HC Deb 06 December 1926 vol 200 cc1831-41

I understand that the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook) has already made his speech on Clause 5. Does he wish to move his Amendment?


I beg to move, in page 5, line 16, to leave out the words "other than private dwelling-houses."


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so because I think it is of very great importance. While this question was being discussed in Committee upstairs the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health used the rather singular argument that, owing to the fact that there were large numbers—I think he said 8,000,000—of houses existing at present, and that all these were emitting smoke, it was obviously unfair to apply it to new houses as it would be applied under the terms of this Amendment. Generally, the right hon. Gentleman advances arguments, whether you agree with him or not, which have to be considered, but I really consider that this argument is absolutely absurd. It is really the first time that I thought the right hon. Gentleman belonged to that family which is always saying that "as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end." If we are going to start on this business we should start on the houses that are being built now, more especially when we remember that the various municipal authorities which are building houses under the various schemes are already, before this Bill comes into operation, taking steps in order to deal with the smoke nuisance in the houses that they are building. The only effect of the non-acceptance of this Amendment will be that a large number of private builders will be able to put up new houses without putting into force the things which the municipalities are already doing. That is an obvious injustice, and what has been done already by the local authorities should be followed by other people.


In relation to this question of the domestic chimney, we all know that the domestic chimney is the greatest sinner so far as the introduction of smoke is concerned, and the figures are contained in a book in this House showing that in the London area there are 283 tons of grit and soot deposited per square mile in the year in the city of London. That in itself ought to draw attention to what ought to be done with the domestic chimney. If you take the average fire in a house in London or any other city you will that when a ton of coal is consumed in an ordinary fire 75 per cent. of what the coal con- tains during combustion goes up the chimney. There is only a quarter left so far as heat is concerned and three-quarters goes right up the chimney and becomes part of what we call our city atmosphere. If this Bill had been what we were looking forward to and had really made some improvement—I only look upon this Bill as a pretence—we should have dealt with the domestic fire and with private buildings. Then we should have provided for a class of fuel which would still be capable of being consumed in the ordinary fire and would not have created smoke, and yet this Bill seems to try to help the creation of smoke. You cannot cure the smoke nuisance by retaining the present fire and burning ordinary raw coal. There might have been some reason for not accepting this Amendment had we been ignorant of how to manufacture a fuel with a heat value equal to that of coal, without causing any smoke.

But it seems a silly thing to bring in a Bill pretending to deal with smoke when you leave out the major producer of smoke, known as the domestic fire. If the Government had been serious about this, they would have said: "In bringing in this Bill, we have first to give that which will make it easy for the people to deal with the problem. If we say we are going to fine people for letting smoke out of chimneys, we have to see that they get a fuel that does not create smoke." This Bill does nothing of the kind, and to leave out the greatest factor in smoke production seems to be playing at legislation for smoke abatement. If the Minister of Health had taken evidence from the London chimney sweeps, he could have obtained far more evidence of what leaves the chimney than from anyone else, because they are dealing with the ordinary household chimney every day of their lives, and if we had that information I am certain that this Bill would not have been drafted as it now stands.


I want to draw attention to the fact that the effect of the exclusion of houses is going to be that the smoke trouble is not going to be abated for a very long time to come, and I believe that by taking action such as is suggested in the Amendment, we might take a very long step forward which, in a very short time, might pay for itself. The direct effect of smoke on the health of a large number of people is such as to cause a very large increase in certain respiratory and other diseases, and the indirect effect of smoke, especially in London and the greater towns, by cutting off the rays of the sun, is to produce a very large amount of disease of a rather different character, not directly respiratory. Those two factors alone, if it were possible to abolish smoke at an early date, would increase the health and efficiency of the country to such an extent as, I am convinced, to make a substantial reduction in the amount of money actually paid in sickness insurance and for hospitals and in other ways on sick people. I suggest that by making the provision proposed in this Amendment, you are not doing anything winch is unreasonable, but you are starting a movement in the direction of the building of scientific fireplaces and appliances for the consumption of smoke which will, when they are adopted, prove to be so useful and economical that they will inevitably extend to other buildings which are already fixed up in the ordinary way. By starting that movement, we shall gradually get a very considerable reduction in the amount of domestic smoke emitted.


