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Clause I—(Extension Of Time For Applying For Assistance Under S 4 Of The Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938)

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 6 May 1943

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Clause stand part of the Bill."

I have a question I should like to put to the Under-Secretary for Scotland. In the Second Reading Debate the hon. Gentleman used these words:

"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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1943; col. 1687, Vol. 387.]
It is because I could not follow the word "therefore," in other words because I could not get an explanation of the need for extension, that I want to ask a question. It would seem to be a simple point. If you ask Parliament to extend the operation of a certain Act, it means that you propose to do something with that Act. I must assume that that is so. If it is so, I must ask my hon. Friend what he is going to do, and in answering that question I feel that he must give some indication of what changes he is going to make. This Bill extends the Act which provided grants of from £160 to £200 per house. That was when houses were selling at less than £500 each. To-day, I gather the houses that are being built in Scotland for agricultural workers are costing £1,100. If the grant in 1938 for houses costing £500 was inadequate, as it was argued then, it must be wholly useless now. If my hon. Friend is to persuade me that this Bill is worth while, he must persuade me that he will not only do something with that provision but will adapt it to present circumstances. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to give me an assurance on that matter. He did not do so on Second Reading.

I shall endeavour in as few words as possible to give the reason for the Clause which is now before the Committee. It is to make it possible for a local authority to continue making grants where applications are made under Part II of the Act. The Act provided that grants should be payable until July, 1943, but if this Clause is accepted, they will be payable till 1948. Applications are still coming in. That is the reason why I used the word "therefore." Applications are still coming in from individuals to local authorities for the purpose of getting the grant provided by the present Act, which we are now seeking to amend. If the Act is not amended by the Clause now before the Committee, these grants must cease on 13th July, 1943. The whole purpose of the Clause before the Committee is merely to change the date to make it possible for these grants to continue until 1948 instead of ending on 13th July, 1943. That is the explanation for the word "therefore" which I used. Applications are still coming in and we want to enable the local authority to continue making these grants.

Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us something more detailed than this strangely reiterated sentence "Applications are still coming in"? He said that three times in his short speech. It seemed to me to suggest that there were not very many applications, but by repeating the statement three times he made them into a stage army. In the piping times of peace when these grants bore some relation to the cost of the houses, they might have been attractive to an owner who was proposing to do something in this direction. The Under-Secretary will admit, I think, that applications came to him at a very slow pace indeed. I forget what the total number was over the whole period for the whole of Scotland.

I do not think we ought to include houses under construction because presumably their finance is settled. They will get their money all right whether this Act is continued or not. If we add 218 to the figure we have just heard, will 500 houses revolutionise the lives of the Scottish workers on the soil? This is presumably post-war policy. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head but this is all that is before us now. This is a proposal for five years ahead. That is what concerns me, because we know perfectly well that all these years we have been fobbed off with that sort of argument. What is the good of putting legislation on the Statute Book if local authorities do not take advantage of it? I want the hon. Gentleman, before we agree to this Clause, to tell us how many applications are in, from how many counties they have come, if possible what are the counties and what is the total number of houses that are being held up if the Committee does not agree to this Clause.

I cannot give accurate figures at the moment as to the number of applications that are being made by the local authorities. Neither do I want to try to convince the Committee that this is a great contribution in connection with housing. It is not. Difficulties arose because of the outbreak of war and the Act never had a chance to operate as it should have operated but for the outbreak of war. This proposal does not add to the number of houses. What it does is to make provision for new houses to be built in place of houses condemned as unfit for human habitation. If 15 or 20 or 30 houses are built in that way, it means that 15 or 20 or 30 families are going to live under decent conditions instead of under the intolerable conditions of the present time. I do not want the hon. Member, or the Committee, to imagine that we claim this as part of post war housing policy. It has nothing to do with that. It is merely an extension of a date in an Act of Parliament already passed to enable us to do something at least for those who can, and are willing to, come forward to improve conditions of housing in their localities.

