HC Deb 25 July 1919 vol 118 cc1746-69

(b) The value of the whole of the said land shall next be ascertained on the basis of its value as a cleared site subject to the requirements of the scheme as to the provision to be made for the rehousing of persons of the working classes on the land or any part thereof.

Amendment made: After the words "working classes," insert the words "or the laying out of open spaces."—[Mr. Munro]


The Amendment standing on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) and of the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson)—[to insert proviso in Schedule 2]—would impose a charge, and is therefore not in order.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the made be now read the third time."—[Mr. Munro.]



I should like to say first of all how much we appreciate the courtesy and ability with which tae Secretary for Scotland and those associated with him have conducted the proceedings on this Bill. It has been no light task, because those who know anything at all about the law know how the intricacy of the existing Acts and the very complex administration, which also had to be taken into account, have constituted a labour which required not only ability but good-will to push them through to a successful conclusion. In a matter of this kind we always say, and with justice on this occasion, that we wish the scheme had been a larger and a better one, but such as it is I frankly admit it is a very considerable step towards such a state of things as will finally solve the worst housing problem in the whole of the United Kingdom, which I say, without hesitation, obtains in Scotland—far worse than in England. The statistics which were given on the Second Reading are enough to shock the sense of patriotism and to bring a touch of shame to the cheeks of all Scotsmen to know that such a condition of things still obtains in Scotland. I should like my right hon. Friend, when he replies, to tell us if he can what has been done, how many schemes have been approved, to what extent those schemes are in actual operation, and if a single house has yet been completed under them. I fear the position in Scotland is the same as it is in England. Notwithstanding all our promises and bright hopes last autumn, not a single house has under these Government schemes yet been officially delivered to the nation. Difficulties, I know, there have been and still are, but it is no excuse really and fundamentally. The urgency is so great. Very definite stops should have been taken much earlier, and we are now face to face with a serious position. Complicated as it is by our social unrest, the position with regard to housing, the delay in getting on with it, the fact that there are no houses yet delivered, is a matter which is, I fear, one which lies at the root of a considerable portion of the unrest which is rampant throughout the country.

I want to pass from that to deal with the question of the water supply. My right hon. Friend anticipated that I would put down an Amendment, and I fully intended so to do, on the Report stage to reopen this question, but after consideration I thought it might lead to very considerable discussion and unnecessary expenditure of time, and I feared that the result would be to leave the position just as it was before such a discussion took place. I therefore wish to refer to it as briefly as possible on the occasion of the Third Reading. What I desired to do was to give power, if possible, to small authorities who were pledged by themselves, and compelled by the State, to furnish new houses, within reasonable limits to require great authorities, which had already acquired the water-sheds, to supply them with the water vitally necessary for these housing schemes to be carried into operation. I regretted to find that that was practically outside the scope of the Bill. It could not be done. The other attempt I made was to secure that these local authorities should have swift and economical access to supplies of water which were untouched by any existing water authority, and I quoted the pre- cedent in the English Housing Bill, which, I thought, went a long way towards that end; but, on consideration, I have come to the conclusion that there are existing in Scotland already, not ample, but at any rate very nearly ample, powers for that to be accomplished, with this drawback, that where a Provisional Older, which any local authority can get, subject to the approval of the Local Government Board, to acquire such water supply, is obtained where you have the landowner refusing, or whoever else has the right to refuse, he can drive the local authority to the floor of this House by compelling an order, which must be laid in the usual way, and is open of course to acceptance or rejection by either House of Parliament. That is an expensive and a heart-breaking prospect for the local authorities. I am glad, ever, to know, on investigation, that only in a very few cases has it been found necessary to bring a landowner to a proper sense of his public duty, and I hope that the much increased pressure of public opinion will reduce the risk of these Provisional Orders being carried through this House to a minimum. Still, there is very considerable room for improvement with regard to that, and I hope my right, hon. Friend will bear that whole question in mind.

But we all agree that that is only a very niggling way, so to speak, of dealing with the whole problem. The only effective way of dealing with the problem is that recommended by the Royal Commission, and endorsed by all citizens of common sense who know anything about Scotland, or indeed about England, and that is that A survey of the whole water assets of Scotland should be made with a view to ascertaining and recording in a Government register what are the available supplies for the use of the inhabitants, and to what areas such supplies should be directed. There is at present no co-ordination. Then they give a remarkable instance, which I will quote again: In Mid-Lanark there arc no fewer than five large water undertakings in operation, each independent of the other, and having their source of supply not far removed from each other. The main pipes of several of these undertakings run side by side for many miles in the public highways. I repeat it, because there is nothing like rubbing this in, so that the public should be informed of the present ridiculous position. There is common assent on the part of all those who know anything about the question that this matter of the water survey is of the very greatest importance. It will have another result, I am quite sure. In Scotland, as we now, in normal years, at any rate, there is no lack of water, and the water supplies of Scotland can be, I am quite confident, not only adapted to the needs of housing, but are quite capable of enormous extension for industrial uses, so that this survey, which we are all urging on the Government, should be taken immediately. It would not only be very useful—indeed it becomes vitally necessary—for the supply to houses, but would have, I am sure, a very beneficial reaction on the industrial development of Scotland, not only in the great centres of urban work, but also throughout the whole country.

