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Commons Chamber

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 22 November 1961

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House Of Commons

Wednesday, 22nd November, 1961

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Roads

Motorways (Accidents)

2.

asked the Minister of Transport what action he is taking to prevent accidents on motorways resulting from a motor car crossing from one carriageway to the other when out of control.

I am taking steps to ensure that the dangers of driving too fast, particularly in bad weather, are brought home to drivers. For example, in conjunction with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and others concerned, a demonstration of winter driving hazards is being staged tomorrow for Press, radio and television correspondents.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a fence has been designed which combines both anti-dazzle and anti-crash protection which might well be erected between the two highways? Is he arranging to have such a fence erected? Is he aware that although the expanded metal fence on M.1 is not primarily designed for anti-crash purposes, it has been hit at least ten times by cars which would have gone into the other carriageway, that no one was injured and that in one case the car was travelling at 90 m.p.h.?

In other cases they have gone through the barrier, so it has not been so good as my hon. Friend suggests. The main point is that if there is a crash barrier the disadvantage is that it might cause a vehicle hitting it to rebound into its own carriageway and come into collision with traffic behind it.

M1 (Anti-Dazzle Screen)

3.

asked the Minister of Transport what has been the result of the monitoring by the Road Research Laboratory of the experiment with an expanded metal anti-dazzle screen on M.1; and if he will now extend the screen for the full length of the motorway.

Studies made by the Road Research Laboratory have confirmed the efficiency of the screen in preventing dazzle from oncoming vehicles. The laboratory also keeps a check on its effect on accidents. There is so far insufficient evidence for them to reach a conclusion on this.

For the reasons given in my Answer to the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) on 15th November, I am not prepared at present to extend the screen on M.1 or to install a screen on other motorways.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that it was eleven months ago that I was told by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that the Road Research Laboratory was monitoring this experiment? How long does it take to complete monitoring and reach a conclusion? With reference to the Answer my right hon. Friend gave to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans), would not my right hon. Friend agree that what he described as the danger and discomfort from dazzle in the driving mirror from lights of following vehicles is very much less than the danger and discomfort from headlights of approaching vehicles, and that the light from following vehicles can easily be eliminated by having an adjustment on the rear view mirror?

We have examined all the motoring magazines to see what the correspondents have said and find that opinion is divided between having and not having a screen. Everyone has his own opinion about this, but the Road Research Laboratory says that a screen which is good for oncoming traffic has the disadvantage that vehicles behind do not dip their headlights and their lights are shown in the driving mirror.

Will my right hon. Friend have experiments carried out with amber headlights such as are used in France? Is he aware that they do not dazzle and are very much better in fog? Will he take his bicycle and ride about the roads at night in France and use his own eyes?

I take my bicycle to France and ride about there. The Road Research Laboratory has tested the amber light and rejected it.

Does the Minister accept the proposition that the dazzle from headlights is difficult and dangerous when the headlights are on-coming and also when they are coming from behind, but the fact that a device protects one from the first and does not protect one from the second is no reason for not having such protection as one can have?

The accumulated evidence collected by the Road Research Laboratory and the police suggests that the balance of advantage is with keeping motorways as they are, but if they decide that the balance of advantage is the other way, I shall consider the matter.

Motorways (Construction)

9.

asked the Minister of Transport whether, in order to expedite the construction of cross-country long-distance motorways, he will authorise that such roads in future be developed by private enterprise and local authorities jointly, the capital required being serviced by tolls, in cases where the necessary finance is forthcoming.

This is an interesting suggestion. Legislation would be needed to enable tolls to be charged. I feel sure, too, that Parliament would wish to consider very carefully any proposal to allow local authorities to use for the profit of private interests the powers given them to construct motorways, including the right to acquire land compulsorily and to close private accesses. In any case, it is doubtful if proposals on these lines would expedite the provision of long-distance motorways, in view of the extent to which civil engineering resources are already very heavily committed.

While appreciating that much has been and is being done now for new road construction, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that it is absolutely clear that much more needs to be done? If the limiting factor of additional new road construction is the amount of capital which can be provided, surely it would be just as well to get this new capital from any source that may be available. Would the Minister keep this matter under consideration and perhaps take the view that the right responsibility of government is to build new roads in the cities and for private enterprise to build outside them?

I will certainly keep this under consideration, as we are doing. The limiting factor is not so much cash, as it were, but the resources of the industry, especially skilled men. What has disturbed me a lot recently is the reduced number of bids that we get when we put out schemes to tender. Also, the prices are higher, which indicates that the resources of the industry are strained to the utmost.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many counties, such as Dorset, only see railway lines closing and have no hope for twenty years of new roads; and that this is a very serious problem for them?

A590 (Backbarrow By-Pass)

10.

asked the Minister of Transport when he anticipates work will start on the Backbarrow by-pass on A.590.

Preparation is going ahead and, if all goes well, construction should start within two years.

While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to bear in mind that this quite inexpensive scheme will do a very great deal to open up communications in this area? I hope that he will make sure that pressure is applied, so that the work will not go back beyond the dates he has given.

Marlow Bridge

11.

asked the Minister of Transport if he has yet come to a decision about the future of Marlow bridge; and if he will make a statement.

We will reach a decision as soon as we can. But the analysis of the traffic survey made last August must first be completed.

Is my hon. Friend aware that on 30th November, 1960, he wrote to me saying that he realised that a decision "must be taken soon". Would he interpret for my benefit what he means by "soon"? Is he aware that there is strong opinion in Marlow that the Ministry is just waiting for the bridge to fall down?

Whatever may be the opinion in Marlow, that is certainly not the opinion in the Ministry of Transport. In answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, "soon" means as soon as we have had the traffic survey, and have analysed the results.

High Wycombe By-Pass

12.

asked the Minister of Transport when work on the High Wycombe by-pass will begin.

There have been many objections to the line of the road in the draft proposals published earlier in the year. We are now considering these objections and shall consult the county council. An alteration in part of the route may be needed. Like my hon. Friend, I am anxious to see work on this important project started as soon as possible.

While appreciating the difficulties with which my hon. Friend is now confronted, may I ask him to do all he can to speed up the decision? At the moment, High Wycombe is the safest town in England; one can cross the road in perfect safety, because no traffic can move.

I hope that the House will not draw too many conclusions from the latter part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. My hon. Friend knows that, to date, we have received about 778 objections, including a petition, which I have here, from 666 people who do not like the idea of our building part, at any rate, of this by-pass. We will certainly get on as quickly as possible, but I think that this case shows to the House the difficulty we are in in trying to get these things done quickly.

Pedestrian Crossings (Double White Lines)

13.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will introduce regulations so that double white lines are provided at the approach to pedestrian crossings.

No, Sir. Pedestrian crossings are already well marked by stripes, flashing beacons and studs. It is an offence to park a vehicle on the approach side of a pedestrian crossing, and the Highway Code enjoins no overtaking at or when approaching a crossing. Double white lines would not prevent overtaking on streets where there is room for two lanes of traffic on each side.

Is my hon. Friend aware that very large numbers of accidents occur on pedestrian crossings as a result of cars passing on the approach to the crossing and knocking over those pedestrians who have seen the inside car stop? As drivers have become used to double white lines, would my hon. Friend at least give further consideration to this measure?

We are always willing to consider any suggestion which would help us to get rid of this sort of problem, but I think that it is mainly a matter for the common sense and good driving manners of motorists. As I said in my Answer, the Highway Code very strongly advises motorists not to pass another vehicle when it has stopped at a pedestrian crossing, and I am sure that the police enforce this as much as they can.

Accidents

14.

asked the Minister of Transport whether, in the interests of road safety, after more than one serious road accident has occurred at the same spot, he will ask the police to supply the fullest information to the highway authority so that lessons may be learned and more accidents avoided.

Highway authorities generally are in touch with the police about accidents which suggest that an improvement is needed to the highway, but I am considering whether any additional measures would help. If my hon. Friend has any particular case in mind, I will gladly look into it.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him to bear in mind how important it is for traffic engineers to know the full facts of these accidents, because they can often learn for the future from the unfortunate lessons of the past?

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. We have a policy in the Ministry of trying to eliminate the "blind spots", as we call them, where accidents occur. A pamphlet has been published showing the progress made. It is an excellent pamphlet. I have a copy here, and 1 will present it to my hon. Friend.

M1 (Extension)

21.

asked the Minister of Transport whether, having regard to the traffic needs of the East Midlands and of the special function of the M.1 extension as a by-pass road for Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, he will accelerate procedures for the construction of that section of the motorway which is intended to link the present terminal point at Crick with the junction with A.611 at Selston.

31.

asked the Minister of Transport when the motorway M.1 will be extended to Yorkshire.

47.

asked the Minister of Transport by what date he estimates M.1 will be in use beyond Leicester, thus easing the present traffic congestion in the city and suburbs.

I have nothing at present to add to the Answers which were given on 24th October and 15th November to the hon. Members for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) and Ashfield (Mr. Warbey).

As this programme as a whole is lagging, as compared with what happened in the case of the first section of the M.1, and as the total length of the Yorkshire extension is 86 miles, will the Minister give serious consideration to the idea of starting, completing and opening the extension in two or three sections, each of which would provide a valuable traffic link and which would serve as a temporary terminal?

It is a little early to decide that particular matter, because we are still in the stage of the numerous statutory preliminary processes which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, have caused some delay to this project as a whole in the past. But I will certainly bear that in mind.

Does the Minister realise that the extension of the M.1 into Yorkshire is needed in the near future in order to speed up the passage of raw materials and manufactured goods to and from the great industrial cities and towns of Yorkshire, and is it not the case that the Minister is short of money for this project owing to the economic mess into which the Government have led us?

No. The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in the second part of his supplementary question. The reason this project lagged was simply that the people in Leicestershire objected very strongly to the original line. That put the whole project back, as we have now seen, by a couple of years. We have now a new line and we are progressing with that as quickly as we can. In the meantime, we have proceeded with the large-scale improvement of the Great North Road, which also goes in that direction, and which will serve us very well not only in the intermediate period but for a long time to come.

