HL Deb 16 July 1957 vol 204 cc1232-8

7.27 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Strathclyde.)


My Lords, last week I moved a new clause in Committee which I withdrew after my noble friend had stated that the improvement grants with which it was concerned would be reviewed. Some of my noble friends who have been unable to stay here to-day have asked me to say that they hope that this review will be an early one and that they intend to raise the matter again at the earliest opportunity. I do not expect that my noble friend will be able to say anything more about this point on Third Reading, but I would remind him that we regard the matter as an urgent one.

As for the Bill in general, in all its stages it has created bitter controversy about rents, but it seems to me that at every stage of discussion, in both Houses of Parliament, far too much has been said about rents and not nearly enough about the time it is going to take to abolish the slums in Glasgow. I cannot let the Bill go through without expressing my disappointment at the very slow rate of progress in the future which seems to be envisaged by all Parties. My noble friend the Minister, in the Second Reading debate, was candid enough to say that he did not think that the problem could be solved within the next generation. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill (I am sorry he cannot be here to-day), said that in his view the problem was insoluble, and that nothing much could be done about it. I do not think that the Glasgow housing problem would ever have been thought insoluble if people had cared enough about it and had had the will to solve it.

Twenty years ago, the member for Gorbals, Mr. George Buchanan, was kind enough, when I was Under-Secretary of State, to spend a great deal of his time, on more than one occasion, in conducting me around the slums in his constituency, and one thing which he often said to me (I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that this was twenty years ago) was to this effect: "All the people in Glasgow who used to lead the political agitation against bad housing conditions have now themselves got council houses. They are quite comfortable, and all these people who are left behind in the slums are substandard people who have not enough education or enough intelligence to carry on a really effective agitation against the abominable conditions in which they are compelled to live. So," he said, "you will see that no-one will care enough to do what is needed, and these slums will go on for the rest of our lives."

My Lords, that was twenty years ago. Since then, if we take Scotland as a whole, a great deal of progress has been made, but the progress in Glasgow has never been commensurate with the progress in the rest of Scotland. If the Glasgow Town Council before the war had built anything like the number of houses they ought to have built, and which they could easily have built, the problem now would not be so appalling as it is. Their building record before the war was miserable and derisory; and now, in 1957, a great many of these slums which "Geordie" Buchanan took me round in 1937 are still much the same as they were then. Are we really going to be content that this should go on for yet another twenty years, until 1977 or later?

I would ask the Government whether they cannot review the matter again with the Glasgow Town Council, to see whether a great deal more could not be done than is contemplated at present under Clause 3 of this Bill, which provides for specially large grants to be given for blocks of houses of six storeys or more. I do not believe that a bold and ambitious programme of high building would cost more than the removing of large numbers of people and industries to other parts of the country. I want to make it plain that I entirely support all the other provisions of this Bill. I am entirely in favour of decanting from Glasgow as many people as we can in the shortest possible time, but I do not think that that is good enough in itself.

I should also like to ask the Government whether they could not contemplate a less restricted programme in receiving areas for the Scottish Special Housing Association, which can do a great deal of building. The Association was formed largely in order to promote new methods of construction—timber, concrete, steel, and so on—which the Scottish local authorities, with few exceptions, have always been far too reluctant to undertake. Our housing needs have always placed too great a strain on the present resources and manpower of the building industry, and we shall never be able to get the building done which ought to be done unless a much greater proportion of our building is done by new methods of construction and not so large a proportion by what is called the traditional method of brick, although in Scotland it is not really traditional. I do not believe that it is beyond the resources of this country to solve the Glasgow slum problem within the next generation. I think that it could be done. I hope that this Bill is not the last word on the subject, and that we are not going to sit back and believe that these horrible housing conditions, which have disgraced Scotland for so long, must go on disgracing our country for the rest of our lives.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, when this Bill was read a second time, I ventured to give it only a qualified welcome, but now that we have embodied in this Bill the way the Government have chosen to tackle this subject, I hope that it will be used to the full for the good results that I am sure can come from it. I echo a part of what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has said with regard to Glasgow, but I would remind him that Glasgow has not always had a Labour local authority. When Labour came into power in Glasgow, they inherited a terrible legacy—


Yes, my Lords, but they built only half the number of houses which their Moderate predecessors had built the year before.


—of slums. My noble friend Lord Greenhill would have been able to defend the Glasgow Corporation to a greater extent than I am able to do, and he entered a caveat against the extreme criticism that had been levelled against the Glasgow local authority. There is no getting away from the fact that the Labour majority in Glasgow was not responsible for the creation of the Glasgow slums.

