Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £13,116,212, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1932, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Health, including Grants and other expenses in connection with Housing, certain Grants to Local Authorities, etc., Grants-in-Aid in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Acts, certain Expenses in connection with the Widows', Orphans,' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts, and other Services."—[NOTE: £6,500,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
The net total of the Estimate for my Department stands this year at rather over £19,600,000—an increase of £392,000. Hon. Members will find, if they consult the Estimate, that in administration and miscellaneous matters of National Health Insurance there have been decreases, and that in the fourth big section of the Estimate—housing—there is an increase of £880,000 which, set against the decreases, accounts for the increase of £392,000. As this is the primary item, I propose to deal first with the problem of housing. Except as regards slum clearance work, building under the Housing Acts of 1919 and 1923 has ceased, and the building that is taking place to-day with State assistance is taking place under the Acts of 1924 and 1930. Under the 1930 Act, urban local authorities with a population of more than 20,000 were required to submit by the end of last year their five years programme for housing under the Acts of 1924 and 1930.
The reports that have been received show that there will be in the coming five years a very substantial increase in the amount of housing activity undertaken by local authorities. It was said, 38 when the Act of last year was passing through the House, that one effect of it would be to destroy the Housing Act of 1924. It is some consolation to me to know that my own view has been substantiated by the reports of the programmes of local authorities and that as a matter of fact, under the Act of 1930 and the five years' programme the amount of building under the 1924 Act will be substantially increased over the amount of building in the last year or two, to which, of course, must be added the building that will take place specifically under the 1930 Act to replace the houses demolished by local authorities under slum clearance schemes.
It is a matter of common knowledge that since the War very little has been done in the way of slum clearance and, taking the programmes that are now to hand, it is clear that local authorities will in slum clearance work in the coming year do at least eight times as much as they did last year and in previous years. If we add together the building that is to take place under the five years' programme under the 1924 Act and the building that is to take place to substitute new houses for houses demolished in slum areas, we may take it that there will be in the coming five years on an average an increase of something like 80 per cent. in the building activities of local authorities and if the whole country builds at the same rate as local authorities whose schemes have been received, it would appear that, for each of the next five years on an average, the building of local authorities will amount to between 90,000 and 100,000 houses per year. If we can assume—and there is no sign at present that we cannot assume—that the amount of building by private enterprise will be maintained—and it has shown at present no signs of falling off—we can add to that another 100,000 houses built by private enterprise. Broadly speaking, in the coming years we may take it—and this means a very substantial proportion of publicly-provided houses—that practically half of the houses built will be provided by local authorities and half by private enterprise, and we shall reach something like a total of 200,000 houses per year during the next five years. That I regard as the minimum.
39 In the first place, hon. Members will be aware that in the proposals which we made in the Act of 1930 there was one dealing with improvement areas. That was an entirely new conception to local authorities. It was a proposal they had never been asked to operate before, and it is one which they have not yet fully grasped. But as they come to understand the tremendous importance of slum improvement areas and the prevention of the decay of areas in slum districts, I have no doubt that the total figures will be increased. One can be quite satisfied now that the actual amount of building in operation is increasing. The total number of houses under construction by local authorities at the beginning of March last year was just over 25,000, whilst this year, in March, it was over 35,000.
One thing has struck me about the reception of the 1930 Housing Act by the important local authorities of the country. When the Bill was in process of incubation I discussed the outstanding problems with representatives of the local authorities. I think that I can say that we had very hearty co-operation all the way through and that the large local authorities are as anxious as I am, or, indeed, as anybody could be, to make the Act of 1930 a success. The Housing Committee of the Association of Municipal Corporations are doing all they can to see that local authorities live up fully to their responsibilities in this matter. I am bound to point out that there may be local authorities who do not fully realise the responsibility which Parliament has cast upon them, and where local authorities neglect their responsibility they must expect the appropriate action to be taken. I see no point in arming a Minister with default powers unless those powers are to be used. I should prefer to work without them, and I say quite frankly that I have no wish to use the big stick. I am glad to think that large numbers of local authorities have responded as well as could be expected to the appeals which have been made to them and have fully accepted their new responsibilities, but I feel bound to point out on this occasion, that if local authorities do not, then they must expect the 40 rigour of the law to be used against them.
There is one problem to which I should like to make reference, because it has a bearing on the progress of house building, and that is, the cost of houses. During the last three years the average cost of building a non-parlour house has steadily declined. In 1928 it was £362, in 1929 it was £345 and in 1930 it was £340. That is a very welcome decline.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
It is the unit cost of building; I will come to that in a moment. Having regard to the enormous slump that there has been in wholesale prices one looks upon this reluctance of housing costs to decline with a certain anxiety. I am not going to pretend that the fall in wholesale prices can be compared with the prices of house building, but it is quite clear that as things stand now, with the additional cost of, say, £75 for land still prevailing, the average cost of the house is still rather over £400. In my view, that is too high if the full value of the Act of 1930 is to be obtained. Last year 8,000 houses were erected at a building cost of less than £300. I do not pretend that that cost could be achieved in every area, but I am satisfied that without sacrificing essentials and without sacrificing quality—and I do not want to sacrifice quality—there is still room for economy in the cost of house building.
I have been in consultation with local authorities on this matter, and I hope that the local authorities who are now building, without in any way degrading the essential standard of house building, will do what they can to force down prices so that we can squeeze out the unnecessary expense. With a view to obtaining a general reduction in the cost of house building I have asked the Committee which is dealing with the problem of building prices and materials to consider a new survey of the whole of the prices of materials which contribute to the cost of houses with a view to seeing whether prices can be further reduced. This morning I had the privilege of opening a conference on standardisation, a representative conference of people concerned with the building industry and with the building of houses, to see whether, by further standardisation, it 41 might not be possible at the same time to reduce prices and to improve design and simplify specifications. I hope that it will be possible from those various steps to secure a lower level of house building costs in order to increase the volume of building that takes place.