Can my hon. Friend speed up these formalities in order to cut the waiting period and enable a start to be made sooner? Would it not be of great assistance to the highways committees of Leicester and Leicestershire if they could have some idea when the pressure on Leicester City at the moment will be relieved by the construction of the M.1 beyond that city?

As I have said before in Answers to Questions, Parliament has placed upon us an obligation to proceed in these road matters at a certain pace. We cannot, much as we should like to, speed up the preliminary processes faster than Parliament will allow us to do. Within the confines of the processes imposed upon us, we are making all the speed that we can.

Carlisle

23.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will include road schemes for the relief of traffic congestion in the City of Carlisle in his classified road programme for 1964–65.

We are still considering the classified road programme for 1964–65. I can assure my hon. Friend that we are well aware of the claims of Carlisle for a place.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in addition to the congestion in the centre of the city, we also get an invasion of traffic from the north into Carlisle, which is rather reminiscent of the days of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the damage that it is doing to our city? Has not his right hon. Friend had an invitation from a lady constituent of mine living in Scotland Road to spend a night at her house—and is he aware that this lady, so far as I know, is still languishing for a reply?

My right hon. Friend tells me that he has not so far received this invitation, but before replying he would like to know how old the lady is.

South-West Motorway

24.

asked the Minister of Transport when work on the south-west motorway is to start.

Work has already been put in hand on four sections of the London-South Wales Motorway, one of which, the Maidenhead By-pass, is open to traffic.

The proposed motorway from London to west of Basingstoke is still at an early stage of planning. I cannot say when we shall be able to make proposals for its route.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the South-West feels that it is very neglected in this matter? If he will look at his own pamphlet, showing where the new roads are to go, he will see that they go to the north, the north-west and the west but not to the south-west. Will he take action about this because there is very heavy traffic on the roads leading to the south-west?

This was a policy decision taken a number of years ago to concentrate our main effort for a number of years ahead on the improvement of the communications between the main industrial centres of the country. I am quite sure that this is still the right order of priorities, but we have not forgotten the claims of the south-west and, as my Answer indicated, we have long-term proposals for a London-Basingstoke motorway.

Motorways (Safety Rails)

25.

asked the Minister of Transport what steps he is taking to put safety rails down the centre of motorways.

I would refer my hon. Friend to the Answer I gave to the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) on 8th November.

Having seen that Answer and heard the Answers given this afternoon, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend would agree that the answer to this problem is to put very tough shrubs along the centre of the motorways, which would have the combined effect of reducing dazzle and of making any collision on the centre-pieces rather less severe than it would be if there were a more substantial barrier?

That is a possibility. It has been studied by the Road Research Laboratory, but we have to remember that shrubs take some time to grow.

Easington, Castle Eden And Old Shotton

26.

asked the Minister of Transport what road improvements are in contemplation for the junction at Easington Village and the various bottlenecks on the Stockton Road at Castle Eden and Old Shotton in County Durham.

A scheme for the provision of a roundabout at the junction in Easington Village is included in our trunk roads programme. A by-pass of Castle Eden and a diversion to eliminate the bad bend in Old Shotton are also contemplated, but it is too soon to say when these can be carried out.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Easington Village junction is converged upon by seven roads and that there is considerable confusion there? In view of the heavy traffic in that area, is it not possible to proceed rather more expeditiously with the work?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall act as fast as possible, because I realise the seriousness of the traffic congestion in that area.

Parking Meter Schemes

32.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will refuse to sanction schemes submitted to him by local authorities for placing parking meters in streets unless they include provision for a considerable number of parking bays smaller than those in existence at present.

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend does not prescribe the length of parking bays. We think this is best left to the local authorities which prepare and administer the schemes. Most schemes have some end bays which are shorter than the usual 20 ft.

I realise that the Minister goes about on a bicycle, but do not many of his colleagues—probably the majority of them—go about in very large cars? Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the right hon. Member for West Bromwich, for example, goes about in a Mini-Minor and that two Mini-Minors could easily fit into most of the parking places provided?

I am not aware of any of the points mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, except the last one. I and most of my colleagues travel in comparatively small cars. I can only repeat that my right hon. Friend has no duty to prescribe the length of parking bays. It is entirely a matter for local authorities.

Long Street, Thirsk

33.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware of the danger to pedestrians, especially the elderly, in Long Street, Thirsk, through the absence of pedestrian crossings in this portion of the trunk road A.19; and what steps he proposes to take to mitigate this danger in the immediate future.

It is unusual, Mr. Speaker, but may I add my congratulations to the loud chorus of "Hear, hear" which has been expressed in welcome to a very noble Member of this House, namely, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan), who celebrates his ninetieth birthday today.

The Answer to the Question is this. I explained fully in my letter of 14th March last to my right hon. Friend why the conditions on this road do not justify the provision of a pedestrian crossing. I have re-examined the position in the light of the most recent accident records but I regret that I can see no reason to alter my decision.

Has not my right hon. Friend overlooked the fact that at an inquest on an elderly person who was killed art this site early this year the jury strongly recommended the provision of a pedestrian crossing? My constituents unanimously take the view that unless something is done there will be a repetition of the accidents to elderly people crossing the trunk road, because at present they have no aid at all.

A zebra crossing does not necessarily by itself and automatically bring safety. I wish it did. It has to be sited correctly and there must not be too many of them, otherwise the motorists tend to ignore them. I have consulted the police in this matter. They agree with me that it ought not to be provided.

Is my right hon. Friend content to have these fatal accidents constantly occurring? My Question asks what steps he proposes to take to mitigate the danger. Does he intend to take no action at all to mitigate the danger?

I will take as much action as I can to mitigate danger, but I do not think that the action my right hon. Friend proposes is the right one.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on Adjournment.

M1 (Dangerous Conditions)

34.

asked the Minister of Transport whether, in view of the recent experience in wet and stormy weather on the M.1, he will provide at each entrance to a motorway a warning system so that all motorists may he aware of such dangerous conditions.

I do not think it should be necessary to provide a special warning system but I am taking steps to re-emphasise the need for motorists to take special care in wet and stormy weather, either on motorways or on other roads. This is basic to safe driving.

Clearways

37.

asked the Minister of Transport what plans he has to extend the clearway system to other roads.

I hope shortly to add to the length of clearways on trunk roads and roads in the London Traffic Area as they are brought up to the necessary standard. I am asking local authorities outside the London Traffic Area to consider making clearways on such of their roads as are suitable.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this scheme has brought a great deal of satisfaction to many road users? Will he press on with it as fast as he can?

I will certainly press on with it as fast as I can in the area under my control, which is the London area. We are now considering 13 lengths of road, totalling approximately 54 miles. It is up to other local authorities in the country to take the initiative for their areas, but I help them all I possibly can.

Great North Road (Yorkshire)

38.

asked the Minister of Transport what progress has been made with improvement of the Great North Road in the West Riding of Yorkshire since the completion of the Doncaster by-pass.

Dual carriageways have been opened to traffic between the northern terminal of the Doncaster by- pass and Wentbridge and on the Brother-ton by-pass. In addition the Went-bridge by-pass with its imposing new bridge over the Went valley, will be opened to traffic next week and will complete a 26-mile stretch of dual carriageway from south of Blyth in Nottinghamshire to Knottingley Round-about.

Does my right hon. Friend know that some of us think that at last he is providing the goods and doing very well indeed?

It is rather a shock to me to hear any hon. Member say that, but I will try to bear it.

To give an example in the use of good and simple English, will the right hon. Gentleman and his Department cease using the phrase "dual carriageway" and substitute "double roads"?

Worcester And Kidderminster Road

39.

asked the Minister of Transport what proportion of the A.449 road between Worcester and Kidderminster has been marked with either double white lines or with hazard lines; and what is the daily average of passenger car units that use the road.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures he has just given probably account for the fact that on this stretch of road there has been a serious accident every two weeks for the past three years? When may we expect something to be done about this stretch of road?

No; I do not accept the interpretation my hon. Friend puts upon the figures I gave.

May I have a reply to the second part of my supplementary question? When does my hon. Friend expect something to be done about the appalling conditions on this road?

West Country (Holiday Traffic)

43.

asked the Minister of Transport what estimate he has made of the delay caused to holiday traffic proceeding to the West Country; what is the number of cars estimated to be entering Devon and Cornwall during holiday weeks; and what steps he will take to provide an adequate motorway that will prevent this frustration to the travelling public.

Figures from this year's traffic census are not yet available. I know that holiday traffic to the West Country is delayed, but only at a limited number of weekends. Certain road improvements are being made to help the flow of traffic, but the main objective of our road programme must for some time remain the improvement of the heavy industrial routes.

Is not that reply, that road traffic to the West country is sometimes delayed, the greatest under-statement of the year? Is it not a fact that at holiday time people are held up for up to twelve hours, with consequent tremendous frustration for industrial people whose only opportunity comes at that time each year to get away from it all for two weeks? Although we must give some priority to industry, does not the Minister think that he is taking a lopsided view of the purpose of life if the subject of leisure is completely eliminated from his consideration?

No, Sir. I do not think so. We really have to concentrate on the improvement of the heavy industrial roads. It would be a waste of money to spend large sums in improving roads in certain holiday areas which would be heavily used only at limited periods of the year. In practice, there is, I think, a tendency emerging for people to spread their journeys over the twenty-four hours and not to concentrate them so much on certain times of the day.

Transport

Right-Hand Driving

4.

asked the Minister of Transport what consideration he has given to introducing right-hand driving on United Kingdom roads as in most other countries; and what estimate he has made of the approximate cost of instituting such a change.

The subject is at present being studied in my Department. The cost of adapting roads, changing traffic signs, and converting buses and other vehicles would be very high, but no estimates are yet available.

Will my right hon. Friend please remember that every month of delay in this matter is bound to add to the cost of any ultimate change, if one is desired? Will he also remember that it is somewhat absurd that we should continue in this way, placing an extra disability on our motor car industry's export drive?

I do not think that left-handed steering is a very severe disability for exports. The point which my hon. Friend has made will be taken into account, along with other items such as questions of traffic signs, which would have to be altered, white lines, minor works at road junctions and the 76,000 public service vehicles which would have to be converted. The accident factor would also have to be taken into account.

Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955

6.

asked the Minister of Transport how many local authorities have promoted Private Bills seeking powers to make travel concessions to pensioners and afflicted persons since the passing of the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why these Bills were opposed during their passage?

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that in Private Bill promotion the Government's views are not sought. If the Government had wished that these Bills should go through there would not have been opposition to them.

In the case of all Private Bills it is up to the House of Commons as a whole to decide.

7.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will give consideration to the introduction of legislation to amend the Public Services (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955, by extending its provision to local authorities competent to discharge the purpose of the Act and desirous of doing so.

While I sympathise with the problems of the classes of traveller affected by the provisions of the Act, I am not prepared to propose an extension of the concessions under the Act.

Why are the Government so much opposed to travel concessions for blind persons, people suffering from disabilities and old-age pensioners when so many of the large towns already provide these facilities?

To give concessions on particular services would give benefits to pensioners who use the services but not to those who do not use them. The same principle can be applied to such things as tobacco, where concessions which helped smokers did not assist nonsmokers. The great thing is to do what the Government have done, and that is to raise pensions.

But is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the large towns have already implemented these concessions. Why, if they are able to do so—in spite of the anomalies about which the right hon. Gentleman talks—are the Government not able to do so as a whole? The Government would get a lot of credit for this, and that is what I thought the Minister was after.

Channel Tunnel

15.

asked the Minister of Transport, in view of the possibility of the United Kingdom entering the Common Market, what is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the Channel Tunnel.

66.

asked the Minister of Transport to what extent regular cross- Channel boat and air services were delayed or cancelled as a result of bad weather conditions during the month of November; and, in view of this experience, what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the construction of a Channel tunnel.

68.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement about the progress which he made in his discussions with the French Minister of Transport last week on the subject of providing a Channel tunnel; and whether he is satisfied that machinery can now be set in action to ensure a rapid decision which will enable private enterprise to provide the necessary facilities at the earliest possible date.

I had a useful discussion about a Channel link on 17th November with the French Minister of Public Works and Transport, and reached agreement with him about the next steps to be taken on the proposals now before our two Governments for the construction of a tunnel or a bridge. Many aspects of these projects require further joint study, and this is to be undertaken by officials of both countries.

I have some detailed information about recent delays to cross-Channel services, which I will circulate, with permission, in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people will be pleased to hear of his discussions with the French Minister of Transport? Would he confirm now that this technical study will go ahead seriously and quickly, because private enterprise is ready to finance and to build the Channel tunnel without any recourse to public funds? Would he also bear in mind that, since the East Goodwin lightship went adrift, maritime interests really think a bridge is not possible?

That may be so. I can assure my hon. Friend that the joint study—and joint study is necessary in this case—between the two Governments will go ahead as fast as possible. I must say that I myself suggested to the French Government in December last, 11 months ago, that we should have these joint talks, and it is not my fault that they have only just taken place.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that for nearly three years a study group has been working on this, largely started by pressure from a Parliamentary Committee of over 100 members? That study group has already spent over £½ million on the possibilities of either a Channel tunnel or a Channel bridge and, having worked it out, has decided that a bridge is not possible. In the circumstances, would my right hon. Friend try to use what information has already been obtained by the Committee, and save a lot of time and trouble?

The information given by the Committee will certainly be used by the joint study group—information given on the tunnel—but a lot of questions will be asked on separate aspects—the legal aspect, the economic aspect, the financial aspect, and so on. But it would be wrong if we omitted from our considerations and calculations evidence presented to us only in October on a Channel bridge. There, again, many detailed considerations will have to be gone into.

As the Minister said in reply to an earlier Question that the limitation on the expansion of our transport services is due to shortage of physical resources and not of capital, will he give an undertaking that when it becomes possible to begin construction of a Channel link, it will be done as a public enterprise under public control?

I think that I had better await the outcome of the studies before I start giving assurances—that is the first thing to do—but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the question of resources, both the French resources and our own resources and priorities, must be taken into account.

Is the Minister aware that if he proceeds with this project, he will have even less resources than before to carry out the proposals contained in Questions 1–14 and 16–69?

My hon. Friend is quite right, but the House of Commons has always been noted for asking for individual things which, in total, amount to more that the nation's resources.

Following is the information:

I am informed by the British Transport Commission that gales caused serious interference with cross-Channel shipping services on 4th, 5th, 13th and 14th November, including the cancellation of a number of services on the 13th and 14th.
On 4th and 5th November, the Dover-Dunkirk ferry services were seriously delayed, the longest delay being 7 hours. Other cross-Channel services were maintained with fair regularity.
On 13th November, all the Dover-Dunkirk ferry services were cancelled, and on 14th November they were all cancelled, with the exception of the night-passenger sleeping-car ferries. On 13th and 14th November, other cross-Channel shipping services were seriously delayed, and on 13th November the Calais to Dover Golden Arrow service was cancelled, and other services were diverted.
I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation that a few cross-Channel air services were delayed by high winds in the early part of November but that, thanks largely to the absence of fog, air services were not much affected during the month by bad weather.

Motor Lorries (Long Loads)

16.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will take steps to prohibit the driving of long lorry loads requiring police escorts on the highways.

We hope shortly to introduce new controls on the movement of long loads; those over 90 ft. long will need an order issued under the authority of my right hon. Friend, and others will also be subject to control. Our original proposals met with considerable opposition, and we have revised them to reduce the burden on industry. I hope these controls will divert some loads to other means of transport or cause them to be split into smaller units. But complete prohibition would be no solution to the problem.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that some of these long loads take as long as two days to pass through counties, escorted by police—and, incidentally, at no charge to the industrialist? Does he not realise that other countries have got together with industry and, as a result, the nature of the manufacture is such that it is possible to prohibit this type of escorted long lorry load being imposed on the highway? Does he realise that these long loads constitute a menace to all road users, including cyclists?

It is precisely those conditions which led us to circulate last year regulations to deal with this problem. We are now, as we are obliged by Statute to do, considering objections which have been made by the various interests concerned, and we will announce our decision as quickly as we can.

Rural Bus Services

17.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has now had an opportunity of examining the Jack Report on Rural Transport; and whether he will make recommendations to assist bus operators in the rural areas.

22.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that the position of the rural bus services is causing widespread concern; and if he will take steps to prevent a further deterioration in these services.

I am still considering the rural bus problem in the light of the report of the Committee on Rural Bus Services. But I am not yet in a position to make a statement about this.

While I recognise that the Minister has many urgent and difficult problems to contend with, may I ask whether he does not realise that this will cause great disappointment in the rural areas where there is a feeling that this long-standing problem has not had the attention which it deserves from his Department? Furthermore, if we have the closure of branch railway lines in the future, does it not become ever more important that we should have some policy for assisting the rural bus operator?

In any closing of branch lines under the new Bill, if the House passes it, the Area Committee will be deciding upon the degree of hardship and therefore will take into account the alternative bus services—alternative to the railways. We have invited and received the considered views on the Report of the Jack Committee of associations in England, Wales and Scotland representing local authorities and the bus industry, and these are now being considered.

In view of what my hon. Friend said, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend realises that this is a matter of real urgency, if some of the rural bus services are not to break down to the great detriment of the countryside? Will he consult his right hon. Friend and see whether we can have a debate on the Jack Committee's Report, for which we asked last Session and which we never had?

I will refer that to the Leader of the House. I am aware of the urgency of the matter.

Meanwhile, will the Minister bear in mind that the Welsh rural authorities have been making representations about his failure to reach conclusions on this Report, and that if we go on as we are at the moment, not only will there be no rail services in some of these areas but there will be no bus services either, because they are being withdrawn almost week by week. Will he please give us an indication as to when he can come forward with his conclusions and when he will give us a debate on this subject?

I have answered the question about a debate. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I think that the hon. Member is grossly exaggerating this closing of the services. But we have received the reports from England, Wales and Scotland, and these will be considered in due time.

As this difficulty is particularly acute in Scotland, where a large number of branch lines are being closed, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is in close touch with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the matter?

Yes, I am indeed. In addition, the Highland Transport Inquiry, which is a joint inquiry by the Scottish Transport Council and the Secretary of State's Advisory Panel on the Highlands and Islands, recently presented a first report dealing with bus services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

As for any exaggeration, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that I am repeating to him what has been said to me by the Welsh rural authorities? In view of the criticisms which have also come from Scotland, is he sure that he is as closely in touch with the problem as he ought to be and could he not be less pert and a little more pertinent in some of his replies?

If the hon. Member thinks I am impertinent to him, I can only say that he is always courteous to everybody in the House at all times and I should like to return that courtesy, if I may. I promised, and I repeat the promise, that these representations from England, Wales and Scotland will be very seriously considered.

Railways

Scotland

5.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that present rail services to the North of Scotland are prejudicial to the development of industry there; and if he will specify his plans for capital development on diesel trains, railway electrification and other schemes, to be applied to the long hauls to the North of Scotland from the South of Britain, to remedy this situation.

The British Transport Commission is improving services to the North of Scotland by modernising traction on the West coast and East coast main lines. It has also introduced express freight services. I do not, however, accept the suggestion made in the first part of the hon. and learned Member's Question.

If the Minister does not accept the suggestion in the first part of the Question, does he realise that his Answer shows confusion of thought, just as did his speech on the Transport Bill? The right hon. Gentleman fails to realise that Britain is an island unit needing a co-ordinated system of transport to bring trade, industry and population to the North of Scotland, where it is badly needed. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his policy is in conflict with that of the Secretary of State for Scotland in this respect?

I cannot agree with the last part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's supplementary question. Regarding the first part, there is no better judge of confusion than the hon. and learned Gentleman. The dieselisation of the Scottish services is proceeding rapidly. Twenty-two Deltic, very powerful diesel electric locomotives for the east coast will be in service by the first half of 1962. The whole of the east coast route from King's Cross is being modernised by diesels. Some are already operating between Euston and Crewe and an experimental diesel service is in operation between Glasgow, Aberdeen and Oban.

In fairness to my hon. Friends who represent Scotland, let me put it on record that they certainly have good cause for complaint when they know that at least 300 passenger trains are to be withdrawn early in January. If we had planning about adequate services there would not be these complaints and if the services are inadequate now, what will they be like then?