The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) was good enough to say that it was my custom to use arguments which, at any rate, were sufficiently substantial to require an answer, but I am afraid he only made that observation in order to add to it on this occasion that I had brought forward an argument which he described as absolutely absurd. I hope he will forgive me if I point out that the argument I used in Committee has since then passed through his mind and been reproduced in this House with considerable deterioration as a result, and possibly in that fact is to be found the explanation of the laches of which he complained on this occasion. What was the argument in Committee? It was not at all that it was unfair to impose restrictions upon new houses which were not imposed upon old ones.

My argument was directed to pointing out that the Amendment, if carried, could have but a trifling effect in the reduction of the smoke emitted by domestic chimneys to-day, and I pointed out that while it was perfectly true that the domestic smoke is responsible for much more of the smoke nuisance than the industrial smoke, yet that smoke is produced by the chimneys of the existing 8,500,000 houses in the country. This Amendment only applies to new houses, which are now being erected at the rate of about 200,000 a year, but of that 200,000 one-third at least are being provided by local authorities, and it may be assumed, I think, that the same local authorities who would be disposed to make by-laws under this Amendment do, in fact, provide for the methods which they desire to be employed in the houses they erect. We are therefore reduced to the remaining number of new houses provided by private enterprise, namely, about 132,000 a year; but, again, of these quite a large number are fitted with exactly the same appliances as are the houses provided by the municipalities. And so you come down to a trifling number of houses per annum that could possibly be affected by this Amendment.

The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) complains that this Bill does not provide for smokeless fuel. That is not the function of the Bill, but if the hon. Member is not aware of it, I may tell him that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is devoting its attention, and is spending a substantial sum of money in investigating the subject of smokeless fuel. If it be found to be a commercial proposition—that is, it is reasonably cheap and in a convenient form and available for the householder, the householder will put it in himself. In the meantime, it seems to me quite absurd that for such a very small proportion of the actual chimneys, you should impose upon the particular inhabitants of these houses the necessity for putting in an arrangement which, probably, would be very costly; and, if a certain proportion of houses now built by private enterprise have the open fire instead of the gas fire, it is because of the people who want to inhabit them desire it, and, for my part, I am not prepared to deny it to them until there is a reasonably cheap, economic, and satisfactory alternative.


With my usual optimism, I did think the Government might meet us between the Committee and Report stages, but my optimism dwindles day by day in view of the experience we have had. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is an extraordinary argument. It is that there are now over 8,000,000 houses, which houses, presumably, he assumes to be eternal, and that there is no need to do anything, because we are only building 200,000 houses per year. He estimates that because one-third of these houses are being built 'by local authorities, they are taking all possible steps, and that a large number of those houses are being provided with appliances which will minimise the smoke nuisance. I am not prepared to accept, the view that the local authorities are doing that, but if there were on the Statute Book an Act which gave them a lead, a very large number would be prepared to do something serious to ensure that everything practicable was done in the circumstances to reduce the smoke evil. It may be true that we cannot at this moment deal with 8,000,000 houses, but that is no reason why we should do nothing at all with the new houses. The right hon. gentleman's argument is: We have 8,000,000 houses, the new houses built every year are a relatively small number, therefore we will do nothing at all. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has introduced a Factories Bill which does not at all differentiate between old factories and factories yet to be built, and if this thing had ever been seriously discussed between the Minister of Health and the Borne Secretary I can imagine the Minister of Health saying, "What a silly idea! There are far more old factories, and because it will not improve the old factories, therefore we ought not to introduce a higher standard in the new factories." That is an absurd argument.

