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Clause 2—(Power Of Local Authorities To Retain For Temporary Occupation Certain Houses In Clearance Areas)

Volume 527: debated on Monday 17 May 1954

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I beg to move, in page 2, line 45, to leave out the first "may" and to insert:

"where the demolition such a building is so postponed, shall."
It might be for the convenience of the Committee if, with this Amendment, we take that in the name of the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin)—in line 2, at end, insert "without delay" —and the three in the name of my right hon. Friend one in page 2, line 45, and the others in page 4, line 5. I suggest that all the Amendments form one part.

That is quite true, but before we can take the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Tradeston we must first take that part of the Amendment of the Secretary of State which is to leave out the first "may."

Further to that, Sir Charles, during the Committee stage—on which, I understand, we are still engaged —the Amendment to which my name and that of other of my hon. Friends is subscribed was dealt with on its own. I fail to see why, after special consideration was promised, it should now be linked up with other Amendments not directly related to it.

The hon. Member put down as an Amendment to the Amendment in line 2, at the end to insert "without delay."

The point of my hon. Friend's remarks is that he objects to the suggestion made by the Joint Undersecretary that all the Amendments on page 2611 of the Order Paper shall be taken together, and you, Sir Charles, have suggested that we deal with the second Amendment, after dealing with the first part of the first Amendment.

The Amendment of the Secretary of State is first to leave out "may" and then to insert some words. The hon. Member for Tradeston cannot move his Amendment to the proposed Amendment until we have dealt with the Amendment to leave out the first "may."

These Amendments deal with different things. The first two deal with whether, at the end of Clause 2, the wording should be mandatory or permissive and the second Amendment deals with whether there should or should not be delay—whether the postponement should be a long or a short postponement. They are two different things. I understand that the proposition before the Committee at the moment is that all these five Amendments should be taken together, but, the third Amendment—in page 2, line 45, after the second "may," to insert, "in the opinion of the authority" deals with an entirely different question. It deals with the question of whether the Secretary of State should or should not be of a certain opinion.

There would be some ground for taking the two Amendments in page 4, line 5, together. They are on the point of whether it should be mandatory or permissive and they are of the same form. My respectful submission is that, the Amendment standing in the name of the Secretary of State in page 2, line 45 and that in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), in line 2, are two separate and distinct things. The third Amendment is separate and distinct from both of them. I therefore submit that in logic and in common sense the three should be so taken that the arguments relevant to each of those three different topics can be adduced separately and Divisions, if necessary, taken on them separately.

I hope that the Committee will accept the Ruling you have given, Sir Charles. Before dealing with the other Amendments, we must dispose of the first. The others hinge on the acceptance or rejection of the Amendment in the name of She Secretary of State.

I think that the hon. Member did not state what I said. The Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Tradeston is to add words at the end of the Amendment in the name of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's Amendment is a double one. It seeks to leave out a word and then to insert words. Before we can proceed to put words in we must deal with the first part of the Amendment, which is to leave out a word.

The Government Amendment is put down in implementation of an undertaking which I gave in the Standing Committee to see what could be done to strengthen the wording of this particular subsection. Its purpose is to make it clear that there is a definite obligation on local authorities to carry out such patching work as may from time to time be required.

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, at the end, to insert "without delay."

The point of this Amendment led to some discussion earlier in Standing Committee. It did so because we on this side of the Committee are considerably worried about the effects of this Clause, which governs those areas which are designated clearance areas but in which, for one reason or another, the local authority may decide to retain a particular dwelling house. Those of us who are familiar with these circumstances know that many of these dwelling houses are in a very serious state of disrepair, and because they may be retained in use for at least 15 years, and in some cases for even longer, we want to ensure that they will be put into a good condition from the point of view of tenantability.

5.0 p.m.

For that reason, in the Standing Committee I moved that the works to be carried out on a house to put it into a good state of repair should be carried out without delay. The Government promised to consider the matter and see what they could do to strengthen the Cause. They have gone one-third of the way. I suggested that the words to be added should be "shall without delay." The Government gave serious consideration to the matter and decided to adopt the word "shall," but not the words "without delay." They have, as I say, gone one-third of the road with me. [Interruption.] I shall deal with the words "without delay" in due course, if the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) will give me time. We have lots of time. The whole of the evening and perhaps the whole morning still lie in front of us. I have only reached the word "shall."

I wonder why, when the Government set out in my company, they left me after they had gone a third of the way. I do not know what the Joint Under-Secretary of State was thinking about. He was in good company, and I think he might have continued with me. This is an important Amendment to an important Clause, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman having started to accompany me, I do not want him to be distracted at any point of the journey by the Lord Advocate with whom he is conversing.

Now I come to the reason why I should like the words "without delay" incorporated in the proposed Amendment. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has strengthened the Clause to some extent, but I think that the omission of the words "without delay" creates a serious weakening of the action that the local authority may be able to take. On both sides of the Committee we agree that these houses must be dealt with, but it is quite clear that they will not be dealt with by the great housebuilding firms, who will be building new houses. This type of work will be relegated to the jobbing contractors.

My hon. Friend suggests that the direct labour departments might be able to deal with this work, but the trouble is that the direct labour departments are not a common feature of all local authorities. The progressive authorities, and particularly those under the control of Labour, have got direct labour departments, but it is not a common feature in all local authority administration, and, therefore, we cannot really depend upon it. In any event, I should hope that all those local authorities which have direct labour departments will be engaged in the construction of new houses.

I think that, in practice, we shall find that this sort of work will be handed over to the jobbing contractors, and the possibility is that if what we hope for still materialises, these jobbing contractors will have a great deal of work to do. Indeed, there is a danger that they may have too much work to do. Let me give an example. During our earlier Committee proceedings I referred to a dwelling in my constituency which comes within an area that will be redeveloped. Like many other buildings, this one is in an extreme state of disrepair. The job of putting it into habitable condition was given to a local jobbing contractor.

That was well over 12 months ago, and yet nothing has been done. The tenants are to suffer inconvenience and distress resulting from living in these conditions, and have to wait until a small tradesman finds the time to do the repairs. The local authority may be anxious enough to get ahead with the work. In many cases the owner of the property may be anxious to get ahead with the work, but the jobbing tradesman to whom the work is given may find it difficult to cope with all the jobs which have been assigned to him.

It is for that reason that I wish to see "without delay" incorporated in the Government Amendment. The inclusion of those words would bring to the attention of all concerned the continuing urgency of this job of rehabilitation. The danger is that after the job has been contracted out nothing further will result for quite a long time, whereas, if the Bill is fortified by the addition of the words "without delay" it will be possible to produce speedier action in the admittedly necessary rehabilitation of these areas. I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary agrees that this work should not be held up, as it may be if the Bill contains merely permissive powers and not an obligation to see that the work is done without delay.

The Committee must recognise that this is a very important Amendment. Although the Secretary of State has gone a little way towards meeting our wishes the position is still woefully weak. We are dealing with slum houses which are still being inhabited by families and children of tender years, and we are discussing whether or not we should leave out the words "without delay."

I hope we shall take the matter a little further, because all the slums and unfit houses are not to be found in the huge aggregations of housing developments of the past in and around our big cities. I can take the Joint Under-Secretary to rural slums which are a disgrace to the countryside. Local authorities have listed many such dwelling for demolition in the future, but we know that although they have been so listed local authorities cannot put a closing and demolition order upon them because they are not building enough houses to rehouse those who have to live in them.