I should not be doing my duty if I did not say—and I have said some hard words about recalcitrant local authorities—that I think that in these very difficult times the local authorities have responded extraordinarily well to the appeal that has been made. I am not pretending that I am satisfied—I should be difficult to satisfy—but I should like to pay a tribute to those local authorities who have seized with both hands the opportunities given to them in the 1930 Act.
It is necessary for me to say something about the administration of the Local Government Act of 1929. When that Act was being placed on the Statute Book I sat on the Front Opposition Bench and the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) sat on this side. I am not certain whether I spoke as many words across the Table as he did; perhaps I spoke nearly as many. There were substantial points of difference between us and there were, I think I might say, certain points of agreement betwen us. Anyhow, it fell to my lot to have to carry into effect the legislative proposals of the right hon. Gentleman. I have tried to do that as well as I could. The law is the law and in many respects it is a good law, but I will not go into the question whether I think it is good or bad. What we can congratulate ourselves upon is the smoothness with which the transfer of functions took place. The major local authorities were called upon to bear new and very heavy burdens, but the transition took pace with a minimum of dislocation and for that we ought to express our thanks to the county councils and the county borough councils. Of course, they had to move with a certain element of caution, and I do not blame them for that, because they were taking over responsibilities which they had not had before and it was not possible for them to make plans beforehand, as some of them might have wished to do. They have been engaged since, most of these major authorities, 42 in considering the transferred functions that were given to them and the position of the institutions which they have taken over, with a view to co-ordinating their resources and using them in the most effective way.
One of the purposes of the Local Government Act was, as I understood it, and that was one of the features which I approved in it, to promote the break-up of the Poor Law system. The local authorities were required to consider what they could do in the way of transferring services from the Poor Law to the other Acts of Parliament on the Statute Book. On the whole I think, having regard to the fact that only one year has elapsed and that new responsibilities came upon them, a good deal has been done by way of declaration. I will give a list of the declarations which have been made, which shows that quite substantial progress has been made in the direction of the break-up of the Poor Law. Sixteen county councils and 49 county borough councils have found it possible to make immediate declarations in their schemes. They consist of 24 by county borough councils under the Public Health Acts; one by a county council and 16 by county borough councils under the Mental Deficiency Act; three by county councils and 30 by county borough councils under the Maternity and Child Welfare Act; 10 by county councils and 33 by county borough councils under the Blind Persons Act; three by county councils and 16 by county borough councils under the Public Health (Tuberculosis) Act; nine by county councils and 41 by county borough councils under the Education Act.
A number of other authorities have put on record in their schemes their intention of making declarations as soon as circumstances permit. That seems to me a substantial movement on the part of the major local authorities to treat people where they can and where they have the opportunities outside the Poor Law. In addition, a good many appropriations have been made in regard to institutions or parts of institutions for the purpose of one or other of the special Acts. The appropriations so far include 20 by county borough councils who have appropriated their Poor Law institutions for Public Health Act purposes; three county borough councils have appropriated Poor 43 Law institutions for Maternity and Child Welfare Act purposes, and four county councils and one county borough council have appropriated their Poor Law institutions for the purposes of the Mental Deficiency Act. In London, the London County Council have appropriated 27 Poor Law institutions for the purpose of general hospitals and 10 as children's hospitals or convalescent homes. I mention these figures to show that under the operations of the Local Government Act a movement is now being made quite definitely and deliberately by these large local authorities in the direction of a break-up of the Poor Law. They have, as I have already said, moved with a certain caution, for which one can excuse them, and one can only hope that as time passes further developments will take place.
One of the main proposals of the Local Government Act was the abolition of the boards of guardians, and it would be appropriate that I should say something on the question of Poor Law policy. In 1929 I inherited what I still believe to be the repressive policy of my predecessor, a policy which became more repressive after the events of 1926, a policy which was dictated by a fear of something called Poplarism, spelt with a large "P." I want to make it clear, as I have done before, that I do not wish to see extravagance in local services. Times are hard, and extravagance in the local services often comes back on the shoulders of the poorest in the community, but at the same time there are certain definite responsibilities for the destitute which rest upon the Poor Law authorities. What I have tried to do, without encouraging extravagance, has been, as far as I could, to see that the local authorities deal reasonably by the poor. The situation that we have to-day is not the situation that we had in 1834 nor the situation that we enjoyed in this country during times of prosperity. It is a situation in which 2,750,000 people are unemployed, the vast majority of them through no fault of their own.
I cannot accept the view for one moment that anyone who falls by the wayside and is driven to the Poor Law is essentially and inevitably an immoral person, with some personal defect which merits punishment. That was the whole 44 spirit behind the Poor Law of 1834. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh, but the old Poor Law system rested on the supposition that a man who was poor was a rascal. There may have been times when most of them were, I do not know, but to-day that is not the case, and in our administration of the Poor Law system we must treat the poor decently and humanely. That is why, at the beginning of last year, before the boards of guardians had resigned their responsibilities to the new public assistance authorities, I addressed a circular to them urging them that when outdoor relief was given, it should be adequate, and it should be adapted to the needs of the individual cases. That was followed by the Relief Regulation Order of last year which came into operation as the new public assistance authorities came into existence. The old regulation governing outdoor relief to the able-bodied was the Relief Regulation Order of 1911, which had been honoured in the breach rather than in the observance. There it was assumed that the appropriate form of relief for the able-bodied was institutional treatment under conditions including the imposition of test work. In the years since the War, no Minister of Health has ever been able to carry out the regulation of relief in the spirit of the Order of 1911, and there had to be a very considerable number of exceptions. In the changed circumstances of the times, my own view is that institutional relief ought not to be regarded as the exclusively appropriate form of out-relief for the able-bodied, and that whatever may be done by means of training or assistance should be done, not with the object of deterrence, but with the object of the maintenance of the individual's spirit and sense of independence, and that is really the motive behind the Relief Regulation Order of 1930.