With regard to the recommendations that have been made by the Royal Commission, I am glad to acknowledge that a very large number of them have been supported in the Bill, and while we thought the Bill, as originally presented, did not deal with quite a number of the points, I am glad to acknowledge that, as the Bill was going through Committee, a large number of improvements were made, and I want to say this at once, that the work in Committee was done by all parties—everybody was really bent on a common purpose—to improve the Bill as far as they possibly could. There are still one or two points which are outstanding in that respect, and which I would like to urge on my right hon. Friend. There is, first of all, the water, and then I do think power should have been taken in connection with the combination of authorities for carrying out a proper and adequate scheme, and, indeed, for the future water supply. I hope I am right in stating—I have not been able to check the figures myself—that there arc no less than eighty borough authorities in Scotland, and forty-six of these are under 3,000 population. That shows with what position they are faced. The smaller authorities cannot grapple with great schemes which are really necessary. I hope there will be, in some future proposal at all events, a provision for proper means of combination. You can do a great deal by agreement, but still, after proper inquiry is made, there should be some power of going even as far as compulsion, because often we know how really most useful schemes are stopped by petty rivalries on the part of bodies in their desire to perpetuate feuds, which may be-very interesting, but are essentially minor, and stop real, genuine public improvements. I suggest that something might be borne in mind in regard to that.

Another point which certainly appeals tome very strongly as a lawyer is the very urgent need of codification of the law in these matters. In Committee there was a vista opened up of Statute's old and new, of administrative orders, of practices grown up into almost the authority of Statute law. Not only a competent but a, highly skilled man who specialises in these matters can painfully wend his way through the maze of legal intricacies with which the whole of the law of local administration seems to be overgrown in regard to certain Departments. The need for codification of the law relating to this great topic is not merely pressing from the point of view of those people dealing specially with these questions, but really is an urgent public matter, because—and this is the last point on which I shall dwell—unless we have an informed public opinion in regard to carrying through these reforms which are overshadowed by these legislative enactments, they will fail of their high purpose. It is the driving force of public opinion which alone makes these things possible through this House, and on to the Statute Book. You can only achieve this by letting the people know what is the position. There is growing up, and has grown up, not only an educational interest in public administration, but there are growing up young men and young women who arc quite competent to read an Act of Parliament which deals with a question itself without reference to other Acts, and that awful legislation by reference. The need for codification is not only because of those who are handling problems of this sort, but because we require a thoroughly well-informed public opinion. In this respect I hope I am rather pushing an open door when I urge—perhaps vehemently, as I do—upon my right hon. Friend that in the course of the next few months something might be done, or at least something commenced, so that next Session codification might be really effectively dealt with.

I am thankful, as we all are thankful, I think, that we have arrived at the Third Reading of this Bill. I hope it will swiftly be placed on the Statute Book. I again repeat, Statutes are of little or no avail unless there is a high-minded public opinion behind them. I hope that throughout Scotland there will not be the doubtful benefit of considering that the public authorities are the only people to attend to this work. Such a spirit tends to undermine the whole of our social system. What is the State? Is it the Government in Whitehall, or Edinburgh, or the great municipalities, or the parish councils? These are not the State. The State is the individual. I am terrified—I say it quite frankly—wheh I see this constant devolution of the matter of individual responsibility, Really, I am frightened by it. I hope, at any rate, that whatever we may do in other respects in the solving of these problems of great, deep, vital urgency, that every person will regard their own individual responsibility in these matters. I trust they will say, "This is our job. It is for us to see that these things arc done." I trust no one will say that when a Statute is put on the Book, or an Act of Parliament created embodying a new scheme, that the thing is done. In the real sense it has not begun, or only begun. Things are not in active operation when we have only set up the machinery, and that machinery is no use unless we have the driving force embodied in the individual responsibility of people realising the State is themselves—that we are the State. It is our business to recognise our civic responsibility—to see that such a measure as this does not fall short of its beneficent intentions.


