HL Deb 08 July 1969 vol 303 cc1022-43

8.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Much of what is in this Housing (Scotland) Bill is a parallel of the Bill which we have just been discussing, but within the fold of the Bill there are also many differences. Some of the problems with which the English Housing Bill deals do not arise in Scotland, and some of the problems that we have in Scotland are much more acute than any which arise in England. This accounts for the somewhat different form that the Scottish Bill takes.

This Bill embodies far-reaching proposals for dealing with the older houses in Scotland. The housing situation time, and especially in the central belt from Glasgow to Edinburgh, has exercised Governments and social reformers for many years. There is no single solution for the problem it creates. It requires a combination of statutory and voluntary action, and the statutory bodies must have adequate powers for their share of the task. To provide those powers is the object of this Bill.

It is, of course, by no means the first Bill on this subject, and indeed much of it consists of the repeal of those of the existing statutory provisions which have been found to be unsatisfactory, and their replacement by new provisions affecting both the clearance and the improvement of houses. It also contains provisions relating to the compensation to be paid when slum houses are acquired, the rents of houses which are brought up to a certain standard and the powers of local authorities to secure works of repair on houses. Thus it deals with all aspects of the problems of older houses.

In our White Paper, The Scottish Housing Programme, 1965 to 1970 (Cmnd 2837), which set out the Government's aims in Scottish Housing, we estimated that there was a need for up to 500,000 houses to replace houses which were either already identified as slums or which could not be improved to a reasonable standard. This was only an estimate because, as the White Paper pointed out, the absence of any common standard of fitness meant that no proper figures were then available. It was this gap in the necessary information which led to the setting up of the Sub-Committee of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee chaired by Professor J. B. Cullingworth. The Report of that Committee, which was published in January, 1967, under the title, Scotland's Older Houses, confirmed and gave precision to the estimate we had made and at the same time focused public attention on the problem of older houses. Nobody concerned with Scotland's housing problems could fail to be impressed by the forceful portrayal in that report of the difficulties which confronted us: and it was a cause of satisfaction to all that the report should have aroused such widespread interest and concern. Following consultation with interested parties the Government gave an indication in the White Paper The Older Houses in Scotland A Plan for Action, published last July, of the policies they intended to pursue. That White Paper was generally welcomed and following further consultations this Bill was brought forward.

Part I of the Bill deals with houses which do not meet a new statutory standard called the tolerable standard. In introducing this new standard we are not simply replacing one set of criteria by another similar set. The present provisions relating to unfitness in Section 5 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966 do not amount to a definition of unfitness: they merely indicate the factors which have to be considered when a decision about unfitness is taken. Section 5 requires that once all the factors which it lists have been considered, judgment has to be made whether or not the house is so far defective in respect of one or more of the factors that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation. Linked with these provisions about unfitness at present is an immediate obligation on local authorities to act in respect of any house which they have declared to be unfit for human habitation. The unfit house must either be taken out of use or made fit.

The Cullingworth Committee pointed out that in Scotland, with its great housing problems, the practical consequence of that link betwen the standard and the immediate obligation to act has often been that local authorities have hesitated to declare houses unfit because they were not ready to take them out of use. The true extent of the slum problem has therefore been disguised, and we cannot tell how many times local authorities have not taken action in circumstances where on any reasonable view action was required.

What the Bill proposes is quite different. The tolerable standard does not simply list a number of factors which have to be taken into account when a decision is being reached. It lists nine tests, worded as positively and precisely as possible, which must be met if a house is to meet the tolerable standard. These tests deal not only with factors of the kind mentioned in the unfitness provisions. They include for the first time two objective items—a requirement that a house should have the exclusive use of an internal water closet, and that it should have both hot and cold water at a sink. If the house fails to meet any one of the nine tests, it fails to meet the tolerable standard, and there should not be much scope for arguing about it.

Now, for the first time, we shall be able to see clearly which houses need to be dealt with. But it would be impracticable to do this and, at the same time, retain an obligation on local authorities to act in respect of all of these houses immediately. Many of our local authorities will find that as much as one-third of their housing stock does not meet the standard. We have therefore replaced the immediate obligation with new powers to act in relation to the houses which fail the standard and we have added a general duty in Clause 1 to use their housing powers to secure that houses that do not meet the new standard are dealt with as soon as possible.