It has been asserted, on no grounds whatever, that one of the principles of the Order was that out-relief should not be given except where test work was performed, and I am sorry that one very large and important public authority in this country should have said the same thing. It is not true; it never has been true. I have tried to make it clear, in answer to questions in the House, that while I should desire forms of training 45 where they can be provided, and where they can be used in appropriate cases, it was never the intention of the Order of 1930 that one of the indispensable conditions of receiving out-relief was that test work should be performed. The effect of the Order has been, I hope and believe, in some measure to humanise the Poor Law system, so far as that can be done by administration. I am not satisfied myself that it is possible to overhaul the Poor Law system administratively. It will need very far-reaching legislation. There is one aspect of it to which I would wish to refer where administration may do a great deal, and that is in the treatment of the casual poor. I should say, broadly speaking, that no section of the poor has been worse treated in the past than the occupant of the casual ward, and to-day the problem is not quite what it used to be. It is, unfortunately, true to-day that many young men set out aimlessly on a search for work. They are not the old professional tramp. Many of them are quite decent people, and they are driven to the casual ward in the course of their wanderings. But even if the casual ward population consisted entirely of case-hardened people, I should still think that they ought to be treated with a minimum of humanity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Maximum."] No, with a minimum. I want them to be treated with a statutory minimum of humanity.
As it is, and as it has been in the past, I am satisfied that many casuals in the casual wards of this country have reached far below the minimum in the treatment that has been accorded, and it is because of that that I set up a committee to deal with this problem. I hope that Members of this Committee have read its report, because there was a very strong condemnation of the conditions prevailing in certain casual wards—conditions which one would have thought no longer existed in the 20th century; conditions which existed during the five years of the late Government with very little improvement so far as I can ascertain. The report was received, and, following upon that, I made arrangements for a complete and detailed inspection of all the casual wards in England and Wales, and I must say that the criticisms of the Committee were fully borne out. It was quite clear that something had to 46 be done. I believe that the mere publication of the report aroused an increased public interest in the problem of the casual, and I decided that the one thing to do was to issue a new Order which would do something to humanise the conditions of many of the casual wards as regards sleeping accommodation, day accommodation and food, and also, of course, the tasks which casuals are asked to perform. I suppose that during the past two years I have answered more questions about stone-breaking than any one of my predecessors.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I do not want to be drawn into an aside, but I would remind the Committee that in the days of the late Government the Minister specifically, in answer to a question, kept stone-pounding in existence.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
If the Noble Lady would only read the Order, of which I will send her a copy, she would be a little better informed. Stone-breaking cannot now be carried out without the approval of the Minister of Health. That is a substantial advance in the treatment that is being meted out to the occupants of the casual wards, and that is paralleled by the improvement that is taking place in the dietary of these people, and in their general treatment both during the day and during the night. In addition to the publication of the report, I have sent a circular to the county councils, the borough councils and the joint vagrancy committees, calling atttention to the Order, and calling attention to a number of other matters which seemed to me could not be so well dealt with in the Order, but which ought to be brought to the attention of the authorities dealing with casuals, and which will, I am satisfied, do much to improve the conditions under which casuals stay at the expense of the public.
There is one further word I would like to say about this subject. I am quite 47 certain that in most cases the public assistance authority is not a large enough authority to deal effectively with the problem of the casual, and a considerable number of joint vagrancy committees have been established. I think that a good many more ought to be established, and unless the authorities are prepared to take action voluntarily to come together, I believe steps must be taken to compel the appointment of joint vagrancy committees as the only effective way in which to deal with the problem of the casual on the road. The Out-Relief Order of 1930 I felt I had to make, though all the other Orders and Regulations have been left for the time, in accordance with the promise made by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston that the local authorities should have an opportunity of getting into the saddle before there was any general revision of the whole body of Regulations and Orders. I have raised this question within the last few days, or possibly within the last week or two, with the local authorities, and steps are being taken now to hammer out and embody Regulations in accordance with the law as it now stands, and with the new needs of the time.
A question which has given a good deal of trouble, and has exercised the minds of those who are concerned with it, is that of National Health Insurance. We are all aware of the increased expenditure of approved societies in recent years on sickness and disablement benefit, and the Committee will remember that about a year ago the report of the Government Actuary presented to Parliament drew attention to these very disturbing facts. Since then, we have had a special inter-departmental committee at work investigating this problem further. It is very difficult to assess the exact weight which should be given to the various factors causing this increase in expenditure on insurance benefit, whether sickness benefit or disablement benefit. I am not satisfied myself that there has been any substantial deterioration in general health. There may have been here and there. There may have been in particular areas. I think it is largely due to the fact that there has been an expansion of additional benefit using up 48 the reserves created in earlier years, and that it is partly due to what is right, that insured persons are taking full advantage of the rights which the law has conferred upon them. It is very important that in the early stages of illness the insured person should go to the doctor. It is right that he should have the earliest possible treatment.