With my hon. Friend who has just spoken, I very heartily join in congratulating the Secretary for Scotland on having reached the end of his labours. I also thank him for the manner in which he has conducted the proceedings throughout. This is a very large measure—a much larger measure than perhaps a casual reading of it would suggest. It will involve an enormous financial responsibility, and very heavy burdens indeed. No doubt, as time goes on, we shall get urban houses in the urban districts, both large and small. But the measure seriously fails in meeting the difficulties of rural housing. These difficulties are greatly aggravated by the present financial position—the double disadvantage owing to the high rates of money and the very high taxation on the individual persons who have to pay these rates. I fear from this cause, and not from any other, the right hon. Gentleman will be prevented doing what he would like in regard to rural housing. Before this Debate finishes, I trust he will be able to give us some little information about the schemes already put forward. I know of many already more or less settled. In my own county they have been settled. All it was in our power to sanction have been sanctioned. I do not know how the financial difficulty is to be overcome. At the present time local authorities are asking from their bankers sums of money for these and other purposes. It is perfectly impossible for the bankers to tie up their money in this way, with due regard to their other obligations and the safety and security of their banking transactions. There is too great a disposition at the present time on the part of the Government authorities to think that the money for these schemes can be found either in that way or by local effort. I do not believe it can be found in that way. You are up against that difficulty, which is not, so far as I can see, an easy one to overcome. It will, I have every hope, be overcome subsequently in a way which, perhaps, is not very possible at the present moment.

The difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman has raised about the water supply is, of course, a very great one. Where there are large numbers of local and urban authorities there is a certain co-ordination in this respect, and a large number are included in the district committees of the counties. They do not independently deal with the matter or that of the county police, etc. This particular matter is not quite so bad as it looks. I know of a good many cases in which there is duplication. It would be a very great benefit if what is suggested could be done by various of these authorities, for such co-ordinated schemes would certainly save money. There is plenty of water, no doubt, in Scotland, but the difficulty is storage for it, and that will cost money. It is not the water that costs the money but the provision of storage, and there will be great difficulties in regard to the cost of land. We know that sometimes ridiculous prices have to be paid for land for these purposes, and I hope that will be dealt with under the provisions of the Bill which I hope we shall sec one of these days. We still have this very great expense in connection with storage. I do not know that the right hon. Gentleman referred at all to the question of rural housing, and I do not know how he feels with regard to it. I know he will be willing to make the terms as easy as possible. I know that, equally with myself, he regards as important the fact that the advances have been limited, and that the period of time over which the repayment is to take place has been greatly reduced. There is a very great difference between forty and fifty years in this matter, and, in view of the present rates of interest on the capital payments, they should be reduced to the lowest possible limit in order that the burden should not be too heavy. I have never thought that the Government were quite justified in taking up the lines they did in regard to advances to private persons.


First of all, I should like to join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Secretary for Scotland upon the way in which he has conducted this Bill through all its stages. I am sure we are all very much indebted to him for the way in which he has met us upon the various points, and the courteous manner in which he has dealt with them. There is one point which I think he has not dealt with, or, at any rate, he has not been able to deal with, perhaps, on account of the Treasury objection, and that is the question of rural housing. My hon. Friend who has just sat down has stated very clearly what the situation is with regard to that, but I should like to supplement his remarks from the point of view of the proposal which has been made by the. Secretary for Scotland, that private proprietors can and will be in a position to form themselves into public utility societies to get over their particular difficulties. The Secretary for Scotland told us in the Scottish Grand Committee that landowners could quite well combine and form a public utility society to improve rural housing conditions, that it was quite simple, and that he knew of no insuperable objection to its adoption.

What is the actual formation of a public utility society? First of all, the tenants will be entitled, if not required, to be shareholders of the society on equal terms. They can elect a tenants committee, and there is security of tenure, and the tenant can only be given notice to quit for non-payment of rent or bad debts. Supposing a number of proprietors in the neighbourhood form a public utility society upon these lines. Their express object would be to form that society with the object of erecting or improving houses on their estate. Would it be a practical thing for tenants who are farm servants and shop-herds and others to become members of the public utility society which they would be entitled to do. The point which arises is that of security of tenure. We all know that there are good servants and bad servants, and there are always black sheep among the farm servants and shepherds. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are black sheep among the landlords!"] Yes; I know there are, and I quite agree. Supposing a. public utility society is formed and houses arc erected for that purpose, and the farmer wishes to engage another shepherd. That shepherd may say, "I have security of tenure, and I intend to stay on." In that case you cannot turn him out. That is a difficult point which is inseparable in connection with proprietors or farms forming a utility society. I think that is a complete answer to the suggestion that proprietors should form public utility societies, and if they do so they will be able to compete with what is necessary for rural housing in Scotland.


There is Clause 18.


As the Bill stands, proprietors have to depend upon Clause 18, which provides for loans to private persons, which we have just had reduced in a considerable manner, whatever my right hon. Friend may say. Incidentally, I was interested to hear the Leader of the Independent Liberal Opposition state that he believed in individual enterprise, and did not believe in shuffling all responsibilities on to the local authorities, and notwithstanding this he went into the Lobby a short time ago against an Amendment which was intended to assist private individual enterprise and to prevent them shuffling all these duties upon local authorities. We have now to accept what is contained in this Bill with regard to-housing in Scotland, but it does not provide for rural housing in the way that it should, and I believe that when its provisions have been in force for not a very long time there will be further public clamour in Scotland to amend it in such a way as to give better provision for rural housing.