—he will see that the words "without delay" will apply to local authorities carrying out the works, and not demolishing the buildings.

If the right hon. and gallant Member will himself look at the Bill he will find that we are dealing with houses which local authorities want to demolish but which have to be kept in being for a further period because of the lack of accommodation. We are being very tender to the Government when we talk about these houses remaining in being merely for another 15 years, because the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that in Glasgow literally thousands of such houses will be occupied for an even longer period. He must recognise that if a house is due to be demolished but has to be kept in being for a further 15 years it is bound to need repair. It is literally a case of life and death to the families occupying these slums, and it is surely not too much to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to agree to the insertion of these two words.

5.15 p.m.

As I pointed out in the Standing Committee, if a child, born as this Bill becomes law, leaves school at 15 years of age, it will have spent the whole of its formative school and pre-school life in this horrible type of dwelling, and will have been subjected to the possibility of contracting tuberculosis and kindred diseases. Any Member of the House who approaches this question on its merits should agree that if a local authority decides that although a house ought to be demolished it shall be kept in being for a further 15 years, it ought to take the further decision that it will bring that house into as habitable a condition as possible without delay.

That is all the Amendment asks for. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for once more bringing this issue forward, because it is of special importance. I do not think that there is any more important provision which can be put into the Bill. The families living in these houses deserve our help, and if every Scottish Member is going to do his best for those of his constituents who have to live in these dwellings he should be helping us to get the Amendment accepted. I hope that we shall not be subjected to what we had to stand during the 24 sittings in Committee.

I then described this as a life and death issue, but while we were explaining to the Committee how our constituents were suffering we were not able to induce any hon. Member opposite to speak. I know that some hon. Members feel that it is not their job to submit a case when their Government are in power. They are so loyal that they regard it as their duty to get Bills steam-rollered through. It is as if they had taken some Trappist vow—

I am sorry, Sir Charles. I hope that we shall hear something on this subject from hon. Members opposite without delay.

Housing, especially this type of housing, almost literally drove me into public life, and it will drive the Government out of power, if not out of public life, if they do nothing about it. It is no smiling matter to the people who have to live in these slums. I hope that the Government will feel as sincere as I do in this matter and will accept the Amendment, in order to show local authorities that we are seized with the idea that if they decide to keep these houses in being they shall, without delay, do all the patching up work they possibly can to give the tenants a better chance of a better existence during the next 15 years.

The question is whether the legislation should in this respect be mandatory or permissive. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) in saying that it would be an advantage to this deliberative Assembly if the speeches on the other side were not mandatory but permissive, and if more hon. Members on the Government side would give the Committee the benefit of their—

I stopped the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) from pursuing that line just now, and I hope the hon. and learned Member will not pursue it.

May I just finish my sentence, Sir Charles?

I was going to say, the benefit of their wisdom, if any, in our consideration of the proposed Amendment and the Amendment to the proposed Amendment. I support both, though I could not support the Amendment by itself. With the Amendment by itself the Clause would become mandatory, and might force a local authority to postpone the demolition of poor, old decrepit houses and to attempt to patch up houses not capable of being patched up. That would be likely to happen. It is not a matter of a quid pro quo. It is a matter of common sense that if the legislation is to give this mandatory power it should put the local authority upon terms to exercise the mandatory power without delay.

It is the common case that this queer subsection requires amendment. One reads it twice and one sees that is so. It is a subsection of 16 lines but one sentence, and, therefore, it requires careful reading to see what it means and whether it is of real benefit or not. One thing is certain, that the Government's proposed Amendment itself will not improve the subsection. It requires our Amendment to it if it is to make the subsection really useful.

The subsection gives power to local authorities to retain for temporary accommodation certain houses in clearance areas. It has very objectionable features, which are concentrated in the last four lines, and it is to those four lines that the proposed Amendment, and the Amendment to the Amendment are directed. It relates to the carrying out of certain works. The Government agree that the carrying out should be mandatory and not permissive.

I do not want to trouble the Committee by reading the Clause, but I should like to refer, for the sake of clarity to the essential words:
"Notwithstanding"—

I think this speech is directed to the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," rather than to the Amendment.

I bow to your Ruling, Sir Charles, but if you will allow me to finish my argument I think you will see that it is directed not to the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," but to the Amendment and the Amendment to the Amendment. I would quote the beginning words:

"Notwithstanding anything …"
in certain circumstances—
"… a local authority by whom an area has been declared … to be a clearance area… may postpone for such period as may be determined by the authority the demolition of any building on land purchased by or belonging to the authority within that area …"
I quote those words to show that without the words "without delay" there may be excessive delay which will defeat the whole purpose of the Clause.

Therefore, I hope the Government will see the force of our case and accept these two words. After all, they are only two little words, and I hope the Government will accept these two little words to make the Clause reasonable as it ought to be.

The people affected by the Clause, and the proposed Amendment and the Amendment to the Amendment, are people who must be the concern of all Members of the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) made such a powerful plea for them that the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) was so interested that I could see him leaping to his feet in support. I welcome, therefore, the Amendment proposed by the Government which, I think, is in answer to the pleas made in Standing Committee.

Hon. Members on both sides appreciate the circumstances in which these people live, and every one of us can tell harrowing tales of the conditions of life in those houses. I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) that the Joint Under-Secretary of State himself can do so, and I remember a powerful description by the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) of the conditions of constituents of his.

We must approach this matter with care and attention, and we must bear in mind that the local authorities will be reluctant to take these houses over. Many of them have no desire to take them over, and the powers contained in the Bill may not be sufficient to ensure that the Government's own intentions are carried out. It will be recalled that I put this to the Government in Standing Committee. In view of that, we welcome the Government's intention to insert "shall" in the Clause.

5.30 p.m.

I urge the Government to consider the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) to add the two words "without delay." It is not merely a question of asking the Government to insert these words. We want to give the people of Scotland a feeling that something will be done, and will be done without delay. The Government have accepted the responsibility of the Bill and of these proposals. In fact, they talk about "Operation Rescue." We argued earlier in Committee that having accepted responsibility, the Government ought to accept financial responsibility also, and we urged that the burden should not fall upon the local authorities.

The Government rejected that plea. They said, in effect, that their financial responsibility would be determined by the Bill; but the financial responsibility of local authorities is simply an unknown quantity. There is all the more reason, therefore, that the Government should accept our Amendment to emphasise that it anything is to be done, it should be done without delay.

The Government say, and the Bill states, that these provisions are for a temporary period. That is why we want the inclusion of "without delay." I am a little suspicious of the word "temporary" in this connection. Constituents of mine are living in temporary accommodation that was built after the 1914–18 war. Quite recently, the Lanarkshire County Council agreed to give certain tenants a reduction in rent in the houses in which they were living, because those houses were Army huts during the 1914–18 war. The people are still living in them, and because the tenants have looked after them so well the county council thought that they were entitled to a reduction in rent. That was temporary accommodation.

I am also suspicious of the word "temporary," because in the Civil Service it can mean a long time; it might even mean a lifetime. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has some knowledge of this and, no doubt, will give the Committee more information than I am prepared to do. Furthermore, the approach of the Government and of the civil servants who advise them to the word "temporary" is very doubtful. We have heard of temporary civil servants—they are always temporary, and never get established.

It seems to me that this temporary accommodation will be in use for a long time and we ought to ensure that if something is to be done to make it habitable, it ought to be done without delay. I am sure that the Government will listen to the pleas put up from this side of the Committee and will insert these two words as showing that they are really honest and sincere in their intentions.