But behind all legitimate causes, everyone on both sides of the Committee associated with approved society work knows that there is possibly—there is undoubtedly, I think, a certain amount of laxity. There would be no desire on the part of any Member of the Committee to deprive any sick person of what was properly due to him. On the other hand, there would be no difference of opinion as to the desirability of depriving people of benefit to which they were not entitled. It is not too easy to carry out both, but we are proposing at an early date to issue to all approved societies, after the matter has been discussed with the consultative council of approved societies, memoranda which I hope will be of some assistance to approved societies in the matter of certification and supervision of claims for benefit. Last year the amount paid out in sickness and disablement benefit was £2,000,000 less than that of the previous year. This may be due to the fact that 1930 on the whole was a good year as compared with 1929 as far as sickness is concerned, but it is undoubtedly due partly to the fact that there has been some improvement in administration.
The great increase in the expenditure of societies on sickness and disablement benefit, whatever the cause, is naturally reflected in the financial position of approved societies. We are now completing the third valuation of approved societies and, taking the figures for all societies, the majority of them will have a disposable surplus out of which they will still be able to pay additional benefits during the next five years, but there are societies, unfortunately, and especially those which have a separate fund for women, where the drain has been more than the average, where the disposable surplus has fallen to very small dimensions or has entirely disappeared. That is a serious problem, and it is now under careful and sympathetic consideration.
49 A problem in which hon. Members on all sides of the House are interested is that of maternal mortality. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston, in presenting his Estimates three years ago, dealt with this problem in a way which showed the great interest he took in it and there can be no difference of opinion as to the seriousness of maternal mortality. In the existing state of knowledge nothing can justify the death of 3,000 mothers per year in childbirth. It makes it by far the most dangerous occupation in the country. The Departmental Committee on Maternal Mortality, which was appointed by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston three years ago, has made an examination of each of a number of these cases of maternal death and has arrived at results which are serious. We can say, on the basis of the findings of this Committee in their interim report, that not less than one-half, it may be more, of these maternal deaths are preventable. That is a national scandal which I submit the public cannot continue to tolerate. After consideration of this Report I approached the local authorities of the country in a circular sent out five months ago pointing out ways in which they might co-operate in dealing with this problem, making other suggestions as to the developments which might take place and pressing upon them the importance of education and ante-natal treatment.
I will not go into the details of the many different lines of approach to this problem, the ante-natal services, the supply of midwives, and the many different ways in which this problem can be attacked. At the end of March I received replies from 70 local authorities and of this number 36 had adopted proposals for improving their maternity services whilst a number of others had the matter still under consideration. Fifteen authorities were establishing or extending their ante-natal clinics, 10 were providing private medical practitioners for ante-natal examinations, 12 were improving their arrangements for the supply of midwives, 21 were arranging consultant services, and nine were providing an extension of hospital accommodation whilst a number of others were arranging various ancillary services. There was evidence of an earnest intention on the part of local authorities to co-operate with the Ministry of 50 Health in an attack upon this problem, and I am keeping in touch with them to see that as far as is possible they live up to their responsibilities in dealing with this matter. When I sent out the circular I explained that, while we were anxious and meant to open negotiations with a view to a national scheme, whatever scheme might be evolved the services of local authorities would be essential and I hoped that they would take the earliest possible steps to secure development.
Before the Minister of Health leaves this subject can he give us the figures of maternal mortality for the last year or say how they compare with the previous year?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
My impression is that they are about the same, they certainly are not down. I have not the figures with me but I will get them for the right hon. Gentleman.
The Minister of Health mentioned that 30 authorities are doing something. Is it only that 30 have started on this work?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I have had definite and specific replies from 70 and of that number 36 have begun actual steps to secure development; in regard to a number of the remainder the matter is still under consideration. I am keeping in touch with them and hope to keep up the pressure with a view to getting further developments undertaken. I feel that I should say something about the clinical work undertaken by local authorities. I do not propose to trench upon what is appropriate to the Ministry of Labour Vote in regard to the Unemployment Grants Committee, but it will be within the recollection of hon. Members that last year we improved in various ways the conditions under which local authorities might obtain loans in order to carry out their various services and develop them. It is interesting to know that the amount of loans sanctioned for local authorities has increased during last year, both as regards loans for services which are grant-aided under the Education Act or in other ways and those which are not grant-aided except through the Unemployment Grants Committee.
51 Leaving aside housing which has a separate special grant the amount of loans sanctioned from 1929 to 1931 has increased from £27,700,000 to nearly £47,500,000, and the loans sanctioned for schemes for the relief of unemployment not receiving a grant except through the Unemployment Grants Committee has increased from £1,300,000 in 1929 to £14,400,000 in 1931. In addition to that, because of the plight in which distressed areas found themselves last year, a sum of £500,000 was voted by Parliament to works which should receive 100 per cent. grant, and £440,000 of that amount was allocated to England and Wales and the remainder to Scotland. I am no believer in the 100 per cent. grant. It is not a very useful weapon, because inevitably the man who pays the 100 per cent. wants to call the tune; and that is quite reasonable. But we have been able to come to the assistance of the most desperately placed local authorities, particularly in South Wales and Durham, by this 100 per cent. grant scheme, which on the whole has worked extraordinarily well.
If there was time I should have liked to have referred to other sides of the Department's work but, I must say one word about the post-graduate hospital and medical school. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston, my predecessor, called the committee into existence and it has been my privilege to complete the foundations which were laid by the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that this post-graduate hospital and medical school is the biggest single step taken in this country in the interests of public health since the War. I desire to make no party capital out of it; I honestly believe that to be the case. When the report of the committee over which the right hon. Gentleman and I presided successively was presented I asked Lord Chelmsford to become the Chairman of an organising committee to work out the details. They have done so, and we are now beginning to set up the governing body of this institution. The Government, as I have previously indicated, is prepared to provide up to £250,000 for the actual building of the medical school, for which the London County Council hospital at Hammersmith is being used, and they will continue to make grants to the medical school. I have every belief that in the 52 near future, when the school and hospital will be actually at work, that it will exercise a very profound influence upon the public health services of this country.
