Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This simple Bill to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading is to extend for five years the time within which local authorities may give grants to individuals who are prepared to erect houses for agricultural workers, small holders and other persons of similar economic condition in the Highlands of Scotland. Part 2 of the Act of 1938 enabled local authorities to give such grants only for five years—a period that expires on 13th July next. The amount of the grant and the ways in which a grant may be earned are explained in paragraph 2 of the Financial Memorandum. Since the Act of 1938 came into operation 381 houses have been completed with grants. Some of the houses which have been approved are under construction. It was expected that a great deal more would be done with the help of the Act, but war conditions have greatly hindered progress. Therefore, it is necessary to extend the operation of the grants system for another five years. Clause 1, Sub-section (1), extends the time within which applications for assistance under the Act of 1938 may be made to local authorities by five years, from July, 1943, to July, 1948. Clause 1, Subsection (2), provides for the substitution of the new limit of date for the former limit in any scheme made by a local authority under the Act of 1938. Clause 2, Sub-section (2), is merely an application Clause.
Can my hon. Friend explain what is meant by the words:
"Subject to the provisions of any amending scheme, after the passing of this Act, by a local authority."
In the administration of any of these Acts of Parliament which enable local authorities to make grants to individuals they are subject to the preparation of a scheme by the local authority and approved by the Secretary of State, and, consequently, local authorities may desire to amend any of their existing schemes. As my hon. Friend well knows, we leave a certain amount of power to the local authorities. They may not desire to give the maximum grant; they may desire to have a varying system of grants, so we do not infringe upon their rights at all so far as this amending Bill is concerned.The grants to which I have referred are not to exceed either one-half of the cost of the house, or £160 in the case of a three-apartment house, and £200 in the case of a larger house. In every case of a grant-aided house it must be to replace a house that is unfit for habitation and has been dealt with as such by the local authority under the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1930. The houses that are to be replaced by new houses are confined to houses, bothies, chaumers, etc., occupied by agricultural workers on farms, or owner-occupied farms not exceeding 50 acres in extent or entered in the valuation roll at a gross annual value not exceeding £50, or of houses occupied by statutory small tenants or land holders, or houses in the Highlands and Islands occupied by cottars and squatters. A tenant who builds with the consent of the owner or land holder, or a statutory small tenant who is entitled to compensation at outgoing, may receive a grant from the local authority, and if compensation becomes payable in some cases, so much of the value of the house as is attributable to the grant paid is to be taken into account and deducted. The benefit of the grant will remain with the next tenant or land holder. Part II of the Act of 1938 operates where schemes are adopted by local authorities and approved by the Secretary of State. This scheme lays down the conditions subject to which a grant may be given, and a copy is sent to every applicant so that he may understand clearly what the conditions of grant are and whether he is in a position to obtain assist- ance provided by the Act we are seeking to extend. The 33 county councils in Scotland, except Bute, have schemes, so have the Town Councils of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dunfermline. The idea behind the grant is that it is for new houses to replace unfit houses situated on a farm or holding in circumstances where it is essential that the house should be near a farm or building, in cases where an agricultural worker must be near his job on the farm, where accommodation suitable to the requirements of the workers employed is not available in the locality, and where it is impracticable for the local authority to provide such accommodation under the scheme for the provision of housing accommodation for the agricultural population of the locality. Under the terms of Section 8 of Part II of the Act the Government contribute a substantial part of the grant by way of annual payments to local authorities for 40 years, representing three-quarters of the grant, except in the case of the Highlands and Islands where small holders and occupants of that kind are concerned, when the Exchequer assistance amounts to seven-eighths of the grant. That, briefly, explains the purpose of this simple and short Bill.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has just dealt so admirably with the purpose and scope of this Bill that the purpose which I wish to fulfil is rendered very simple indeed. Most of us, I am sure, remember the Act which this Bill seeks to extend for another live years and the hopes that were then engendered of dealing very effectively with the bad houses to which the Act of 1938 was intended to apply. I am sure we regret that all those houses have not been dealt with up to the present time, but hopes rise in our breasts again that before 1948 that purpose will be completely fulfilled, so far as present standards are concerned. It may be that when that time comes our ideas with regard to housing may have undergone a change for the better, and we may feel the necessity for continuing further provision of this kind for the benefit of the agricultural population. When we consider the benefit that has accrued, I am sure we are grateful that there has been such provision on the Statute Book, and I am sure we shall all be ready to agree that the provisions be continued for another five years, or as long as may be necessary.When we look at the terms of the provision that is made we see what appears to be a very small burden indeed is laid upon the local authorities and that a greater burden proportionately is laid upon the shoulders of the National Exchequer. But we must not allow ourselves to be led away with the idea that that small monetary burden, as it appears, is not something of considerable consequence to the local authorities who have to make provision for it, because in many of the areas to which these provisions apply a penny rate brings in a very small amount. The result is that a small burden of this kind is one that cannot be lightly undertaken. I am sure that the Scottish Office and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must be gratified at the way local authorities have, in the main, applied themselves to the use of the powers that have been available under the 1938 Act, and I am sure that it is the desire of all of us who wish to wipe out the bad conditions that still remain that those responsible on local authorities will bend their energies to continuing the job so removing what is, and has been for many years, a reproach to our native land.