I gave an example on Monday of one of the train services to be withdrawn and I pointed out that, on average, it carried three passengers per day.

On a point of order. This is a genuine point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Answer and since I failed to get into the debate yesterday, I give notice—

Order. I have repeatedly asked the House not to depart from the traditional formula. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not entitled to usurp to himself the right to make a speech when giving notice.

Victoria Line Underground

8.

asked the Minister of Transport what reply he has made to the letter from the Edmonton Borough Council about the proposed Victoria Line underground railway.

I informed the council that its views had been noted, and invited its attention to the reason I gave for deferring a decision on this project in my reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) on 26th July last.

Is not the Minister aware that this long-recommended line is not only very badly needed on social grounds but that it would make a substantial contribution to the economy of London, by reducing traffic congestion and enabling traffic to be speeded up? Is it not time that the Government paid attention to the planning of transport in the London area?

This must be considered among all the other projects which the railways wish to undertake.

The Minister has said that the plans for this have been in his Department for a considerable time. Public opinion seems to be in favour of this and the Report of the British Transport Commission for 1960 indicated that if the Minister gave consent, tenders could be let for this work within one month. Will the right hon. Gentleman expedite a decision and so ease the traffic jams which are so acute in this area?

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) made an interjection in yesterday's debate and said that an awful lot of money had been spent by the B.T.C. since 1955 when the White Paper on capital expenditure was prepared. That is true, but this has not been one of the projects it selected for expenditure.

Is it not true that this line, which on the face of it seems to be uneconomic, could be made to pay if the fares were slightly above the average for London and, on this basis, would not this be worth doing because of the crowds who want to travel from the north-east to the south-west and vice versa? Will the Minister consider this?

London Termini (Redevelopment)

20.

asked the Minister of Transport what plans the British Transport Commission has for the major redevelopment of the sites of London rail termini.

I understand from the British Transport Commission that it has at various stages of consideration the redevelopment of all suitable main line termini in London. Work is proceeding at Holborn Viaduct and Cannon Street Stations.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this redevelopment will be done by the Transport Commission itself or, as reported, in connection with the Clore-Cotton enterprises? Is he is aware that if private speculators are to be allowed to share in the profits of developing publicly-owned sites, profits which should go to public corporations, we on this side of the House shall take a very dim view of it? Will he give an undertaking that he will withhold his approval from any such proposals?

This is really a question of two developments: first, those solely necessary for the development of railways, which the British Transport Commission can now do itself. At present, under the Act passed in 1947, it cannot do the next kind of development, which is commercial development, and it is forced by the 1947 Act to go to speculators for that sort of development. The Bill which we introduced and to which we gave a Second Reading last night removes that grievous disability from the Commission, and, in future, if the Bill becomes law, the Commission will be able to do these developments itself.

Uneconomic Services, South-West England

28.

asked the Minister of Transport what reports he has received from the Central Transport Consultative Committee about progress in the closing of uneconomic railway services in the south-west; and what consideration is being given to the replacement of branch lines by alternative means of transport.

During 1961 a number of passengers and freight facilities in the south-west have been closed with the approval of the Central Committee. The Commission informs me that it is considering the economics of a number of others. Any further closure proposals will be submitted to the Consultative Committees, which will take into account what other transport services will be available.

My right hon. Friend will have been made aware already his afternoon of our concern about rural transport. Will he himself ensure that when these branch lines are closed for economic reasons other forms of public transport are definitely available?

That will be taken into account. Under the new Bill, the degree of hardships involved and the alternative facilities will be taken into consideration by the area committees.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider this aspect of the problem? It sometimes happens that alternative forms of transport are provided by buses, that these run for a short time, are then withdrawn and there is nothing left.

If the right hon. Gentleman has a case in mind in which he thinks that there has been an injustice, I should like to look into it. Broadly speaking, the British Transport Commission has sometimes provided these services at its own expense in order to provide alternative facilities.

Is the Minister aware that one of the branch lines to be closed is the Gwinear Road-Helston line in West Cornwall? Will he bear in mind the fact that, although British Railways give a summary of bus services now available, in five years' time many of these bus services may have disappeared and the people in the rural areas will suffer disastrously?

King's Lynn-Hunstanton (Sunday Services)

30.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has yet received a report from the Central Transport Users' Advisory Committee on the proposals of the British Transport Commission to discontinue the Sunday passenger railway services between King's Lynn and Hunstanton on Sundays from November to March in each year.

I understand that in the light of the recommendation of the Area Transport Users' Consultative Committee the British Transport Commission has decided not to proceed with its proposals.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. His proposal will avoid two towns of the size of Hunstanton and King's Lynn having their rail communication with each other cut on Sundays during the winter, which would have been very serious for us.

Reduced Services

35.

asked the Minister of Transport what general direction he has given to the British Transport Commission to compensate wherever possible for the reduction of rail services in certain areas by the improvement of alternative rail services.

None, Sir. The Transport Users' Consultative Committees, when examining proposals for closure or major reduction of railway services, take into account alternative transport facilities. My right hon. Friend also has regard to these when considering the Committees' recommendations to him and when deciding whether to give the Commission a direction.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is not only a case of taking into account existing alternative services? For example, if the British Transport Commission persists in going ahead with its policy of closing the Great Central line to Nottingham and Sheffield, will the Minister at least tell the Commission to improve the Midland service to Nottingham, which is appallingly inadequate, compared, for example with the service from London to Bristol, and also improve the branch service from Nottingham to Mansfield and Worksop, for which diesel-electric trains were promised four years ago?

I answered the Question on the Order Paper. As regards the Great Central line, the hon. Gentleman may care to know that the Committee has now fixed 9th January as the date on which it will hear oral representations against these proposals. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman gets in touch with the Committee if he wishes to say something about it.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary ask his right hon. Friend to prepare a paper explaining why he rejected the main recommendation of the Select Committee, namely, that the case for contracting the railways had not been proved?

I am not clear to which Select Committee the right hon. Gentleman is referring. If he is referring to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, my recollection of that Report does not entirely coincide with what he has just said.

I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the relevant paragraphs again.

Southern Leicestershire

40.

asked the Minister of Transport what reports he has received from the Central Transport Consultative Committee about arrangements to provide transport for those people in southern Leicestershire who will he without rail facilities on which they now rely, when the railway line between Rugby, Midland and Leicester, London Road is closed early next year.

In recommending the closure of this line the Central Committee took into account the alternative bus services which would be available. These include the proposed new service between Rugby and Leicester.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, if the proposed new service is to be effective, it must call at all the villages which are at present served by the railway, which is not the case, and terminate somewhere in Leicester City fairly near to the Midland Station and not three-quarters of a mile away, as is proposed at present?

I understand that the arrangements for the establishment of the new service are not yet finally complete, so perhaps those responsible will take note of the point my hon. Friend has made.

Shipbuilding

Government Assistance

18.

asked the Minister of Transport what was the total Exchequer assistance to the shipbuilding and marine engineering industry during the last financial year; and what was the total Government subsidy to ports and harbours.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport
(Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research gave grants totalling £130,000 to the research associations of the shipbuilding and marine engineering industries. It also spent £285,000 on the Ship Division of the National Physical Laboratory. The Board of Trade made loans of £649,500 under the Local Employment Act, for projects connected with shipbuilding and ship repairing.

Expenditure by Government Departments on ports and harbours, covering storm repairs and grants under the Fisheries Act was £262,000.

While I take this opportunity of welcoming the new research organisation which has been set up, may I ask whether these amounts are not small compared with what is being given to the aircraft industry? In view of the recession in shipping and shipbuilding and in view of the advent of new methods of propulsion, is there not a strong case for a little more money from the Government for shipping research?

We, too, welcome the decision to amalgamate B.S.R.A. and PAMETRADA. As for the future, I remind my hon. Friend of the statement which my right hon. Friend made concerning the vigorous research programme which is to be undertaken in connection with nuclear propulsion, which will involve the expenditure of far larger sums of money.

Inquiry Report

19.

asked the Minister of Transport what action he proposes to take to assist British shipbuilding and shipping, following the publication of the Peat, Marwick, Mitchell report.

This report confirmed that price has been a main factor in influencing British owners to place orders abroad. I think, however, that British yards are now quoting keener prices and there are signs of improvement in the competitive position of the industry.

My right hon. Friend and I are in close and regular touch with the senior representatives of the industry about its problems, but I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that on many of them it is only right that the initiative should come from the industry itself.

Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that it was not necessary to have even such a distinguished firm as Peat, Marwick, Mitchell to tell us that it was price which made shipowners place their orders abroad? Is it not a fact that what we want to know is why shipbuilders abroad can quote a lower price than British shipbuilders? Further, may I ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he can distinguish easily between bantam's eggs and hen's eggs?

I have no difficulty in making the latter distinction, but I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that this report and inquiry were unnecessary, because although we had reached a provisional opinion that price was the main factor, this had been based only upon a sample inquiry carried out by my right hon. Friend and myself. We thought it necessary to have a thorough, complete inquiry by an impartial body.

As for the greater competitiveness of foreign yards, I simply say that my right hon. Friend and I have formed a fairly clear opinion in our own minds as a result of our visits to foreign yards in September, but I would add that the factors which make a yard competitive are of an extremely complicated nature and I do not think that it is easy to generalise.

In view of the visit paid by the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his right hon. Friend to these foreign yards, will he consider issuing a White Paper or a similar document so that the House in general may have some indication of the type of information which they have? This is very important to shipbuilding, and I am sure that the nation would like as much information as possible in order to form a clear view.

I doubt whether a further White Paper is necessary at the moment. We have had an inquiry published last March—the Dunnett Report as it is known—and we have the Peat, Marwick, Mitchell report, and both my right hon. Friend and I have explained the conclusions which we have reached in a number of speeches and no doubt will continue to do so.

Is not the Minister aware that one reason why foreign shipbuilders can quote lower prices is the provision of extended credit facilities which do not operate to the same extent in this country? Is he also aware that some of the shipbuilding firms in this country have recently established the incontrovertible fact that on delivery they can compete on favourable terms with any foreign builders?