I should perhaps say, in passing, that the tolerable standard, as the Bill defines it, does not express a value judgment about the kind of living conditions which are fully acceptable at the present time. Rather does it define a standard below which any house becomes immediately liable to action by local authorities. So it has been pitched at such a level that Parliament can properly be satisfied that the powers available to the authorities are appropriate to the houses affected. Where houses are capable of improvement to a higher standard the Bill gives every encouragement for this to be done. If evidence becomes available that in some areas local authorities have cleared all the worst houses and can tackle those which are of a slightly higher standard, though still unacceptable to-day, the Secretary of State will consider whether some raising of the standard in their areas is appropriate. This can be done by an order under Clause 2(2).

Part I of the Bill also introduces an entirely new set of powers based on the new tolerable standard for local authorities to deal with areas of older houses. The existing powers in this connection are in Part III of the 1966 Act, relating to clearance areas, and in Part IV, relating to improvement areas. Neither of these sets of powers is very much used in Scotland nowadays and we think the time has come to replace them.

The key clauses in the new procedure are Clauses 4 and 5. These require local authorities to define areas in which the greater part of the houses fail to meet the tolerable standard and which they think suitable for treatment, either by demolition or improvement. When the area is defined the authority must also decide which parts are to be dealt with by clearance and which by improvement of the houses. Where they propose to demolish the houses they may proceed at once to purchase land and demolish the buildings, as they can under the present clearance area powers. Where they propose that the houses should be improved, they can purchase them; but before doing so they must be satisfied that it is unlikely that the improvements will be carried out unless the local authority takes them over. Our intention here is that local authorities should make every effort, by publicity and by the offer of grants and loans, to encourage individuals to improve the houses they own. Only if this fails should the local authority make use of its powers to purchase houses for improvement. In this connection Clause 5 distinguishes between houses in tenements and other houses. The power of acquisition is more immediately available for tenements where the nature of the building and of its ownership will often preclude action except by the local authority. The basic procedure I have described is developed in the subsequent clauses.

I should now like to draw your Lordships' attention to Clauses 18 to 22 of the Bill. The Cullingworth Committee recognised that a major obstacle to faster progress with slum clearance was the basis of compensation payable when an unfit house is acquired. The longstanding basis for this compensation is the value of the cleared site of the house, the principle being that if the house is unfit for human habitation it cannot have any value as a place to live in. In practice, a great number of the objections to the slum-clearance activities of local authorities are based, whatever the ostensible ground of objection, on dissatisfaction with the compensation that is paid. Clauses 18 to 22 of the Bill introduce the remedy that we propose. These clauses provide that certain owner occupiers as defined in the Bill (mainly those who have owned their houses for two years or more), whose houses are acquired or vacated as not meeting the tolerable standard, are to be entitled to a supplementary payment, which will bring the compensation up to market value. This payment should have the effect of discouraging objections from people who have no real interest in resisting clearance and redevelopment, and should help to make faster progress possible. For houses which do not qualify for these new payments, Clause 21 provides for an increase in the amount of the well-maintained payments.

As was promised in the White Paper on Older Houses, these arrangements will apply to houses which have been purchased or vacated on or after August 1, 1968 (the date of the White Paper). This degree of retrospection is necessary in order to avoid unfairness and uncertainty arising between the date of publication of the White Paper and the date of commencement of the Bill.

Part II of the Bill introduces new powers for local authorities to deal with houses which are in disrepair. These are designed to deal with the kind of problem which arose in Glasgow and elsewhere following the gale of January last year. A number of authorities, including Glasgow Corporation, felt inhibited by the form of their existing powers from stepping in to deal with urgent repairs to privately owned property. The drawback of these existing powers (whether they are in the existing Housing Acts, in the Public Health Acts or the Building Act) is that they come into play only after the conditions have deteriorated and drastic action is required. The new powers in the Bill will enable a local authority to take action at an earlier stage before deterioration has gone too far.

The new powers in Clause 24 are similar in form to those in Section 11 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1966. The authority must serve a notice specifying the works required to deal with the disrepair, there is provision for appeal to the sheriff and if the notice is not complied with the local authority may carry out the works themselves and recover their expenses. The starting point will be that the local authority are satisfied that the house is subject to serious disrepair. Circumstances may arise where the extent of the disrepair is not great but the consequences of not attending to it could be very serious. That is why subsection (4) of Clause 24 provides that houses which are liable to deteriorate rapidly because of some disrepair can be treated for that reason alone as if they were in serious disrepair.