If this evil is a serious one, and it is admittedly serious, it is high time we tried to deal with it. I agree that it would impose a very serious burden on the householders in the 8,000.000 houses if we were to attempt to make it compulsory on them to emit no smoke from their chimneys: but at any rate we could ensure that new houses should he built without adding to the Volume of smoke. The Act passed two years ago envisaged the building of 2,500,000 houses over a term of years. That will mean increasing the existing number of houses, or displacing some- thing more than 25 per cent. of the existing houses. If all those new houses were to be smokeless, we should, at the end of that term of years, have reduced the smoke nuisance, so far as domestic smoke is concerned, by a quarter. We submit that is worth doing. Therefore, it is reasonable and just, in the case of the new houses, to suggest that a strong lead should be given to the local authorities to encourage them to instal proper appliances, which in its turn would encourage manufacturers of those appliances to develop their business, and by force of example would lead to the introduction of the appliances in the older houses. I think, therefore, the Government are really destroying the value of the Bill by limiting its operations to industrial buildings.


I heard with alarm a Minister with the title of Minister of Health talking seriously of the prospect of gas fires in houses. I do not know the peculiar constitution of the right hon. Gentleman or of those who talk so lightly of making it compulsory to have gas fires in houses to the exclusion of the decent, homely, honest, domestic coal fire. I am a North countryman. Gas fires may be all very well for the anaemic South, but we men of the North want a Coal fire such as our fathers had before us. For my own part I find there is no cheer in a gas fire, and although I may be told that the smoke from my coal fire assists in poisoning the people outside, I prefer that very much to being poisoned myself by a gas fire within my own house. I like to think that some day there will be discovered a smokeless fuel. When that day comes this will be a talkless House and we shall have approached some distance towards the millennium. That time is not yet, but when I try to think of the decent English folk and the decent Yorkshire folk trying to look cheerful sitting round a gas fire I am filled with dismay. I therefore hope that no Tory Minister of Health, at any rate, whatever may happen to hon. Gentlemen opposite, will ever countenance. such a monstrous proposal.


I gather from the Minister of Health that his chief objection to this proposal is because by adopting this suggestion you would not be able to get in centres like London sufficient gas and electricity—


That argument was used on an Amendment to Clause 1, and I would remind the hon. Member that Clause 5 applies only to new houses.


The argument was that there was not a sufficient supply of gas and electricity to meet the needs of this Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I wish to draw attention to the fact that there is an alternative which in fact is better than either gas or electricity, and that is not Yorkshire or Derbyshire coal, but the best coal the world has ever produced, and that is Welsh coal. Wales admittedly produces the finest anthracite in the world, and it contains 95 per cent. of pure carbon. In all the large cities on the Continent of Europe they have solved the smoke nuisance with regard to domestic fires because they make anthracite burning compulsory.

In New York, with a population of 3,000,000 people, they have no smoke nuisance, because the burning of anthracite has been made compulsory, and the same applies to most of the big cities on the Continent of Europe, where, if they had continued to burn ordinary coal, they would have had the same smoke nuisance as we have now. This nuisance has practically been abolished in America and on the Continent, and if we can send anthracite to foreign countries surely we could supply it to our own people, and then we should be able to retain the cheerfulness of our own fireside without gas or electricity coming into it. Then we should be able to stare in the coal fires and imagine the fairies with us, and there would be no need either for electricity or gas for this purpose, because we have within our own country the finest fuel in the world in Welsh anthracite.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 192: Noes, 54.