The work of the Ministry of Health is so far-reaching and so complicated that one is bound to leave out a good many of the problems with which it has to deal. I cannot refer to many of the questions which will no doubt be raised in the Debate but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with them in the course of her reply. I believe that the Ministry of Health is doing, and did last year, good work in the interests of the people of the country. It is inevitably a Department that spends money—it is what the "Evening News" would call a spendthrift Department—but it is a Department whose expenditure is largely determined by Statute under the will of Parliament, and it is a Department the vast percentages of whose work is constructive work. Whatever may be the difficulties of our time, it is quite clear that the work of the Department must continue to make great contribution to the national wellbeing. Whoever may stand in my place must always stand at this Box with pride in the control of a Department whose work is primarily human constructive work, touching the lives of the people at 100 points. Although the Estimate seems large, without any disrespect to any other Department I would claim that that expenditure is highly justified in the national interest and the national well-being.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
We are examining to-day Estimates which reach very considerable proportions in their financial commitments, and they concern what, it will be generally agreed, is one of the greatest Departments of the State. As regards a very large number of the objects of the Ministry, and the statement of the Minister regarding them, we are at one in endeavouring to further and promote the best interests of the country in relation to its health conditions. It has been my duty now for many years to listen to the contributions of the Minister of Health in these Debates, but I have seldom heard a more apologetic and dispirited speech than that which we have heard this afternoon. As far as I could make out, the right hon. Gentleman has described a year of easy-going jog trot 53 along the old and well-worn paths, varied by an occasional leap into the thorns and rocks of Socialism, following the application of the stick to the Government's hindquarters by its impatient supporters. I am not surprised that we have a chastened Minister before us this afternoon. At the close of his speech the right hon. Gentleman referred very briefly to our difficult times, and of course no Department is more affected, especially so far as new endeavours and new projects are concerned, than is the Ministry of Health by the present financial position of the country. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will repeat in a hurry the dictum with which he surprised the country a little while ago, when he said that the expenditure which the nation could afford depended upon how much it desired it. I think we may regard that statement as withdrawn. In the course of the year I trembled as to what would happen to the right hon. Gentleman, because I recalled his statement—Honestly, I would not be a Member of another minority Government.I think that statement was made just about the time when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was constantly visiting the Ministry of Health. The Minister in that same speech went on to say:It would not be fair to the people I represent; it would not be fair to anyone.That, I suppose, is what we may call "suffering from an inferiority complex." I prefer it to the statement I read a few days ago—a statement attributed to the Minister of Transport as having been made at a dinner in London:He had never failed in anything he had put in hand.Which is the worse disease from which to suffer, the inferiority complex or the superiority complex, is a matter which naturally the Minister of Health is in a position to decide. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to-day to a variety of matters which affect his Department. I was very glad to hear what was said about National Health Insurance claims, because they are giving considerable anxiety to many of the approved societies of the country. A year ago the controller of National Health Insurance in this country stated that the records of 54 the sickness and disablement claims constituted a challenge to all who were responsible for the welfare of the scheme. I observed that only a week or two ago, when addressing an important insurance conference, this same high official of the Government stated that it was still necessary for certain societies to strengthen the safeguards adopted by them in connection with the supervision of claims.
I am very glad to know that within the last few months the Minister of Health, without being accused of treating unfairly and improperly the insured classes of the country, has altered, for instance, the regulation affecting change of doctors by insured persons, and that in other ways he is endeavouring to tighten up the administration. In that connection I am reminded of what little more I have to say by the presence of my hon. and gallant Friend who was Under-Secretary for Scotland in the last Government. I see that it is said that Scotland was in a much better position than England, so far as some of the claims were concerned, because Scotsmen had one superior virtue—that they drank less medicine, and that during the last few years they had been saving 11d. per insured person per annum in comparison with England. That is a great tribute to the sense of the Scottish people.
The most notable and successful work of the year at the Ministry of Health has been the putting into operation of the new Local Government Act and the transfer of the functions of the Poor Law. I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the great work that he has accomplished in that connection. He passed rather lightly—I dare say he noticed it as well as I did—over the role which he now adopts in comparison with his previous action. I remember very well that on 26th November, 1928, we were told by the right hon. Gentleman that that Act perpetrated the evils of the Poor Law system, made no provision for the prevention of destitution and was calculated to increase the high mortality rates amongst mothers. It is a nemesis of which we must take due note to-day, that only a fortnight ago the right hon. Gentleman was saying how smoothly this enormously complicated transfer had been carried through; he said that it merited high praise from the community 55 to all those concerned in it, and added that whilst it had been one of the biggest upheavals of our local Government system, it was something of which we could be proud. What pleased me most in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was his final statement—I would like to say how proud I feel to have been associated with so great a change, carried out with such success.I must confess that I was strongly reminded of the right hon. Gentleman, in this connection, by an article in the "Spectator" this week, of which the well-known biologist, Professor Crew, was the writer. The article was chiefly about an interesting animal called a Slipper Limpet. Professor Crew says in the article that this animal has great capacity for repeated functional changes, and that when it becomes attached to the shell of a more mature and stabler species it passes through the most robust and vigorous state of its existence. I am sorry that it must also be added that when it leaves the shell—in this case I suppose it is the Ministry of Health—it reverts and becomes one of the weaker and less dependable animals.