I am really a little surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to give us the figures, approximately, of the applications, even if they do not amount to a lot. Even if the number was only ten it might give some confirmation. In fact I am getting to the stage that when I get one house in Glasgow, I go home as if I had been born again. I really think he might have tried to give us the approximate number. Is it 15, is it 20?

In other areas there is a simpler procedure, if you want the grant to continue, without this business. At least, there is to be an attempt to get us something, and I hope that in Scotland there will be no difference of opinion between what I call the country districts and the towns on the needs for housing. I feel that there is something here because it is continued from year to year. But I also feel that after the five years, if this goes along, we may be told, at the end, that we have done something for the agricultural workers, when there was the 1938 Act on the Statute Book for two years. If it was an expiring law running out, the demand to pass a completely new Bill would in my opinion have been impossible to resist. You are acting in this matter contrary to what you have done with most other things.

Then, as regards the £200 for the cost of building—not an attractive figure now, in fact it never was attractive—I do ask the Under-Secretary to consider whether, in Scotland, in general, there is not going to be some building even during the war period. If this Measure is to replace what are described as uninhabitable houses, I think that this Measure, even in war-time, is not the only thing to be said about uninhabitable houses in Scotland. I hope the Government have fixed the five-year limit for people living under uninhabitable conditions. I know the Government can find a reason round anything. In fact, I think the Under-Secretary and the rest of them can find a reason for their own existence, which is always difficult. I say it sincerely that I am not against discussing Bermuda or refugees and I am not against the agricultural people, but I often wish I could get the people in the House of Commons and the country to realise our housing conditions in Scotland. I feel that this talking about a five-year plan is trifling with the question. It is the greatest human scourge in the world—the state of housing conditions in my native country. It is terrible and I plead with the Under-Secretary not to talk of this five-year plan. I think that much more urgent is this, the greatest human problem of the moment.

A point was raised by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) on the question of grants. It does not matter whether it is a five- or a ten-year plan or a thousand-year plan. There is no assistance in building houses. It is a very small number that is proposed by the Bill but what about those that will not be in the Bill, costing £10,000 or £12,000 which is the figure we have received? Who is to meet this cost of about £160 per house? Is it the local authorities? They say no. Is it contended that an agricultural worker with a £3 minimum, is able to pay £60 in rent to be able to live in one of these houses? The number of houses is pettifogging, of course, but the number of houses is far too much if there is not to be some financial measure so that the Committee can be told that there is reasonable possibility of their being occupied. If the rents are to be fixed beyond the limits of what the agricultural worker can pay, then the houses might as well not be built at all. You will not build them any cheaper under this Bill. From which source is the revenue to be found to allow tenants to live in these houses? If there is not a far greater measure of financial support, I cannot see any reasonable prospect of any local authority embarking on a scheme of building.

The local authorities do not build these houses. It is Part II of the Act that is being amended. Under Part 1 of the Act the local authorities do build houses and we have already allocated 200 houses to local authorities.

No, you have got 20. Under Part II provision is made for £160 for a three-roomed house and £200 for a for a four-roomed or larger house and we are only continuing these grants. We are not seeking to change them. The issue is a perfectly clear one. The Money Resolution now limits us to the contributions which will be paid. These contributions were fixed by the previous Act and I want to point out that the real difficulty of bringing this Bill within the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill would be the fact that a Money Resolution would be required. We could not get this Bill without the Money Resolution which has already been approved. I understand that there are about 15 applications at present. They are reported to the Department every six months. We do not want to limit within the next five years the numbers of these grants being paid where application is made.

Surely I am not asking too much in a Committee stage. Does the Under-Secretary say that- he requires notice in advance? Surely he does not want me to give him a month's notice when he is bringing forward a Bill in this House?

All I can say is that I can try to get the information for the hon. Member.