I entirely agree. The latter remark is certainly true of a number of British yards, although unfortunately not of all. We keep the question of extended credit under continuous review, but I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we can find no evidence of Government help over credits, anyhow in respect of the majority of our most formidable competitors.

In view of the contribution which British shipping and shipbuilding has made in the past to our visible and invisible exports, and in view of the contribution made not only during the war but since the war to the taxes of this country, will my hon. and gallant Friend ensure that at least the same credit terms and particularly interest rates and credit insurance rates are paid in this country as are paid in relation to shipbuilding contracts abroad?

That is another question. I am not in a position to give that assurance. I remind my hon. Friend that one cannot consider the question of shipbuilding credit in isolation. It is part of the general question of credit for exports on which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered Questions on 7th November.

Hon Member For Liverpool, Scotland Division (90Th Birthday)

May I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, to the fact that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) is in his place and offer him the warmest congratulations of the House on his 90th birthday.

Before you become worried about the rules of order, Mr. Speaker, may I hastily say on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends that we are delighted to greet my hon. Friend today. He is, I think, the third person in the history of the House to reach the age of 90 while still a Member. We wish him many, many, happy returns.

I thank you first, Mr. Speaker, for your kindliness in having recognised one so humble in the House. The touch of human nature which I have experienced these last 24 hours has been one of the greatest marks of the unification of the minds of right hon. and hon. Members in the House in—I do not wish to be diffident—recognising merit. I do not expect that any other Member would rise to say that personally about himself, because they are too humble. But I have not learned humility here. I learned it outside, married.

From my heart, I thank the House and the Leader of the House. I do not suppose that the next ten years of my life will be very hard to go through, but I hope that I shall be able to see the right hon. Gentleman when he is as old as I am. There is one consolation which an old Irish lady gave to me a few weeks ago. She said, "Dave, when you die—if God spares you—we will give you a wonderful funeral."

Bills Presented

Hire Purchase

Bill to amend the law relating to hire purchase and sales on credit of goods; and for purposes connected therewith, presented by Mr. W. T. Williams; supported by Mr. Jay, Mr. Oram, Mr. Darling, Mr. R. Edwards, Mr. Dodds, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Slater, Mr. Goodhart, and Mr. Shepherd; read the First time: to be read a Second time upon Friday, 8th December, and to be printed. [Bill 18.]

Consumer Test Registration

Bill to provide for the registration of particulars as to the financial state of affairs, control and management of bodies corporate and unincorporate, engaging in the publication of comparative reports on consumer goods or services or in the award of diplomas or of the authority to use marks or emblems denoting approval of such goods or services or their compliance with certain standards, and for the registration of particulars as to the criteria and results of research or investigation carried out for the purposes of such reports or awards; and for purposes concerned therewith, presented by Mr. Goodhart; supported by Mr. MacArthur, Mrs. McLaughlin, Mr. R. Carr, Mr. Darling, Mr. Price, Mr. Proudfoot, and Mr. W. T. Williams; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 26th January, and to be printed. [Bill 19.]

Local Authorities (Historic Buildings)

Bill to make provision for contributions by local authorities towards the repair and maintenance of buildings of historic or architectural interest; and for purposes connected therewith, presented by Mr. Channon; supported by Mr. Deedes, Sir H. Kerr, Dr. Stross, Mr. Ridley, Mr. Driberg, Mr. Robert Cooke, and Mr. A. Royle; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 9th February, and to be printed. [Bill 20.]

Protection Of Amenity

Bill to make better provision for the protection and enhancement of amenity in town and country, presented by Mr. Brian Batsford; supported by Mr. Deedes, Sir H. Kerr, Mr. Crosland, and Dr. Stross; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 9th March, and to be printed. [Bill 21.]

Fair Trade Practices

Bill to prohibit deceptive and misleading advertising and labelling of consumer goods and other unfair trading practices; and for purposes connected therewith, presented by Mr. Robert Edwards; supported by Mr. Darling, Mr. Oram, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Slater, Mr. Owen, Mr. Dodds, Sir M. Galpern, Mr. Pavitt, Dr. Dickson Mabon, and Mr. Stonehouse; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 23rd February, and to be printed. [Bill 22.]

Carriage By Air (Supplementary Provisions)

Bill to give effect to the Convention, supplementary to the Warsaw Convention, for the unification of certain rules relating to international carriage by air performed by a person other than the contracting carrier; and for connected purposes, presented by Mr. Neave; supported by Sir A. V. Harvey, Mr. Ronald Bell, Dr. Bennett, Mr. de Ferranti, and Mr. J. H. Osborn; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 23rd March, and to be printed. [Bill 23.]

Local Authorities (Amenities)

Bill to enable local authorities to provide, protect and enhance local amenities, presented by Mr. Ellis Smith; supported by Dr. Stross, Mrs. Slater, Mr. T. Brown, Mr. Harold Davies, Mr. Swingler, Mr. C. Royle, Mr. Frank Allaun, and Mr. W. Griffiths; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 23rd February, and to be printed. [Bill 24.]

Police Federations

Bill to amend the law relating to the constitution and proceedings of the Police Federations, presented by Sir M. Galpern; supported by Mr. Callaghan, Mr. R. Edwards, Mr. John Hall, Sir H. Lucas-Tooth, Mrs. Hobson, and Mr. C. Pannell; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 9th February, and to be printed. [Bill 25.]

Sexual Offences

Bill to amend the law relating to homo-sexual offences, presented by Mr. Abse; supported by Mr. Chataway, Mr. Rawlinson, Mr. Thorpe, Mr. Fitch, and Mr. LI. Williams; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 9th March, and to be printed. [Bill 26.]

Lotteries And Gaming

Bill to make provision with respect to the interpretation of references to private gain in certain enactments relating to lotteries or gaming, presented by Mr. Bidgood; supported by Sir Harmar Nicholls, Commander Donaldson, Mr. Farey-Jones, Mr. D. Howell, Mr. Lagden, Mr. Lipton, Mr. McAdden, Mr. N. Pannell, Mr. A. Roberts, Sir E. Errington, and Mr. E. Johnson; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 23rd March, and to be printed. [Bill 27.]

National Assistance Act, 1948 (Amendment)

Bill to amend section thirty-one of the National Assistance Act, 1948, and to empower local authorities to provide meals and recreation for old people; and for purposes connected therewith, presented by Mr. G. Johnson Smith; supported by Mr. McLeavy, Miss Vickers, Mr. Popplewell, Lady Gammans, Mr. George Craddock, Sir F. Markham, Dr. Dickson Mabon, Mr. T. Brown, and Mr. Worsley; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 8th December, and to be printed. [Bill 28.]

Agricultural And Forestry Associations (Trading Agreements)

Bill to provide that certain trading agreements entered into by associations of persons occupying land used for agriculture or forestry shall be exempted from the application of Part I of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, 1956, presented by Mr. Aitken; supported by Sir R. Nugent, Mr. Corfield, Mrs. Emmet, Mr. Marshall, Sir P. Agnew, Sir C. Osborne, Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine, and Sir A. Hurd; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 26th January, and to be printed. [Bill 29.]

Insurance Companies (Share Capital)

Bill to increase the minimum paid up share capital required by an insurance company to which the Insurance Companies Act, 1958, applies, presented by Major Hicks Beach; supported by Mr. du Cann, Mr. Walker, Mr. MacArthur, and Sir T. Moore; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 9th March, and to be printed. [Bill 30.]

Landlord And Tenant

Bill to require the giving of information by landlords to tenants; and for purposes connected therewith, presented by Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 23rd March, and to be printed. [Bill 31.]

National Insurance (Widowed Mothers)

Bill to provide for the abolition of the earnings rule in relation to widowed mothers by the amendment of section seventeen of the National Insurance Act, 1946, presented by Mr. W. Griffiths; supported by Mr. Delargy, Mrs. Slater, Miss Herbison, Mr. Mellor, Mrs. Cullen, Mr. Fitch, Mr. Frank Allaun, Mr. C. Hughes, Mrs. Castle, Mr. Mapp, and Mr. Finch; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 9th February, and to be printed. [Bill 32.]

Shops (Airports)

Bill to exempt shops at certain airports, and the carrying on of any retail trade or business at or in connection with such shops, from the provisions of Parts I and IV of the Shops Act, 1950; and for purposes connected therewith, presented by Commander Kerans; supported by Mr. J. Harvey, Mr. Goodhew, Mr. Channon, Mr. Shepherd, Mr. N. Pannell, Mr. K. Lewis, Mr. Jones, Mr. F. M. Bennett, Mr. Scott-Hopkins, and Mr. Drayson; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 26th January, and to be printed. [Bill 33.]

Air Guns And Shot Guns, Etc

Bill to restrict the use and possession of air guns, shot guns and similar weapons, presented by Mr. B. Harrison; supported by Sir L. Heald, Sir A. Hurd, Mr. Deedes, Mr. Goodhart, Mr. Hobson, and Major Hicks Beach; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 26th January, and to be printed. [Bill 34.]

Local Government (Records)

Bill to amend the law relating to the functions of local authorities with respect to records in written or other form, presented by Mr. Ridley; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 23rd February, and to be printed. [Bill 35.]

Coal Consumers' Council (Northern Irish Interests)

Bill to provide for the appointment to the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council and the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council of persons to represent Northern Irish interests, presented by Mr. H. Clark; supported by Mr. Blyton, Sir D. Campbell, Mr. Currie, Mr. Forrest, Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor, Mr. Maginnis, Mrs. McLaughlin, Mr. McMaster, Mr. Stratton Mills, and Captain Orr; read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 8th December, and to be printed. [Bill 36.]

Orders Of The Day

Housing (Scotland) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.38 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Nearly five years have passed since the last major Housing Bill in 1957. In that time, about 140,000 new houses have been built in Scotland, enough to rehouse close on half a million people. The total number of houses built since the war is also approaching the half million mark, but, of course, the task is a continuing one and the major objective remains that everyone with a genuine need for a house should be able to obtain one at a cost which he can afford. The time has come, however, to reassess the position and to see what changes are called for in the light of progress during the last five years.