I support the proposed Amendment to the Secretary of State's Amendment. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, but it does not go far enough, and I think we ought to include the words "without delay." I venture to take part in the debate asking for the inclusion of these words, because in Edinburgh there are at present nearly 10,000 houses in a condition which would bring them within the provisions of the Bill. Obviously, if the whole of the town council's building resources were put to the replacement of these houses, they could not be replaced very quickly. Therefore, most of the houses will come within the provisions of the Clause.

It is only right that we should declare the priority that we think some houses should get, because there is likely to be great pressure on building materials. The Government are trying to expand their programme of house building, both by local authorities and by private builders. At the same time, we are told that Part II of the Bill will result in an enormous amount of repair work being done. If it does not, the Bill is meaningless.

With these great demands upon our building resources, surely we ought to declare that these houses should have a certain priority. We can only say that by including the words "without delay." We ought to give to the local authorities an indication that in our opinion the people living in these houses deserve to be treated much earlier than some of the other people who will make a call upon the country's building resources.

I suppose that if we were asked the question in our constituencies, we would reply that the people living in these areas were deserving of first call upon the nation's building resources. That being so, we ought to include the words "without delay." We would then make it quite clear to the local authorities, who will be responsible for this work, that the job must be got on with. It cannot be delayed because a local authority is building its own houses or other people are utilising the building resources for the purposes set out in Part II or for a variety of other purposes, such as building garages and the like. I hope that the Secretary of State will give the Amendment favourable consideration and will decide to accept it.

My hon. Friends on this side of the Committee have made their contributions to the debate with a deep sense of sincerity and in their belief that these two simple words are essential to the Bill. Our Amendment, except for the word "shall," which the right hon. Gentleman has conceded to us, is the Amendment which we moved in the Standing Committee. The right hon. Gentleman undertook on that occasion to consider it further, and it was on that understanding that we withdrew our Amendment.

We have spent almost 45 minutes discussing the two simple, innocuous words "without delay" and whether they should be inserted in the Clause. I must express very strong resentment at the filibustering of the Government on their own Bill. These 45 minutes could well have been saved had a Member of the Government indicated why these two words. could not be accepted.

It is strange that on a previous Amendment the Government should find it necessary on a vital matter of procedure to move the Closure but should allow discussion on these two words and continue their filibustering tactics for almost an hour. I am astonished at the Government's attitude. I hope that no attempt will be made during the rest of this evening's proceedings to move the Closure because of any attempt at filibustering from this side.

We have seen this afternoon the most outstanding example of filibustering that I have ever seen in the House. Neither the Secretary of State, the Joint Undersecretary, the Lord Advocate nor any Member of the Government Front Bench has thought fit to intercede on a very simple proposition of this kind. I shall listen with pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman trying to explain why the Government cannot accept these two simple words.

What is it we are asking for, and why is it we want these words inserted? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has a wealth of local government experience, as have most of my hon. Friends. It is essential and desirable that these words should be inserted because there is a variety of local authorities. There are reactionary local authorities, progressive local authorities, and those which are prepared to take the middle course. To safeguard ourselves against local authorities of such variety we ask that whatever may happen the tenants who are being compelled to remain in these houses ought not to suffer and that is why we are saying that the local authorities should proceed without delay to carry out such works.

It is in the interests of the tenants that the work should be proceeded with without delay. It has to be remembered that we are dealing with slums in clearance areas, and but for this Bill the local authorities would have demolished them without delay. In the process they would provide a proper standard of accommodation for the tenants. This Bill suggests that where local authorities have already declared an area to be a clearance area the houses on it shall be retained for a period of 15 years, and in the process they should be patched up and made as comfortable as possible.

Surely the Government cannot object to our asking for the patching process to be carried out without delay. I shall listen with interest to discover why the Government have been so docile and why so silent on this subject. Why have they allowed the Committee to discuss this simple matter for almost an hour without a reply from the Government? I hope that the Secretary of State will take advantage of the opportunity now open to him to let us know.

I am rather surprised at the remarks with which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) opened his speech, because if he had taken the trouble to listen to what I said on Second Reading—

I meant in the Standing Committee. If he had referred to the report of the proceedings of the Committee, he would have seen that I gave my reasons why, in my opinion, the Government could not accept the words "without delay." The column is 239 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and the date is Thursday, 25th February last. The reason I gave then was that there would be a great number of these houses to be attended to and, therefore, it was quite impossible for them all to be attended to without delay. The thing is not physically possible.

If the hon. Gentleman will sit down for one moment, I will give way when I have finished this part of my argument. It would be impossible for all these houses to be dealt with at one and the same time.

I also pointed out that it was a grave reflection on the local authorities, and that reflection would be even greater now. I am astounded at the number of hon. Members opposite who call themselves good local authority men who now come forward with the suggestion that the local authorities, having a duty imposed upon them by the word "shall," would delay for one moment to carry out what is physically possible.

I am grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way, but he must recognise that we on this side do not agree that all local authorities are good local authorities. The main point with which I want to deal is this. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying that the local authority, if it is not actually doing physical work, would not meet the purpose of our Amendment, but the purpose of our Amendment will be met if a local authority is taking action to get the physical work begun on these dwellings as soon as possible. We all know that a lot of administrative duties have to be performed before the actual work begins, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that, as well as any of us.

5.45 p.m.

I have pointed out the weaknesses of the Amendment. The first weakness is that it is physically impossible to carry out the work and the other is that this suggestion is a grave reflection on the local authorities. I made it perfectly plain during the Committee stage why I could not accept that part of the Amendment, and I went on to say that it was the wish of the Government that this Clause should be as strong as possible and that we would consider strengthening it. I see the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) is still here, and perhaps he will bear me out when I repeat the words I used then:

"I cannot promise that any wording we may find will meet the hon. Gentleman's wishes 100 per cent…"—(OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 25th February, 1954, c. 239.]
The Government have met it at least to the extent of 33⅓ per cent., which is a fairly good dividend in these days.

The Committee is grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Government for the admittedly small way they went to meet us and to meet the situation. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman offered two criticisms of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin). I think he will agree on reflection that neither of the criticisms is valid. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman says that our Amendment is a reflection upon local authorities. That comes a little odd from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman seeing that he is a member of a Government which has taken away from the local authorities all powers on the subject of this Bill. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman seems a little disturbed about that.

I think that is pretty good coming from the right hon. Gentleman who was a member of a Government which took away from the control of local authorities such things as electricity, gas and transport, and also the administration of hospitals.

I should be delighted to reply to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but you have ruled, Sir Charles, that I cannot at this moment give the answers to his absurdities. I shall confine myself to the Amendment and give the answers on that subject.

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman accused my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston of not properly considering the prestige of the local authorities. He said that this Amendment cast a great reflection upon them, but we should not forget that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate said during the Committee proceedings, as recorded in column 214, that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could not give an undertaking that he would not use his powers to prevent local authorities pulling down the slum houses which they wanted to pull down. The right hon. Gentleman seems a little perplexed. I do not wonder. It is a most extraordinarily arrogant statement. I am sorry that he does not remember it.

The right hon. Gentleman must not get excited; he did say it.

It is to be found at column 214 and, if the right hon. Gentleman will listen to my argument, he will learn that the Government said to the local authority, "No, we shall decide which buildings you will be permitted to tear down." Falling inside that category are these properties which we are considering, and to which this Amendment is directed.

