will not be available for the improvement of tied houses in town or country. The normal grant from a local authority to a private person is a maximum of one-half of the owner's share of the expense of improvement. The normal maximum expense which may be approved is £600—giving a normal maximum grant of £300. The Bill provides, however, for the relaxation of this £600 limit on the approved expense of improvement in exceptional cases. It also provides for grant of a higher proportion than one-half of any such additional expense if the house being improved is of special architectural or historic interest.
There are two special Scottish features in the improvement provisions which I should like to mention. Like the English Bill, the Scottish measure provides financial assistance for improvement on the basis that the resultant dwellings will have an estimated life of thirty years. The Scottish Bill, however, provides for the relaxation of this condition in exceptional cases, so long as the estimated 314 life is not less than ten years. This relaxation, which is based upon a recommendation by the MacTiggart Report, is designed to give the local authority more flexible powers in dealing with houses which may be due for demolition for road widening or other planning reasons before a period of thirty years expires. If such houses are seriously lacking in sanitary conveniences—and many of them are—it seems a pity that the occupiers should not have the benefit to some degree of the provisions of the Bill so that they can live in reasonable comfort until demolition falls due. There are appropriate safeguards to present abuse of this relaxation.
The second special Scottish feature is a financial one. The ordinary Exchequer contribution to the local authority—whether for improvement carried out by the local authority or towards the cost of grants paid by them to private persons and housing associations—is three quarters of the local authority's net expenses. In the Highlands and Islands, where the resources of local authorities are more limited, this proportion is increased to seven-eighths.
I now pass to one or two of the miscellaneous provisions in the Parts III and IV of the Bill. One of the provisions of special Scottish significance is that for the payment of additional subsidy for building new houses in special materials to preserve the character of the surroundings. Building in stone is more expensive than building in brick—by £100 or more per house. Building in stone is also, unfortunately, very much slower than other forms of construction, and for that reason alone it could not at present be used on a widespread scale. The additional subsidy is, therefore, not intended for general stone building, but for special cases where the cost of providing a house is specifically enhanced because of the use of such special materials—for example, small groups of houses in our proposed national parks, in other areas of unusual natural beauty, or in gap sites in streets of historic interest or containing notable examples of Scottish domestic architecture.
As in England and Wales, local authorities will be enabled to provide a service of meals and laundry facilities or services as part of their housing operations. These facilities and services are 315 intended principally for hostels or blocks of flats in the cities and larger towns. The Bill also proposes to give statutory sanction to the long-standing practice of local authorities in selling furniture to their tenants. I should like to assure your Lordships that it is the intention of the Government that the provision of these facilities and services should be self-supporting and not a charge on public funds. Local authorities will be advised in these terms.
Finally, the Bill contains a number of amendments to prepare the way for consolidation. The principal Scottish Housing Act is the Act of 1925. Since 1925 there have been eleven Scottish Housing Acts and this Bill makes the number twelve. All of those concerned with central and local administration of these Acts are keenly aware of the need for consolidation. The opportunity has accordingly been taken in this Bill to repeal and amend in advance a number of obsolete provisions so that a new Consolidation Bill can be prepared which will be as simple and as up-to-date as possible. I commend this Bill to your Lordships. Improvement of existing houses will be a growing housing operation. It may be some time before the full benefits of the Bill as a whole will be widely visible on the Scottish housing scene, but we must make a beginning, and I think that it is right that we should do so now. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Morrison.)
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I feel rather in the position of the twelfth man who has been told on the eve of the match that he has got to play, and I hope your Lordships will excuse any shortcomings on that account. I would point out also that there are many noble Lords who are far better acquainted with housing conditions in Scotland than I am, and I know for sure that some of them would have been present here to take part in this debate had it not been for the extremely short notice they received. I know it is not easy to avoid this, but I think it is a fact that the earliest notice that noble Lords in Scotland can have had of the Second Reading 316 of this Bill would have been in some cases on Saturday and in quite a number of cases on Monday. I also consider it deplorable that a Bill effecting such fundamental changes in Scottish Housing law should have to be taken at this hour of the night. I do not for a moment blame the noble Lord opposite for either of these facts, nor do I blame those responsible for arranging the Business of this House. The responsibility rests entirely with His Majesty's Government for the state of comparative legislative indigestion which they have succeeded in inducing by this time in their programme.