Part III of the Bill makes some important alterations to the existing arrangements for improvement grants. Since these grants were introduced in the 1949 Act a number of changes have been made in them, the general effect of which has been to increase from time to time the maximum amounts of grant and to reduce the period within which the condition of grant apply. We are now proposing very substantial increases in the grant maxima which, in conjunction with the other provisions in the Bill, should encourage much wider use of these grants.

The Bill also gives local authorities altogether wider discretion in relation to the condition and life of the house after improvement has been carried out, so that, within a framework of guidance which the Secretary of State will be giving, they may decide for themselves whether or not in particular cases assistance should be given. The Bill (in Clauses 33 and 38) also recasts the definition of improvement in order to reduce a difficulty which has frequently arisen over the distinction between works of improvement which are, in principle, eligible for grant and works of repair which are not so eligible. The distinction made under the existing legislation means that a very large proportion of the work that undoubtedly has to be carried out cannot receive assistance, and we are confident that the new definition will in practical terms be of great advantage to would-be improvers. We all know that Scottish houses, particularly tenements, are not easy to improve, but I believe that Part III of the Bill should be very useful to local authorities in securing as much progress as is possible with improvement of such buildings.

Part IV of the Bill deals with rents and is closely related to Part III. The present improvement grant conditions, and the provisions of the Rent Acts, limit any increase in rent following improvement to 12½ per cent. of the landlord's share of the cost of improvement works. This is an inflexible arrangement which gives an insufficient incentive to landlords to do improvements. Under Part IV the rent of a house subject to a regulated tenancy which is improved with the aid of grant, and the rent of an improved house subject to a controlled tenancy (whether the improvements are grant-aided or not) will be fixed, not in relation to the cost of improvement but under the "fair rent" system which was introduced by the Rent Act 1965. The local authority will first have to certify that the improvements to be carried out will bring the house up to a satisfactory standard, and the actual fixing of the rent will then be a matter for the rent officer subject to appeal to a rent assessment committee. To safeguard individual tenants Schedule 4 of the Bill provides for the phasing of any rent increases which result from this provision, over a period of up to five years in the case of controlled tenancies and up to three years in the case of regulated tenancies.

For reasons of equity we have thought it right in the Bill to deal also with the rents of controlled houses which already reach a satisfactory standard without the need for improvement. These may either be houses which have always met this standard or in which improvement works have been carried out in previous years. To meet the standard the house must have all the standard amenities and be in good condition, and the local authority will have to certify this before the landlord can apply for a fair rent to be fixed. In deciding whether to issue a certificate the local authority will have to take into account any representations made by the tenant.

To avoid a sudden overload of the rent officer organisation, Clause 51 provides a delaying mechanism. It divides the houses at present subject to controlled tenancies and which are already up to the satisfactory standard into three groups based on their rateable values and fixes dates in 1971 and 1972 after which these tenancies can be converted into regulated tenancies. This will not only ensure that the rent officer service is built up in a sensible fashion to meet the longer-term requirements but will ensure that the rent officer system is not prevented from dealing with those houses on which improvements are still to be done.

Clauses 58 and 59 in Part V introduce an entirely new specific grant to local authorities in support of expenditure they incur in carrying out works to improve the environment of houses; for instance, by creating play spaces for children, planting trees or providing parking spaces. The Cullingworth Committee were very concerned about the lack of any provision of this kind, and anyone who is familiar with the neglect and squalor that often occur in the backlands of tenement blocks will appreciate the need for it. The expenditure which will attract grant is such as the Secretary of State may approve, subject to a maximum of £100 per house in the area.

The Bill is deliberately drafted in such a way that the Secretary of State is empowered to pay the grant in support of the proposals by a local authority to carry out works on the environment in any predominantly residential area. In present economic circumstances, however, this discretion will be exercised in such a way as to limit the grant to works on the environment which are to be carried out in conjunction with the improvement of the houses themselves. I believe, my Lords, that the Bill will mark a notable step forward in dealing with problems of our older houses. Most of it is in no way controversial and I commend the Bill to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lords Hughes.)

9.2 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for a very clear and painstaking explanation of this Bill: I think he deserved a better audience than he had. I am too well accustomed to the uncertainties of Parliamentary business to wish to complain that so important a measure as this should be discussed at so inconvenient an hour in the evening, but I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Hughes, will agree that as a general rule it is not a good thing to take a Scottish Bill of major importance immediately after a similar English Bill on the same day. For one thing, it is often apt to be misunderstood in Scotland.

