Orders of the Day — Scotland (Housing)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th July 1963.

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Photo of Mr James Dempsey Mr James Dempsey , Coatbridge and Airdrie 12:00 am, 4th July 1963

I have listened to most of the speeches which have been made today and I am fascinated by the different approaches to housing development in Scotland which have been forthcoming. What intrigues me is that on the question of housing we are immediately involved in housing finance. Hon. Members opposite have argued that it is possible to build houses for certain key workers without interest charges; in other words, that some subsidy from some unknown source should be used to subsidise the industrialists. From time to time we are told in other debates that money must be found to subsidise farmers.

When we discuss financing these services we never hear any reference to means being taken into account before the subsidies can be given. This intrigues me. The Under-Secretary has made it abundantly clear that there is no subsidy for a tenant in Scotland who earns £15 or more a week. He goes further and says,"We accept the fact that everybody in Scotland has an average of £15, and in these circumstances we believe that a subsidy should not operate".

This is a contradiction in terms—a means test for council tenants, but no means test for industrial executives or for farmers. This clearly indicates that the Government are thinking in terms of class. They are motivated by class loyalties, class interests, and class felicitations. In Lanarkshire, particularly in Coatbridge and Airdrie which I represent, the bulk of council tenants do not have £15 a week. A very large proportion do not have £10 a week. It is absurd to talk about imposing certain rentals on a community on the basis of an average wage which statisticians have worked out when the people do not have such an average wage.

If we are to tackle this problem let us do it realistically and responsibly. I listened to the argument of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. J. Henderson). He, like others, seemed to get inveigled into making comparisons between house production under one Government and another, when we know that that will in no way solve the housing crisis in Scotland. If the hon. Member had had some experience of housing administration, he would not have made such a stupid speech.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) and I are the only two hon. Members who have so far spoken who served on housing committees during the trying years immediately after the last war. Then we could not get timber for timber flooring. We had to be content with stone floors. Sweden could not export timber to this country because we could not export coal to Sweden. We had to go back to the archaic days of stone floors because of the export problem and the balance of payments problem. We tried, for example, for many years a simple gadget to cement steel window frames to timber window frames, to stop condensation running down the walls of houses, but we could not get any timber because of the export-import balance of payments problem. We were compelled to have steel window frames, which are bad condensers and cause continual deterioration in the standard of a house. I mention those two points to illustrate that it is nonsensical to try to make a comparison between the immediate post-war years and the 'fifties because there is no relative basis for such a comparison.