We are grateful to Lord Morrison for giving us such a concise and factual account of this Bill. It was particularly pleasing that we have managed to avoid the political implications which on occasions are brought into this subject. I think we on this side in general welcome the policy laid down by this Bill. A great part of it is what we have been pressing for for some time past, and we could wish only that certain provisions of the Bill had been introduced at a rather earlier date. I believe that it was in 1945 that the present Government repealed the last Act which governed the improvement and reconditioning of houses in Scotland. A promise was made at the time that we were to have a better provision.
The Committee investigating the matter published their Report in, I think, February, 1947. It is now nearly two and a half years since that Report was published, and here we are with a measure only just introduced—in the last year of the present Parliament, though the promises were made in the first year. However, better late than never! Perhaps it is a consolation that in this matter of reconditioning the lead was in fact given by Scotland, since Mr. Tom Johnston gave to the MacTaggart Committee the task of reporting on the possibility of this reconditioning of houses. And although, unfortunately, we have had to wait until after England to get our Bill, we do, in general, as I have said, welcome the measure. Perhaps we may not be quite so sanguine as the noble Lord about the results that will flow from some parts of it. We feel that in this measure there has not been shown quite so much regard as there might have been for the very different position of housing in Scotland 317 from that in England. The housing position in Scotland is, on the whole, more serious, and at the same time it is of a different nature. That is largely due to the anomalies of the rating system which at present exist in Scotland.
If the noble Lord will forgive me, I will go through the Bill as briefly as I can. I should like to leave out Part I for the moment and refer to it later. Part II deals with the grants for the reconditioning and improvement of property and results from the Report of the MacTaggart Committee. In passing, I would say that I think we ought to congratulate the Committee not only on the nature of the Report but on the extremely readable form in which it was presented. I think the lay-out and the general get-up set a good example which might well be followed by other Departments when introducing White Papers and other documents. As Lord Morrison said, in Scotland we have a remarkably large number of these substantial stone houses, and it is probably true to say that a good many of those houses, provided that they are maintained and modernised, will still be standing after quite a number of the houses that have been built in the last twenty years, and which are being built at the present day, are no longer standing. I do not think many of us will be there to prove the fact, but I regard that as most probable. The provisions regarding the grants to local authorities are on the whole acceptable. I know that the City of Edinbugh are most anxious for this Bill to go through in order that they can go ahead with improvement and reconditioning. We on this side will do everything to see that the Bill goes through before the House rises.
When we come to the provisions for grants to private persons to improve property, I must say that we are not quite so enthusiastic. The Report of the MacTaggart Committee recommended grants for these purposes of up to 75 per cent. The Bill provides only for grants up to 50 per cent. While that may be perfectly satisfactory in England, I would point out that in Scotland, owing to the difference in our rating systems, the result is not nearly so satisfactory, because we in Scotland have an owner's rate as well as an occupier's rate, and this reduces considerably the amount of return which an owner will have on the money which 318 he has spent. I do not want to go into the figures because they were gone into fully in another place, but I think it was convincingly shown that the increased rent which an owner is allowed to charge as the result of an improvement will hardly meet the increased costs which he will incur—if indeed it will meet them—with his increased rates, his increased Schedule A tax and the increased repairs to property. That being the case, I think it is unlikely that a great number of private owners will be tempted to go ahead with schemes under this Bill.
I do not want to go into this very vexed question of service houses which, as your Lordships know, are excluded from the benefits of giants under this Bill. I think in Scotland it is of considerably greater importance than it is in England, owing to the nature of our farming and the general geography and lay-out of our land. I feel that what is required are service cottages on the farms, and that the local authority should construct a sufficient number of small houses and cottages, not large ones but two and three-roomed buildings suitable for the old and retired people. By that means the greatest economy in building would be secured, and everybody would be satisfied. My noble friend Lord Airlie, will deal with this subject, so I will not go into it any further. However, I do feel that we are rather up against a stone wall. When the English Bill was passing through this House, one of Lord Morrison's colleagues stated categorically the Government's attitude. He said:the present Government are not in favour of tied cottages and therefore they are opposed to doing anything which may in any way encourage the continuance of tied cottages.We could not have anything plainer than that. I will not now go into that matter any further, because I do not wish to make the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, have to emulate his colleague in the magnificent stone-walling performance which he put up on that occasion.
The noble Lord mentioned the special cases in which grants can be given. I think I may say that we are in general agreement with them—namely, for preserving or building houses in traditional materials where that is considered a good thing, the construction of hostels, and particularly for the conducting of experiments in connection with building methods. I attach very great importance 319 to that, particularly improvements connected with new methods of internal heating. While the Scottish climate is admirable in many ways, I think it is essential that it should be kept in its proper place, which is out of doors.