Another point that has arisen in connection with the Bill on its Third Reading is in respect to water supply. I believe it is necessary, if housing is to be effective in Scotland, that some measures should be taken to place at people's disposal, especially in rural areas, such water supplies as are available. But even the Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland were not able to deal with that subject within the four corners of their very efficient Report. I venture once more to make a proposal which I submitted in the Scottish Grand Committee, that a Royal Commission should be set up as soon as possible in order to go into this question thoroughly in Scotland, and to advise what can and should be done to co-ordinate these water supplies. I believe that, if such a Commission were set up, under the chairmanship of the gentleman who sat as chairman of the Royal Commission on Housing, who has very great knowledge of these subjects, and who during that Commission had opportunities of getting still more knowledge, it would be possible to obtain a Report within the space of, say, six months which would be very useful and helpful and upon which the Government might be able to act. I should like once more to congratulate the Secretary for Scotland on having got through this Bill. I believe it is a Bill which will go far in burgh areas to solve the housing problem.


I was exceedingly sorry to see even that small minority a few minutes ago, because, as far as I have been able to judge, the right hon. Gentleman who has been conducting this Bill has done so sympathetically and with consideration for all the parties interested. But if rural housing is to become an accomplished fact—and those who are most intimately acquainted with rural housing know best the need for it—I fear that, so far as this Bill is concerned, we have not yet solved the problem. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman has, I believe, done his very best to consult all the interests concerned, and has endeavoured, as far as possible, to bring within the limits of this Bill a scheme that will provide what was promised by the Leaders of the Coalition party. I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having provided in the Bill accommodation for seasonal workers. Those who know agriculture best, and know the condition of things which attaches to the coming of agricultural labourers from Ireland and other districts for limited periods to work on farms, know the scandal that that life in the past has been, and that it would cause all those interested in the moral welfare of the people to blush for shame. I think that this Bill will solve in a very great measure the difficulties that have pertained to this kind of work in the past.

Another point that has been raised is that of water supplies, and I hope that something will be done to provide water for those rural houses situated miles away from any source of supply. There is no possibility of having a water system that will supply all the rural districts, but there are cases where there is water a few hundred yards away from houses which absolutely need it, but where, owing to its not being the property of the person building the house or houses, it is not possible to obtain a supply on reasonable terms. If the acquisition of land includes the acquisition of water, I should be thoroughly satisfied, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill will be able to assure us that that is so.


The answer is in the affirmative; it certainly does.


I am very pleased indeed to hear that, because those who know the country as I know it, know that, not-withstanding all the water that we hear about in Scotland, there is probably no other country in the United Kingdom where provision for the laying on of water in rural districts has in the past been so much neglected. In future I hope that these cottages will have the same privileges which obtain in the towns at the present time. In conclusion, I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill for the manner in which he has led us to this point, and I trust that he will endeavour to see that the Local Government Board for Scotland uses every bit of momentum that can be obtained to get on with housing. I think that in the other House a Noble Lord said the other day, in regard to afforestation, that what they wanted to do was not to discuss afforestation but to dig holes and plant trees. What we want to do is to get on with the building of houses at the earliest possible moment.


I think the Scottish public may well be gratified that the promises which the Coalition made at the election have so rapidly fructified in honest and sincere legislation. I am sure this Bill will produce a good effect. So far as legislation goes the Government have fulfilled their promise fully and honestly. I should like to echo most sincerely every word which the right hon Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said with regard to the need for codification. I gathered from the motion of the head which the Secretary for Scotland made that he generally believes in the necessity for codification, and I hope that the Scottish Office has that great and important question under consideration at this moment. I also echo what he said with regard to the necessity of unifying action, if necessary by compulsion, in order to drive the activities of different local authorities in one direction. This, of course, is only the machinery, as various Members have said. That is profoundly true, and everything depends upon the spirit in which that machinery is worked; and I am sure his Scottish colleagues will join in congratulating the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Glasgow on taking office under the Secretary for Scotland in such an important position at the Scottish Office, where, as I believe, he will have under his particular change the future of Scottish housing. I only wish that in addition to that hon. Member there had been in the Scottish Office, or connected with it, some gentleman of "push and go," a gentleman of tact and imagination and of endless perseverance and energy, such as the Minister of Health enjoys in the person of my hon. Friend the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield. What he has already done with regard to English housing, and particularly housing in London, is, I think, not sufficiently known to Members of this House. I believe it was only yesterday when one of the local authorities in London which had refused to have anything to do with the housing schemes of the Government was visited by my hon. Friend, and after discussion it unanimously rescinded its resolution and immediately proceeded on the right lines. I hope my hon. Friend will keep in mind the necessity for having some man of "push and go" of his own in Scotland, or else get in close touch with the hon. Member for the Brightside Division. I want to say only one thing more. It is necessary that the local authorities should be encouraged and not discouraged. My right hon. Friend will forgive me for giving him one particular instance which is in my mind. In the constituency which I have the honour to represent there is a town which requires at once twenty houses. The local authority have planned two streets. They have laid down the streets, they have laid the drains and have everything ready for building the houses. Then an emissary of the Secretary for Scotland comes round and says: "I see you have everything ready in Street A and Street B, drains clown and streets prepared, but you are not going to build your twenty houses there, don't you think it; you have got to go over to this entirely undeveloped site, and put your houses in that position." In these days of economy, when local authorities should be encouraged and not discouraged by incidents of that kind, I trust that my hon. Friend will see that in all matters of administration the greatest tact and sympathy are always exhibited towards local authorities, and such needless waste of public money avoided in the future.