As the noble Lord has said, this Bill is intended mainly to carry out the recommendations and conclusions of the Cullingworth Report which, as he said, is a very good Report and has provided us with a quantity of information which is useful, distinguishing between different kinds of undesirable or unfit houses. But, of course, the information, as I think the noble Lord will agree, and as I think the Report itself admits, is not at all uniform. The noble Lord has no doubt noticed that on page 82, in the comparison of local authority returns on unfitness and 1961 Census statistics, it is stated that Dundee has 40 per cent. of households in dwellings sharing or lacking a fixed bath, while Glasgow has 41 per cent. In both cases the proportion of households in dwellings sharing or lacking water closet is 24 per cent; and of dwellings containing one to two rooms, the figures are Glasgow, 38 per cent.; and Dundee, 35 per cent. However, when you come to unfit houses, Dundee is put down as having 24.5 per cent. and Glasgow only 3.4 per cent. I cannot help concluding that the standards of unfitness on which these tables are based must be entirely different in Glasgow from what they are in Dundee.

Of course, one of the troubles about all these questions of housing standards is that the popularly accepted standards of all kinds of houses change so quickly. One generation regards as tolerable one thing which is not always regarded as tolerable by the next generation: and I think that applies to houses of all types and of all sizes. A hundred years ago, even in the largest and most luxurious houses in Britain a fixed bath was still looked on as a great novelty. It is only about 70 or 80 years ago that a well known Member of your Lordships' House who lived in one of the stately homes of England—and in a fairly civilised part of England, too—still used to walk a quarter of a mile every morning to his outside lavatory; and he always carried a gun with him in case he might get a shot at a woodcock on the way. This house would not even have fulfilled the tolerable standards laid down—which the noble Lord has explained—in Clause 2 of this Bill, let alone the satisfactory standard which the Cullingworth Report aims at.

All my life there has been a deplorable preponderance of sub-standard houses in Scotland which has always filled us with a certain amount of indignation, and we have all tried to do our best to overcome the problem—sometimes with a little success, sometimes with not as much as we had hoped. In the early 1920s (I do not know whether the noble Lord's memory goes back as far as that), the condition of Scottish housing was one of the most raging questions in Scottish politics. Between the wars we built the equivalent of a new Edinburgh—we did make some progress. But in the 1930s it was still very bad. I remember one particular puzzling thing: in 1934 the Glasgow Town Council had reached a figure of about 4.000, or rather more, houses a year, which was about two-fifths of what they ought to have been doing; after 1934 they dropped down to about 2,000-odd a year, which was about one-fifth of what they ought to have been doing. It was a most shockingly deplorable record.

One whom I regard as one of the best Secretaries of State for Scotland that we ever had, the late Walter Elliot, formed the conclusion that in order to get the Scottish housing problem solved in a reasonable period of time—he hoped it might be done in 20 or 30 years—two things would have to be done. First, there would need to be a great many new building methods—what were called unconventional buildings methods. We tried to persuade many of the local authorities to build prefabricated houses, but they were very reluctant to do so. There was only one that did it on any great scale.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, may remember the late Lord Provost Phin, of Dundee, who was responsible for building the big new housing scheme at Linlathen of 500 houses at that time.

Secondly, Walter Elliot believed that this problem would not be solved by local authority action, or by private enterprise or by a combination of both, and he persuaded his colleagues to agree to the setting up of the Scottish Special Housing Association, which was intended, at least to begin with, to do its work mainly by unorthodox methods—by what we now call industrialised houses, and what were then called prefabricated houses. "Prefabricated" is literally correct, but later, at the end of the war, the term became associated with inferior houses, so it is not used now. In reality, of course, prefabricated houses are often much superior to houses built by conventional methods. I cannot prove it, but I believe that Walter Elliot's policy would have succeeded if it had not been smashed and knocked sideways by the war. All the plans, both of the local authorities and of the Special Housing Association, were completely stopped, and so little building work could be done on repairs that the deterioration of houses during the war caused the general position to slip back, with the result that at the end of the war it was much worse than it had been at the beginning.