For many years after the war, the compelling need in Scotland was to build just as many houses as possible in every part of the country. The need for that first and almost indiscriminate rush of building has ended and it is now clear that the remaining housing problems differ in kind and in extent as between one area and another. Our job now is to make certain that the resources available are put to the best use by being channelled where the need is greatest.

In the words of the White Paper on Housing in Scotland, which was presented to Parliament recently:
"There is no longer, in fact, a single housing problem, but rather a series of particular and local housing problems. In some parts of the country there may no longer be any serious housing needs still unmet; elsewhere, however, there are still urgent problems which call for a sustained and imaginative effort."
In so far as these problems fall to be met by local authorities, some are better able financially to tackle their problems than others. This is largely because some authorities have a larger number of houses which were built when costs were low, while others have a high proportion of houses which were built when costs were high. Accordingly, the average annual outgoings per house are much higher in some areas than in others, and subsidies have been at different levels at different periods, with the result that the average subsidy payable per house varies. Moreover, rateable values and rate burdens vary greatly from one area to another. The authorities with large programmes of building still ahead of them are not always those best placed financially to undertake these programmes, and it is primarily to help these heavily burdened authorities that we are proposing to redeploy the Exchequer assistance to housing. 1 shall discuss the details of these proposals later.

If the present situation calls for a redistribution of subsidies to local authorities, it also demands that we should make use of all available building agencies—not only local authorities—in the provision of housing throughout Scotland. Between 1945 and 1960, only 10 per cent. of the houses built in Scotland, compared with 36 per cent. South of Border, were built by private enterprise. The rate has been increasing in recent years, but the proportion is still inadequate and still well below that in England and Wales. Most disappointing of all has been the virtually complete lack of private building for letting. This means that the many people who are unable, or do not want, to buy their own house, but do not need—or want—to live in a subsidised house, are not having their needs satisfied.

There is no need to assume that local authorities must build for such people, but someone must do so. That is the background to my proposal that Exchequer advances should be made available to housing associations which are building for letting at economic rents or for "joint ownership" on the pattern which has been so successful in Scandinavia. I shall have more to say about that later. At present, Scotland has, in some respects, an unfortunate public image. Years of over-dependence on heavy industry and of relatively high unemployment have conjured up in the minds of some people who do not really know what is going on a totally false impression of the country as a depressed, backward area, with shabby tenements and unattractive, low-rented, subsidised houses.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned to dispel this image, to attract new and more varied kinds of industry, to give more employment and to encourage in every way new economic enterprise and initiative. I say quite frankly that I do not believe that we shall ever do this unless we encourage equal enterprise and initiative in the provision of houses. The skilled workers that we want will not move willingly if we cannot offer them the kind of house that they want.

There has been a great rise in real incomes since the last war. As more and more people own cars, television sets, and the like, more and more people want to own their own houses or can afford to pay unsubsidised rents. Naturally, we all welcome this. But we must recognise that this is a continuing process, and that means that in a sense there is no final solution to the housing problem; all the more so since, as standards rise, the rate of obsolescence accelerates and people demand not only more, but better, houses.

Local authorities must adjust themselves to these changing demands. As I have said before, housing should not become the monopoly of local authorities or of any other single agency. That is very far from implying that major housing tasks should not continue to be undertaken by local authorities. Indeed, I believe that, if private enterprise is able to satisfy the demand for unsubsidised housing, then local authorities will be the better able to concentrate on providing subsidised houses for those who need them. They will be left free to attack the special problems of slum clearance, overspill, and so on, which they are best placed to tackle. In short, public and private house building are not mutually exclusive. They could, and should, be complementary to one another, each fulfilling the tasks most appropriate to it.

No matter how far we try to solve Scotland's remaining housing problems by a redistribution of subsidies and by the encouragement of building for economic letting, we shall fail until the rents charged for local authority houses reach a more reasonable level.

These are really the main considerations underlying the Bill: the great disparity in housing need between local authorities; the lack of building in Scotland by agencies other than local authorities, and especially of private building for letting; and the continuing policy of too many local authorities charging unreasonably low rents. When I come to the details of the Bill I shall deal with the physical problems which still face us—the need to stimulate slum clearance, the improvement of our older houses, and the provision of houses especially designed for old people.

Before I explain the detailed provisions of the Bill, perhaps I may make a general comment on the reasoned Amendment which stands on the Order Paper in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and some of his hon. Friends. The Amendment refers in the first place to the Bill's failure to
"deal with the problem of interest rates or to provide the local authorities and other public agencies with the means greatly to increase the supply of houses in Scotland."
I do not propose, in this speech, to go into the old story of high and low interest rates. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I had occasion to speak on that subject only a very short time ago. One thing, however, that I want to say is that the new subsidy structure in the Bill is designed to give increased Exchequer assistance to those local authorities which are most heavily burdened, either because they have to build more houses or because their houses cost them more. I therefore hope that the Bill will encourage authorities with large housing needs still to meet; and I am sure that the subsidies now provided, combined—I must emphasise this—with the resources available to them in rents and the rate contribution, will supply the means required to meet those needs.

The Amendment also refers to the "excessive discretionary power" which the Bill gives me and to the "financial uncertainty" to which it will expose local authorities. In this connection, I think that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will at some stage today use a phrase which I have heard him use before, a quotation from my earlier days. I may touch on those points to which I have just referred in my speech, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to deal, in his winding-up speech, with any evidence that hon. Members opposite are able to put forward in support of these allegations. But I do not myself know how they can possibly be justified.

I am awaiting for hon. Members to give it, When we have heard it, we shall deal with it.

The first part of the Bill contains the new subsidy proposals. The kernel of these is to be found in Clause 3, which lays down a new form of "resources test" to be applied to each local authority each year. If this test shows that an authority's resources are less than adequate to its commitments, it will get a subsidy of £32 per house in place of the present £24. If the authority's resources are particularly inadequate—the details of this matter are to be found in the Second Schedule—it will get supplementary payments up to a total of £56 per house.

lf, on the other hand, its resources are shown by the test to be adequate, it will get a lower rate of subsidy of £12. If as a result of continuing building an authority's commitments outstrip its resources, it will be able to move up from a lower to a higher rate of subsidy.

I have been a little puzzled to know what happens to the people who are neither black nor white. Presumably, there will be a big gap between the two types of authority who are the ideal cases for the higher and lower rates of subsidy. What will happen to the marginal authorities which it is difficult to say are in one category or the other?

The right hon. Gentleman will find that the marginal cases are dealt with in the Bill. If I do not pick up the point as I go along, it can no doubt be explained later.

The mechanics of the resources test are described in the White Paper. Essentially, the idea is to take each authority's housing revenue account for the latest available year, but to adjust it by substituting for the actual income from rents and the rate fund contribution a notional income from these sources related to the gross valuation of the houses in the account. If the adjusted account shows a deficit, the higher rates of subsidy will be payable—£32 or up to £56 if the deficit is exceptionally large. If the account shows a surplus, the lower rate of £12 will be payable. If, however, the surplus is purely marginal as defined in Clause 3 (5), the £32 rate will be payable. This, I think, is the point raised by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn).

The working of this new test turns, of course, on the notional income from rents and the rate fund which is substituted for the income actually received. For this purpose, we have the new independent assessment of fair market rents of the main assets of each authority—that is, the houses themselves—in the form of the new valuations under the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956. Clearly, the notional income from rents plus the rate fund should not be less than the total of these valuations. The valuations, however, have themselves quite properly been influenced by the long-standing tradition of low rents in Scotland. We have, therefore, provided that where the average valuation in any area falls short of £60 the notional income per house should be set, not at that average, but at that average increased by one-half the amount by which it falls short of £60.

Since the average valuation of local authority houses in Scotland is about £46, this means that we are assuming an average income from rents and the rate fund of something like £53 per house—that is, half the difference between £46 and £60. The actual figure will, of course, vary for each local authority and there is power in the Bill to alter the figure of £60 if at any time changing circumstances should make this desirable.

There seems to have been some misunderstanding of this proposal, so I must emphasise that the subsidy structure, does not dictate the actual level of rents charged by a local authority. It will still be for each local authority, as at present, to decide how much of its expenditure should be met from rents and how much from the rate fund, but, in fixing rents, local authorities must, of course, hold the balance fairly between their tenants and the general body of ratepayers, as was emphasised in the reports on the Glasgow and Dunbarton rent inquiries.

Provision for the supplementary subsidies for local authorities who are shown to need more than the higher basic subsidy of £32 is made in the Second Schedule. This is an emergency provision designed to help the most heavily burdened authorities, and there is, therefore, a preliminary requirement that to qualify for these supplements an authority must have a rate burden above the average for Scotland. The supplements of £8, £16, or £24 then become payable according to the size of the notional deficit on the housing revenue account. With a maximum subsidy, basic and supplementary, of £56, it is thus possible under the Bill for an authority to receive more than double the £24 which it receives at present for the normal run of its houses. This is the practical demonstration of what I mean when I say that we are endeavouring to channel assistance into those areas which need it most.

The reverse side of the coin, of course, is that some authorities will drop from £24 to £12 subsidy. I have no doubt that the authorities concerned will not like this, but I should like to make two points about it. First, any authority which qualifies only for the £12 rate must have adequate resources to fulfil the housing task which it faces and there really can be no justification for giving such authorities, at the taxpayers' expense, a subsidy which is not shown to be necessary. Indeed, it could be argued that if their resources are shown by the statutory test to be adequate, there is no case for paying them any subsidy at all.

After all, the more assistance that is given to these better off authorities, the less must be available for those authorities that are badly in need of it. Secondly, under the arrangement made in this Clause, an authority on the lower rate of subsidy knows that if it uses up its surplus resources by continued building, it will qualify for the higher basic subsidy and, in time, if its needs warrant this, it could qualify for the supplementary subsidies as well. These basic subsidies will be available like the present subsidy of £24 for such categories of approved need as slum clearance, overcrowding, old people's houses, and so on, but certain special subsidies will be retained for particular needs.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals with two of these subsidies: that for building for overspill by local authorities and that for incoming industrial workers. These subsidies will be payable at a flat rate as an alternative to the subsidies at different rates under Clause 3.