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) praise this Bill and the way in which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary presented it to the House, because I recall vividly the Debate on the Second Reading when the original Bill was passed. On that occasion my two hon. Friends most vigorously opposed Part II of the Act, which is the very Part we are now asked to extend. Indeed, they went so far as to move an Amendment and walked into the Lobby in support of it. It is a great pleasure to know that time has modified their opposition and that experience and responsibility have changed the opinion of even so stubborn a Scotsman as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Here is a case of sinners repenting, and I am sure we are all very happy about it. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said he hoped the Bill would go on for longer than five years and that local authorities would avail themselves of this Act to the full.But I am bound to ask why this Bill has been brought before the House today. Why does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary want power to extend it for another five years? The only reason he gave us was that since the Act was passed in 1938, and with the intervention of the war, few houses have been built and it was necessary, therefore, to extend the operation of the grant system for another five years. I cannot follow that reasoning at all. If my hon. Friend wants this power extended, clearly he must have a plan in mind, and I want to ask what is the plan. Why does he ask the House for the extension of a power which he does not particularly like himself? The only answer I can offer is that he must feel that this Act is valuable and that something is going to be done with it. But even then, I am not happy about the answer, because when the Bill was before the House in 1938 it was pointed out by many hon. Members, and more particularly by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Air, that the grant given under Part II was not big enough. The right hon. Gentleman asked for its increase, at that time in 1938, by 25 per cent. He showed that the cost of building a house of this type in a country district in Scotland was £465; he said it was impossible for owners at that time to build houses costing that amount with a grant that ranged only from £160 to £200 per house; and therefore, he asked for a 25 per cent. increase. If that grant was insufficient then, how absolutely valueless must it be now, when the cost of such a house would be double £465. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has published the prices he is to pay for the houses under his rural scheme, but I should be surprised if it is possible to build any house, under the Scottish or the English scheme of rural housing, for less than £900 at the present time. Therefore, unless the Under-Secretary intends substantially to increase the grant under that Act, he is asking the House for something that is ridiculous. In these circumstances, I must assume that the grant is going to be increased. I must assume that, and unless my hon. Friend wants me to sit down so that he may counteract that view, I go on the assumption that the grant is to be substantially increased.
The assumption is wrong. It is clear to anyone who reads this very simple Bill that it merely changes a date.
I am not talking about what is in the Bill. I am asking my hon. Friend for what purpose he wants the Bill. I say he can only ask for it in order to undertake new construction in the future. Obviously this is a post-war Measure. I say that the Act, which was of such little value in 1938 that since then only 300 odd houses have been built under it, is valueless to-day, when houses cost double, unless it is to be accompanied by a substantial increase in the grant to private owners.I must recall to the House what the Act was intended originally to do and what was its origin. Why was it brought along? The Act of 1938 is composed of three parts. Part 1, with which it would be out of Order to deal to-day, gives power to local authorities themselves to build houses in the countryside. Part II gives local authorities power to give grants to private individuals, landowners, to build houses. Part III contains miscellaneous provisions. It is with Part II that we are now concerned. How did Part II come about? It was the result of the Report, in 1937, of the Committee on Rural Housing in Scotland, among the recommendations of which there appeared:
That recommendation was adopted by the Government of the day and by the House, and the Act followed. Why did the Committee make that recommendation? I submit it is essential for the House to remember the reasons to-day, because those reasons apply even more in this year than they did in 1937. The Committee set out very plainly what they had found as a result of their inquiries. They said:"We recommend that in order to expedite the provision of dwellings of a suitable health standard for agricultural workers, it should be open to County Councils for a period of five years, if they are satisfied that a tied house is radically unfit and must be replaced by a new house on the farm, to give the landowner assistance to replace the tied house."
Is not that a most pregnant sentence? In 1938 the Committee said that it was an urgent necessity; how much more important is it in 1943, when agricultural production is vital to the nation?"There is no general shortage of farm servants' houses on farms, but all witnesses who appeared before us agreed that a very large number indeed of these houses were unfit.… The National Farmers' Union informed us that the reconstruction or replacement of defective farm houses was an urgent necessity in every county in Scotland."
that is, the last war—"No appreciable number of farm cottages has been built since the war"—
I commend those figures to the House. They are most damaging and startling figures. I invite the House to reflect that that was the position six years ago, and to-day it is worse. I am speaking now as the representative of a rural constituency, pleading the case of my constituents."and until 1926 little or nothing was done to maintain farm cottages in good repair or improve them. Appendix II shows that in the three parishes surveyed, which we have no reason to believe are exceptional, 40 per cent. of the farm workers' houses were damp, 35 per cent. had no sanitary conveniences whatsoever, and 14 per cent. were beyond repair,"
Largely rural. The report continues:
The report concludes:"About 70 per cent. of the farm workers' cottages had major defects.… The main defects of farm servants' houses are dampness, absence of water and sanitary conveniences, no storage or larder accommodation, insufficient lighting, defective grates, no drainage, ashpits too near the house, cement or brick floors."