I suggest to you, Sir Charles, that it is odd for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the local authorities are not competent enough, not wise enough, not responsible enough to decide what buildings shall be allowed to stand; that we in our wisdom, having taken that decision, are to allow the local authorities to patch the buildings which we have forced them to acquire when the local authorities may have wanted to pull them down. If there is any reflection on the prestige of the local authorities, it is not conveyed by this Amendment but is conveyed by the cavalier fashion in which the right hon. Gentleman is forced to address him-self whenever he is carrying a landlord's brief, as he is at this stage.

The second point is that the right hon. Gentleman said that it would be impossible to expect the local authorities to carry out all these repairs at once. If that were the only interpretation of the Amendment, then my hon. Friend and myself, and every responsible person on this side of the Committee, would instantly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. But that is not what the Amendment says. It says in the simplest words we could use, and to which the right hon. Gentleman did not take objection in Committee, "Without delay." That does not mean immediately and simultaneously. If that is all that is worrying the right hon. Gentleman, he has the Lord Advocate to find a suitable form of words, which could be embodied in another place, to the effect that the local authorities shall be expected to do these things without delay but not all at once.

In moving this Amendment, my hon. Friend pointed out that there was this conflict between a limited building industry. We know that. We do not ask the local authorities to jeopardise their new housing programme by committing all their resources to repair these miserable buildings which they wanted to tear down. But we do not want to see the other part of the resources in a community devoted to buildings which could wait a little longer in the programme than these crumbling, miserable, unsanitary slums which the Government are forcing Scottish tenants to occupy.

Does the right hon. Gentleman really say that the Gov- ernment are forcing tenants to go on living in unsanitary buildings? Is that really his interpretation?

That is my interpretation of the words to which I have already drawn attention and which I begged the Government in Committee to let go. I asked the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate to say that the Secretary of State would in no circumstances seek power or use power to prevent local authorities from pulling down slums which they wanted to pull down, and therefore to let people escape from these dreadful buildings. So that there is no ambiguity, this is what the Lord Advocate said:

"It would all depend on the circumstances. It is for that reason that the Secretary of State is anxious to maintain the power to modify, or not to modify, the proposals made."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 23 rd February, 1954; c. 214.]
The proposals relate to what buildings local authorities shall be forced to prop up instead of to tear down. Therefore my argument stands on the words of the Government. The Secretary of State, in all his power and compassion, will force Scottish people to live in houses which a local authority would want to tear down.

The right hon. Gentleman sits there muttering and spitting. I can understand his embarrassment and shame, but the answer is easy. If, as I believe, the right hon. Gentleman is utterly ashamed in his heart of these appalling powers, the remedy is available, but as long as the powers remain in the Bill, as long as those words of the Lord Advocate are there to read, this Committee and the Scottish people will know that this is how the Secretary of State is misusing the great powers of his office.

The hon. Gentleman can find refuge in such phrases as "very synthetic "—

I concede to the hon. Gentleman that frequently in debate both sides overstate the case, and I am no exception, but the hon. Gentleman knows this to be true, that there is no hon. Member of this Committee on either side who can be otherwise than ashamed of the depths to which the Secretary of State has dropped in obtaining these powers. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene?

Yes. The right hon. Gentleman did not see his hon. Friends behind him. If I may say so, the smirks on their faces agreed with my view that his indignation was very synthetic.

My hon. Friends are too close to these slums, and too many come from these slums, ever to smirk about them. I go on to make the related point. If the right hon. Gentleman is determined that he will retain the powers to order these things, and if, therefore, he places this burden alike upon the local authorities and upon the tenants, then surely it is reasonable that those tenants should be asked to carry no longer than is necessary the appalling discomfort and the actual threat to their health which many of these buildings impose.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that it is a temporary Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) dealt with that point. We have all seen such buildings and dwellings. The hon. Member for Ruther-glen (Mr. Brooman-White), who no doubt will vote with us when we divide on this Amendment, drew the attention of the Government to temporary dwellings in his own area. We have all been partner to such mistakes and, knowing that, when we are given an opportunity of making certain that the mistake does not recur, that the misery is not revisited on people for a period of at least 15 years, perhaps indefinitely, surely we should take care, in terms of the local authority and in terms of the tenant, that the work is carried out without delay.

The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a reflection on local authorities. I confess that there are some local authorities whose eagerness to operate such powers to repair are doubtful. They are reactionary local authorities. You and I, Sir Charles, will be delighted that there are fewer of them today than there were a week ago, but, while any reactionary authorities remain, the Secretary of State must have power to deal with them.

6.0 p.m.

Perhaps we have not the right words. Perhaps the Amendment conveys the impression that it would be mandatory upon all local authorities to proceed at once, immediately and altogether. If there is any risk of that, by all means let us find another form of words and let the Government undertake that the Lord Advocate shall find it.

I thought that the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White) would have taken the opportunity to say a word or two on the Amendment. That is why we suggested a little earlier that we might have had the opinions of hon. Members opposite. I certainly think that in the old days of the Labour Government the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) would have been only too ready to express his-views, and I am sorry that we have missed his contributions to this debate. However, we shall have to do without them. I hope that he will be changing his place to this side of the Chamber soon and will be ready to speak again in our debates.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen supported my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) in Standing Committee, when he spoke about the hutted camps in his constituency and wanted to know from the Secretary of State if the adoption of an Amendment meant that the huts would be pushed further back in the building list. I agree that he has some reason for thinking that that may happen, because I remember very old huts in the city of Edinburgh of the kind to which the hon. Member referred. They were used first as Army huts and then shifted from one part of the town to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr, Willis). There they stayed as eyesores for many years, with people attempting to prop up the floors so that they might live in them. These were cleared away just before the outbreak of the Second World War. We see, therefore, that the word "temporary" might mean anything at all.

Apparently the hon. Member for Rutherglen is not ready to make his contribution to this debate, and perhaps he would not object if I said a word on behalf of the people who live in these huts. I am sure that it will be agreed that it is well worth while the Committee spending some time in considering the position of these unfortunate people. I am rather surprised that the Joint Under-Secretary of State took the line that he followed this afternoon. Our debate was free, frank and friendly until he addressed the Committee. He certainly moved from the line which he took on a similar Amendment in Standing Committee, because then he went out of his way to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston for his great co-operation in helping to achieve the smooth passage of the Bill through the Committee stage.

If the hon. Member is moving from the subject of the hutted camps, I should like to intervene to say that, having made my point in Committee upstairs, I saw no great merit in repeating it this afternoon. But I am pursuing my studies in the art of repetition throughout this debate.

I find that a little too naïve because, when he spoke in Committee upstairs, the hon. Member received no reply from the Government and we went on to the next Amendment. I am certain that if that is the line which the hon. Member proposes to take and that is all the sincerity that he places behind his argument, he was not entitled to a reply. One would have thought that if he had meant what he said he would have been present earlier in this Committee today to put his case and to ask for a reply from the Government.

First, I was in the Chamber and, secondly, the hon. Member seems to subscribe to the doctrine in "Alice in Wonderland" which laid down that what was said three times was true. I stated this once only, which I consider sufficient to establish its veracity.

That is a terribly poor excuse for the hon. Member to make. I saw him arrive and stand outside the Bar of the Committee a few minutes ago. I should have thought that when we started to discuss the Amendment he would have been here two hours ago, not to lead the attack, but to find out exactly what the Government are prepared to do. Apparently, he had no intention of contributing to the debate, because he did not come into the Committee to do so. I am sorry that the hon. Member should not be delighted with the assistance that I render to him, for while I use examples from his constituency, I know that there are many others throughout the country.

