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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 Lieut-Colonel Charles McLean Lieut-Colonel Charles McLean , Brigg

I wish, on behalf of the Labour Party, to point out one or two very serious defects in this Bill. In the first place, it provides that the houses are to be of not less than three apartments. The English Bill states that the accommodation is to be of not less than five apartments. Why should it be considered that Scottish people are able to live with smaller accommodation than the English people? Why should they be looked upon as the only section in Great Britain who can live in smaller houses? If a five-apartment house is the least necessary to provide health and comfort in England, then we in Scotland are not going to be content with fewer rooms in a, house than are provided for in the English Bill. That is one defect which I trust will be removed in Committee. Then there is that part of the Bill which refers to the giving of grants and loans to public utility societies. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that private enterprise has proved unequal to the task of providing houses for the people. If private enterprise has proved unequal to the task, then it is high time that the Government stepped into the breach and saw to the building of these houses; and to single out public utility societies and give them grants of public money with which to construct houses is, I submit, merely handing over to private enterprise money in the nature of a subsidy to enable them to carry on their experiments. If private enterprise has failed in the past, there is no reason to-day why Government money should be used to subsidise private enterprise for any further experiments. We know what the housing accommodation is in Scotland. We have heard extracts read to-day from the Housing Commission's Report, and we have heard of the squalid conditions which exist not merely in the large industrial centres, but in the rural parts of Scotland as well. We have had this pointed out to us probably in a more graphic manner even than the sentence used by the Prime Minister at Manchester and so often quoted: "An A1 Empire is not possible with a C3 population," the C3 population being due to the housing conditions. These housing conditions must be swept away. The evil housing conditions to-day are monuments to the failure of private enterprise and the appalling death rates that were quoted here an hour or two ago, the death-rate of children under five years of age, constitute another standing disgrace to private enterprise, which has attempted to solve the housing question in the past. I submit that to subsidise public utility societies is merely to accentuate the trouble you are trying to escape from by this Bill, and consequently that particular Section of the Bill ought to be deleted.

There is another matter which affects us. Public bodies like town councils have to submit their schemes to the Local Government Board. What guarantee are we going to have that if their plans are thorough-going and strike at the root of the problem, and are therefore likely to alleviate the evils of bad housing, what guarantee have we that the Local Government Board must accept those plans and see that they are put into operation? Looking at this Bill one would imagine that the Local Government Board is free from blame. But so far as Glasgow is concerned, Glasgow requires approximately 50.000 new houses. The corporation have submitted plans for 7,000 houses to the Local Government Board, and that body, in spite of the horrible housing conditions which obtain in that city, decided that the number of houses which would be permitted to be erected under those plans should be only 200. Is that the way to solve the housing problem? Is that going to get them out of the ditch? Is that speeding up the matter as it ought to be speeded up? Is it going to solve the housing problem in a year or two if only 200 houses are to be allowed to be erected when a scheme for 7,000 is put forward? I submit there is something more required in the Bill. There should be something to speed up the Government Departments that are standing in the way of those bodies and of those people who are striving their best at the moment to overcome this horrible evil which everyone is clamouring against to-day.

The Secretary for Scotland in his speech incidentally referred to the question of restricted covenants. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen know quite well there are certain districts in the great cities where restrictions are laid down with regard to the building of houses. It is not merely the price of the land one is asked to pay. It is not merely the price of material for the houses to be built. But there is a restriction imposed with regard to the style of architecture and that of itself has in many instances stood in the way of men who have just sufficient to build for themselves a plain accommodating house; but as they have been asked to have the house built in a certain architectural style, they have found the cost was too great and the building of the house has had to be abandoned. These are restrictions which I hope and trust the Secretary for Scotland will remove by a Clause to be inserted in the Bill, so that no individual may have the right to say that a certain style of building must be erected, and the only bodies which shall have a right to decide the class of house to be built or the style of architecture shall be either the local authority or the Local Government Board. I submit these are Sections of the Bill which require attention. The public utility society Section should be deleted, because in a most insidious manner it seeks to enable to be done by them what private enterprise, we have been told, has failed to do. It gives these bodies financial assistance. If the Government has money to spend upon building, let it be spent on houses that the Government and the local authorities are likely to own for themselves.

Some people are against State housing. Some declare that private enterprise is all that is necessary. I have already pointed out that State enterprise has failed. We see it in Glasgow, we see it in Dundee and in Edinburgh, and even in rural parts of Scotland. Private enterprise, too, in housing, as in many other things, has broken down completely, not because of the War, as some hon. Members seem to think. The Housing Commission was appointed before the War. These evil housing conditions were in existence before the War. The death rates in the slum areas of Glasgow and Edinburgh were just as high in pre-war days as they have been during the four and a half years of war. The housing problem is not a war problem. The building of the houses required to-day is not a war measure, except in that it is a measure of war against poverty and ill-health. So far as ordinary war measures are concerned, housing schemes for both England and Scotland have been hung up during the period of four and a half years of war, and the problem has become accentuated because of the lack of building. We claim that these things that the Government propose doing shall be done without private enterprise, shall be done by the Government advancing the money and holding the local authorities responsible for the expenditure of the money and for the erection of the houses that are required for the people residing in those localities. I am convinced of this, if that is done in Scotland that country will become, to use the words of the Prime Minister, a country fit for heroes to live in.