But the special subject to which I wish to refer this afternoon is housing. A discussion of housing and of the record of the Government is long overdue. I noted that the right hon. Gentleman's chief reference to the subject to-day consisted of optimistic prophecies relating to paper schemes which may or may not be fulfilled in the years to come under the new Act. His statements reminded me of all that was said when the Wheatley Act was passed. I want the Committee for a few minutes to examine what are the facts, and what is the record of the Government, putting on one side altogether what may or may not happen in future. The Government have had nearly two years to develop their housing policy and administration. My first observation is that not an Act of Parliament nor any sanction of an. administrative action which the right hon. Gentleman has desired to put into operation, has been refused him by this House. He has had every possible opportunity given to him. So far as the House is concerned, he has had granted to him everything that he has desired to do, and he has had ample time in which to do it. He has had the advantage of 56 considerable advice from the Liberal party. I remember the contribution of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters) and the very important proposals that he made to the House. How far the Liberal party have co-operated with the Government in this housing effort I shall leave to the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. E. D. Simon) to state.
Last year both the hon. Member and myself described the housing situation as it then was, and I described it as "disquieting" while the hon. Member described is as "very serious." What is to be said about the position to-day? I notice that the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives went to the Minister of Health only a short time ago, and said that they were anxious to lay before the Minister facts and figures showing the serious position of the building industry. The National Housing and Town Planning Council, not long ago, in a public communication to the local authorities of the country, expressed their grave concern at the slow progress of housing. A year ago it was "disquieting" and "very serious" in the opinion of some of us, but we find that in the year which has since elapsed, there has been, again, a considerable reduction in the provision of working-class houses, increased burdens placed upon the Exchequer through the Wheatley subsidy, and unexampled unemployment in the building industry. That is, I think, the inevitable result of the half-hearted and timorous policy of the right hon. Gentleman, and it is certainly in remarkable contrast to the gigantic effort of the last 10 years when 1,500,000 new houses were built, and nearly one-fifth of our population re-housed.
Let us examine the figures in the building industry which give some indication of the present position in regard to housing. The building industry is one of the largest trades in the country but I do not propose to apply to the Minister of Health in this respect the test which he applied to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). In the last year of my right hon. Friend's administration as Minister of Health the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister said that there was no reason why a single operative in the 57 building industry should be idle. When he made that statement there were 67,742 insured persons reported as unemployed in the building trade. On 26th May last just about the time of our last discussion on housing, that figure had grown to 101,066 and I remember that the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary in her explanation of those figures referred to "the great frost" in 1929. On 23rd February, 1931, that figure had actually grown to 207,738 and those are the latest figures which have been supplied to us. They show that the number of unemployed in the building industry is now three times what it was when the Socialist Government assumed office.
It may be said that I have taken these particular figures and have taken particular dates for my own purposes, but, whatever dates are taken, it will be found that never since the War, or very rarely since the War, have there been such figures. To-day there are 28,414 carpenters out of work compared with 5,597 in 1929, when we were told that there was no reason why a single operative in the building industry should he idle. There are 14,617 bricklayers to-day out of work compared with 1,609 in 1929, and there are 6,273 plasterers out of work to-day compared with 1,345 in 1929. I think that the best comment upon that situation is one which was made a short time after the right hon. Gentleman assumed office as Minister of Health by the National Housing and Town Planning Council. I do not agree with every word of their statement but I think it contains a truth which we might apply to-day:Stimulated by the encouragement and the pledges embodied in the Wheatley Act, the building industry has fulfilled all and even more than it undertook, and its personnel and material are now capable of building upwards of 200,000 houses a year of which at least 150,000 should be sound working-class houses for letting.This is the part of the statement to which I would specially direct the attention of hon. Members:It seems utterly wrong if the need is there and the power to deal with it is available that money should be wasted in paying unemployed benefit to an increasing extent when it could be doubly beneficially employed.I recall another statement of the Minister of Health when he said: 58The housing need is still sufficient to demand the employment of all people with in the industry.Yet to-day there are nearly 140,000 more people unemployed in the industry than there were when the right hon. Gentleman made that statement. In considering the number of operatives unemployed we must ask ourselves: What about the provision of houses for the working classes of this country? I emphasise the term "working-class houses" because a year ago when the hon. Member for Withington and myself were given figures of building operations covering different kinds of houses in the country I was surprised to hear the Parliamentary Secretary include in certain figures, as a matter of triumph for herself, houses, for instance, built in Park Lane and elsewhere. But the right hon. Gentleman put another test to his predecessor. He said that the real test was: "Is there a house for the person who wants it?"