Is my hon. Friend aware that:

"Rug'len's wee roon red lums no longer reek briskly"?

It is true, as the Joint Undersecretary realises, that all this will cause considerable expense to the local authorities. We have to face that. The Government's White Paper stated that it was hoped that it would not place an unduly heavy burden upon local authorities. The Joint Under-Secretary should say more on this subject. We appreciate that where there are hundreds of houses one cannot expect local authorities to start repairing each house straight away. That could not be done, but if the people who occupy these houses are to go on occupying them they must have some assistance in making the houses decent. We do not like the Bill at all, but if we must have it, let us make the houses decent without delay.

The Joint Under-Secretary suggested that this job was physically impossible, that there were a great many houses to be attended to and that he could not ask the local authorities to get on with that job without delay. That will be a great consolation to the local authorities, but the people whom we are considering are the people who live in the houses. Let us recollect what kind of houses they are. They are at present subject to demolition orders. They are fit only for demolition in the eyes of the local authorities.

The Secretary of State referred in an earlier Amendment to
"where the demolition of such a building is so postponed, …"
to make it clear to which houses this argument of physical impossibility is applied, but what about the physical strain on the people who are living in these houses?

I know some of these houses in my own area and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mrs. Cullen) where mothers are finding it a physical impossibility to cope with things for very much longer. Does that physical impossibility not have any effect at all upon the Secretary of State or the Joint Under-Secretary?

The Joint Under-Secretary says that building resources are limited. Would it not be better to limit the effect of the Clause to those houses for which building resources are available to enable us to get on with them right away? It is the Secretary of State who is compelling local authorities to carry out this policy, whether they like it or not. To tell them how they shall cope with their housing problem—how many they shall take and everything else—and then not to pay some slight attention to the tenants who are affected, is not really good enough. What we are staging here is "Operation rescue "—rescue of the Government.

Yes, rescue the perishing landlords. But the Government and their supporters throughout the country have been saying that this Clause, and what they hope will come out of it, would lead to better housing conditions for people living in slums. They have been salving their consciences by this happy phrase and saying that it will do so much for the people in the slums. Yet here they are leaving a loophole whereby nothing will be done for an unlimited time.

The other objection the right hon. and gallant Gentleman made is that we should be interfering with the responsibilities of local authorities by laying it down that they should do this work by a certain time but that we should leave it to their discretion. I can understand his touchiness when he addressed those remarks to the Committee and why he was slightly irritated and angry. That was because it was the second time he has made this speech. He made the same speech on Thursday of last week in Edinburgh to the Unionist Party conference which was dealing with the subject of housing. The conference had a series of motions and resolutions all asking the Government to tell local authorities what to do about housing and rents. The right hon. Gentleman suggested to the conference that it should be left to the discretion of the local authorities, but the Tory conference in Scotland turned down the Joint Under-Secretary of State. Does he expect us to listen to him when he makes the same plea, dealing with an entirely different matter, a matter which materially affects the living conditions of people in slums?

Once again the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is entertained. The thought of people living in these slums, having been taken over by the local authorities and the local authority allowed a loophole whereby it does not require even to patch up the slums, is not something which should be the subject of laughter, even on the Treasury Bench. I sincerely hope that back benchers opposite will realise that they have certain responsibilities in this matter. We are only raising it again because the Government saw the force of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) on the original Committee stage; but they have not gone nearly far enough.

I think it absolutely shameful that this Government should condemn people to go on living in houses which are ready for demolition and to leave a loophole whereby a local authority, having taken over, need not do the slightest thing to make houses fit to continue as housing accommodation. If the Government do not accept the Amendment, will they accept some advice and just clear out?

6.15 p.m.

I did not intend to intervene, but, having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), I am very worried about the implications of this Clause. I may not have heard him aright, but I understood him to say—and I hope the Secretary of State will give us an answer, because I at least want an answer—that the Secretary of State has power to modify a scheme submitted by a local authority.

Presuming that a local authority submits a scheme to the Secretary of State in which it proposes to patch up 100 houses, is the Secretary of State to say, "You shall demolish 90 and patch up only 10 because, in the Scottish Office, we know that there is not sufficient labour and material to patch them all"? Or, will he say, "No, you cannot take over the whole 100, but, as we can only repair without delay about 10, you must demolish the other 90 and build 90 new ones"? Will he not do that? Is it suggested that the Secretary of State, in using his power to modify a scheme, would say that, notwithstanding the fact that there is no raw material nor labour to do the job, and there may not be for three years, the local authority is to take over the whole 100 and repair only 10, leaving the other 90?

If that is the situation under this Bill, I am surprised, as I never thought it was so. I thought the idea of modifying was that if a local authority put in a scheme to take over 100 houses the Secretary of State would survey the situation and say, "We cannot allow this because in any reasonable time 10 only can be patched and we shall have to modify the scheme. Ninety must be demolished and 90 new houses built." Will the Secretary of State say that the local authority should take over the whole 100, although it may be nine years before they can be patched and people will have to continue living in them?

I was under the impression that when the local authority took over the houses they would be patched straight away, but now I gather the authority can take over the lot, whether they can be patched or not. If that is the case, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) is quite right. The Government deliberately, through the powers taken by the Secretary of State to modify a scheme without any consideration of capacity to repair in a reasonable time, are condemning people to live in slum conditions for many years in houses which should be demolished. I hope that before we pass from the Amendment the Secretary of State will give an assurance that he will not give any local authority powers to take over a house which is scheduled to be demolished, unless it can be repaired in a very short time.

For nearly two hours the Government have been compelled to listen to a series of persuasive arguments to show that this rehabilitation of unfit houses is a job which should be carried out, and carried out without delay. That is the important aspect which we are seeking to impress on the Government. There is real danger if, while we agree that these conditions shall be remedied, there is no indication whatever as to what time limit is to operate. That makes the insertion of the words, "without delay" imperative.

I shall not repeat anything that has been said from this side of the Committee in the last two hours. I wish to make an appeal to the Secretary of State and to the Joint Under-Secretary. During the Committee stage the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary used these words, in replying to me:
"I appreciate what is in the hon. Gentleman's mind."
That is, he understood what I was saying; he admits it in the words which I have quoted from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings, so that there is no doubt as to the background against which he made that statement. I was saying that this work should be proceeded with without delay, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary understood that. He went further. He committed the Secretary of State, because he went on to say that what I was saying in moving my Amendment
"coincides with the desires of my right hon. Friend."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 25th February, 1954; c. 239.]
So we now know the position of the Government Front Bench. They understood what I was saying, and what I was saying coincided with the desires of the Secretary of State for Scotland. If that is the case, why has the right hon. Gentleman not put his desires into words? Why does he halt after he has gone a third of the way with us? Why does he not come the whole way and put his own desires into legislative form?

It may be that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) said, that the Secretary of State's desires —which were exactly the same as ours— are not properly embodied in the words which we have selected. In view of our failure, because of our lack of draftsmanship aid, etc.—we have not the machinery available to us—I pass the ball to the right hon. Gentleman and ask him to put those desires, which coincide with ours, into a properly drafted form.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he wants the thing we want. Then why does he not do it? He has the power. If he really wants the thing we want, I ask him not to turn down this Amendment to his proposed Amendment today, but to reconsider the matter, and bring forward, on Report stage, a form of words which will enable him to do the thing which we want done, and, at the same time, the thing that he himself has admitted is his desire also. I make that plea to him now.