The noble Lord then touched on the miscellaneous provisions of the Bill—that is, the provision of board and laundry and the power to sell furniture. I do not think we can seriously object to the provision of board and laundry, but I feel that this service must be provided on an economic basis. It would be wrong that there should be any question of its becoming a charge on the rates, and another subsidised service. I feel that at a later stage we might insert in the Bill a provision that at any rate over a period of years these services should be self-supporting and that, failing that, the local authorities should be compelled to discontinue them. I am not quite so happy about the provision regarding selling furniture to tenants, although I understand in fact it has been the practice in certain local authorities. I think this matter should be watched with the greatest care, because the provision of cheap furniture is now on a pretty competitive basis, and there should not in general be any necessity for local authorities to enter this field.
Finally, I would like to come back to Part I to which the noble Lord made reference, mainly to deal with the question of deleting from the duties of local authorities to provide accommodation the reference to the working classes. I believe we should welcome the abolition of this distinction. There is no reason why the noble Lord and his colleagues opposite, just because they continue work until such a late hour of the night and do not necessarily "knock off" on the dot of five, should be distinguished in any way from their fellow beings when it comes to the question of the provision of accommodation—indeed, in many ways I think they are even more deserving. But there is one question that is raised by this provision and which, I think, is a serious question—namely, to what extent should housing become a subsidised social service? We know that to-day to a large extent it is so subsidised. The question is, whether this should continue or some effort should be made to put housing on an economic basis. I throw that out only because it 320 is a question which obviously requires a good deal of thought. After all, the cost of providing houses and shelter has largely become concealed from the average man at the present day. At present values, his normal rent is probably about equivalent to about twenty cigarettes a day. It is an interesting comparison, and one could go on dealing with it for a long time. But in my view it is a problem which will have to be faced sooner or later, whether this service is to continue to be subsidised to the extent it is or whether we are to put it on an economic basis.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I return now to what I mentioned before, and what I am sure is one of the main reasons for the present housing shortage of Scotland, and one of the main obstacles to further progress—namely, the rating system. We may be told that this problem should have been tackled long ago before the war. Perhaps it should; but, after all, in those days with rates at the level that they then were, the problem was not nearly so serious. At the present day, with costs and rates at the levels they have reached, this problem is extremely serious and it will have to be tackled sooner or later. I cannot help feeling it is like that awkward letter which always gets to the bottom of the "pending" tray. It is not an easy one to answer and so it goes to the bottom; but sooner or later it must be answered, and the longer it is left the more difficult it is to answer. I do not know, but perhaps I am right in assuming that the noble Lord intends that this problem should be left over for the successors of the present Government to tackle. I will not keep your Lordships any longer at this hour but I would like to say that we welcome this Bill so far as it goes. We think that perhaps it might have gone a bit further, and we think it might also have been introduced at an earlier date. But now that we have it we wish it well, and we hope that perhaps greater advantages will flow from it than on first appearance seems likely.
§ 10.40 p.m.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, I have no wish to be pugnacious at this time of night. In fact, quite frankly most of the pugnacity has gone out through the bottom of my shoes waiting for this 321 excellent moment. But I think your Lordships will allow me to stress on my behalf and that of other noble Lords what the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has just said in regard to the conduct of Scottish Business in this House. I myself had notice of this Bill two days ago. Had it been a measure not of such importance as housing one would not perhaps have minded so much, but this relates to what after all is probably one of the root causes of half the unrest and trouble in the country to-day, and we find that sufficient notice is not given to allow more than three noble Lords from Scotland—two of whom are resident in London—to be here. To say the leant of it, I think it shows extremely bad management. I hope that the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill will make representations to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to see that this sort of thing does not happen again. I think I had to speak to him once before about this same matter—perhaps he remembers it—but I am afraid that what I said had no effect. It may seem a laughing matter, but in the case of those of us who live 600 miles away it does make our lives very difficult. We are not idle people by any means. We have a great deal of work of various kinds to do. To give us only two days' notice when a measure of this kind is coming up for Second Reading is really not showing us much consideration. However, I will leave the matter there.