I do not wish to add to the embarrassments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, who has had handed to him this morning so many compliments, but I do wish to acknowledge the unfailing tact and courtesy which he has exhibited all through the passage of this Bill in its various stages. I have to acknowledge that particularly, because on one occasion I put down what I believed to be one of the most important Amendments in the Bill and he was good enough to accept it. As representing an important industrial constituency in Scotland, I very cordially welcome this Bill, and, having regard to the lateness of the hour and the other business, I only wish to offer one or two observations to the House. In various speeches a great deal has been said about various matters which really are not in the Bill at all, and I want to confine my observations to what is in the Bill. What does this Bill do? It imposes certain obligations upon the Government, upon the Local Government Board, and upon public authorities. You cannot impose obligations of that nature without creating a corresponding right. The corresponding right which is created in this case is that every working-class family in. Scotland has the right to demand a decent and suitable house. That involves a tremendous obligation and responsibility, especially upon the Department administered by my right hon. Friend. Up to its present stage it cannot be said that this Bill has not been very fully debated. I think every line, every word, every comma, has been the subject of discussion, and as a new Member it has been a revelation to me that my fellow Members from Scotland possess eloquence and debating power in such a high degree as they have exhibited, especially in Committee. I have no doubt that all those speeches were delivered with a single eye to the good of the country and the benefit of this Bill. I am sure Members had no other object in view in making those speeches. I have only two observations to make about the Bill. The first is that I am extremely sorry the first cost of the houses is to be increased by what I regard as an unfortunate and inequitable system of acquiring the land on which the houses are to be built; but that matter is settled and is now beyond all power of interference. The second observation is the urgency of the position regarding housing in Scotland. This requires no reiteration and no further emphasis on my part, but I do know that the local authorities in my own Constituency of the Dunfermline Burghs are looking forward to the coining winter with the gravest possible concern, as many other local authorities are doing in Scotland. It is, therefore, up to my right hon. Friend to show in his administration of this Bill that he means business. This House has placed in his hands possibly the greatest instrument for remedial legislation in Scotland which the House of Commons has ever passed. The responsibility now rests upon him, and I hope he will not allow any officialism of any kind to stand in the way of furthering this legislation and getting houses actually built. The people are very much alive to this question, and it has a great deal to do with the prevailing unrest in Scotland and elsewhere. Now I have said all I want to say except this. We have had a great deal of speech-making and talk, and I think it is time that we finished the talking. In heaven's name, let us get on with the work of building houses!


I should not have intervened at all in the Debate at this late hour but for the fact that it would be unfortunate from some minor points of view if the Labour Members did not express their appreciation of the manner in which we have succeeded, as Scottish Members, in carrying this Bill through Committee, and acknowledge at the same time the very generous treatment we have received at the hands of the Scottish Secretary and Solicitor-General. There are only one or two points I desire to make in view of the discussion that has taken place. We placed a very large number of Amendments on the Order Paper. The aim and object of those Amendments was to secure the incorporation in this Bill of as large a number of the recommendations of the Royal Commission as possible. No Scotsman, whether acquainted or unacquainted with the course of public affairs in his country, has failed to appreciate the significance of that document, which is not only a great study of social and economic conditions in Scotland within recent times, but also an indication of the course of much of our legislation, besides the legislation that we have particularly under debate this afternoon. I am willing to admit that we did not draft these Amendments always in the most scientific way, but I am glad to think that, as a result perhaps, of their appearing on the Order Paper, they have been incorporated in one form or another in the measure which is now about to pass to another place.

The three points to which I want to refer are these: First, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition alluded—as I thought rather unfortunately—to the powers and responsibilities of the local authorities and indicated that we must not in Scotland or elsewhere rely too exclusively upon them. It is singularly unfortunate that we should be asked to rely so much upon individual responsibility in this matter. We cannot forget that private enterprise in housing has had tremendous chances for many years in our history, that the very burden of the Report of the Royal Commission was to the effect that private enterprise had largely broken down and that it must be to a considerable degree the duty and responsibility of the State. This Bill means in Scotland, as in England, a dividing line between an economic past and present and that we have to fasten upon the State through the local authorities the responsibility for dealing with this urgent problem. Even so the point made by the right hon. Gentleman is met to this extent, that within the structure of this Bill, which leaves no room for evasion in the solution of this problem, there is a provision with regard to the private individual, the public utility society, and so on. Therefore the criticism on that ground from his own point of view rather fails.