Those slum tenements have created a revulsion against tenement property. It seems to me that there is no real justification for tenements being slums, and I think that, in working out this programme which the Government have in mind to deal with the present position in Glasgow, more will have to be done in providing bigger and better tenements to take the place of those which are ready for demolition and which should have been demolished long ago. I echo what the noble Earl has said about the desirability of using to the full the varied resources of the Scottish Special Housing Association. I hope that everything that can be done will be done to tackle the terrible housing conditions that still exist. The Government have made this plan but they are not very hopeful about carrying it into effect. I think it is regrettable that we must inevitably look forward to there being a considerable number of years before the slum clearance problem in all its intensity can be dealt with properly. I ventured to say on a previous occasion that I wanted all the good that this Bill can bring. The Government have chosen this as their instrument and I wish them well in their use of it.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, opened his remarks by referring to the new clause which he introduced on Committee stage. I told him that it was my right honourable friend's intention to inquire into the whole working of improvement grants, and I can assure him that the work will be prosecuted as expeditiously as possible. As I informed him on that occasion, I cannot foresee what kind of legislative changes will be called for, or when it will be possible to introduce a Bill to give effect to them.

The noble Earl has raised to-day much wider questions. He told us that too much had been said about rents. There has not been a great deal said about rents in your Lordships' House, whatever may have happened in another place. He also said that too little was said about the time taken in removing slums from the city of Glasgow. The whole of Part II of the Bill deals with that problem and with that problem almost alone, although it does make allowance for any other city in Scotland which may find itself with an overspill problem. I only wish that I could agree with the noble Lords who said on Second Reading that slums could be quickly abolished, but, after all, we have to look at this from a practical point of view. It is no good crying for the moon, because we just cannot get it; but if the Corporation of the city of Glasgow go ahead as fast as possible, very great changes can come about within a reasonable period of time.

As for caring about the removal of slums, I have spent some twenty-seven years of my life dealing with housing conditions in Glasgow, and I care very deeply on that subject. I would remind noble Lords that a great deal is said and published about the tremendous progress of housing in England. Proportionately, the Scottish record since 1951 is superior to the record in English housing. That is something that we should take into account and of which we have every reason to be proud.

I do not know that it is altogether right to blame the Corporation of Glasgow. It may be that some twenty or thirty years ago they might have done better than they did; but we are looking back and judging things from what we know now, not from what we knew twenty or thirty years ago. I would remind the noble Earl that even when the East Kilbride New Towns Bill was introduced, the Corporation of Glasgow were not aware that they had an overspill problem; indeed, it was not, I think, until the year 1953 that they rescinded a resolution which stood in the council records than an overspill problem did not exist. We know full well that it exists to-day, and that is a step forward, at any rate.

Over the period of years since housing became a municipal responsibility, they have built something like 100,000 houses. They have been building during recent years some 6,000 houses a year, certainly with the help of the Scottish Special Housing Association, which is freely granted within the programme laid down; and it is the intention of the Government to endeavour to see that that rate of building of 6,000 houses a year is maintained. That is going to be difficult, because within two years from now there will not be a site for housing left in the city of Glasgow. It is for that reason that the Government are so anxious that this Bill should get through and that the city of Glasgow should enter as quickly as possible into agreement with the receiving areas. Here I should like to pay a tribute to the Clyde Valley Advisory Planning Committee, which has undertaken tremendous work in investigating the whole of this trouble and loosing into those areas where there could be received not only overspill population but also the industry to go with it.

The noble Earl presses the claim for multi-storey buildings. That is all right, within reason. But you cannot afford to have densities in any city such as have existed in the city of Glasgow over the last fifty or sixty years, with 700 people to the acre over large areas, and 400 people to the acre in other areas. As I have said, no such conditions exist in any other town in a modern civilised country. That is the problem with which we have to deal. If the noble Earl will consider how that is to be dealt with, he will see that, first of all, you have to get the people out of the houses that now stand, and that cannot be done until houses have been built to put them in; then you have to demolish the houses in which they now live, and then erect the high-storey buildings. In fact, the redevelopment plan for the Gorbals and Hutchesontown area provides for high buildings, running up, I think, to twelve or more storeys.

I would say that the Scottish Special Housing Association has done a great job of work, and is continuing to do so; and, as I said earlier, it is the intention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to use it where receiving authorities are in any financial difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, expressed the hope—I think it is the hope, too, of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and of everyone who has any love for Scotland—that, this Bill will be used to the full. I certainly hope that it will. However, I would say to your Lordships that a great measure of responsibility rests on the local authorities concerned. It is not possible for the Secretary of State to impose conditions on receiving authorities, or to force the Corporation of the City of Glasgow to enter into agreements with them. It is for the receiving authorities and the exporting authority to come to satisfactory arrangements, and to do that as quickly as possible. I know that to-day and during recent days negotiations have, in fact, been going on, and I can only express the hope, with the two noble Lords who have spoken, that these negotiations will quickly be brought to a conclusion so that the work may go ahead. I hope that I have answered the points which have been raised, and I trust that your Lordships will now grant this Bill a Third Reading.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.