That is the platform upon which I stand. I am examining the Bill on behalf of those who are, in the opinion of that Committee, more badly housed than any other section of the population in this country. That was so in 1937? How much worse is it to-day?"We recognise that in urban slums there may be individual houses which are as bad as, if not worse than, any farm servants' cottages, but we are satisfied that in general no section of the population is compelled to live in such consistently bad housing conditions as are farm servants."
The hon. Gentleman has said that this Bill will not produce any houses. He has damned it, and now he welcomes it.
If the hon. Gentleman will listen a moment or two, he will see where I stand. So far as the Bill is a contribution to the housing position, I welcome it, but I ask the Under-Secretary, realising that these were the conditions in 1937, knowing that practically nothing has been done since then, and appreciating that the conditions to-day are, and after the war will be, infinitely worse, I ask him what is his programme? I think the House should be told before it gives this Bill a Second Reading.
If I had attempted to do such a thing, undoubtedly I would have been out of Order. It was not that I was afraid to do so.
I must remind the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) that the sole question before the House is whether the Act shall be extended for five years.
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This is a Bill prolonging the Act of 1938. Are we not entitled to regret that something was not included in the 1938 Act? Is it not virtually a Second Reading of that Act over again?
With great respect to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and while, of course, I accept your statement, may I remind you that Part II of the 1938 Act states:
The operative Section of that part of the Act is Section 4 (3, a), which states:"A local authority may, and if so required by the Department shall, submit to the Department a scheme or schemes for assisting the provision of housing accommodation in new houses.… On approval by the Department of any scheme so submitted a local authority may, in accordance therewith, give assistance, etc."
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is inviting us to extend the Act for a further five years. This would permit of the full application of Part II. Therefore, with the greatest respect, I feel that I should be in Order in discussing Part II of the Act. It is concerned substantially with the building of hew houses for farm servants on the farms. Surely, when my hon. Friend asks us to extend these powers for five years, he has something in his mind. What is it? It is not a question of his being afraid to deal with this matter. Am I to understand that he has no plan at all? How many houses is it proposed to build under this extended Act? On the basis of the Report of the Committee from which I quoted, I have worked out that Scotland will want something in the region of 270,000 new houses in its agricultural areas after the war—27,000 new houses a year. Has the Under-Secretary any plans under this Bill to meet that immense problem? What is it intended to do? How many houses does he fancy he can build under this special authority? Surely, we shall be told that before this Bill is given a Second Reading. It is not enough for the House to say that because something was not fully satisfactory before the war, we must extend it. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is quite right; up to now the thing has been a comparative failure, and if it has been a comparative failure, why should we extend the Measure? Surely, it must be because changes are to be made in the grants and because there is to be a big programme. I do not feel disposed, very readily, at any rate, to give a Second Reading to the Bill without having information along those lines. May I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a further question? In considering the application of this Bill when it becomes an Act, will he not consider changing the prerequisite of Part II? The prerequisite, as he explained, is that the house must first be demolished before another house can be built in its place. Would it not be Wise to remove that condition? Why stand in the way of building new houses wherever they may be built in the countryside? I wonder if the Scottish Office has taken a leaf out of the book of the Ministry of Health in London. The other day the right hon. Gentleman made a most urgent plea, almost in the nature of an instruction, to English local authorities. I hope we are not going to be behind an English Department. He reminded them that it took 20 years to build 4,000,000 houses after the last war and said that there were in all about 300,000 families living in houses which had already been, or would have been but for the war, condemned as slums. He said we must learn from that bitter experience and do the preliminary work which must be done now and not, as in the old days, leave it to the return of peace. Planning and thinking, however, were not enough. There must be action. He intended to inform local authorities that they need not wait for the result of the Ministry's full investigation or for a pronouncement by the Government. He was suggesting to local authorities that there were almost certain to be sites which ought to be used. In England the Department is pressing local authorities to make their post-war plans now in detail and to make all the preparations. Is anything like that being done in Scotland? If it is, I am not aware of it. I do not exaggerate the importance of this little Measure, but I think it would be a small contribution. At any rate, the Under-Secretary appears to think it is of some value. I admire the vigorous fight that the hon. Members for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) make for the better housing of their constituents. I have brought to the notice of the Secretary of State equally pressing cases on behalf of the people in my part of the world. They are living now in such houses that the women find life intolerable, the men's spirits are broken, war production is affected and the morale of the whole countryside is undermined. If you could give these people good houses, it would be worth 10 Beveridge Reports to these ploughmen of the countryside. I beg that the Government shall not only take powers but indicate clearly what they intend to do."No assistance under this Section shall be given in respect of any house unless the application for assistance is made by the local authority within five years after the passing of this Act."
I rise on behalf of my friends and myself to support the view which the hon. Member has so ably put, and I hope we shall have his company when we go into the Lobby against the Second Reading. I think that is the obvious logical conclusion of his speech.
I asked for justification of the Bill. If the Under-Secretary cannot justify the Bill better than he did, I shall certainly vote against the Measure. I expect the other Under-Secretary will have some justification to offer.