The second point I desire to make is that I associate myself strongly with hon. Members who have expressed the view that this Bill is weak in the matter of rural housing, although I differ very largely from the line of remedy they would adopt. In the matter of rural housing in Scotland the responsibility is equally clear for the local authority, be it county council or district committee, and there is also a place for the public utility society, if it can get to work. Beyond that, they sought to incorporate in the Bill proposals which have amounted to giving Grants of public money to individual people for the purpose of erecting houses. Our contention from these benches is that that is not the best or the proper way to go about the rural housing problem. My view of the weakness of the Bill deals with the fact that the Royal Commission itself outlined a more or less comprehensive programme for rural districts. There were rather more than thirty definite recommendations, some of which are incorporated in the Bill, but a very large number of which are not incorporated. Our suggestion was that there might have been a rural department of this measure, which would have linked up with all that was best and desirable in those recommendations and would have gone far to meet the point of view of hon. Members who have considered that the Bill is weak on this side.

3.0 P.M.

My third consideration is from the point of view of industrial unrest in Scotland during the coming winter. It is a matter of satisfaction to all Scottish Members that at this hour, acute as the industrial conditions are in some parts of Scotland, they are not so acute as in many parts of England which are now ravaged by industrial unrest. But we do feel strongly that unless measures of sound reconstruction are forthcoming immediately there is likely to be during the coming winter a very serious state of affairs in many of the large Scottish urban localities. Time and again the local authorities have been pressed to get done with debate and discussion of housing schemes and to see the houses actually in process of erection. If we can start at the earliest possible moment under this Bill, there is a chance that the very fact that the schemes have been approved and passed will secure employment in many spheres which are wailing for development at this time. We get the first security of a provision as regards employment, and beyond that we got a definite, precise knowledge on the part of the people that something is actually being done for their benefit when they see these houses in the course of erection. From that point of view I attach a significance to this Bill, rightly or wrongly, which extends far beyond its immediate Clauses. I believe it is bound up with all that is best in Scottish social and economic progress, and I am glad, as a Labour Member, to associate myself with the tributes to all those who have been primarily responsible for its passage through Committee and this House.


I do not agree that the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Wallace) has spoken the last word on this matter. I wish to place before the House a point of view which has not yet been mentioned. I would join in the hearty congratulations which have been showered on the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has conducted this Bill. I share the belief that the Bill is going to do a great deal of good throughout Scotland, especially in urban Scotland—the towns and cities. I am not at all sure that it is going to effect such a tremendous revolution in the rural parts of Scotland, especially in those parts which I more immediately represent. I noticed in the papers this morning that one of the Ministerial boxes in which certain great documents have been locked up has been opened. I have read the speech of the Secretary of State for War at a dinner given to a party—I do not know how they describe themselves. The only thing I know about them is that they dined, and no doubt dined well. They are called the Centre Party. The most important thing that the Secretary of State for War said was that the constitution of this party was short and obscure. In this Hill the position of the crofter, the cottar, the squatter and the rural worker generally is certainly obscure. The Secretary for Scotland admitted that the position of the crofter is obscure. It is all very well to say that on all local authorities has been placed a responsibility to produce a scheme for all the working classes in their areas. Those acquainted with the crafting areas of Scotland know too well that under the system of land tenure it will be very difficult to apply this Bill when if, becomes an Act. Measures of social reform, such as the Insurance Act and the Act dealing with tuberculosis, have a trick of passing over the heads of the people in the crofting areas. I know there is an alternative to the Bill, to say that through the Board of Agriculture the crofters and people of the rural community can be helped. But through the Board of Agriculture they can only get assistance by way of loan, and in that sense they are placed at a disadvantage compared with the worker in the town, who obtains not only a loan but a free grant. I do not sec how it is that the people in the crofting areas should be placed at a disadvantage in that respect as compared with workers in the towns. I hope in drawing up rules and regulations, the Secretary for Scotland will see to it that this Bill will become a real living force in the crofting areas, and, whether through the administration of the local authorities or through the Board of Agriculture, the 6,000 or 7,000 new houses which the housing Commission said were necessary will be provided.