At this late hour I do not want to trouble the noble Lord with any detailed questions, but there are one or two points which I should like to put to him. One of the problems of creating these new areas and rebuilding clearance areas is whether or not to have skyscraper flats. I do not suppose that this problem could arise in treatment areas, because I think it is not intended that new types of houses should be built there, but only that older ones should be reconditioned. Naturally, many people do not like skyscraper flats and think they are ugly. Also, there is the tragic example of the accident not very long ago at Ronan Point, which rather disturbed our confidence in this type of building. But I have always thought that the Scottish housing problem could never be solved without a great deal of this type of building; and I have always said so.

Of course it is far nicer for any family to have a completely detached small cottage by itself. But I do not think the "flatted house"—the traditional type of four houses with only two storeys, which is so common in Scotland—has any greater privacy or comfort than a well-built, huge, high-storeyed block of flats, and the real reason why a growing number of people are becoming more in favour of flats than they used to be in Glasgow, in Dundee—and, I, in Edinburgh, too—is because of commuterism. The workers find that they are losing so much time, having to spend so much money, and losing so much of their sleep and leisure if they have to go a very long way to and from their work every day.

I regretted that an Amendment was not carried in another place increasing from 40 per cent. to 60 per cent. the Government grant under this Bill for these high buildings. I do not propose to repeat the argument here, but I believe there is some room for discretion on this subject. I am referring not to grants for all buildings, but to grants for making safe those buildings which have already been put up and which, after the Ronan Point accident, may give rise to some anxiety. There may be very few of them, and there may even turn out to be none, but I should like to ask the noble Lord whether, if it is found that any of these new types of skyscrapers which are being built in Scotland give any ground for suspicion, and if measures have to be taken to make them safer than they are and to strengthen public confidence in them, there will be discretion to give a higher grant than this for the extra expense, not of repairing them (because they are not in disrepair) but of correcting any possible, suspected engineering defects which they may now be thought to have. I hope that other, new methods of building will also be pursued and encouraged by the Government, because I am sure that a great many local authorities, although they are keen and diligent, are, as the noble Lord knows, not always very imaginative, and they are sometimes not as ready as they might be to make use of new methods of building construction which may lighten the demand on certain types of labour which may be in short supply. That has always been one of the cursed things about the housing problem in Scotland: that even if there happens to be unemployment in the building trade, we cannot get enough labour in the right place at the right time to build the number of houses which ought to be built. In the end it all conies down to the question of how much of our gross national product, our national resources, you are able and willing to devote to building new houses—and you have to be very careful to distribute it in the best possible and least expensive way.

On reconditioning, the noble Lord has just pointed out in his speech that the position of rents of reconditioned houses is being changed by this Bill. That was one of the strongest arguments put forward by the Cullingworth Report, and I think it was a well justified one. I would ask whether the permission to raise rents will be a gradual one, and how quickly it will take effect, because the Cullingworth Report has given some rather interesting examples showing that whether reconditioning expenditure is profitable or unprofitable often depends on the rapidity with which a return can be received. I see that the Report says, I think in paragraph 70, that reconditioning is required not only in urban areas but that the conditions in some of the rural areas are so bad that no excuse can warrant things being left as they are". The Committee do not specify what particular kinds of houses they are thinking of except the crofts, which they do mention; but I suppose that the great majority of the houses which are in bad condition are either crofts or houses which are let under the Rent Restriction Act.

I think that the position is much better in regard to service tenancy houses and, in general, rural workers' houses in Scotland. I recently obtained a few figures from the Department about the number of houses reconditioned. From 1961 to 1968, the number of houses improved by improvement grants was 16,599 and the number of houses improved through standard amenity grants was 11,640. The second category would probably consist partly of houses which were not really sub-standard to begin with, or which had previously been reconditioned but which needed just a little more done to bring them up to what we now regard as modern standards. But if you compare the rural housing position in general with the position in some of our great industrial areas, it is very illuminating indeed, and shows how this type of house began and has continued since 1926 when the reconditioning legislation (which at first applied only to rural houses) was brought in.

There are, I know, some unfit houses in many rural parts of Scotland. There is one on my own land in Perthshire which has been condemned for 14 years. A railway employee has been "squatting" there all that time; and neither the county council nor British Rail have been able yet to provide this squatter with a decent house. I think that, in general, the agricultural workers in most of these rural areas in Scotland are now well housed. I will not say that the problem has been entirely solved. That, I think, applies much more to service tenancy houses than those which are let under the Rent Restriction Act.

My Lords, I would say only this in conclusion. In view of the rather restricted opportunity for discussing this Bill on Second Reading, I hope that the Government may allow not too short a time before Committee stage in case any of my noble friends may wish to express their views on improving the Bill. At the same time, I would say that I think it most essential and desirable that this Bill, which is a good Bill, should be on the Statute Book by the time we rise at the end of this month for the Summer Recess.