Certainly he cannot look any more sheepish and uncomfortable than the other Under-Secretary did, because I am certain that he does not like a little bit of it. I think it reflects great credit on the discretion of the Secretary of State that he has found himself unable to appear on this occasion. Indeed, I am very interested to note that there is not a single Scottish Labour Member, except two gentlemen on the Front Bench, who are rather hostages to fortune. This is a bad Measure, and the Act was a bad Measure, bad in principle and bad in practice. It was opposed very strenuously on the Second Reading and in Committee, but on the same plea that the hon. Member is making now, that it might give us a few houses and somewhat relieve the position in the rural districts, the House gave it a Third Reading without opposition if I remember rightly. But it has not fulfilled that hope. It has done nothing to relieve the situation in the rural districts. If it was no inducement, either to the owners of houses or to the counties, to go ahead energetically in the pre-war period, certainly, with conditions precisely the same, it will not stimulate the building of a single house. I am glad to see the hon. Member who was largely responsible for piloting it through when he was Under-Secretary. I am sure that, if he spoke on it now, he would stand in a white sheet, because I believe him to be an honest man, and tell us that he has to admit that in retrospect the Act has actually produced nothing.I am not prepared to accept this sort of thing as housing legislation. From the earliest days when I came into the House, the housing problem of Scotland has been an over-riding curse. There have always been Ministers, whatever their political complexion, prepared to put us off with some makeshift which would not cope with the situation at all. Now they have the war as an excuse, but it is not an adequate excuse. I am not prepared to accept the view that we have to sit still and wait until the end of the war—someone may see the end in sight; I do not—and then get all the wonderful things that are forecast for us, while no single step is being taken to make even the post-war visions take anything like concrete form. I gather that we now have a Council of State. If one reads the newspapers, one is led to believe that there is complete unity among all Scottish Members. These paragraphs appear regularly. There is a Council of State composed of ex-Secretaries of State in consultation with the present Secretary of State. Secretaries of State—Conservative, Liberal and Labour—are sitting together and pooling their best brains and getting complete agreement. About what? "That we would all like to see a better Scotland," and they say how fine and harmonious they all are. Then something concrete requires to be done and the Labour Under-Secretary for Scotland comes forward with a Measure that was produced by a Conservative Government and that he condemned as being reactionary even for that Conservative Government. It is not treating either his job or this House or Scotland in the way that each of them deserves to be treated. We are told in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill that
I do not believe this story about shortage of labour and materials. I think that it is an excuse. It was true up to a point when there was great constructive work going on in the extension of factories and aerodromes and the erection of big works necessary for the equipment and maintenance of the Services. In knocking round the West of Scotland at least I find large numbers, not of big builders, but of men who have been effective builders and have done work in the localities in an efficient way, worried about where they will be in the months not very far ahead. At this moment they are under-employed, running round doing little repairs and things of that description. I am sure that the material position is not half as bad as the Secretary of State and the Ministry of Works try to make out. I also do not believe that there has been any real expenditure of brain in exploring how far alternative methods and materials—materials that are in good supply—can be used. I think that very easily an organisation could be developed that could start giving us a decent trickle of houses now, a trickle that could increase into a stream as the general situation might become easier, a stream that would be ready to become a flood when hostilities are concluded. Then for the first time Scotland would be getting into a position to begin to tackle the housing problem in an effective way. I do not know how other Members from industrial cities are concerned. This Bill attempts to cope only with the rural position. I represent an industrial constituency, but I have many friends and contacts in rural areas, and I get letters from serving soldiers asking me to use my influence to get them houses. Imagine a soldier writing to me from the Middle East or from some other scene of operations asking that I should endeavour to get him a house because he and his wife and five children are living in a single room, and when he comes home on leave the two older children have to leave the house so that room can be found for him. That is disgraceful. I have had a letter from a tuberculosis mother who wants an additional room so that the children do not have to sleep in the same apartment as herself. These are only two samples picked out of hundreds."owing to the shortage of building labour and materials, it is unlikely that many applications for assistance under the Act will be granted between now and the end of the war."
This Bill does not refer to houses which require additional rooms but to houses which have three rooms.
They are like castles in Spain; they are imaginary houses.
The houses must contain at least three apartments.
They are the new ones, and they are to take the place of houses which are occupied by agricultural workers on farms, owner-occupiers of small farms, statutory small tenants, small landholders, and so on, who are to-day living in unsatisfactory conditions and not in three rooms. The Bill is an attempt to get in rural Scotland a certain standard of decent housing to replace a whole lot of insanitary, insufficient accommodation that is now overcrowded. We are opposing the Measure and will vote for its rejection in the Lobby because, on the experience of the Act that this Bill is extending, the provisions are not sufficient to produce houses and the provisions in existing conditions are still inadequate to cope with the situation. I was citing these cases merely to indicate to Members for English constituencies something of the nature of the horrible position in which Scottish housing, rural and urban, is in and has been in and will continue to be in unless we can force the Government to produce something better than the legislation which is proposed to-day.
Unlike the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and in a measure the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), I do not rise to oppose the Measure. I hope, however, that the Under-Secretary will take note of several of the points which have been made by these two hon. Members. The hon. Member for East Fife made an ingenious speech, full of debating points, and I hope he will forgive me if I say that I think he rather overdid it. He arraigned the Scottish Office, as we all should if we thought there had been a dereliction of duty or a neglect of the affairs they had in hand. The hon. Member, as far as I caught the gist of his speech, complained, as did the hon. Member for Bridgeton, that the Bill merely maintains the status quo so far as Scottish housing problems are concerned. Of course it does. While I should be the last man to advocate the maintenance of the status quo, I do not see, having regard to house building difficulties at the moment, how the Scottish Office can do otherwise than they are doing.