Question put, "That those words be there added to the proposed Amendment."

Division No 97.

AYES

[6.24 p.m.

Acland, Sir RichardHannan, W.Parker, J.
Adams, RichardHargreaves, A.Pearson, A.
Albu, A. H.Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)Plummer, Sir Leslie
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)Hastings, S.Popplewell, E.
Allen, Soholefield (Crewe)Hayman, F. H.Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Anderson, Frank (Wnitehaven)Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)Proctor, W. T
Awbery, S. S.Herbison, Miss M.Pryde, D. J.
Bacon, Miss AliceHobson, C. R.Pursey, Cmdr. H
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. JHolman, P.Rankin, John
Berne, C. R.Holmes, HoraceReeves, J.
Benn, Hon. WedgwoodHoughton, DouglasReid, Thomas (Switidon)
Benson, G.Hoy, J H.Reid, William (Camlachie)
Bing, G. H. C.Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Blackburn, F.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Blenkinsop, AHughes Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Blyton, W. R.Hynd, H. (Accrington)Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Bowden, H. WIrving, W. J. (Wood Green)Ross, WilIiam
Bowles, F. G.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Royle, C.
Brockway, A. F.Janner, B.Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax)Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. TShort, E. W.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. DJenkins, R. H. (Stechford)Shurmer, P. L. E
Brown, Thomas (Inca)Johnson, James (Rugby)Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Burke, W. A.Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S)Jones, David (Hartlepool)Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Callaghan, L. J.Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)Skeffinglon, A. M.
Carmichael, J.Jones, Jack (Rotherham)Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)
Champion, A. JJones, T. W (Merioneth)Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)
Chapman, W D.Keenan, WSmith, Norman (Nottingham, S)
Clunie, J.Kenyon, CSnow, J. W.
Coldrick, WKey, Rt. Hon. C. WSorensen, R. W.
Collick, P. HKing, Dr H. M.Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir Frank
Craddock, George (Bradford, S)Kinley, J.Steele, T.
Crosland, C. A. R.Lawson, G. M.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Crossman, R. H. SLee, Frederick (Newton)Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E
Cullen, Mrs. A.Lewis, ArthurSylvester, G. O
Daines, P.Lindgren, G. S.Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mripeth)
Darling, George (Hillsborough)Logan, D. G.Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)MacColl J. E.Thomson, George (Dun lee E.)
Davies, Harold (Leek)McGovern, JTimmons, J
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)Molnnes, J.Tomney, F.
de Freitas, GeoffreyMcKay, John (Wallsend)Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Deer, G.McLeavy, F.Usborne, H. C.
Delargy, H. J.McNeil, Rt. Hon. HViant, S. P.
Dodds, N. N.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Warbey, W. N
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Webb, Fit. Hon. M. (Bradford, C)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Mann, Mrs. JeanWeitzman, D.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)Manuel, A. CWells, Percy (Favsrsham)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Marquand, Rt Hon H. AWest, D. G.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)Mason, RoyWhite, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)Mellish, R. JWhite, Henry (Derbyshire N.E.)
Follick, M.Messer, Sir FWhiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Foot, M. M.Mitchison, G. RWigg, George
Forman, J. C.Moody, A. S.Wilcock, Group Capt. CAB
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)Morgan, Dr. H B. WWilley, F T
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. NMoyle, A.Williams, David (Neath)
Gibson, C. W.Mulley, F. WWilliams, Ronald (Wigan)
Gooch, E. G.Murray, J. D.Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)Neal, Harold (Bolsover)Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. ROliver. G. HWillis, E. G
Grey, C. F.Oswald, T.Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Padley, W. E.Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Hale, LesliePaling, Will T (Dewsbury)Wyatt, W. L
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Coine Valley)Palmer, A. M. F.Yates, V. F.
Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)Pannell, Charles
Ham lion, W. WPargiter, G. ATELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Wilkins and Mr. John Taylor.

NOES

Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)Astor Hon. J. JSell, Philip (Bolton, E.)
Alport, C. J. M,Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J MBennett, F. M (Reading, N.)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)Baldwin, A. E.Bennett, William (Woodside)
Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton)Banks, Col, C.Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J-Barlow, Sir JohnBishop, F P
Arbuthnot, JohnBaxter, A. B.Black, C. W
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)Beach, Maj. HicksBoothby. Sir R J G

The Committee divided: Ayes, 199; Noes, 224.

Bowen, E. R.Horobin, I. M.Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt Hon. J AHoward, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L
Boyle, Sir EdwardHoward, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)Profumo, J. D.
Bromley-Davenport, LI -Col. W HHudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)Raikes, Sir Victor
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)Ramsden, J. E.
Brooman-White, R. C.Hurd, A. RRayner, Brig. R.
Browne, Jack (Govan)Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)Redmayne, M.
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Ho P G THutchison, James (Scotstoun)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bullard, D. G.Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.Remnant, Hon. P.
Burden, F. F. A.Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.Renton, D. L. M.
Campbell, Sir DavidIremonger, T. L.Ridsdale, J. E.
Carr, RobertJohnson, Eric (Blackley)Roberts, Peter (Heeley)
Cary, Sir RobertJohnson, Howard (Kemptown)Robertson, Sir David
Channon, H.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Robinson, Roland (Blackpool. S.)
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)Kerby, Capt, H. B.Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)KERR. W.Roper, Sir Harold
Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. LLambert, Hon. G.Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Cole, NormanLambton, ViscountRussell, R. S.
Colegate, W. A.Langford-Holt, J. A.Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Conant, Maj. R. J. ELegge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas
Cooper-Key, E. M.Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)Scott, R. Donald
Craddoek, Beresford (Spirltnorne)Lindsay, MartinScott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Crouch, R. F.Linstead, Sir H. N.Shepherd, William
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W)
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip - Northwood)Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Deedes, W. F.Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)Snadden, W. McN.
Digby, S. WingfietdLucas-Tooth, Sir HughSoames, Capt. C
Dodds-Parker, A. D.McAdden, S. J.Spearman, A. C. M
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. SSpence, H. R. (Abe-deenshire, W)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord MalcolmMacdonald, Sir PeterSpens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.McKibbin, A. J.Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, Weil)Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)Stevens, G. P.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.Maclay, Rt. Hon. JohnSteward, W. A. (Woolwich, W)
Finlay, GraemeMaclean, FitzroyStewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Fisher, NigelMacpherson, Niall (Dumfries)Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Fleetwood-Mesketh, R. FMaitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)Storey, S.
Fletoher-Cooke, CMaitland, Patrick (Lanark)Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S)
Fort, R.Manningham-Bulter, Sir R. E.Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Foster, JohnMarlowe, A. A. H.Studholmte, H. G
Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)Marples, A. E.Summers, G. S.
Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)Maude, AngusSutcliffa, Sir Harold
Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)Maudling, R.Taylor, Sir Chrrles (Eastbourne')
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. CTesting, W.
Garner-Evans, E. H.Modlicott, Brig. F.Thomas, Leslie (Cantarbury)
Glover, D.Mellor, Sir JohnThomas, P. J. M. (Corrway)
Godber, J. B.Molson, A. H. E.Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Gomme-Duncan, Col. AMoore, Sir ThomasTouche, Sir Gordon
Gough, C. F. H.Nabarro, G. D. N.Turner, H. F. L.
Graham, Sir FergusNeave, AireyTurton, R. H.
Grimond, J.Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)Tweedsmuir, Lady
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)Vane, W M. F
Hall, John (Wycombe)Nield, Basil (Chester)Vaughan-Morgan, J K
Harris, Frederic -(Croydon, N.)Nugent, G. R. H.Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W)
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)Oakshott H. D.Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marvlebone)
Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Maoclesfield)O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)Wall, P. H. B.
Harvie-Watt, Sir GeorgeOrmsby-Gore, Hon. W.Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Hay, JohnOrr, Capt. L. P. S.Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir LionelOrr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N)Wellwood, W
Heath, EdwardOrr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E)
Henderson, John (Calhoart)Page, R. G.Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Higgs, J. M. C.Peake, Rt. Hon. O.WilIiams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Hinchingbrooke, ViscountPeto, Brig. C. H. MWills, Gerald
Hirst, GeoffreyPeyton, J. W. W.Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Holland-Martin, C. JPickthorn, K. W. M.
Holt, A. F.Pilkington, Capt. R. A
Hope, Lord JohnPitman, I. J.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. HenryPitt, Miss E. M.Mr. Vosper and
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.Powell, J. EnochMr. Richard Thompson.

