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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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Lieutenant-Colonel Sir JOHN HOPE:

I wish to congratulate the Secretary for Scotland not only upon having introduced a separate Bill for Scotland, but upon having done so soon after the Health Bill, and I hope that with the general co-operation of Scottish Members we shall be able to catch up the English Bill. I was somewhat surprised at the attitude taken up by the Leader of the Opposition, who stated that he wondered at the patience of the people of Scotland, and he could not understand why this Bill had not been introduced before. I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is almost the only remaining member of the pre-war Government who is now in the House, and that the Housing of the Working Class Bill which was introduced in 1914 just previous to the War, had in it the very Clause by which the Secretary for Scotland sets such store in this Bill. It contained the same power of making it compulsory upon local bodies to provide housing schemes, and also gave the Local Government Board power itself to take action if the local bodies failed to do so. That was the principle of the Bill which was introduced in 1914, and with which the then Government would have nothing to do. The Bill now before the House is practically framed on the principle of that Bill, and the Leader of the Opposition is the last person in the world to cavil at the action of the present Government and to say that it is a modest step. It is in any case a great advance on anything that the Government of which he was a Member ever thought of doing. No doubt conditions have changed since the War and the housing problem has become more acute, but it existed, especially in Scotland, long before the War, and I hope now, in spite of the delays caused by the War, that we are within measurable distance of seeing the worst of all the grievances of housing in Scotland removed. One speaker expressed the hope that there will be an Under-Secretary for Scotland who will deal with housing. Under the Ministry of Health Bill, which has not yet been passed into law, I imagine that all the powers of the Local Government Board are to be transferred to the Ministry of Health. Under that Bill there is an Under-Secretary to be appointed expressly for the purposes of health, and, as I read it, he will also be the Under-Secretary to deal with housing. Perhaps the Secretary for Scotland will correct me if I am wrong. It is just as well that the point should be cleared up.

There are only two questions to which I wish to draw attention. There is, first, the question of the rent of these houses. I notice that at the Housing Congress of Local Authorities held in Edinburgh last week several representatives of local bodies were most anxious to have something definite as to the rent that was to be charged, and they pressed the representative of the Local Government Board for Scotland to give them some information. He said that it was a matter of policy for the Government, and he could give them no information. The rent that is to be charged is most important. Rules CMD 127, "Financial Assistance to Local Authorities," have been published, and I presume that they will apply equally to Scotland and to England. The rules with regard to rent, however, are not very definite. The question whether the Director or Commissioner of Housing is to deal with the rents of these houses which are to be erected with public money or whether it is to be left practically entirely to the discretion of the local authorities must, however, be faced. A speaker on the Labour Benches quoted a recent case in Ayrshire where the local authority proposed to charge £27 per year for some houses erected under the Local Government Board proposals. It is obvious that is a rent far above what should be paid by those who are most in need of houses at the present time. As far as I can gather, it is the intention of the Local Government Board that the rent should be between £10 and £15 per year, which would probably involve an economic rent of from £20 to £35 per year, according to whether the houses cost £500 or £700 to build. I think something definite should be laid down, and that it should be clearly understood whether the Local Government Board, through their Directors or Commissioners of Housing, are to fix the proportion of economic rent that is to be charged, and, if so, they should let the local authorities know. A good deal depends upon it. It is quite clear that the rents must be such that those who are earning even the lowest wages can afford to pay them. Who is to occupy these houses? Who is to have the first right to occupy them? I asked the representative of the Scottish Housing Commission whether any arrangements had been made under which the houses were to be allocated, and he said that the question had not been gone into. It is an important point that should be dealt with either now or in Committee. To my mind, there should be definite rules laid down, and it should not be left entirely to the local authorities to do what they think fit, or to let the first applicants slip into these houses which are to be paid for by the Government. It seems to me that those who have continuous work in the district, and are occupying insanitary houses which have been condemned, and which they must quit, and those who have served their country in the Army or Navy, should have first claim to these houses when they are built. There should be some rule to ensure that the people who secure them at an uneconomic rent are the people for whom it was most desired that this housing scheme should be brought forward. It is not the intention of this House or of the country that houses should be let at uneconomic rents to those who are well able to pay economic rents. I hope that some of these houses which are to be let at from £10 to £15 will be better than many now let at £20. It certainly would be quite wrong that a man earning £500 per year should live in a house the economic rent of which was £40 per year and for which he was only paying £15. I suggest that it might be a security if the Housing Commissioner or Housing Director or the local authority had the right to offer intending tenants the houses at an economic rent or one-tenth of their income, if there were any doubt whether they were the people for whom it was the intention of this House or the country to provide houses at the public expense. Both on the question of rents and the question of allocation, the Local Government Board and the Secretary for Scotland should intimate to the local authorities the intentions a little more clearly. I cordially welcome and support the Bill, and I hope that all Scottish Members will co-operate in getting it through Grand Committee with as little disagreement as possible.