Will the hon. Member tell me how many houses have been built on his estate?
None at all. The existing legislation had been in operation for only just over a year, I think, before the outbreak of the war. I had obtained estimates for two houses under the Act of 1938 and they came more or less to the figure quoted by the hon. Member for East Fife, £460. I hope the hon. Member will take that as a token of my own good faith and intentions in the matter.
Two estimates but no houses.
That is an interruption which is rather unworthy of my hon. Friend. There were no houses because of the difficulties imposed by the war. I will admit right away that the amount of the estimate did rather astonish me, even in those days. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said some four or five weeks ago that pounds, shillings and pence are only symbols now, a statement for which he was taken to task in the admirable wireless speech of the Prime Minister on Sunday. While I do not agree that pounds, shillings and pence are merely symbols, I will say, and I think the hon. Member for Bridgeton must agree with me, that the war has entirely altered our ideas of monetary values. The ideas current before 3rd September, 1939, no longer exist. Therefore we have to approach this problem—I see that your eye is upon me, Mr. Speaker, and I realise from what your predecessor said that I shall not be entitled to speak upon all that was omitted from the Act of 1938, but since the Debate has taken a somewhat wider turn, I thought you might perhaps allow me to comment briefly upon the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bridgeton and the hon. Member for East Fife, and I was merely backing up in part what has been said by the hon. Member for East Fife in calling attention to the deplorable state of housing in rural Scotland. Perhaps in my own constituency, the county in which I have lived all my life, conditions are not so bad, though heaven knows they are bad enough, as in some other parts of the country, especially in the kind of mixed constituency which my hon. Friend represents. I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, when he comes to reply, will be able to lift the curtain a little in regard to the Government's intentions for the future. A lot has been said about landlords' difficulties, and I was very glad to hear the applause which came from such an unexpected quarter. When I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton applauding I said to myself, "This is a case of Saul being among the prophets."
If ever I applauded the landowners of Scotland, it must have been in a fit of very serious mental aberration.
I do not think anyone in this House can accuse the hon. Member for Bridgeton of ever being in that condition; but perhaps I have been overstating it. It was when the hon. Member for East Fife was calling attention to the sums which landowners would be required to pay—£460 in times of peace had gone up to £900 or £1,000 to-day; that caused my hon. Friend to applaud. I now understand why. It was because he knew that owing to the ridiculous ramshackle structure we still support, it was impossible for housing conditions to be put right by landlords. But this is only by the way. Despite the advice and comments and criticisms which have come from both the hon. Member for East Fife and the hon. Member for Bridgeton, I still think the Government have a right to bring in this Bill to ask us to prolong an existing Act of Parliament, but I sincerely hope that it is merely an earnest of what they intend to do in the future, and that landowners will be put in a position to deal with the wants of the biggest section of the agricultural community. There are three sections——
I was about to rise, because I thought the hon. Member was going into the whole question of agricultural policy.
No, Sir, with very great respect, I was going to say that of the three sections of the agricultural community, who are all affected by this Bill, upon the landlords, who are the smallest category, will fall the greatest financial burden. The other two sections are the tenant farmers and the agricultural workers, the last-named being the biggest and by far the most deserving section—I hope that will satisfy the hon. Member for Bridgeton—and they have to live under the appalling conditions which were outlined, though only mildly outlined, by the hon. Member for East Fife and the hon. Member for Bridgeton. Of course, the hon. Member for Bridgeton does not speak at first hand of the rural areas. He knows what the conditions are in Bridgeton, and they are just as bad in the rural areas.
I think it would be better if the hon. Member addressed me and not the hon. Member for Bridgeton.
With great respect, I did not mean to give the impression that I was not addressing you, Sir. It was because of his asides that I turned to him. I was saying that among the three sections in agriculture the entire financial burden of this Bill falls upon the landlords. I want to see in Scotland a fair adjustment among these three sections of the community. Although in the last few months rural matters have been discussed from time to time, and the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has drawn attention to landlords' liabilities and obligations, we do not often hear anything said about landlords, and I think it is imperative that the Under-Secretary should keep this question very much under consideration. Let me say, speaking solely so far as Scotland is concerned, that the landlord is a rentier, and I hope that I shall not be guilty of an unparliamentary expression when I say that is a term which stinks in the nostrils of the community, but we have been told by spokesmen of the Labour party that it would not be their immediate intention if they were installed in office to do away with him.
The hon. Member is going beyond the terms of the Bill.
Therefore we have to visualise a state of affairs obtaining after the war in which the landlords will still be responsible for their estates and will have to continue to assume the obligations which they have had up to now. That is the point I want to impress upon the Under-Secretary, and that is the point which I thought won applause from the hon. Member for Bridgeton, though no doubt I was wrong. We all agree that the deplorable state of rural housing in Scotland is in no way met by the prolongation of the Act, and if the Under-Secretary can lift the curtain even an inch and tell us that the Government are really awake to the conditions of rural housing, I am sure that will meet with general approval.