9.23 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the House for speaking without putting my name on the list. I am not apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, because I am sure he will agree with almost every word that I am going to say; but I feel that I must apologise in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Llewelyn-Davies, who is waiting so patiently to introduce some change in the registration of architects. I hope he will forgive me. I did not think I should be able to get down from Edinburgh in time to speak on this Bill; but having got here I feel it would be churlish of me not to give it a very warm welcome. I think that on the whole it is an excellent Bill and one which might well have been introduced many years ago. I should like first to make a few points in regard to Clause 2, which defines the "tolerable standard". It seems to me to be rather low. I realise why this was possibly pitched as low as it has been; it is because, put even as low as this, it is going to condemn many thousands of houses in Scotland which are at the moment occupied and which will have to be replaced.

I hope that landlords, both private and local authority, will not regard the standard laid down in Clause 2, the "tolerable standard", as being the maximum for which they should strive. It seems to me that there is always the danger, when laying down a standard in black and white, that when they have their houses up to the standard many people will sit back and feel that they have done their duty and will not try to improve them any further. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will take advantage of the powers he has in subsection (2) of this clause to raise these standards by areas and as and when he thinks the moment has come. I hope that the moment will be sooner rather than later with almost every area in Scotland.

Next, I should like to say a word or two about Clause 24. It seems to me that this clause needs looking at again in Committee. The local authority is given power to insist on repairs being executed within twenty-one days to any house which is in a state of serious disrepair. I should have thought that there should be exceptions, such as where the house is owner-occupied and the owner does not want to repair the house, and also where the house is unoccupied. There are probably many more important repairs to be done—particularly after emergencies such as the wind-blow in central Scotland last year. I should also have thought that it might be a defence to the order that one was not able to get suitable tradesmen or materials; because many of the difficulties in Glasgow and other places after the wind-blow last January arose not because landlords were unwilling to repair their houses but because they simply could not get hold of the right people to do the work or the right materials with which to repair the houses. I should have thought it would be advisable to amend the clause to a certain extent in that way.

Next, I should like to refer briefly to Part III, Clauses 37 and 38. I think that £1,200 is a reasonable figure and should be a great inducement to all landlords to bring their houses up to a modern standard. I hope that the local authorities, who, I believe, have complete discretion about whether or not to give these grants—will give them wherever possible, and, as I think the noble Lord suggested in his speech, that they will be more inclined to give them even where the house has, or used to have, some of these basic amenities in the first place. There are some derelict houses near to my home which used to belong to British Railways. We bought them for the vast sum of £50, mainly because vandals had removed absolutely everything inside them, including the baths and lead piping. I believe that under the old Act we should not have been able to get what is to be the grant of £1,200 to bring these houses up to a modern state of repair because at one time they had bathrooms and such-like things in them and would therefore not have qualified. I hope that local authorities will be able to use much more discretion about this matter than they have been able to do up to now.

Lastly, may I say that it probably will come as no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to know that I particularly welcome the provisions in Part IV of the Bill. I believe that these have been needed for many years. I also welcome Schedule 4, which goes with Part IV. One of the things which slightly worry me, and the only one I am going to mention now, is that on page 47 there is a table which states by what amounts one can raise one's rents from the controlled rent to the fair rent. We never seem to reach the whole. It says that where the period of delay is two years, one has one-third and two-thirds. I should have expected that in the third year one would be able to have the whole, but it does not say so. In the column headed "Where the period of delay is four years" there is one-fifth, two-fifths, et cetera, and in the fourth year it is four-fifths. I should have thought, once again, that in the fifth year we should have the whole; but it does not say so. Could the noble Lord confirm that I have misread it, and that after the third or fifth year, according to the category, one does reach the whole? I very much welcome this Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Dundee, I hope that it will be on the Statute Book before we rise for the Summer Recess, but I think that it needs a little looking over in Committee because I am sure that it can be improved in one or two details.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, replies, may I ask him a question? My noble friend has welcomed the increase in the reconditioning grant for rural houses from £500 to £1,200, as we all do. May I ask whether there is a corresponding increase in the special grant for similar houses in the Highlands and remote areas?