It so happens that there are less than 40 counties in Scotland, so that my geography seems to be all right in that respect if my statistics are not for the time being. I hope that we are going to get this Clause. It is a question of merely changing the date so as to make available the time to continue the grants which have been continued up to the present time for five years. They would cease to operate on 15th July this year unless this particular Clause were approved. I can assure everyone who has taken part in this Debate that this Clause and the Bill will not be allowed to stand in the way of the real problem we have to face as far as post-war housing in Scotland is concerned. I appreciate very much the point made by different Members on this Clause. We are all keenly interested in Scotland in trying to solve our housing problem. I want no obstacle to be placed in the way. This is merely a contribution towards dealing with the problem and I hope that we shall be able to get this Clause.

Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", put, and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report the Bill, without Amendment, to the House."

I am profoundly dissatisfied that the Government should have brought forward this Measure at this time. It was a bad Bill in principle to begin with. It provided for the spending of public money in converting houses for private owners and making uninhabitable houses habitable and leaving the ownership in the hands of the proprietors—subsidising private owners to put their property in decent repair and to provide decent facilities for their own employees. You had to bribe Scottish landlords to the extent of £200 a house to make their own cottages decent, and then you left them absolutely in control of these houses.

The hon. Member seems to me to be making what in effect is a Third Reading speech, and I think that if he desires to make any remarks on these lines, they will be more appropriate on the Third Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

It is perhaps within the recollection of the House that on the Report stage of this Measure I was preparing to offer a few remarks, but the Chairman suggested that I should postpone them to a later stage. I was saying that the Bill was bad in principle when first introduced, but if my memory serves me correctly the House finally let it go on the Third Reading stage on the plea that is made now, namely, that supposing it only eased the housing situation of rural Scotland infinitesimally it was well worth while. It has eased the housing problem in rural Scotland over a period of five years to the extent of 300 odd houses, and another 200 are in process of construction, that is, 500 in toto. The Minister comes and tells the House that it is urgent, that it should be continued for another five years. It is a bad Bill. He told us in his initial speech on the Committee stage that they were getting new applications, and we all thought of the hundreds of applications coming in from all the counties of Scotland. He is very loth to give figures when pressed about it and says he ought to have notice and so on, and then he produces his mouse—15 applications, from probably two counties of the whole of rural Scotland. I do not know whether he has found yet how many counties are involved in the 15 applications. Obviously, the Bill has exhausted any usefulness it might have had. There have been 15 applications in the last six months. The number will be less the next six months, and yet he is asking the House of Commons to take the responsibility on its shoulders. Every one of us has to go to his constituency, and he will be asked the question, "Is it the case that in the House of Commons you supported a rural housing scheme for Scotland of such and such a kind?" If we do not protest here, we shall have to admit that it is true that we did support this miserable Measure. The Joint Under-Secretary promises that it is not the post-war housing scheme. I have followed the Government's utterances, and I know the various committees on which he is playing such a very active part, but I do not know the concrete policy of Scottish housing.

This is outside the scope of this Bill, and I am afraid that on the Third Reading the hon. Member must confine himself to the Bill.

I am responding—and perhaps I should not have done it—to the old argument used by the Joint Under-Secretary in commending the Measure to the House, but I merely make the remark in passing that I do not know what is the concrete evidence he has for telling us that we are going to have a different housing policy for the post-war situation. This Bill is bad in principle. It has not produced houses. A large number of us here believe even that when a Bill is bad in principle, if it produced houses in reasonable numbers, that would have excused its vicious principle, but this Bill was bad in principle and produced very few houses and the number it is producing is diminishing and is now almost at vanishing point. If the hon. Gentleman had the courage of his political convictions, he would have stood at that Box and told us that he could not see his way to continue the operations of the Scottish Rural Housing Bill for another period of five years, because it had not justified its existence. I am against the Measure. I only refrain from not voting against the Third Reading because I do not want to put the House to the inconvenience of a Division at this hour, but I want to record very definitely my complete antagonism to the continuation of the Measure.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.