After the entertaining and penetrating speech of my hon. Friend, very little more remains to be said on that side of the subject. I want to ask two questions, one of which was mentioned by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). Speaking for a constituency which is at any rate 50 per cent. rural, I would like to know whether we in Scotland, where housing is so much worse, are to get comparable treatment with England on this burning question and, if not, why not? As to the second question, the Under-Secretary of State will remember that not very long ago he paid a visit to Fenwick to inspect some pre-fabricated houses, which I think he commended for the countryside. Is anything further to be done about that matter? Those are points which need answering, because it is clear from the Bill that we shall not get any houses in the rural areas of Scotland in the next three years. It is a little difficult to see why Parliamentary time should be taken up in introducing the Bill at all, except almost as a matter of form. I would remind the Minister that we have not yet had a statement on this matter. I have to bring a deputation to the Secretary of State next week because of the appalling conditions of squatters in Kilmarnock. Are not we to have some clear-cut policy? We need a little more than an explanation of the Bill—which is, after all, on the cover—and a little more indication of what the policy is in Scotland. If the Minister will tell us that, we shall be a little more enlightened about the Bill.
I should like to associate myself with the remarks that have been made about the inadequacy of this Measure. What we want is houses, but it is evident that Scotland has arrived at the most deplorable condition to be found in any part of Britain. We recognise the efforts of the Secretary of State for Scotland and his very admirable Joint Under-Secretaries, but the result has been totally inadequate. I would welcome some suggestion from the Joint Under-Secretary of State who is to reply that he will call a committee together to see how far the small builders in Scotland can help to relieve this dreadful situation. I have in my possession a letter written by a soldier. He mentions a case in which 15 people are living in one small house—a wife and four children in each of three rooms. It is now 1943, and there is no sign that we are about to improve that state of affairs. We all recognise the difficulties, but really if we have come to a point where, after three years of war, this situation is going from bad to worse, we are no friends of the Government if we merely say that this state of affairs is inevitable. It is disgraceful.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this is not a Bill under which the general housing conditions of Scotland can be discussed.
If it is not a Bill under which the general housing conditions of Scotland can be discussed, all I can say is that it is a very great pity that the Bill has not been produced in a form that would allow us to bring before this House the dreadful housing conditions under which our Scottish citizens are living.
I do not know how far I may—in fact I dare not—traverse the wide open spaces of Debate which we have so far witnessed, and I must stick to the somewhat narrow road which we are continuing in this Bill into the bigger future. The remark for which I was most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) was his reference to the fact that he appreciates my difficulties. There are certain difficulties in replying, because we have covered a great deal of ground in this Debate and I fear that I might be out of Order if I attempted to reply to some of the observations which have been made.At the start let us not be confused about this Measure. It is nothing but a war-time Measure, carrying on for a specific period, a limited thing. There has been some confusion. I do not think it is fair to compare a limited Measure of this nature to the big plans that are being made or are under way. Whether I dare go beyond that point I do not know, but I would first like to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) who clearly recognised the limited nature of the Measure and gave it a welcome. He did not expect tremendous things from it, because he recognised those limitations. Even my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) welcomed the Bill at one stage of his remarks. I was not sure whether he was welcoming it or repelling it on the whole, but at one stage he recognised that the Bill made a limited contribution. I take it that something is better than nothing. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who interrupted me, is one who would rather have no loaf at all, than a slice of bread, even though it should only be a thin slice. That seems to me to be illogical and does not at all square with the view that housing conditions are deplorable.
My position is this. This legislation creates the illusion that something is being done for Scotland, therefore we should be better without it.
Something is being done for Scottish rural housing in this Bill. The figure given of houses completed is 381 but that does not cover the whole picture. Apart from the houses completed, there are 201 under construction at the present moment. A total of 691 houses approved indicates the progress that would have been made had not the war supervened. They would be completed but for problems connected with building materials and labour. We should have received quite a useful amount of help from this Measure and I therefore submit that even if the Measure is not on a large scale it is of some help. It is carrying us on until we can do the really big thing. There is a rural housing advisory committee which is investigating housing matters including rural housing, and things like alternative building materials, methods of construction and so on, in association with the Burt Committee. In fact, there is a great deal of preparation going on for the big progress which we desire to see and into which I hope the narrow path that we are traversing to-day will broaden.Perhaps the hon. Member for East Fife will forgive me if I say that I was in some difficulty at times in following precisely what he wanted in the Bill, until, finally, he said that he would oppose it unless he received a satisfactory reply. I think that if he examines the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see that his statements were sometimes mutually contradictory. Therefore I have some difficulty in replying to him. When he twitted my hon. Friend with having changed the opinions which he held in peace-time, I wondered whether there was any hon. Member in this House who could put his hand on his heart and say that he has not experienced any change of opinion, in regard to any single thing, since he came into this House.
Oh yes, there is one, anyway.
I am very glad. I bow in all humility and repeat that I am very glad to hear it. Another point raised by my hon. Friend was whether the grant was to be increased. That was replied to and the answer is, "No." To increase it under war-time conditions might prove to be two-edged. While we desire to get all the improved houses we can under war-time conditions, we do not want to raise false hopes which we know cannot be met. If an increase of grant were held out, we might get such a flood of demands that we could not possibly meet them and the Measure would become a dead letter in operation. What the future may hold is another matter and what the housing committee may recommend on this point I do not know. Neither would it be proper for me to anticipate. Therefore no hope can be held out of an increase in the grant now.