Proposed words there inserted.

I beg to move, in page 2, line 45, after the second "may," to insert,

"in the opinion of the authority."
I think it would be convenient to discuss this Amendment together with the next two Amendments, in Clause 3, page 4, line 5, to leave out first "may," and insert "shall," and after second "may" insert,
"in the opinion of the authority."
The Amendment which I have proposed does to Clause 2 exactly what the two following Amendments do to Clause 3. It is in that relation that I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss the three Amendments together.

It would perhaps be helpful if I were to read the Clause, starting at line 45, as the words will appear if these Amendments are inserted:

"… and where the demolition of such a building is so postponed, shall carry out such works as may "—
and then we are putting in the words:
"in the opinion of the authority from time to time be required …"
As I said when moving the previous Amendment in Standing Committee, hon. Members opposite pressed us to strengthen these Clauses, and that is what we have done. We have now made it mandatory on local authorities to go ahead with works which they think are required from time to time. I hope that will meet with the approval of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I appreciate what has been said by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, but I think that the effect of introducing the words:

"in the opinion of the authority"
destroys the effect of the word "shall," which we have already inserted. As the Clause stood originally, it was permissive, but the introduction of the word "shall" made it mandatory. The introduction of these proposed words makes it mandatory only if in the opinion of the authority, it is proper that it should carry out those mandatory instructions. I suggest, therefore that what we have previously inserted will be destroyed by what it is proposed now to insert.

If I may put the problem in another way: by the introduction of the word "shall" we made it possible for the courts of law to determine whether or not a local authority had carried out the duty thrust upon it by this Clause by examining what work the local authority had done. But if we insert the words:
"in the opinion of the authority"
the courts will have to determine whether, in the opinion of the authority, the work should be done, which is quite a different question. In effect, this is turning an objective examination into a subjective one. I am sure that is not the intention of the right hon. Gentleman or the Government, and I suggest that they withdraw their proposed Amendments to insert those words. There is of course, no objection to the other Amendment. In fact we welcome it.

Surely the Government should show more courtesy to the House in this matter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) has put a legal point to the Committee and where legal matters are in dispute we should have the presence of the Lord Advocate. He has been present on many occasions during our discussions this afternoon, but at the very moment when a legal point is advanced he disappears. There seems to me to be something discourteous about that. I am not sure whether a Motion to adjourn the House until we find the Lord Advocate would be in order, but at least we should have an answer to the point put by my hon. and learned Friend. The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Brooman-White) said that he had no intention of having any serious repetition; but we on this side get the same reply to our inquiries today as he got in the Scottish Standing Committee.

He got no reply. We press for a reply today. I am glad to note that the Lord Advocate has returned. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley put a point which requires legal elucidation. We argued for some time whether the word "shall" should be inserted. The point is that, in the view of my hon. and learned Friend, after the insertion of the word "shall" to which we have agreed, the Amendment now proposed would limit and nullify our earlier action.

I wish to give the Lord Advocate time to consider the matter. When he has considered it, I hope that he will be prepared to answer. I see that the Joint Under-Secretary is prepared to spring to his feet to give us an interim reply and I wait to hear it with some interest.

Of course we have considered the point. In the opinion of the Government these words are necessary, because the local authority must be resonsible for what repairs are to be done. The local authority is composed of people who will know how long they intend to retain the house, and therefore the extent of repairs which should be undertaken and everything else in relation to the building concerned.

I remind the Committee that it is the ratepayers' money that is involved, and in that respect the local authority is the responsible body. Though there may have been some legal argument put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I wonder how many tenants of a house which has become a local authority house will take the local authority to court. I wonder whether that is a practical proposition. In any case, the answer is that we have considered the point but that we feel the words are absolutely necessary for the reasons which I have given.

I hate to be repetitive, but I must say that the reply given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not satisfy me—except that it satisfies me that he has not understood the point. I explained that the introduction of the word "shall" gave my hon. and right hon. Friends the impression that this was intended to be an imperative Clause. Indeed, I understood that that was what the Joint Under-Secretary said; but I now understand him to say that, while introducing the words in response to our invitation, he has deliberately modified the imperative "shall" by the introduction of these words.

6.45 p.m.

In my opinion—and I am subject to correction by the Lord Advocate—the introduction of the words, "in the opinion of the authority," gives effect to the word "shall" as if it were "may." Indeed, there is no difference between "may in the opinion of the authority," and, "shall in the opinion of the authority." I had explained that the test, if one left the word "shall," was objective, but with the Amendment the test is now subjective. If the word "shall" had stood alone, then in my opinion it would have been possible to go to court and to compel a local authority to show that it had carried out the work. With the Amendment that will be impossible. It will only be possible to go to the court to test the matter in this way: the court will ask itself, "Has the local authority, in the opinion of the local authority, carried out the work?" That is a different matter. I hope that now that the Lord Advocate has considered the matter we may have further elucidation.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. L. Clyde):I hesitate to rise, because my intervention may merely prolong a debate which seems to have arisen out of a misconception.

It may well confuse it as well. That depends on the capacity of those listening to understand what I am about to say.

In our view a local authority must be responsible for deciding what works are required. It is absolutely essential to put into the Clause the words, "in the opinion of the authority." It is the authority, and the authority alone, which should be master of the situation on the question of what is required. That is why the words are suggested, but once the local authority has made up its mind what work is required then we put an obligation upon it to carry out the work. Therefore, we use not the word "may" but the word "shall." I have put the point as clearly as I can, though it may not be intelligible to everybody.

Surely if we put in the words, "in the opinion of the authority" that means that the local authority cannot be challenged on anything that it does or does not do. If a local authority decides to do nothing in a case where a house requires something to be done to it, I can raise the matter in the House because as a result of the first Amendment there is a statutory duty on the local authority to do something. I can raise the matter with the Secretary of State and he can challenge the local authority for not having carried out the statute.

The statute, as a result of the first Amendment which we accepted, will make it clear that the local authority has to do something or the tenant can challenge it in the court. However, if we insert the words proposed now, we can be met with the reply from the Secretary of State for Scotland that the matter has been left to the local authority. If in their opinion nothing is to be done, whether that opinion is justified or not, and they decide that nothing is to be done, then the tenant has no come-back and Members of Parliament have no means of ensuring that the spirit of the Clause is put into operation.

