Housing (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd July 1952.

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Mr. McNeil:

The undertaking is the undertaking given on 19th February that the complete interest rates would be met by increased subsidy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, I know, is not going to be clever at my expense. That relates to the cost of a house, and the cost of that house has got to be ascertained by available figures. The local authorities believed that the increased interest charges were going to be met on a house the cost of which was determined by the Government without reference to them, and, much more important, without reference to the actual money which they have to pay. It must, therefore, be, related to a figure which is ascertainable.

I repeat, that since there is no doubt about the figure and since quite clearly the credit and reputation of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government are at stake, there should be a simple way of tackling this, and that is to appoint someone to whom the figures are made available, perhaps a judge—I do not know—perhaps an accountant; perhaps even a schoolboy from a secondary school, because he would have no difficulty in discovering that the average rent paid in these post-war years was £33.

The other figures, I agree, are a little more difficult to ascertain, to assess and to weigh; it is a little more difficult to determine an average figure; but they, can be reached, and since there now seems no likelihood of the Government and the local authorities coming together on this subject, surely the honest way and the quickest way would be to invite the decision of some outside authority upon the area of agreed figures. It is not an academic matter. I should not press it if it were only an academic and political matter. It is a matter of great importance to the whole population of Scotland who are waiting for houses.

Perhaps because of my excessive good nature, I have given way too frequently to curious and belligerent hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I am aware that I am rather going beyond my time, but I want to make one other reference, which I can dismiss in almost a sentence or two, to Clause 7. My hon. Friend has already raised the subject of the repairs, and made a good point about this conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman that it is necessary to raise the annual contribution for repairs from £4 to £8 on all houses.

It is reasonable to think that the local authorities are more likely to be right in their calculation as to the cost of the house than he is in his calculation of £1,635. Moreover, it surely is a very wide argument that this increase should be available to all houses. We can plainly see that one would have to raise the figure on the houses coming under this Bill. One would have to raise it—I do not know whether necessarily to £8; but one would have to raise it.

I have had some information from my local authority, with the details of which I shall not bore the House, but I find from an examination of its calculations that the figure, which I have no reason to believe to be otherwise—and the repairs are effective, and are maintained at a reasonable level—is much lower than this and is slightly under £6 a house per annum. I have the details available if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would like to see them. If the Secretary of State is not able to move in this, I had better say frankly that hon. Members will feel bound to seek to amend it to a lower figure than £8 on Committee stage.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not enough for him to say that he retains power to vary this figure in relation to local conditions. What we are here discussing is a desperate situation for local authorities in relation to their rating position, and their housing revenue accounts. We are not making party capital. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been in touch with local authorities know that it is literally the position under this Bill.

There will be local authorities whose rating level in consequence of this Bill, if they are to carry out an adequate programme, will go above 20s. in the £ in one year, and hon. Gentlemen opposite know that. I say that even this little crumb of a reduction of 20s. or 30s. in the annual repairs contribution would make quite a difference to their budgeting position. I hope that we shall have an assurance that the Government will look at an Amendment relating to that.

But it is not the decisive point. The decisive point must be the size of the subsidy; the decisive point is the carrying out of the Government's undertaking to these local authorities that interest increases brought about by the deliberate action of the Government shall not be passed on to the local authorities and shall not be passed on to the houseless people in Scotland.

My hon. and right hon. Friends will not divide against the Bill for the obvious reason that, so desperate is the housing situation that even with these inadequate subsidies we should not feel it responsible behaviour to impede in any way the possibility of building houses. We know that this will reduce the rate at which house building can take place in Scotland, and in Committee we shall have Amendments to offer to many of the Clauses.