I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill merely extends the time for which application for assistance under the Act of 1926 may be received by local authorities. It extends the time by three years. If this legislation were not introduced no applications could be received and no subsidies could be paid after 30th September, 1942. The Bill therefore extends the time to September, 1945, as has been done in several other cases. I think the House will agree that it does not in any way prejudice any scheme for rural housing after the war, but it would be very inconvenient to make any change at present.
I am sure that the whole House will welcome the emergence of this Bill and will be ready to give it a Second Reading. We have seen to some extent the effects of it. Indeed the use to which the existing Act. has been put is indicated in the Financial Memorandum, and I am sure that the figures there are very significant and very pleasing because they represent a very great improvement upon Scottish, English and Welsh rural housing. I emphasise Scotland because I think it is clear from the figures that Scotland, although a smaller country, has taken greater advantage of these provisions than Southern Britain. The object of the Bill, therefore, is one that can be commended to the House and I. accept definitely the statement from the Parliamentary Secretary that now is not the time to be making comprehensive alterations in legislation of this kind.
There is one point, however, to which I want to draw attention. In Clause 2 reference is made on two occasions to the Housing (Rural Workers) (Scotland) Acts, 1926 to 1938. One would naturally think, seeing Titles used in that way that there were Acts bearing such Titles, but there are no such Acts with such Titles. It was with some difficulty that I got to the bottom of this reference, which seems to me to be a greatly exaggerated and aggravated case of legislation by reference. I know that the way in which to get rid of these difficulties is to get hold of all the Acts of Parliament that appertain to a particular subject and to codify and consolidate them, and I am hoping that in the days that lie ahead that will be done with regard to housing matters. I am sure that is something to which the House will require, some day, to bend its energies, but at the present time it cannot very well be done. When it is done; I hope it will be something more than consolidation and that there will be advance and improvement in the Act of Parliament that will emerge.
I am in this case driven back to the very evil of which I am complaining in order to remedy the immediate position in which I find myself. I am complaining of legislation by reference, yet I feel I must ask, for the purposes of clarification, for a reference to be made here showing what is the justification for referring to the "Housing (Rural Workers) (Scotland) Acts, 1926 to 1938." I have found that justification is provided by the Housing (Rural Workers) (Amendment) Act, 1938, which in Clause 12 (3) provides that that particular Title shall apply to a number of Acts that are brought under consideration in that amending Act. The clue, however, is difficult to find. It needs expert knowledge to enable that to be done and I do not want to have to rely upon expert legal knowledge, of which we have had such a scintillating display during the discussion on the Bill which has just been before a Committee of the Whole House. I want these things to be clear to the plain, ordinary man and I suggest that before we part with this Bill we should have some undertaking from the Government that this point will be clarified before the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. But for the Bill itself and its object, I have nothing but support.
The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) is an interesting one and as one who has had a little experience of local administration I have every sympathy with the desire for the codification and consolidation of Acts which have to be administered by local authorities. Having spent some little time in dealing with the consolidation of local government law on a particular committee I can assure him that his point has been looked at by previous Governments. A Committee has been set up, to go into the very point he has raised. It is, however, really one for consideration on the Committee stage of this Bill. Between now and then we will give it consideration to see whether there should be an insertion in Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 which would draw the attention of local authorities to what he has said. I give no promise except that this matter will be considered.
There are just one or two words I would like to say in explanation of the Act, particularly in its application to Scotland. Thirty-three county councils in Scotland have schemes under the Act but one or two of them have suspended operations of their schemes for the duration of the war. In Scotland we have 195 town councils; 91 of these have prepared schemes and in the seven Highland counties I think two of the burghs have prepared schemes under the Act as already on the Statute book. There are two methods of assisting under the Act—one by grant and the other by loan. The limit of the grants or the capital value of the annual grants must not exceed two-thirds of the estimated cost of the work to be carried out or £100, whichever is the less. In the case of loans under the Act they must not exceed 90 per cent. of the value of the houses after construction. Where a grant is given under the Act in respect of a house certain conditions apply to the house for a period of 20 years. The sort of works which are being carried out with the aid of assistance are the provision of water supplies, sanitation, sculleries, larders and general works of improvements. No fewer than 31,870 houses in Scotland have already benefited from the Acts on the Statute Book and improvements have been carried out.
Yes, Sir, that is exactly what does happen. In a case where there is real need we grant a certificate. We have been doing that in Scotland and we want the Act to be continued because we are hopeful that the war will not go on another three years, up to which time the Act is extended.
None of us will disagree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend in his hope that the war will not go on for another three years, but my experience shows that this legislation has become a dead letter. It is due entirely to war conditions. There are certain cases in which people have been displaced on account of houses being unfit for human habitation and we have had the utmost difficulty in obtaining a grant in order that the provisions of the Public Health Acts may be complied with. Can the Minister say whether, in the granting of these powers, if a local authority decide on a certain course of action in this matter they will be supported against the Works and Planning Department if £150 is expended in order to bring a house into a proper state of habitation? In that case, can proceedings be taken by the local authorities to comply with the Act?
With the leave of the House I should like to reply on that point. If the amount is £150, the matter will have to be referred to the Ministry of Health. But there have been a good many smaller claims. If the hon. Member will look at the figures, he will see that the Act has not been a dead letter, but that it has been extremely useful in respect of repairs.