The Lord Advocate has now made it perfectly clear that the Government are prepared to leave with the local authorities such a power as will override their own pious hopes that something should be done for the tenants. Is it the case that the local authority is able to do anything, and then, as a result of the words proposed to be inserted, nothing can be done about it despite the feeling of the tenant, the feeling of, probably, a minority of the town council and even the feeling of Members of Parliament? If that is the case, the Joint Under-Secretary is being less than open and frank with the Committee. He has changed "may" to "shall" as we wished, but he then seeks to negative that Amendment by inserting the proposed words.

In the 1949 Act we gave the local authorities permission to determine the grants which should be given for the repair or modernisation of homes. This point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) earlier during the Committee stage on this Bill. One local authority gave a full grant of 50 per cent, to all the applicants except a co-operative society, which made a similar application for a similar purpose but received a grant of only 25 per cent. The decision of the local authority could not be challenged.

Under the Clause as it is sought to amend it, it would appear that if a local authority decides that it will do nothing to a certain house, its opinion cannot be challenged. It would appear that there would be no power in the hands even of the Secretary of State to deal with a recalcitrant local authority, that even Parliament would have no power and that hon. Members would be unable to make complaints through the Secretary of State. I should be pleased to hear from the Lord Advocate whether or not the interpretation which I place on the Amendment is correct.

Might we have an answer? No one in the Committee knows where the Government stand in this matter. The Government themselves appear not to know.

We have asked that "shall" shall be substituted for "may." We have, therefore, said that, as Members of Parliament, we require that local authorities shall carry out certain works on houses which have been classified as unfit and are already liable for demolition. When Parliament says that a local authority or any other person shall do certain things and the local authority or other person does not do so, Parliament usually possesses a default power and can require the local authority or other person to do what has been laid down. No spokesman for the Government has told us whether the Secretary of State will be able to exercise such power.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) has called attention to the way the subsection will read if the proposed words are inserted, and has rightly suggested to the Committee that, if the local authority is to be the judge as to whether work is necessary to keep a house in a habitable state, it is nonsense for the Committee to write "shall" into the same line of the subsection. The Joint Under-Secretary and the Lord Advocate have spoken, but neither has really tried to shed any light on the matter. We are still entirely in the dark. The local authorities will also be left in the dark. Perhaps the Government wish it to be so. I see the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) shaking his head; apparently he does not agree with me. If he knows what the Government have in mind, I hope he will intervene and tell us, because it seems that not one of Her Majesty's Scottish Ministers can tell us.

If the hon. Member will look at Clause 4 (3), he will find the answer to the point which he has been making about the inability of Ministers to enforce the carrying out of works by local authorities. I suggest that he read his own Bill.

It is not my Bill. It is a Bill which I have been opposing for many months. It is a Bill which, clearly, the majority of the Scottish electors are opposing.

I hope that the hon. Member does not propose to embark upon a discussion of the Bill as a whole at this moment.

It appears that the English hon. Members are only going to prolong the discussion and that we ought to have agreed to recommit the Bill to the Scottish Standing Committee.

I do not wish to transgress your Ruling, Sir Rhys, and to initiate a discussion upon the Bill as a whole, but I wonder whether you would allow me to reply to the hon. Member for Henley. I cannot discuss Clause 4 (3), but I suggest that the hon. Member for Henley and Her Majesty's Ministers themselves have a look at subsection (3). They will find that it has absolutely nothing to do with the question under discussion.

The point has now been answered, and perhaps we might return to the Amendment.

Our difficulty before we had the intervention by the hon. Member for Henley lay in getting to know what the Government wish to secure by means of the provisions in the Clause and, in particular, by means of their Amendment. It seems to some of us to be meaningless to say that certain work shall be carried out by a local authority if it is required in the opinion of the local authority. That means that it cannot be mandatory upon the local authority to carry out the work. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley has found great difficulty in reconciling the Amendment with what already appears in the subsection. I must say that I find it quite impossible to reconcile these Amendments. Will the Government please tell us what they intend? What is their wish? How do they expect this Clause of the Bill to be administered?

7.0 p.m.

This is not a Clause to be administered by private landlords; it is a Clause to be administered by public authorities, including the great local authorities in Scotland. The local authorities have to carry out certain works on dilapidated slum houses, and, if we take the words of the subsection and the Amendments, they are to carry out such works as are required "in the opinion of the authority." The Government say that they "shall" carry out those works. The Government must tell us on which leg they stand. Is it mandatory on local authorities to patch up slum houses which they have taken over, or does it mean that they will merely patch up those houses when they feel inclined to do so?

Some of my hon. Friends say that it is a matter of opinion. It is because it is a matter of opinion, using the words of one of these Amendments, that it seems to us to be completely permissive for the local authority; while the Government have been trying to tell us that it is not completely permissive for the local authority to do as it thinks, but that it is required to carry out certain works. I hope that some Member of the Treasury Bench will tell us on which leg the Government are standing. Is it mandatory or is it permissive? If local authorities are required to carry out certain works and they do not, what action is to be taken? If the local authorities are not required to carry out certain works, will the Government tell us why they wish to write the word "shall" into this Clause?

I was rather amazed when I first read these Amendments, and that is why I made an intervention earlier suggesting that we would probably be confused by them. I am sorry that I am not intelligent enough to understand them, but I am an engineer, not a lawyer. When I saw these words, I immediately thought that the lawyers here seemed to have discovered something which we in mechanical engineering have been seeking for years—perpetual motion.

Here we are providing that the local authorities shall do something if, in their opinion, it ought to be done. Therefore, the local authority, who are the people who will have to do the job, are to be the judges whether or not they ought to do it. It is like telling one's young son to wash the back of his neck, if, in his opinion, it requires washing. I have never heard anything like this in all my life; it baffles me completely, and, while I am not a Lawyer, I think I could assure any English hon. Member that this is not really an example of Scottish law.

I have been here long enough and I have had many discussions with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston), to be almost convinced that this is not a general principle in Scottish law. It may be a general principle in the Scottish Conservative Party, but, judging by the evidence, they are not very skilled exponents of or practitioners in either Scottish law or perpetual motion.

I ask the Lord Advocate to give us an explanation of what is meant here. Will he make it clear to me, an engineer, that the local authorities will be compelled to do that job, and, on the point whether the job ought to be done or not, that there will be other judges to decide, and not the local authority?

I will make one other attempt to clarify the situation, if I can. I am asked whether the obligation in this Clause is mandatory or not. The answer is that it is mandatory. We are substituting the word "shall" for the word "may," but, of course, we have to decide what is to be mandatory and somebody has to determine what it is requisite to do with the particular house concerned.

We think that we are justified in en trusting to the local authorities the decision as to what, in any particular case, is required for rendering or keeping a house in a proper condition. Once that is determined, it is mandatory upon the local authority to carry out the work, and, of course, a default power is avail able if any local authority does not carry out the mandate which Parliament has imposed upon it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Those default powers are avail able in Section 129 of the 1950 Act—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not remain on his feet if the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not give way.

We cannot go on with this for ever. Default powers are available under Section 129 of the Act of 1950. If local authorities do not carry out the mandatory obligations imposed upon them by the Clause, the default powers could be used, but the Secretary of State has sufficient confidence in the local authorities in Scotland to believe that it will not be necessary to exercise them. He believes that, when obligations are imposed upon them, they will see to it that in their respective areas they will carry out the responsibilities which Parliament has placed upon them.

I am far from satisfied either with the explanation of the Lord Advocate or with the preliminary explanation of the Joint Under-Secretary, but, in view of the fact that we have a great many other Amendments to deal with, I suggest that my hon. and right hon. Friends should not press this matter further.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.