The subsidy for overspill building will remain at the rate of £42 per house. Since this subsidy for local authorities was introduced in 1956, overspill building has continued to increase. Thirty-four overspill agreements have been approved, three of them within the past three months. The total number of houses promised under those agreements is over 7,400, quite apart from the additional houses to be provided by the Scottish Special Housing Association in conjunction with the local authorities' own overspill building programmes.

How many houses have been built under the agreements?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give that detailed information when winding up the debate. I did not wish to burden my speech with too many detailed figures.

Clause 2 also provides flat rate subsidies for houses built by housing associations and by development corporations acting as housing associations. This is necessary because the resources test under Clause 3 is not applicable to housing associations, which have, of course, no rating resources. I hope that this increase in subsidy will give further encouragement to the work of housing associations, which have not yet, I am sure, reached the full measure of what they can contribute to the solution of our housing problems in Scotland.

The other special subsidy provided for in Clause 2 is the subsidy on housing built to meet the urgent needs of industry. This has been raised from £30 to £32 per house and it is our hope that it will encourage that mobility of industry which is so necessary if the new industrial pattern of Scotland is to develop to the full.

I should like now to deal with the subsidies provided for in Clauses 4 to 7, which are additional to the appropriate rate of basic subsidy. Clause 4 ensures that special subsidy will continue to be paid on houses provided for agricultural workers. Previously, the subsidy was at a flat rate of £36. Now, it is to be £12 additional to the basic subsidy, thus retaining the previous differential.

Clause 5 changes the basis of the subsidy for high flats. When this was introduced in 1956, not much was known about costs of high building in Scotland and the subsidy was in the nature of an experiment. Since then we have learned a lot about these costs, enough to allow us to pay the subsidy as a fixed additional amount instead of on a complicated formula related to the cost of each individual project. We shall now be able to cut out the detailed scrutiny involved in a variable subsidy, and thus save a great deal of administrative time. The rate of £40 is, in fact, the average amount which local authorities have received under the existing formula.

While that has been the average sum receivable by the local authority, could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this £40 flat rate subsidy will compensate for the additional cost of going upwards, or whether the local authority is left to bear some of the addition al costs because of the shortage of virgin sites?

It is an average. I should just like, to check very carefully on that point before giving a categorical statement in answer to it, but the point is that the figure is almost what the local authorities have been receiving.

Clause 7 introduces a new subsidy for houses built on expensive sites. Local authorities are increasingly turning to the central areas in our towns where the costs of development can be high. I think that this is a move which we would all welcome. The hundreds of thousands of houses which have been built since the war have too often been in big estates on the outskirts of our towns, involving long bus rides to places of work and of entertainment and, an important point, to the homes of relatives, especially the old people, who were left behind when the young families moved out. One of our biggest tasks in the next few years will be to restore life to our deserted, sometimes even derelict, town centres; what is known as urban renewal and redevelopment.

I feel sure, therefore, that it is right to provide this additional subsidy for authorities who have to build on un- usually expensive sites. It will be paid, in addition to other subsidies under this Bill for houses built on sites with a developed cost of more than £4,000 per acre. Together with the amendments to slum clearance procedure in Part III of the Bill, it should be a real encouragement to local authorities to tackle the slum clearance and the redevelopment problem with even more energy than before.

I mentioned earlier that another particular problem was the building for small families, especially old people. Clause 10 extends the definition of "house" to make clear that the full rates of house subsidy will now be paid for groups of small flatlets, specially designed for old people, with some communal facilities and services. These are particularly suitable for older people who are too frail to live in complete independence in a house, but who are able to look after themselves in accommodation where household chores are cut to a minimum and where the help of a resident warden is readily available. I very much hope that this subsidy will encourage experiments in Scotland with this type of accommodation, which can provide a useful halfway house between complete independence and life in an old folk's home.

All these new subsidies will be payable for houses for which tenders or estimates were or are received in my department on or after 1st November this year, and will as before be payable for a period of sixty years. But by Clause 8 (2) I am giving notice of the possibility that subsidies under the Bill might be adjusted, both in relation to amount and duration of payment, at some time during the period of sixty years.

This power cannot be used till a period of ten years has elapsed from the passing of this Bill, and any Order which is made under this Clause will be subject to affirmative Resolution of this House. It is the Government's intention that this power should be used only if there were such a major change in the economic circumstances of the country and the community that it would be unreasonable to maintain the present rates of subsidy. It might well be that, in practice, legislation would be required to meet the change in circumstances.

The purpose of this Clause is, in a sense, to serve notice upon local authorities that, if economic circumstances alter, the Government, over this long period of years, do reserve the right to seek Parliament's approval to reduce their aid accordingly.

There is one other point I would make about this, namely, that hon. Members really should not read too much into this.

I have no feeling of guilt about this. I was merely realising that hon. Members may not fully appreciate the reasons for this Clause. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will give them now.

It is clearly not sensible to freeze payment of subsidy over so long a period as sixty years; for we have seen how radically circumstances can change over a period very much shorter than this. What we are doing—and this is an extremely sensible and wise thing to do—is to leave the way open for any redeployment of subsidies which may be required at some time in the future in order to secure the best distribution of our resources.

The right hon. Gentleman has been very good in going over the different categories for which subsidies will be paid. He has mentioned the centres of towns. Now his Department has a list of buildings which are not allowed to be destroyed because of their historical interest. It applies to a great number of places. The City of Edinburgh, for instance—to take perhaps the principal example—is trying to reconstruct High Street to retain its character. Is the right hon. Gentleman still retaining powers to give special consideration where, in accordance with his wishes and the wishes of the Historic Buildings Council, these historical buildings are to be reconstructed in a special way?

That is a slightly complicated point. I think that I had better not answer categorically at this stage since I might give a rather misleading answer. But I think that the point is covered, though the right hon. Gentleman has put it in a way I had not altogether expected.

I should like to get this clear. The right hon. Gentleman is claiming the right, in case of circumstances altering, to take this power by Order in Council to reduce the appropriate subsidy during the period of sixty years, but not earlier than ten years. Is he fully realising that a high rate of interest of 7 per cent. to which local authorities' finances have to be geared in the provision of houses does make it very difficult for progressive, forward-looking treasurers to map out ahead as they would like to do to create the towns they want? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that they find it very difficult because of their fear that he will reduce subsidy at some time in the future?

I do not think that that worry should necessarily arise or need arise, because it is quite clear that the change in circumstances would have to be very substantial indeed before this provision could possibly be operated. It would be very obvious that the whole situation in the country had changed substantially. I do not really think that any treasurers need be inhibited by anxiety about what might happen under this Clause. This Clause is a sensible precaution, to serve warning now. It is better than waiting till, say, twenty years' time—though I doubt whether I shall be the Secretary of State then. It is better to give the warning now.

I have seen it suggested, and hon. Members opposite will no doubt repeat it, that this new power introduces an element of uncertainty into local authorities' plans for the future—the point which the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has already made. I really cannot accept that. As I have said, this is only to serve notice, and this power would be used only if there were any major change in economic circumstances. But in such circumstances the whole basis of housing finance would probably be altered anyway; and the possibility of a reduction at some time between ten and sixty years from now should not, I repeat, worry local authorities any more than all the other uncertainties which may arise so far ahead.

I come now to another new feature in the Bill to which we do attach particular importance, the provision in Clause 11 which enables me to advance money from the Exchequer up to a total of £3 million to housing associations which undertake to build houses for letting at unsubsidised rents. This is one of the means by which we hope to fill the gap between subsidised local authority houses at one end and unsubsidised owner-occupied houses at the other. For this purpose the Secretary of State will be ready to enter into direct arrangements with housing associations which submit suitable proposals. Where a scheme is approved the advance may cover anything up to 100 per cent. of the cost, though I should expect that the associations would normally be able to put in some money of their own. The advances will be made at the same rate of interest as loans to local authorities by the Public Works Loan Board.

This is an experiment. It is a bit of pump priming really. I very much hope that it will prove a success, and encourage private builders to re-enter the field of building for letting. Housing associations have been selected for this experiment because, in a sense, they stand midway between the local authorities and the private builders and they already have considerable experience in the provision of houses to let. Only housing associations registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act will qualify for participation in this scheme, so as to make certain that only bona fide, non-profit-making organisations take part in it. We shall also want to make sure that the houses provided under the scheme meet a real local need and are built to a satisfactory standard.

We have great hopes that this scheme will encourage bold experiments in house building and house ownership, and it is because of this hope that I have taken discretion to waive the requirement that houses provided under this scheme should be kept available for letting. This will allow me to approve houses provided by a housing association on a co-operative basis.

Under this kind of arrangement the association would finance the building of houses for its members who would occupy the houses as individuals and, as members of the association, would jointly own them. This type of cooperative ownership is already an established and highly successful feature of housing in Scandinavian countries where it has made it possible to build and maintain housing schemes to extremely high standards of design, layout and amenity, and this is one of the cases which we in this country could do well to look at and try to improve upon.

Is the right hon. Gentleman confident that the amount of money set aside centrally will be adequate to meet this purpose?

Yes, at the start. One can only say that at this stage. One can only take a figure and start with it.

Houses under this scheme will not attract subsidy. An exception, however, will be made, as I indicated earlier, in the case of houses built for old people. Such houses will attract the £32 subsidy payable to housing associations under Clause 2 (2, c). This is further evidence that we want to do everything possible to encourage the provision of modern, specially designed houses for old people. We must remember that is estimated that in the next twenty years there will be an increase of 170,000 in the number of persons of pensionable age in Scotland and we must try to provide the right kind of houses for them.

The third main consideration to which I referred at the beginning of my speech was the level of rents in Scotland. I have already said something of the bad effects this has had on housing in Scotland and on the Scottish economy generally. Whatever one does about it is unlikely to be universally popular, but it is something which really must be put right and I am quite sure that many hon. Members would agree that many tenants are themselves uneasy about being heavily subsidised by their fellow citizens.

I have, therefore, thought very carefully about the best way of tackling this problem. There are, of course, many different approaches which might be tried. The Gordian knot could be quickly cut, for example, by taking the power to fix rents right out of local authority hands, but this kind of solution does not seem to me to be at all sound.