Let us look at the results so far as they have been supplied to us by the Minister for the year ended 30th September last. I think that is a very fair selection and, in any case, they are the latest figures which were available previous to this Debate. These figures show the regrettable situation into which housing has been permitted to relapse in this country. They show the total number of houses completed in each year ended 30th September up to 1930, and the number completed without State assistance. The number completed without State assistance is expressly limited in the Minister's statement to those houses which are under a rateable value of £78 or, in the Metropolitan area, £105. In other words, the figures deal, roughly and broadly, with what may be called houses for industrial workers and they present an amazing record. In 1926 the figure was 197,000; in 1927, 273,000; in 1928, 166,000; in 1929, 203,000, and this year, after two years of Socialist administration, the figure has relapsed to 161,000. Thus one of the fruits of Socialist administration is that we have had fewer houses built in this country to meet the housing needs of the industrial masses than at any time since 1925. The rate of building is two-thirds of the rate in 1927 and if we were building today at the 1927 rate, we should be employing 150,000 more men in the building trade. During the last period ended 59 30th September there has been a definite and heavy reduction in the number of houses for workers of no less than 41,744. I do not know whether these words are familiar to hon. Members:You are not a snail. You cannot carry your house on your back, but you need a house all the same. Vote Labour, for more and better houses!If there was one thing on which the Labour party prided itself more than another it was what they called municipal house building. In fact matters had gone to such a pitch in that respect that the present Minister of Health in the last Debate which we had, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston was Minister of Health, declared that in looking at a housing record we must eliminate from it all houses built by private enterprise. He even went so far as to say that we must eliminate all houses built by local authorities if they were not to let. I shall not apply that very strict test to the record of the right hon. Gentleman. If I did so, little would be left of it. But take municipal house building since 1925. There has never been, during the period to which I have referred, so little municipal house building completed, and I think it is perfectly accurate to say—and I invite the hon. Member for Withington to confirm my statement—that but for the efforts of unaided private enterprise not only would there have been no reduction in the housing shortage in this country, but there would not be a single addition to the means of meeting the housing needs of people who have waited so long for better and more decent homes.
But it might be said, "Notwithstanding this very depressing record, surely things are getting better; there must be a ray of sunshine somewhere." When I look at the figures that have been given to me, I find that at the beginning of this year the number of State-assisted houses completed in January, 1929, the year when we left office, was 7,130, while for January this year the number completed was only 4,143. You may say, "That is bad, but surely houses under construction are looking up." If you look at the figure for State-assisted houses under construction for January, 1929, you will find that it is given as 54,192, while in January 60 this year the figure had dropped to 36,382. It may be said, in answer to this, "But this is all the fault of what is called the Chamberlain Act, and the Wheatley Act, of course, has been a much greater success."
I remember that the Attorney-General in the Labour Government of 1924, Sir Patrick Hastings, who will no doubt be accepted as an authority on Socialism—and, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) reminds me, as all Labour Attorneys-General may be regarded—said that the Wheatley Act laid down real Socialism for the first time in this country. We remember what happened. The right hon. Gentleman decided, when he came into office, to renew at any rate part of the subsidy which had been cut by my right hon. Friend. It was to mean more houses at lower rents; it would end the wicked attack of the Conservative Government, who, we were told, always placed economy before housing needs, on the housing of the workers. The interesting figures supplied by the Minister of Health in relation to houses completed under the Wheatley Act for the year ended September, 1927, show that, in round figures, the number completed was 97,000; in 1928, the houses completed under the Wheatley Act were 53,000; in 1929, 53,000; and in 1930 the figures had decreased to 51,310. Not only had there been fewer houses completed so far as municipal building was concerned, but fewer houses under the Wheatley Act had been completed than at any time since 1927; and actually, when we are comparing housing affairs between this year and last year, there has been a reduction in this period of over 2,200. If anybody is in any doubt about that, I would refer them to the OFFICIAL REPORT of the 30th October, 1930, when we had a reluctant admission from the Minister of Health—
§ Sir K. WOOD
In 1927, 97,316 were completed; in 1928, 53,792; in 1929, 53,516; and in 1930, 51,310; and I will repeat my statement, in case the hon. Member would like to make a note of it, that not only have there been fewer 61 houses completed under the Wheatley Act since 1927, but actually over 2,200 fewer this year than the year before.
Then I want to say a word with regard to the operation of the Wheatley Act in the rural areas, because no body of people was more emphatic about the need of improving the housing situation in the rural areas than was the Labour party, and the Prime Minister said of the Wheatley Act that it was the biggest piece of constructive organisation which had ever been attempted. That was rather a strong statement, and it has only been exceeded by the statement made this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health with regard to his 1930 legislation. The Wheatley Act has again shown a very considerable drop, so far as house building in the rural areas is concerned; there has been a considerable fall in the number of houses built in agricultural parishes in England and Wales. In 1930 the number of houses built under the Wheatley Act in England and Wales was 2,989, while in 1929 that figure was 3,816. Therefore, so far as this year is concerned, there has been a drop of over 1,000 in the number of houses built under the Wheatley Act in the agricultural parishes.
I might suitably refer for a moment to the statement thatLabour's agricultural policy means more houses, at low rents, for rural workersand that under Labour's agricultural policyPressure will be brought to bear on local councils which do not make use of their powers to provide houses for rural workers.Finally, we may add to our official record thatLabour says the tied-cottage scandal must go, and if you want to feel secure in your home, vote Labour.'There is only one further reference that I want to make to the housing situation—and I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) here, because this matter of unemployment and housing will have a considerable bearing upon our deliberations on Thursday next. What is the financial aspect of the situation? No one can say that this country has grudged money for housing. The capital cost of State-aided houses between 1919 and 1930 has been some £600,000,000, and we have paid in Exchqeuer subsidies some £93,000,000, of which over £82,000,000 62 has been paid to the local authorities. The loan debt of the local authorities at 31st March, 1931, in respect of housing was over £400,000,000, and while I do not think that anyone here will grudge the money that has been spent in connection with this great effort at national housing, I do not think many more would dispute the fact that on account of that large sum being spent there is the more need to make further efforts to have a wise, efficient, and economical policy.
I have often suggested to the House of Commons that one of the greatest achievements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston was his contribution to the gradual but substantial reduction in the cost of house-building in this country. The Minister of Health this afternoon quoted some figures—but he began rather late in the years that he quoted—in order to show the reduction in the cost of house-building in this country. I will go a little farther back than he did. In July, 1921, the average cost of a non-parlour house was £665, and in July, 1929, it was £337. One of my indictments against the administration of the right hon. Gentleman has been that one of the results of his policy has been definitely to check and arrest the reduction in the price of houses in this country, because in July, 1930, a non-parlour house was costing still £332, and the average cost during the whole of 1930 was £340.
