Housing, Glasgow

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1970.

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Photo of Mr Frank McElhone Mr Frank McElhone , Glasgow Gorbals 12:00 am, 18th December 1970

If I am asked in later years what was my best opportunity in 1970, I must certainly say that it was my opportunity today to raise in the House the very serious problem of Glasgow's housing. I and many thousands of Glasgow families are deeply indebted to you, Mr. Speaker, for providing this opportunity. First, I should like to pay my tribute to you, Sir, on your last day of service in the House, and to wish you a very happy and healthy retirement.

A few years ago on a visit to Glasgow the then Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, having a look at Glasgow's slums, described them as the worst slums in Western Europe. Only in June the present Prime Minister went on record as saying that Glasgow's slums are four times worse than any other city's, and that special aid must be given to the City of Glasgow. This was repeated in an editorial in the Glasgow Herald of 11th June, which said that Glasgow's housing problem was a special issue, and continued: And for the thousands of people still living in condemned or dilapidated property … there is no problem more real than that,…". At this Christmas period many thousands of Glasgow's families will spend a most unhappy time, because they will be sharing the festive season with dampness, rats and other forms of infestation. When we consider this to be a democratic society, that must rank as the most modern example of man's inhumanity to man. Christmas is a special time for children, but for many hundreds of Glasgow children this will be a very bleak period.

In last Wednesday's Glasgow Herald, Dr. Peter McKenzie, a consultant physician at Belvidere Hospital, was quoted as saying: During the winter there is a high admission rate of acute respiratory infections in young children and many of these have to be nursed in humidified oxygen tents. As a facet of poor housing conditions in the city, infantile gastro-enteritis and dysentery are responsible for nearly 1,000 admissions. Glasgow's medical officer of health said only yesterday: There are too many children in overcrowded conditions.… He also said that these atrocious conditions in Glasgow were a major cause of dysentery, and that one type, Fhexner dysentery, could also be called the "Glasgow disease" because it was quite peculiar to that city. The majority of victims lived in tenements with outside toilets and no wash hand basins or baths, and school children from homes lacking good hygiene standards were carriers of the disease. It must concern each and every one of us that in the latter part of the twentieth century people are still living in such appalling conditions.

The Prime Minister, to whom I did the courtesy of sending a letter asking him to be present this morning—although I appreciate the reason for his absence—is quoted as saying on 1st June: The people of this country deserve a better life and that is the only reason I am in politics. I am sure that that is a sentiment we all share and a principle we would all accept. The only difference is that as Prime Minister he now has an opportunity to do something about it. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: I promise you one thing and I will stand by that promise. I promise I will do everything in my power to make sure that for all the people in this country tomorrow will be a better day. I have grave doubts, as have most people in Glasgow. I fear that the Prime Minister's golden halo is somewhat tarnished by the actions and reactions of the Government since June.

Why have we so many slums? Why have we this shocking position in Glasgow? One of the main reasons is that a hundred years or more ago it was the attitude of the employers to cram in as many workers as possible as close to the factories as possible. We had a combination of property owners and industrialists—I would say the "ancestors" of the present Government—who were interested only in getting a return of 20s. in the pound and who had no regard for human dignity or the conditions in which those people had to live. There were thousands of single apartments with outside toilets which sometimes had to serve a dozen people. These apartments were known as "single ends", and it is my opinion that the single end was a slum as soon as it was built. The single end is one of the reasons why my constituency had such a high rate of tuberculosis and the unenviable record of the worst infantile mortality rate in Western Europe.

The Labour council, which was in power for a considerable number of years, achieved a record of 150,000 houses. The recent five and a half years of Labour Government, during which subsidies were increased, helped to make serious inroads into the problem. It is worth quoting the difference between the subsidies under the Tory Government of 1962 and those under the Labour Government, particularly in 1968. In 1962 Glasgow was receiving only £32 per house per year. But there was an astonishing difference in 1968, when the city was receiving £150 per house, with an extra £30 for difficult site building. I quote those figures because we are anxious about the present Government's assistance to Glasgow, and especially the attitude as shown by the new rate support grant.

Unfortunately in 1968, through misguided nationalism, Glasgow suffered a severe setback, when we had a Tory council and this tragedy was compounded by the return of a Tory Government in June last. We did not have long to wait to see the results of local Tory policy. In 1969 we had a record increase in rates, a rapidity of rent increases and a cutting back of a very effective direct labour department set up by a Labour council in 1937 which had achieved a very high standard of workmanship in house building.

It is worth mentioning here the amount of financial assistance by way of rate support grant received by the city from the Labour Government. In 1967–68 Glasgow received £26 million; in 1968–69, £29 million, and in 1969–70, £33½ million. When considering these figures we must remember the serious financial crisis we had in those years, yet the Labour Government tried to meet their promises to the city as far as possible.

In spite of that very generous assistance from the Labour Government, the City Treasurer of 1968 set about reducing the housing estimates by £700,000 in 1969. He was quoted as saying in March of that year: I think there must be a slowing up in the rate of redevelopment in this city. I would suggest that serious consideration should be given to the advisability of restricting the programme of redevelopment up to 1980 to the 14 comprehensive development areas at present in course of execution or preparation, and of postponing the remaining 15 until 1980–2000. How could anyone in such a senior position talk about keeping slums until the year 2000?