In dealing with the Bill, I will he as brief as I possibly can, but I am sure that your Lordships would not wish that only one or two noble Lords should speak on the Second Reading. It would certainly not look very well in Scotland if that were the case. Before dealing with points arising out of the Bill, I would like to take the opportunity of raising one matter which I think has a bearing on housing generally. I am wondering whether the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill would be good enough to make representations with a view to ascertaining whether there is some means of insisting that these various housing schemes should be made less ugly. As you travel about Scotland, you find that, taken by and large, the housing from the aesthetic point of view is monstrous. To begin with, the houses are only too often very unattractive on the outside. I know the difficulty that arises with 322 regard to materials, but is it necessary, as is so often the case, that dwellings should be made up of such a mixture of materials? Some of them are composed of a little bit of concrete, a little bit of stucco, a few bricks and so on. In the end you cannot help being impressed by the horrible ideas which seem to have been embodied in the construction of these places, and you cannot help feeling that it may not really be necessary.
And when you go inside these houses, what do you find? First of all, there are the doors. You ask the builder about them and he tells you, with a smug smile, "These are housing scheme doors." If you go into any of the old "mews" cottages in London you will find the doors fitted there are in perfect proportion. It is quite an easy matter to have new doors with the panels made in proper proportion, just as it is easy to have the fenestration of houses in proper proportion. The well-known firm of Crittall's make windows in every proportion. I cannot believe that it is necessary to have almost everything connected with these houses so horribly ugly. I admit that this is not a matter which comes strictly within the Bill, but as it relates to housing generally I have taken the opportunity of raising it. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could ask whether, with the help of the Fine Art Commission or something of that sort, it would be possible to insist on something being done to mitigate what is really a great evil in the country. We are being swallowed up in a mass of ugly buildings and I, far one, do not believe that it is necessary.
I will now, if I may, deal with two or three points in the Bill. I have little quarrel with what is in the Bill. On the whole, I think we must welcome it, and anything about which I have a quarrel is with respect to one or two matters which are not in the Bill but which I hoped might be. There is no reed for me to tell your Lordships, for it must be obvious to any of you who travel about Scotland, that the housing situation there is deplorable. We heard a great deal at Election time about an operation being carried out, in military fashion, whereby housing was to be speeded up in the same way that the production of guns was speeded up during the war. All I can say is that if a General in charge of an operation like this during the war had lasted as long 323 as the present people who are at present in charge of housing, with their record, I should have been very much surprised. I would have expected to find him wearing civilian clothes at a very early date, having been given the sack a long time ago.
I do not feel that this Bill, good as it is in parts, is going to accelerate matters very much, partly because I believe it will be found that local authorities are not very anxious to build cottages where they are extremely costly, right up at the top of these far glens, until they have been able to overcome some of their own housing difficulties near at hand, for, after all, even with the grants given to them, they will have to find a proportion from the rates. I do not want to labour this point about the housing difficulty in Scotland, but I feel that I should draw the attention of your Lordships to a resolution which was passed by the British Legion in Scotland at their annual conference the other day. I had the honour of being Chairman of the British Legion of Scotland for a number of years and know that they are sound men. I would emphasise the fact that this body is entirely non-political and that this resolution is not an attack directed on the present Government or any other Government. The resolution was as follows:That this Conference of the British Legion Scotland notes with the gravest concern the appalling housing shortage in Scotland: that it thinks that the number of houses built is totally inadequate compared with the number required, and that this situation is causing dreadful physical, mental and moral hardship among thousands, particularly among ex-Service men, their wives and families: that it notes also that many open and infectious cases of tuberculosis still have to remain at home in overcrowded conditions: and that it therefore requests the Legion Executive to make the strongest possible representations to all Scottish M.Ps., to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and to the Government to make the provision of houses a top priority and to tackle the problem in the same fashion as a military operation.I think that the resolution has a great deal to be said for it, and I consider that the Government, with all their difficulties, which I know are many, in handling their various recalcitrant followers in the docks and in other places, could still do something more than they are doing, though perhaps this Bill may help in some measure.
324 Shortage of housing is the cause of half the unrest to-day. If we could deal with the housing problem, I am certain that many of our difficulties would disappear. People are miserable under the present housing conditions. I am old enough, and most of your Lordships are old enough, to remember the music-hall jokes about mother-in-law. It is getting past a joke. She is becoming a stark permanent reality in the home. Families are all living together. I had a lovely mother-in-law, and most of us have very nice mothers-in-law, but to live permanently with one's mother-in-law is an entirely different matter. I know this subject causes amusement, but it is a fact that hundreds of families are living with their mothers-in-law who, as I say, may be charming people; but in the end contact makes things a little raw.