I desire first of all, in words which are conventional but none the less sincere, to express my grateful thanks to my hon. Friends who have said so many kind things about me, and to thank my colleagues in the House for the uniform help and goodwill with which they have supported the passage of the Bill in Standing Committee and also on the Floor of the House Many Amendments have been accepted, with the result, I am free to admit, that this is a better and a stronger Bill than it was when it was introduced. That is partly what I mean when I express my indebtedness to my colleagues for their support and help in passing and improving the Bill. My right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) asked what has already been accomplished in the matter of housing even before this Bill reaches the Statute Book. I can give one or two. figures which have reached me in the weekly report for the week ending 19th July, from which I find that of building-site schemes there have been eighteen approved, representing something like an acreage of 1,311 acres, for the erection of 14,948 houses, of lay-out schemes there have been sixty-five approved up to date, embracing an area of 468 acres, and of site-plans, in respect of schemes submitted by thirty-five local authorities, approval has been given involving the erection of 12,382 houses in all. It will be seen that certain progress has already been made. The difficulties are very great—difficulties of labour, difficulties of material, and difficulties of transport—but every effort is being made to overcome them. It is perhaps worth noting that since this Bill was introduced the Board of Health has been formed. I think it will be a powerful and progressive organisation, and that it will be found in possession of that "push and go" which is no doubt desirable in a Board which has so heavy a task imposed upon it. That there must be some unavoidable delay, from the necessities of the situation, I fear cannot be doubted or disputed. The local authority first looks round to see how many houses are needed, then has to select a site, then to enter into negotiations with the proprietor and finally come to terms with him, get plans drawn up, submit them to the Board and have them approved. I am far from saying there will be delay. I hope there will be no avoidable delay, but I merely indicate these various steps, which are necessary in connection with every scheme that comes up to the Board for approval. I hope there will be no avoidable delay either on the part of the local authority or the Board of Health.

A good deal has been said about subjects which are outside the purview of the Bill, but which are none the less important. For example, my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) spoke of the importance of the water question. We are all agreed about that. In Scotland we have the good fortune to have a simple and inexpensive method by way of Provisional Order under the auspices of the Local Government Board, whereby a water supply can be secured. I am not aware that there is such a system in England. I rather think they have to proceed by way of private Bill. The system of Provisional Order has worked exceedingly well in Scotland. With regard to the wider questions, I quite agree that a survey of the water system of Scotland, whether by way of Royal Commission or otherwise, is eminently desirable, if only for the purpose of securing co-ordination, with the views expressed upon which I cordially agree.


Will the right hon. Gentleman take any steps towards having such a Board of Survey set up?


I will look into the matter and see whether anything can be done administratively. With regard to legislation, my impression is that land is perhaps more pressing than water, although both are important. I hope to introduce a Bill dealing with the land question at an early moment.


Before the Recess?


Yes. My right hon. Friend referred to the question of the codification of the law of housing. I am in entire agreement with him. Nothing but want of time prevents the immediate beginning of the task of codification. I am very anxious that it should be done, and I hope such an opportunity may be afforded me. Certainly it is most desirable in the interests of local authorities and private individuals. A good deal has been said about the duty of local authorities, and my right hon. Friend emphasised that the responsibility of the individual was no less than that of local authorities. I agree with him. But the Royal Commission plainly indicated that the only solution of this question was to be found in making the local authority the instrument of the State in carrying out its policy. I am one of the very last to belittle the duty or the responsibility of the private individual, but still one hopes for a great, deal from the local authorities. I am glad to say that arrangements are being made for a conference with the local authorities at an early date on this particular matter My hon. Friend (Mr. Pratt) has this special duty remitted to him, and I understand during the Recess ho will make it his business to interview local authorities on the question of housing, with the same happy results in Scotland I hope, as were pointed out by my hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw) who spoke about the useful intervention of my hon. Friend (Sir T. Walters) in England. It would be of immense advantage if some of my hon. Friends, when the House rises in August, would find an opportunity of making speeches upon this subject in their constituencies.


When are we going to get there?


I presume the hon. Member for the Western Isles is going back to his constituency, and he will have an admirable opportunity of making a speech in Stornoway. No doubt other hon. Members will have opportunities, and will take advantage of them. Some comments have been made upon the shortcomings of the Bill in the matter of rural housing. I do not desire to repeat myself upon that subject, because I have discussed it at very great length in the various stages when the Bill was in the Scottish Grand Committee. I pointed out first that local authorities cannot divest themselves of their responsibility for carrying out suitable and adequate housing schemes in the country any more than they can in the towns. On them the responsibility rests in the first place, and if they do not carry out their responsibility properly then the responsibility will be discharged by the Local Government Board at the expense of the local authority in question. I hope that in very few instances in Scotland—I do not profess to speak with any knowledge of England—will that power which is reserved to the Local Government Board have to be exercised. Let it be clearly understood that the responsibility is upon the local authorities in regard to the country as well as in regard to the towns.

In this connection I would point out that it is possible even in country districts to form public utility societies for the purpose of carrying out housing schemes. It may be difficult. No doubt there are practical difficulties. I was told, in regard to a similar suggestion which I made some time ago in Edinburgh, that one particular society which was anxious to carry out a scheme could not by any possibility be formed into a public utility society. I was told that by a very eminent person who was chairman of the society, but that society is a public utility society to-day. All the practical difficulties have been surmounted. That is an example of what can be done. The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. G. Murray) has pointed out some difficulties. I agree that there are difficulties, and at the present moment. I am conferring with the Law Officers with a view to finding out whether these difficulties can be met by way of Regulation or otherwise. I hope they can. I am by no means disturbed on the subject. Though it may be difficult, nevertheless the hon. Member will agree that if it is practicable then the opportunity should be taken advantage of in country districts by landowners and others who are interested in this problem and who want to solve it by way of forming themselves into public utility societies. That matter will be further explored, and I hope that a solution will be found upon those lines.