Division No. 541.] AYES. [11.36 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Balfour, George (Hampstead)
Albery, Irving James Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Barclay-Harvey, C. M.
Alexander, E. E. (Leytor.) Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Barnett, Major Sir Richard
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Gunston, Captain D. W. Raine, W.
Bethel, A. Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Ramsden, E.
Blundell, F. N. Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F, (Dulwich) Rawson, Sir Cooper
Boothby, R. J. G. Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Remer, J. R.
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.) Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Brass, Captain W. Hammersley, S. S. Rice, Sir Frederic*
Briggs, J. Harold Hanbury, C. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Briscoe, Richard George Harrison, G. J. C. Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Hastam, Henry C. Ropner, Major L.
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Hawke, John Anthony Ruggles-Brist, Major E. A.
Bullock, Captain M. Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M, Rye, F. G.
Burman, J. B. Henderson, Capt, R.R.(Oxf'd, Henley) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Carver, W. H. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Hennessy, Major J. R. G, Sandeman, A. Stewart
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N.(Ladywood) Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Sanderson, Sir Frank
Charleris, Brigadier-General J. Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by) Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Christie, J. A. Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(St. Marylabone) Savery, S. S.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Hore-Belisha, Leslie Shaw, R. G. (Yorks. W.R., Sowerby)
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N. Shaw, Capt. Walter (Wilts, Westb'y)
Cope, Major William Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Shepperson, E. W.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Hume, Sir G. H. Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Huntingfield, Lord Skelton, A. N.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish universities) Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose) Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Smith. R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Crawfurd, H. E. Jacob, A. E. Smithers, Waldron
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Sprot, Sir Alexander
Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Kennedy, A. R. (Preston) Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)
Curzon, Captain Viscount Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Stanley, Hon. O. F. G.(Westm'eland)
Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd) King, Captain Henry Douglas Storry-Deans, R.
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Lee, F. Streatfield, Captain S. R.
Davies, Dr. Vernon Lindley, F. W. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Dean, Arthur Wellesley Little, Dr. E. Graham Templeton, W. P.
Dixey, A. C. Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert Looker, Herbert William Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)
Duckworth, John Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Edmondson, Major A. J Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Elliot, Major Walter E. MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South) Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Everard, W. Lindsay McLean, Major A. Wallace, Captain D. E.
Fairfax, Captain J. G. Macmillan, Captain H. Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Falle, Sir Bertram G. McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Fanshawe, Commander G. D. MacRobert, Alexander M. Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Fenby, T. D. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Watson Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)
Fermoy, Lord Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Watts, Dr. T.
Fielden, E. B. Mitchell. S. (Lanark, Lanark) Wells, S. R.
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.
Forrest, W. Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Wiggins, William Martin
Foster, Sir Harry S. Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Foxcroft, Captain C. T. Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Frece, Sir Walter de Nuttall, Ellis Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E Oakley, T. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Galbraith, S. F. W. O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton) Wise, Sir Fredric
Ganzoni, Sir John Owen. Major G. Womersley, W. J,
Gates, Perry Pennefather, Sir John Wood, E. (Chest'r, stalyb'dge & Hyde)
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Penny, Frederick George Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Goff, Sir Park Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Wragg, Herbert
Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Perkins, Colonel E. K. Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Grant, Sir J. A. Perring, Sir William George
Greene, W. P. Crawford Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Grotrian, H. Brent Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Captain lord Stanley and Captain Margesson.
Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Price, Major C. W. M.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Groves, T. Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Ammon, Charles George Guest, Haden (Southwark, N.) Riley, Ben
Attlee, Clement Richard Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Robinson, W. c. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)
Barnes, A. Hardie, George D. Scurr, John
Barr, J. Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Slesser, Sir Henry H.
Batey, Joseph Henderson, T. (Glasgow) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Bondfield, Margaret Hirst, G. H. Stephen, Campbell
Bromley, J. Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Townend, A. E.
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Buchanan, G. John, William (Bhondda, West) Watson, W, M. (Dunfermline)
Dalton, Hugh Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Kelly, W. T. Welsh, J. C
Day, Colonel Harry Kennedy, T. Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
Duncan, C. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) March, S. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Maxton, James
Gardner, J. P. Murnin, H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Oliver, George Harold Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Charles Edwards.
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Paling, W.
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Potts, John S.

The following Amendment stood on the Order Paper in, the name of Captain WATERHOUSE:

In page 5, line 19, at the end, to insert the words And in private dwelling places any such grates or fire places calculated to reduce as far as practicable the emission of smoke as may from time to time be approved by the Minister.


The decision of the House just now covers this Amendment.


I submit that my Amendment raises a different point from the last Amendment. That was doing away with coal fires in grates altogether. If the last Amendment had been carried it would enable local authorities to abolish fire places and instal electric heaters and gas cookers if they so desire. My Amendment is quite different. It is merely to get the Minister to put in provisions which will enable him to see that efficient and economic fire places are used.


The hon. and gallant Member proposes, in the same words to all intents and purposes, such arrangements as are calculated to prevent or reduce the emission of smoke. By-laws have to be approved in any case by the Minister. It is the same thing another way round.


With respect I submit that my Amendment—


In any case, I do not Select the Amendment.