I apologise for interrupting but I think everyone knows that the 1938 Act was, more or less, a failure because of the inadequacy of the grant. Surely if the powers are being extended, the grant must also be extended because it is quite impossible for people to build houses at to-day's costs on the existing grant. That is where I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). Is it definite Government policy that the grant remains as it stands?
I would point out the powers we are seeking to have extended in this Bill, are due to expire. Therefore, the immediate need is to carry forward these powers. What happens when these powers are renewed, is a matter for consideration. I am not closing the door on this matter at all, but I am not prepared to commit my right hon. Friend. I merely say that what my hon. Friend has said, together with what other hon. Members have said, will be noted in relation to the efficacy of the Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife concentrated mainly on the point, and expressed a desire which we all share, that we should tackle this problem of rural housing in real earnest. Let me assure him that despite anything that has been said by the hon. Member for Bridgeton my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the rest of us most earnestly desire that the blots in rural housing—do not let us pretend it is all bad, for it is not—shall be wiped out. We are very sincere and very keen about that. After all, the hon. Member for Bridgeton recognised that there may be, what could be called slums in the country as well as in the cities and towns. I can assure him that, taking that long-term view, we shall not rest in the matter.I do not agree with hon. Members who say that this Measure has been a complete failure in the past. It has brought relief to quite a number of homes in the sense of improved conditions, and if it is not as great as we think it should be, let us remember that this is all assistance given to private owners and that owners of many other houses will have improved them without that grant. Let us not imagine that no house is being improved save with this particular assistance. The hon. Member for Bridgeton opposes the Bill on principle. It is difficult to see, as I said earlier, how he squares that point of view with his denunciation of the housing conditions in our countryside. It would certainly have been my own view, and I have taken a good deal of interest in housing, on the back benches as well as in office, that the housing position is such that I would do almost anything to get houses for the people. Whether that is a right principle or a wrong one, I have seen so much deplorable housing that it has weighed with me most deeply. Therefore, I beg of the hon. Member not to despise even this Measure. I suggest that here are some people who are going to be helped by this limited Bill. We do not pretend that it will stimulate housing. In wartime there are profound limitations. I venture to suggest that if we were in the piping days of peace my right hon. Friend might be bringing forward a different Measure.
The previous Measure was brought forward in the piping days of peace.
Yes, the original Act, but I am dealing with the limited sphere of this particular Bill. I should not be in Order, I think, in discussing the whole Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway stressed what I have already mentioned, the problem of the building difficulties. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) shared the anxiety of the House that our rural housing problems should be tackled earnestly and vigorously at the earliest possible moment. That is certainly the determination of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) asked me whether we were receiving comparable treatment with England. I am not quite sure what he had in mind specifically on that point.
I simply had in mind the announced programme of house-building in England.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, because there we are in some difficulty, as the allocation of that housing to Scotland does not come within the scope of this Bill.
All I want to know is whether this is part of the greater attack on the problem. No reference was made to that point so far as I know?
No, Sir; this is specifically a wartime Measure. The really big plans are being thought out. This is something we are doing under wartime conditions.
But other plans are under way?
Yes, plans are being worked on.
There is a committee?
The Housing Advisory Committee is going into these plans and preparing them. It has been announced that a large number of houses are required. I can assure the hon. Member that a great deal is being done on that subject. The second point my hon. Friend raised was the question of alternative building materials and forms of building. I will just repeat was I said earlier that the Burt Committee, which is a United Kingdom Committee, is sitting on this subject and investigating all sorts of alternative materials and construction, including pre-fabrication.
Is the Advisory Committee for Scotland also doing so?
Yes, Sir. I have endeavoured to deal with most of the points raised. I trust I have satisfied the hon. Member for East Fife that we are not being slackers in this matter. I do not dare hope that the hon. Member for Bridgeton will reconsider his position, though I trust that he will, because we desire, if we possibly can, to have this Measure, although it is limited, passed without a Division.
The Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland has given to the House a most convincing case why we should reject this apology for a Bill which could be termed a "Crumbs for Lazarus" Bill. As I understand, it is a continuation of a Bill which was originally introduced, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has observed, in 1938. Now the hon. Gentleman comes along with a puny infant and asks this House to administer some oxygen to keep it alive because, as he states most candidly, if we do give the Bill a Second Reading the most this House and Scotland can expect is some sort of committee. The Bill is for the housing of the rural population in Scotland. Yet the Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland cannot
Division No. 10.
|Adamson, W. M. (Cannock)||Bennett, Sir P. F. B. (Edgbaston)||Cary, R. A.|
|Agnew, Comdr. P. G.||Blair, Sir R.||Cazalet, Col. V. A.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'd., W.)||Bower, Norman (Harrow)||Clarry, Sir Reginald|
|Apsley, Lady||Bower, Comdr. R. T. (Cleveland)||Cobb, Captain E. C.|
|Assheton, R.||Bowles, F. G.||Cocks, F. S.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham E.)||Bracken, Rt. Hon. B.||Colegate, W. A.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Brass, Capt. Sir W.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Barr, J.||Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R.||Craven-Ellis, W.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Brooke, H. (Lewisham)||Crowder, Capt. J. F. E.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Brown, Brig-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Culverwell, C. T.|
|Beattie, F. (Cathcart)||Burden, T. W.||Daggar, G.|
|Beaumont, Maj. Ht. R. E. B. (P'ts'h)||Cadogan, Major Sir E.||Davidson, Viscountess (H'm'l H'mst'd)|
|Beechman, N. A.||Campbell, Sir E. T. (Bromley)||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeevil)|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Campbell, J. D. (Antrim)||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
promise a single brick, to bring a single house to those people in Scotland.