9.29 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene, very briefly, as I just want to gloat? I have been working it out, and I recall that 47 years ago, in the city which is represented by my noble friend the Minister and from which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, derives his name, I became a Socialist to try to achieve what is now being attempted by this Bill with the complete accord of everybody in this House. That is all I want to say.

9.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the reception which the Bill has been given by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, by the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, and by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. I must agree with the noble Earl's initial, rather gently stated, complaint that the hour at which we are discussing the Bill is somewhat inconvenient. It is because I share the view expressed by both noble Lords opposite, that this Bill should reach the Statute Book before we rise for the Summer Recess, that I did not enter any protest about its placing in the timetable; and it is because I know they share sincerely my anxiety that I know that they will not take me to task when I tell them that the Committee stage of the Bill will be in the unusually short time of a week from now—next Tuesday. That is when I expect it to be, subject to everything going as it ought to go.

I anticipate that although this is an important Bill, it is not one which will be the subject of a large number of Amendments in your Lordships' House.

I think that what has been said to-night is an indication that that will probably be so. The Bill was largely welcomed in another place and has been fully considered over a long time and while in other circumstances your Lordships might have wished to have another go at some of the Amendments which were moved in another place, I welcome the realistic attitude that has been taken and the indication that this will not be done on this occasion. I think that we are all of a mind that the important thing is to get these improvements in legislation for Scottish housing into operation as soon as possible, and that a little inconvenience to ourselves, and perhaps a little harder work over a shorter period, is a small price to pay for bringing that about.

The noble Earl referred to the figures on page 82 of the Cullingworth Report and gave comparisons between Glasgow and Dundee. Nothing could have brought home more clearly the need for the fixed standards which we are laying down in the nine tests for a tolerable standard than the figures which the noble Earl quoted. Here we are comparing facts with facts; the figures in Dundee and in Glasgow for household sharing or lacking a fixed bath; for households sharing or lacking a water closet, and for households containing only one or two rooms. These are all things which can be seen. They are not matters of opinion, because one has only to go and look. This is what we are doing in relation to the determination of a tolerable standard. We find out whether any one of the nine items that I mentioned is missing, and if it is missing, then the house falls below the tolerable standard and must either be improved or be taken down as soon as possible.

On the old standard of what was an unfit house, the opinion in one part of the country might be totally different from the opinion in another part, and that is how we got this figure of 24.5 per cent. of houses declared unfit in Dundee and of 3.4 per cent. in Glasgow. It is a matter of some satisfaction to me that I was Lord Provost of Dundee during the time when we reached this 24.5 per cent. recognition of the problem with which we had to deal. I am not making any comparison with Glasgow, because it may be that we had an easier task and that the problems of Glasgow were of a greater magnitude in other directions. But it was recognised in Dundee that no useful purpose was served by closing our eyes to facts, and that it was better we should know and recognise the situation rather than ignore it, or put off to next year or the next decade any attempt to deal with it.

The noble Earl also referred to the part which the late Walter Elliot expected to be played by the Scottish Special Housing Association. I am sure that he would have been very happy indeed to know that his creation was playing an even more important part in solving Scotland's housing problems in the 'sixties—and will also in the 'seventies—than it ever did in the first years of its existence. In fact, approximately 10 per cent. of the new houses to be built in Scotland will be provided by the S.S.H.A. If the late Walter Elliot never did anything else than this in the period when he was a Minister he would have served Scotland very well indeed.

The question as to whether or not skyscrapers, multi-storey blocks, will be built in clear areas where houses are demolished must of course always depend on the local authority's land availability. The preponderance of multi-storey building in Glasgow at the present time is dictated not by an overall preference for that type of building, but by the fact that, because Glasgow is so short of land on which to build houses of any kind, in order to meet the needs of their people as quickly as possible they have had to accept going up rather than spreading out. But it does not necessarily follow that this would apply elsewhere.

I was glad that the noble Earl made clear in his later remarks that not every multi-storey block was a potential Ronan Point. In fact, I was in a burgh in Scotland discussing this problem yesterday. They have 13 multi-storey blocks which are being appraised at the present time. But only three of these are of the type of construction of Ronan Point, and a fourth is partly of that construction and partly otherwise. But the local authority are playing safe. They are appraising all 13 blocks. And this is happening throughout the country.