Obviously in this Bill there is an attempt to bring back to some extent the benefits of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, but we are to be given no grant for what are known as tied or service cottages. I am very much afraid that, owing to the understandable reluctance of local authorities to extend their building, even with grants, into these far-flung districts, the rural housing problem will not be covered within the next thirty years, even if the Bill does accelerate building to some extent. I do not desire to make any Party capital out of this and I would therefore confine myself not to destructive criticism but to making one or two suggestions with the desire that they may be constructional. I feel that somehow or other in this Bill we have to get some of the building business back into the hands of private enterprise. Although private enterprise is now operating to a certain extent, it is doing so only with a great deal of red tape and controls. The situation as regards materials is undoubtedly easier, but I feel the Government should allow a much larger measure of free enterprise. I know that in my own county the view held is that if the ten or twelve of the excellent building firms who operate there had a free hand they would have been able to overcome our housing difficulties in about two years, and would have by now made "mincemeat" of them, if left free to do so. But because of the controls we are not on top of the problem. Somehow or other I feel we 325 have to try to free these controls to allow a freer approach towards building new houses.
I would like to bring to your Lordships' notice a case which emphasises the point I am trying to make. At the end of the war a contractor in the North of Scotland went to the Department of Health and offered to build temporary houses of a very good type for £600 apiece. The houses were well designed, had a life of fifteen years and, as he said, could be converted to permanent houses at any time in their lives at very small expense. I believe the Department said that they could not possibly take the responsibility of rejecting such an offer, but they would write. They did write, and sent with their letter an enormous number of forms to be filled in. One of the questions that had to be answered was: "How many houses can be turned out in a week?" The answer from the contractor was: "That depends on whether I am to find my own labour, or whether labour is to be directed to me—in short, what labour I can rely on." From that day to this I believe the Department have let the matter drop. It may be the objection was over the use of traditional materials—that is, wood or stone—but as I have pointed out, these are in better supply now. There is no doubt about that.
Noble Lords who were here for the debate on forestry heard a suggestion made in regard to the shortage of timber, that if the Government, instead of buying foreign pit-props would take the homegrown pit-props, and with the money which they used to buy the foreign pit-props would buy wood for housing, they would have a method of dealing with the shortage of timber, which is one of the things holding up housing—though that shortage does not now apply to the same extent. It is true that there is also a shortage of cement. However, taken by and large, there is a general improvement in the materials situation. I cannot help feeling that a measure of relief in regard to red tape, forms and controls would reduce a great deal of the slowness in enabling more houses to be built.
My second point is this. I implore His Majesty's Government to take their courage in both hands and alter the rating system in Scotland—a question which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord 326 Polwarth. I am sure fiat until that is done the Government will never be able to deal with the housing difficulty there. As the noble Lord has explained, our rating system operates on entirely different lines from that in England, and if it is not dealt with the Government will never really cope with the housing shortage. The last point I want to raise is on the question of the tied or service cottage. I know that this is a point on which the Government are absolutely adamant. I have taken a great deal of trouble, not only in asking workers myself but in getting my friends in Scotland to ask their own people on the farms to ascertain whether there is any truth in this feeling against the tied cottage. I have come to the conclusion, because I receive the answer everywhere, that it is, really a myth. I believe it is true that the farm workers' union have said that they are against it. On the other hand, I understand the National Farmers' Union in Scotland are not against it. However, the Government feel unable to move unless they can get the National Farmers' Union and the farm workers' union to agree. I am afraid that those who represent the farm workers' union are rather in the same position as the leaders of the dockers and the dockers at the present moment—they are out of touch with their members. I have done my best to find out whether there is any real feeling against this system of tied cottages, and I am satisfied in my own mind that there is not, provided that the men get a reasonably satisfactory house. Scotland, as has been mentioned, is in an entirely different position. It has a different climate. One comes up against severe snowstorms, in which people are often snowed up and at times cannot get out of their homes for as long as six to thirteen weeks. There must be men on the spot to deal with the stock, and therefore the service cottage is essential.
I would support the suggestion mentioned by my noble friend Lord Polwarth, that there should be built smaller cottages of two aid three rooms where retired farm workers could live when they have finished working. In that way agricultural workers would have houses "on the job," and when they have finished and have come to the end of their days of work they would be able to retire, knowing for certain that they would have a 327 house. These would be supplied by the local authority. I do not want to pursue this matter any longer because, generally speaking, I think this measure is a good one. I hope His Majesty's Government will be good enough to consider the points we have put forward, especially the one about Scottish Business in this House.
§ 11.2 p.m.