I am reminded by one of my hon. Friends that a powerful weapon has been placed in my hands under the Bill which the House is about to pass. I entirely agree. I am deeply conscious of the responsibility which is imposed upon the Board which I control for the time being and also upon myself, especially in view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh said as to the industrial unrest which prevails, and which may prevail—though I hope not—during the winter months. Particularly in view of that one's responsibility becomes very obvious and very crushing. All I can say is that I and those associated with me will use our best endeavour to see that this machinery—for it is only machinery, as I have been reminded to-day—is put into active operation, to secure, if possible, that there shall be that driving force behind it to which my hon. Friends refer, the driving force of public opinion, and to ensure that neither on the part of the local authorities, nor on the part of the Board will there be any supineness in administering a measure which is vital to the prosperity of the country.


My right hon. Friend has referred to one or two matters which it is well to emphasise before we part with this Bill. There is the question of the codification of the existing law with regard to housing. He said that the difficulty there was that he or his Department had not time to take it in hand. Is it a matter which necessarily lies in his Department? Is it not possible to depute that work to some of his own professional colleagues, who could effectively within a very reasonable time codify the existing law? I do not see why he should retain that in his own Department. I do urge upon him that the codification ought to be gone about at once, so that before these housing schemes come into operation we shall have in our possession a reasonably succinct codification of the existing law in regard to Scottish housing.


I was thinking not only of the time occupied in drafting the measure, but also the time that would be occupied in passing it.


Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there will be no time wasted in the passing of such a measure?


It would have to go to a Committee of both Houses. I have sat on them myself.


If the hon. Baronet sat on one of these Committees I am sure that it would be brief in its deliberations.


Pretty long.


I am sure that the advice which the hon. Baronet would give to the Committee would be such that it would quickly get through its work. I do urge the Secretary for Scotland to set about this work at once, and see that the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs is put on the Committee, because he wants it.


Of course, I do!


We all want it; everybody in Scotland of all classes, Liberal, Unionist or Labour, agrees that this codification is necessary, and the right hon. Gentleman need have no fear in making his preliminary arrangements and getting along with the work. I freely admit in regard to the Bill itself that I have sat on no Committee during this Session, under the new Sessional arrangements as to Grand Committees, in which any Bill has been move fully and more adequately discussed than this Bill. It is by far and away the best Committee I have sat upon, and I agree that my right hon. friend has been extremely good and extremely courteous in all that he has done in meeting our view. The most urgent question that remains is that of the driving force. My right hon. Friend has given us the number of schemes that have gone through, but he has not yet told us, and I should be glad if he could tell us, of a single house that has been built. We are rising for an Autumn Recess in a few weeks, and we shall be in Recess probably till the early autumn, and what I want to impress upon my right hon. Friend is that we must have driving force behind those schemes. On that point my right hon. Friend is in a worse position than any other Minister of the Crown. He is the most occupied and the worst paid Member of the Government. Scotland is always neglected in the matters of this kind, and it is a standing disgrace to this House—my right hon. Friend acknowledges it because I have heard him make, in this House, the same speech that I am now making—that the Scottish Office is not better manned, and that my right hon. Friend who represents Scotland in this House has not got the advantage of the help which every English Minister has.


What about Ireland?


There are only two Irish Ministers and Ireland is in many respects seriously overstaffed; but that is a point that would be appropriate in an Irish discussion, and, at any rate, my hon. Friend, who represents a Division in London, will agree that on an occasion on which we have an opportunity of discussing the Scottish position, we arc entitled to put our position with the same force as he would put the Irish position if he had the opportunity. The appeal which my hon. Friend has made will he responded to. We are all going into our constituencies and we will take the opportunity as far as we can to stimulate the authorities to make this Bill operative. After all, the responsibility of making it operative rests upon himself, and he could do no greater service to his own constituents than seeing that this Bill is pushed forward with as much energy as possible. I hope that he will not allow this Bi1lto drop into the hands of officials. There are too few officials in the Scottish Department. They are overworked and overburdened and have to take their own way. I hope that he himself will see personally that the Bill, about which we have taken so much trouble, is worked as energetically as possible. Incidentally, it is well to remember, as some hon. Members think that Scotsmen occupy too much time in this House, that, as a result of our discussion in Committee, the House of Lords has accepted certain Amendments to the English Bill, which were passed by us for the Scottish Bill, so that the English Bill is now a better Bill than when it left this House. I hope that my right hon. Friend will follow that up, and see that this Bill is made operative and that when he comes back this Autumn ho will be able to report not only that schemes have been prepared but also that houses have been built.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.