I said in debate on the Estimates, on 4th July, 1961:
"I am certain that in the end good sense will prevail, and do not think that any hon. Member would wish to argue that the general responsibility for fixing rents should be taken out of the hands of the authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 4th July, 1961; c. 17.]
Starting from this point, therefore, we have considered a variety of other possible ways of limiting or guiding the wide discretion entrusted to local authorities in the fixing of rents.

One possible way would have been to provide in statute that the rate fund contribution to the housing revenue account should not exceed a given level. The difficulty about this is that if the statutory limit were to be high enough to be fair to some authorities, it would be too high for others. This might be avoided by allowing the Secretary of State to grant dispensations in certain cases. But this too would represent, as even I admit, an unacceptable interference with the independence of local authorities. I use the word "even" to meet the complaints of hon. Members opposite. If, however, they study the Bill and all other Bills with which I have been connected they will find that they are permeated with my confidence in local authorities.

Another plan might seem to be the provision of more detailed statutory guidance for local authorities on the factors they have to take into account when fixing rents. But authorities are already required to charge rents that are reasonable, and after careful study we came to the conclusion that any formal elaboration of this requirement could not be relied upon to achieve its purpose. This does not mean that local authorities are left without any guidance at all; for they have before them the excellent reports by two eminent members of the Scottish Bar on the rent inquiries in Glasgow and Dunbarton which discuss in some detail the factors which they should take into account in fixing rents.

The publication of these reports, and the action which I have taken to bring them to the notice of local authorities, have undoubtedly contributed to the encouraging movement in rents which has been taking place this year. During the last few months over 100 local authorities have either increased rents or intimated a definite decision to review them. This is only a beginning—for we have still a long way to go before we can be satisfied that Scottish local authority rents generally are on a fair and reasonable basis—but it is a useful beginning.

I hope, therefore, that the rent return which authorities will be sending in at the end of this month, and still more the return for next year, will show a result which will begin to look realistic and, I hope, well above last year's low average of 9s. 1d. a week. I am confident that the good sense of Scottish local authorities is prevailing, and will prevail, and that they can be relied upon to put their house in order without any further statutory directions.

It still remains true, however, that some local authorities may disregard their statutory duties in this matter. At present, the default procedure against such local authorities is cumbrous and perhaps not wholly effective. Clause 29, therefore, tightens up the default procedure which exceptionally may have to be carried through against a recalcitrant authority. The effect of the Clause is that where, after the procedure provided in Section 356 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, has been followed, a local authority is found to be in default in its rent-fixing obligations, the Secretary of State may make a "rents scheme" which will be binding on the authority.

I must emphasise, however, that this applies only in the case of authorities who have been shown by a local inquiry to have been in default of their statutory duties. Not unnaturally, no one will he more pleased than myself if the exercise of the powers in Clause 29 is proved by events to be unnecessary.

The Bill also includes provisions on other matters—improvements, the functions of the Scottish Special Housing Association, slum clearance procedure, repairing obligations on short leases, and some miscellaneous provisions. I mention them only briefly at this stage.

Clauses 14 to 17 deal with improvements. The most important of these is Clause 15. Among other things, this enables the owner of a house improved with the aid of grant to increase the rent by 12½ per cent, of his share of the cost of improvement, instead of 8 per cent. as formerly, and it allows the local authority, where a house is not subject to a controlled tenancy, to permit an increase of more than 12½ per cent. It requires the authority in fixing the maximum rent for certain improved houses to have regard to the rents of similar houses not subject to a controlled tenancy. Clause 16 permits an increase from 8 per cent. to 12½ per cent. in the return available to the owner in respect of the cost of imp:7ovements carried out without grant.

Clauses 18 to 20 and Clause 33 extend the powers and functions of the Scottish Special Housing Association to enable it to carry out works of improvement and conversion, to participate in the scheme of building for letting at economic rents, which I have already described, and to take over the houses belonging to the First and. Second Scottish National Housing Companies. These two small companies, one established during the First World War, the other in the 1920s, no longer build houses, and it seems an obviously sensible arrangement that the S.S.H.A. should take over and manage their houses. The normal operations of the S.S.H.A., including assisting in overspill, will, of course, continue.

Part III of the Bill contains some useful amendments to the procedure for dealing with unfit houses. I said earlier that slum clearance and redevelopment is one of the biggest tasks before us. Most of our legislation about it dates back to 1925 and 1930 and it therefore seems desirable to see what might be done to improve the machinery under which local authorities carry out this work. I arranged for a group of my officials and representatives of the three local authority associations to review the existing procedures and consider what might be done to improve them. Clauses 21 to 24, together with some consequential and minor amendments in the Fourth Schedule, are based on the recommendations made by that informal group. The amendments have also been agreed in principle by the local authority associations, and I hope that they will be generally welcomed.

I do not suggest that the amendments set out in the Bill comprise all that might be done to revise the existing provisions, but I was anxious to take this opportunity to make a number of changes which seemed to offer practical assistance to local authorities with their immediate problems. The, amendments are technical in character, and I do not think that the House would want me to go into details of them now.

Part IV contains provisions designed to protect tenants under leases of under seven years against unreasonable repairing obligations. Under Clauses 25 and 26, the landlord is made liable for the repair of the structure and exterior of the premises and certain main installations, and any repairs provision in a lease purporting to impose liabilities on the tenant is rendered inoperative so far as it relates to matters for which the landlord is so liable. Clause 27 provides that the sheriff may authorise an agreed modification of these liabilities in an appropriate case.

The liability imposed upon a landlord by these Clauses is one which a good landlord would normally accept as his own responsibility, since the tenant under a short lease of, say, less than seven years does not have sufficient security of tenure to enable him to reap the benefit of any expenditure he might incur on major repairs.

These, then, are the proposals which I place before the House for consideration and discussion. If I were asked to describe the aim of the Bill in a word, I should say that its purpose is to introduce a much needed measure of flexibility to Scottish housing—flexibility in that Exchequer assistance will now be channelled into those areas which most need to tackle the special housing tasks; flexibility in that encouragement is given for building by agencies other than local authorities, especially for economic letting; and the flexibility which will result from more reasonable rent policies. I commend the Bill to the House in the belief that it will make a real contribution to the solution of the remaining housing problems in Scotland.

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to say anything about the remote areas before he concludes?

I did not intend to go into detail at this stage. I feel that I have kept the House for a long time. Doubtless my hon. Friend can deal with such matters when he speaks later.

4.23 p.m.

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to deal with the problem of interest rates or to provide the local authorities and other public agencies with the means greatly to increase the supply of houses in Scotland; gives excessive discretionary power to the Secretary of State; and exposes the local authorities to financial uncertainty."
The Secretary of State began his speech, as he ended it, by saying that we all ought to be satisfied with the present rate of house building in Scotland.

The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that after the war the need was to build as many houses as quickly as possible, and sometimes indiscriminately, and he followed that—it was his next sentence—by saying that the need for the rush has ended. But he ended his speech by telling us about the present need to adjust rent policies, and so on. If he had brought forward any evidence that the local authorities in Scotland which have pursued a high rent policy in recent years had thereby been enabled greatly to increase the supply of houses, we might have been impressed by the contribution which increased rents might make to the solution of our housing problem.

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and their friends in the country constantly say that the one obstacle to the provision of housing is the unwillingness of some local authorities to charge reasonable rents. Are there not some authorities in Scotland charging reasonable rents? Does not Edinburgh charge what the right hon. Gentleman would regard as reasonable rents? What is Edinburgh's performance compared with that of the general run of local authorities? Does not Dumfriesshire charge reasonable rents? What is its performance in the provision of houses compared with the performances of local authorities generally? The truth is that the Bill is introduced for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is so to push up local authority rents that it will be easier for private enterprise to get still higher rents for the houses which it owns—not the new houses which it is to build, because it is not going to build new houses, but for the old houses which it still owns.

I shall try to put before the Secretary of State a few arguments in support of the contentions set out in our Amendment. I would, first, ask him to join me in examining our housing need. He has told us about the houses provided since the end of the war. He said there have been half a million; the White Paper says 450,000. The White Paper also tells us that about 800,000 houses, have been built since 1919. That is about half our stock of houses in Scotland.

When the right hon. Gentleman refers to 1919, he might equally well refer to 1913. During the last fifty years we have built half the stock of houses occupied by the people of Scotland at present. Does the Secretary of State know any other industrial country in which 50 per cent. of the population live in houses built before 1913? Such figures are thrown about recklessly and casually and are readily accepted by many people in Scotland who are of no particular political affiliation, and this causes them to adopt a complacent attitude and think that a lot of houses have been built and there is nothing to worry about.

The fact is that about one-third of our houses in Scotland—just over 500,000—are more than eighty years old, having been built before 1880. The Secretary of State knows full well that precious few of them contain any modern amenities. We are building at the rate of about 28,000 a year, from all sources. How long will it take to replace the houses built before 1880? At the present rate of building, it would take us eighteen years if every house built was set aside to replace one of those aged dwellings.

But a great many of our houses built after 1880 and before 1913 are also hopelessly inadequate to the needs of our times. A good deal of the slum clearance programme carried out in the last few years has been among houses built around the turn of the century. In industrial counties like Lanarkshire great numbers of houses were built for industrial workers, around the iron works and the coal mines, sixty or seventy years ago, certainly after 1880.

These houses were being described in this House thirty years ago as slums that ought to be removed. Many of them have been removed, but many still remain and ought to be removed as soon as possible. To us on this side of the House, it is not only a problem of dealing with these half million houses built before 1880. We have very many more families than we had. People are marrying younger, and they have to be accommodated. We also have a great housing need among the homeless families and those living in subtenancies.

I believe that anyone looking at these figures objectively, and knowing what these old houses in Scotland are like, will realise that, at a building rate of 28,000 houses a year, we shall never solve our housing problem. Indeed, as living standards rise in other parts of the world, our problem will be seen to be getting worse and worse. This is the condemnation of the Bill. It does not begin to deal with the problem of housing. It reeks of complacency, as did the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State seem to think this extremely funny.

indicated dissent.