My Lords, the hour is late, but I think your Lordships will agree that an hour is a very short time indeed to devote to a measure of this importance. The noble Lord who introduced this Bill may feel thankful that he has been let down lightly by the Scottish Peers, because they have a legitimate grievance. Here is a measure which effects fundamental changes in the Housing Acts of Scotland, introduced at a late hour at night, at a late stage in the Session, and with the intention of rushing it through all stages at an early date next week. I feel that my friends who have made this complaint voiced the view of many Scottish Peers who would have liked to be present had there been sufficient notice to discuss this question. As one who has been responsible for housing in Scotland, I enter a protest.
As regards the measure itself, the noble Lord was correct in describing it as one which has met with general acceptance by the local authorities. Its main provisions are based on a Report which was called for in the days of the Coalition Government by Mr. Tom Johnston—the Report of the MacTaggart Committee. I am glad that, in substance, the Government have seen fit to adopt the main recommendations of that Committee, particularly those with regard to the improvement of property. I am concerned, however, about one point which has not been raised so far in this debate, and that is that a good deal of improvement made possible may be endangered by a thoroughly bad Act—I refer to the Town and Country Planning Act. I am not at all sure that the improvement of property of individuals will not be stultified by the operation of the development charge under that Act. At this hour I will not enlarge upon that subject. It may be that I shall receive some reassurance in the Government reply that in no way will the provisions of the Town and 328 Country Planning Act affect those wino wish to improve their property. But, as I see it, there is a great risk that it may have the effect of slowing up improvements which would otherwise take place. An improvement very often means an increase of cubic capacity, and in my experience that is always liable to charge.
This Bill was introduced in April last, and I think occupied nine meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee. It has certainly been threshed out in another place, if not here. During those meetings a number of Amendments were proposed, some of which were accepted, and so it was improved in its passage through another place. I have no complaint to make about its treatment there. My complaint is the one that I have already made, that noble Lords in this House have had insufficient time to gather together and discuss it.
I think the local authorities will welcome this Bill, which certainly gives them further funds to apply to both the improvement of property and new housing. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We must see how this plan works out. It will be of little ultimate value to Scotland if the promotion of new building must go. I hope that both will go on in a parallel way, and that advantage will be taken of every possible device that is known. I hope the private builder will have a reasonable opportunity of making his contribution to this work. As I say, I welcome the proposal that property should be improved, but in the result we must be careful that the absolute shortage of houses which still exists in Scotland is not continued by the building of new houses being slowed up. I have said all I wish to say. I hope that the working of the Bill will prove satisfactory and that my fears about the Town and Country Planning Act will not prove justified. But I felt it right to express that fear, and I trust that the Government, in a chastened spirit, will remember that this House desires to tackle big measures in a serious way.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON
My Lords, I am glad that this Bill has been generally welcomed. I knew there would be complaints that there had been insufficient time for its consideration. I agree entirely with that view, and I hope noble Lords will realise that I am not happy to be 329 handling a Bill at this time of night—although, indeed, both the noble Lord who spoke last and myself were accustomed to doing work in another place at hours much later than this. If I may strike a personal note, I made my maiden speech in another place at six o'clock in the morning.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
I never made any complaint about the lateness; I complained merely about the inefficiency of the way in which the Bill was brought in. You can bring it in at eight o'clock in the morning, if you like. I shall be here.
§ LORD MORRISON
With regard to the insufficiency of the time, this of course is our busy season, towards the end of July. When a Bill that has been under discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee for a long time suddenly comes up at the end of the season, we are faced with the choice either of deciding that it shall be held up until the autumn or of dealing with it in such conditions as we are experiencing tonight. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, that it is inconvenient. I hope he does not think I enjoy it any more than he does. If I had my way we should adopt a new system here by finishing our general work by the end of June and adjourning to Scotland, where we could devote the whole of July to Scottish legislation. I am sure that the legislation, as well as the health of the noble Lords, would benefit.
I can only say, therefore, at this late hour, that all the points that have been made will be considered. If I went into a number of them now I do not think it would be fair either to the House or to its Officers who would be kept here. I think the Scottish people would be disappointed if the Bill were held up now, and the Scottish local authorities would certainly be disappointed. I should like, however, to answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir. Dwellings improved under the Bill will be exempt from development charges. That purpose will be obtained by regulations which will be made under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act for this purpose. I think that meets the point which the noble Lord made. I will guarantee that all the points that have been made in the debate will receive 330 consideration and will be brought to the notice of those responsible. I would like to thank noble Lords for the way in which they have received the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.