I said that materials and labour were limited, not that they were non-existent.
The fault of the Joint Under-Secretary is that he has no vision, but he is backed by a docile bloc from across the Border—I include the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)—who are ready to assent to any proposal which comes from Edinburgh. If the hon. Member for Bridgeton will have a Division, I will gladly tell with him.
We are going to have a Division.
I am obliged to the hon. Member. It is high time that hon. Members from Scotland took a little more notice of their English colleagues, and had a little more flesh and blood and guts in them. I suppose that the big battalions behind the Under-Secretary will give the Bill its Second Reading. If the hon. Member would only consult Members from just over the Border—I will not mention England——
The hon. Member had better confine himself to Scotland.
I am going to sit down. But I wish that the Scottish people and the Press of Scotland would realise how they are served in this House. So long as we have Bills like the Rural Depopulation Bill—which is what it amounts to—which I call the "Crumbs for Lazarus Bill," Scotland is going to be as badly served in future.
Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House divided: Ayes, 235; Noes, 9.
|Dobbie, W.||Kirby, B. V.||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Donner, Squadron-Leader P. W.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Lawson, J. J.||Scott, Lord William (Ro'b'h & Selk'k)|
|Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich)||Leach, W.||Selley, H. R.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W. D.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Leonard, W.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Liddall, W. S.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Linstead, H. N.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Etherton, Ralph||Lipson, D. L.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Lloyd, C. E. (Dudley)||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Fermoy, Lord||Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.)||Somerset, T.|
|Foot, D. M.||Locker-Lampion, Commander O. S.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B.|
|Frankel, D.||Loftus, P. C.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Fraser, Lt.-Col. Sir Ian (Lonsdale)||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Southby, Comdr. Sir A. R. J.|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Mabane, W.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Furness, Major S. N.||McCallum, Major D.||Storey, S.|
|Galbraith, Comdr. T. D.||McCorquodale, Malcolm S.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Macdonald, Captain Peter (I. of W.)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Gates, Major E. E.||McEntee, V. La T.||Strickland, Capt. W. F.|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Mack, J. D.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Gibbins, J.||McKie, J. H.||Summers, G. S.|
|Gledhill, G.||Makins, Brig-Gen. Sir E.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Glyn, Sir R. G. C.||Mander, G. le M.||Sykes, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. Sir F. H.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Martin, J. H.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Mathers, G.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.||Thomas, I. (Keighley)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Molson, A. H. E.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge)||Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Thorne, W.|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M. (Altrincham)||Morrison, Major J. G. (Salisbury)||Thorneycroft, Major G. E. P. (Stafford)|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Islington, N.)||Mort, D. L.||Thorneycroft, H. (Clayton)|
|Gunston, Major Sir D. W.||Nall, Sir J.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.||Naylor, T. E.||Touche, G. C.|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.|
|Hardie, Agnes||Nicholson, Captain G. (Farnham)||Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)|
|Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G. (Leicester, W.)||Walkden, E. (Doncaster)|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Nunn, W.||Walker, J.|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Oldfield, W. H.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Hewlett, T. H.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Waterhouse, Capt. C.|
|Hill, Prof. A. V.||Pearson, A.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Perkins, W. R. D.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. H. (Richmond)|
|Holdsworth, H.||Petherick, Major M.||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Horabin, T. L.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Westwood, J.|
|Hughes, R. M.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Price, M. P.||White, H. (Derby, N.E.)|
|Hunter, T.||Procter, Major H. A.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)|
|Hutchinson, G. C. (Ilford)||Pym, L. R.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|James, Wing-Com. A. (Well'borough)||Radford, E. A.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Raikes, Flight-Lieut. H. V. A. M.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Jeffreys, Gen. Sir G. D.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Willink, H. U.|
|Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Windsor-Clive, Lt.-Col. G.|
|Jennings, R.||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham (St. M.)||Woodburn, A.|
|Jewson, P. W.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|John, W.||Rickards, G. W.||Wootton-Davies, J. H.|
|Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. (Stl'g & C'km'n)||Riley, B.||Wragg, H.|
|Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Roberts, W.||Wright, Group Capt. J. (Erdington)|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Robertson, D. (Streatham)||York, Major C.|
|Kerr, Sir John Graham (Scottish U's)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Kimball, Major L.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
|King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)||Mr. Boulton and Captain|
|Salt, E. W.||McEwen.|
|Buchanan, G.||McGovern, J.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||MacLaren, A.|
|Kirkwood, D.||Muff, G.|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
|McGhee, H. G.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Mr. Maxton and Mr. Stephen.|
Bill read accordingly a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day.—[ Captain McEwen.]