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Orders of the Day — Housing and Town Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 5th May 1919.

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Photo of Mr Adam Rodger Mr Adam Rodger , Rutherglen

As representing one of the Divisions of the County of Lanark, I desire to give this Bill a welcome. There is no question more acute or one which excited more attention during the election campaign than that of housing. The people were told that the housing question would be dealt with by Parliament as soon as it re-assembled, and I am glad that the pledge is being honoured. Housing is short, and the quality of the houses requires to be improved. We rejoice that there is a promise of houses of not less than three rooms. That means a higher standard of family life, family conditions and family comfort. I am not much concerned as to whether these houses are one storey, two storeys, or three storeys. The concern is that we should have better houses, that there should be round each house plenty of fresh air, that there should be more enjoyment and comfort in the homes, so that there will be a chance of better health, better decency and better morality. From our Scottish homes, some of the very smallest in our land, there have come forth men who have risen to great fame and eminence. We rejoice that Scottish character has overcome such great difficulties, but we do not know how many lives, who might have become great, have been lost owing to the inconveniences, discomfort and ill-health of their surroundings. It is our desire to see Scotland in this respect better than it has ever been before.

While I welcome this Bill, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that it is not economically a sound Bill. It is born of circumstances arising out of the War, and of expediency, and such Bills are certain to cause trouble later on. They belong to the same family as the ninepenny loaf, and unemployment donations. It is, however, needed, and we mean to make the very best of it, even though it will cost the Treasury a considerable sum of money. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) said that when some of these war measures, such as the unemployment benefit, came to be stopped it would cause trouble, there might even be bloodshed. But even with some risks we must go forward. The trouble may arise when other people, wanting larger houses, have to pay for them out of their own pockets, without any State subsidy. But that is not the question at the moment. We feel in these days—and I am glad that it is a general feeling—that the labourer is worthy not only of his hire, but is worthy of a better home; and this Bill is doing something to provide better homes for the working classes throughout Scotland, and we give it welcome.

There are one or two matters which, if dealt with, would render this Bill more popular and more readily acceptable to burghs in Scotland. On the second page of the Bill, Clause 5, there is a provision by which two authorities interested in the same scheme can have the expenses apportioned. But there is no provision for another kind of case which is not uncommon in Lanarkshire and in other parts of Scotland. Some burghs have absolutely no land available on which to build houses, while outside the burghs there is plenty of land. These burghs are asked under this Bill to assess a rate at Id. in the£to build houses, but if a burgh has to go outside its own area to build houses, there ought to be in the Bill some provision by which that adjoining land should be annexed by a simple, ready process to the burgh area for administration. The burgh will not spend money in building houses to be rated by another authority, and there ought to be some method of dealing with this matter. I am aware that land adjoining a burgh can be annexed by application to the sheriff, but before this can be done it must be a populous place, and it cannot become a populous place until the land is built on, and when it is populous there will be a different scale of compensation. Some Clause might be added, providing in a simple, easy, and inexpensive manner that the mere act of purchasing ground for building will annex it to the burgh for rating purposes. In that way the money spent by the burgh would to some extent-come back. Some burghs in Scotland are halting in this matter because they cannot see their way to go forward spending the rates on supplying the need in an outside area. The convention of Royal Burghs passed a resolution strongly in favour of the suggestion I now make, and I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will give it his attention, and if, possible, meet the difficulty.

There is another point as to the terms on which financial assistance should be given. These are stated in a Circular issued by the Local Government Board. Formerly the Treasury was to bear 75 per cent. of the cost, and the local authority 25 per cent. That has been changed, and I think, on the whole, the change is to the advantage of the local authority. After a penny rate has been spent the Treasury steps in, but there is a condition that this applies only to schemes approved of in one year, and carried through within two years. I know that there is a provision that that term can be extended. But these provisions cause doubt in the minds of people anxious to make arrangements, and I would like to see the period extended to three, four, or five years. It is quite impossible to build anything like the number of houses that are wanted within two years. We should require to go on building at about three times the pre-war rate in order to accomplish this, and that is quite impossible. If the period is extended so that schemes approved of and carried out within four years, come under the provisions of the Circular, it would, I think, give more general satisfaction. I notice that in Edinburgh last week there was a meeting of local authorities which came to a unanimous decision that not less than four years is necessary in order to give them a chance. If these little points are dealt with I think that the Bill will be acted upon all the more quickly.

I do not need to say a word about the difficulty as to land. It is a question which is always with us, but I know one particular burgh which has been negotiating for several months, and has not yet come to terms as to the price to be paid for the land. I have a great deal of sympathy with a reference made to the 1910 valuation. Why should not that be the maximum, whatever else is arranged for? This is a question for the Treasury to look after, because there is not the slightest doubt that every extra penny paid for the land will come, not out of the local authority, whose contribution will be exhausted, but out of the Treasury. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will step in and see that a very moderate price is paid for land required for housing. These houses are required, and required as quickly and as cheaply as possible, and I hope that every obstacle will be removed that stands in the way of carrying this policy into effect. The Scottish Members and those in authority in Scotland will do their very best to push the matter forward, and f these little difficulties can be removed out of the way there will be nothing to hinder its progress.