This action has perhaps created a false impression about the danger of this type of construction. It is not multi-storey blocks which are dangerous; it is the multi-storey block of a particular type of construction which may create problems. But because this was not anticipated, and because it did happen, it is only reasonable that people should look to see whether there are any other possible defects in other blocks. All of this will be taken into account. But I am quite certain—and I think the noble Earl expressed this point—that at the end of the day it will be shown that the bulk of the houses built by this method are just as safe to live in as any other type of construction.

The noble Earl went on to say that he did not believe that the traditional two-storey blocks in Scotland necessarily had any more privacy than multi-storey blocks. In fact, one of the complaints of some of the people who live in multistorey blocks is that they find themselves much more remote than they ever were in their lives. The only people they know are the ones they meet in the lift going up and down.

The noble Lord asked me about increasing the grant for repairs to these blocks. It does not figure in the Bill, and he has indicated that this is not an Amendment which will be moved. I would remind your Lordships that the Secretary of State has stated that he wishes me to make arrangements to meet any of the local authorities concerned who may wish to discuss this matter, not individually, because this would be far too time consuming; but as and when they wish to have a joint meeting to discuss this, and consider it further, I shall be very happy indeed to have this meeting.

The noble Duke referred to Clause 2 and suggested that the tolerability standards seem to be rather low. He expressed the hope that it should be regarded as a minimum to which landlords should aspire. I must point out—and I wish to emphasise this—that this is a standard below which houses are condemned; it is not a standard to which people should be aiming. After all, when they reach this they have only managed to escape condemnation, and no more. The desirable standard is the type of thing for which we wish to pay improvement grants, so that houses have all the standard amenities, including a fixed shower or bath, with hot and cold water supply; a wash-hand basin, with the same facilities; a sink and internal water closet, and so on. Certainly it is the intention that the tolerable standard will be raised as soon as possible, area by area, until the whole country is covered. One local authority have already asked about having a meeting to discuss when the standard can be raised in their area, and we have undertaken that we will consult with them about raising his as soon as it is appropriate to do so, having regard to the speed with which they tackle the houses to bring them up to the standard as it is set.

In Clause 24, on the subject of repairs, the noble Duke asked about exceptions. It is very difficult to do this; in fact this solution has been put in the Bill very largely because it has been shown how inadequate the existing powers are. Far too much time was lost in Glasgow, and other areas, before the authorities felt they could reasonably take the risk of applying the limited powers which they had in the Act, when it was quite certain that public opinion was overwhelmingly on their side, in a way which they could not have been certain about if they tried to do it a week or a fortnight after the disaster took place. We are now seeking to enable authorities to act immediately, and with real power. May I say also that the steps by which the local authority can undertake these repairs have sometimes proved, as in Glasgow, to be the cheapest way in which an owner can get things done. So it can be a decided advantage for the local authority to step in in this way.

On Clauses 37 and 38, the noble Duke said that he considered the amounts were reasonable, and he hoped that the local authorities would apply them. I can assure the noble Duke that I have missed no opportunity in the past two years of pressing on local authorities the desirability of not allowing houses which otherwise could be fit to live in for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years to become the slums which they would have to deal with 10 years or so from now. I have had a fair measure of success in this, particularly in Glasgow, where the authority agreed they would be very willing to co-operate with private owners in rehousing, where necessary, to enable these improvements to be carried out in return for an undertaking (which was given by the private owners) that they would then accept as tenants for the improved houses people who were on the housing lists. It is the intention of the Government to press local authorities to take the maximum advantage of this.

My noble friend Lord Leatherland referred, in discussion on the previous Bill, to the change of attitude in regard to giving grants to owners of privately-owned property to improve them, although, he said, people might have thought such owners should have improved their properties out of rents received a long time ago. It is an indication of a change which is taking place; I believe the local authorities share in this change of attitude, and I hope it will be easier for us to get better results than we have ever had in the past.

Finally, on the noble Duke's point, he referred to the Schedules, and to the fact that you seem to get the two-thirds and the four-fifths, but never reach all the way. I can assure him that all the way is reached, but it may be that this is not as felicitously drafted as it might have been. I will have a look at it to see whether or not there is any need to put in the Bill that in fact we reach 100 per cent. in the third and fifth years.

I was very glad to have the intervention of my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and to know that my home town of Dundee, even in its defects, can claim credit for having him sitting on these Benches to-night, instead of perhaps in another part of your Lordships' House—or, perhaps more likely, not in your Lordships' House at all. I look forward to his assistance, along with that of noble Lords opposite, in getting this Bill on to the Statute Book as quickly as possible and with the minimum of further inconvenience to your Lordships.

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