There is no doubt about it, although the right hon. Gentleman has not referred to it to-day, that as a result of restoring the Wheatley subsidy, as he has done, he has ended up in this unfortunate way, that he has not achieved more house building under the Wheatley Act but less, that he has arrested the reduction in the price of houses, and that there has been unexampled unemployment in the building trade—less houses, no lower rents, more money from the taxpayer, and more unemployment in the building trade.
The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon made a half-hearted reference to the cost of building in this country at the present time. He said he thought housing costs really were high, and he told us that a few days ago he had referred the question of the price of building materials to a committee. Why only 63 building materials? What has happened to the profiteering Bill which was one of the chief features of the Socialist programme? Mr. Bellman, who, I suppose, has had as much experience of housing costs and house building as anyone in this country, said, at the annual meeting of the Building Society, that since the average cost of building materials had fallen, the total drop in the cost of erecting houses was about 17 per cent. He could not trace, however, a proportionate reduction in the price of houses. It was only a short time ago that the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth, whom I hoped to see here to-day, said that he did not believe in any form of State subsidy, and that the cost of building in this country was still ridiculously too high.
Hon. Members opposite may say that the great thing to do in connection with building costs is to go in for direct labour, and that that is the method that we should adopt to deal with a critical situation of this kind. That is a great Socialist illusion, and I suppose it has been effectively knocked on the head by the Minister of Health himself, because on the 12th of last month a question was put to him to give the average cost of non-parlour and parlour houses in contracts let by, and in approved direct labour schemes of, local authorities in the three years ended 31st December, 1929, and I regret to say that in nearly every one of those years, in respect of both non-parlour houses and parlour houses, the cost of building by direct labour exceeded that of building by contract.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Certainly. This was the answer given:
[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March,1931; col.1395; Vol.249].
Year. Non-parlour houses. Parlour houses. £ £ 1927 … 413 480 1928 … 362 429 1929 … 345 409 1930 … 340 404
§ Sir K. WOOD
No. There is only one more word I want to say in this rather depressing story. I must recall the unscrupulous attacks which were made on my right hon. Friend in relation to his policy when he cut the subsidy. We heard such cries as "Tory attack on workers' houses"; "Economy first, housing last"; "Wicked," "Unscrupulous," "Mean." When my right hon. Friend withdrew the subsidy of the 1923 Act, I thought the heavens would fall. The present Parliamentary Secretary, however, has given a very excellent testimonial to my right hon. Friend. The situation with regard to houses for the workers, far from falling as a result of the action of my right hon. Friend, was saved by private enterprise. If anyone doubts that, I will give an excellent authority:When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston withdrew the subsidy from houses built by private enterprise, he announced that in his opinion private enterprise would build small houses as well without the subsidy as with it, and that forecast has proved to be absolutely true."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1930; col. 1673, Vol. 240.]It was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health who said that. Had it not been for private enterprise and the work of the building societies in the two years of a Socialist Government, the housing shortage would not have been reduced at all. The building societies advanced over £74,000,000 last year, and during the year ended 30th September, 1930, out of 161,000 houses built, private enterprise was responsible for 110,000, without a penny of State assistance. If the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen are inclined to show any process of change with regard to private enterprise and Socialism, I hope that he will remember those figures. Since the War, over 500,000 houses have been built without any State assistance, and nearly 400,000 were of no greater rental value than £32 a year.
We were told in "Labour and the Nation" that the provision of an adequate supply of houses at rents within the means of the workers was one of the objects of the Labour party. There was also the establishment of cottage homes for the aged, and the prevention of profiteering in land and building materials. What are the results of these 65 two years of a Socialist Government? More than 200,000 building operatives are walking the streets; a large number of people have failed to obtain the housing accommodation that they were promised; the output in municipal building has been reduced, and but for the contribution of the private capitalistic builder, there would not have been built even sufficient houses to meet the ordinary growth of the population and to replace the wastage of old buildings; rents have not been reduced; further burdens have been added to those already borne by ratepayers and taxpayers; unemployment is up, and housing is down. The only gain to the nation has been that every Socialist theory and idea has been found to be impracticable and unworkable.
§ Mr. E. D. SIMON
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) that it is high time the House had an opportunity of debating this very important subject of housing. Important as many of the other subjects dealt with by the Ministry of Health undoubtedly are, at the present time, having regard to the position and the appalling figures of unemployment in the building trade, which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted, housing is far and away the most important problem facing the Minister of Health. I, therefore, looked forward to this Debate with a good deal of interest, but I have rarely heard a more disappointing speech than that of the Minister, for he dealt with the question of housing for only six or seven minutes.
I have been going very carefully into the facts and figures in the last few weeks, and every figure given by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich was correct and undeniable. It is difficult to imagine a more damaging set of figures as regards the performance of the last two years than were given by him, and one hoped that the Minister of Health would have recognised that we were not dealing with the problem, and that he would have made some sort of promise and offer to make things better in future. Instead of that, his speech was a speech of self-satisfaction throughout. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman how long it is since we really said we were going to set to work on a great national campaign to deal with the slum problem, and 66 remind him of what was said by His Majesty just after the War:It is not too much to say that an adequate solution of the housing question is the foundation of all social progress. … A great offensive must be undertaken against disease and crime, and the first point at which the attack must be delivered is the unhealthy, ugly, over-crowded house in the mean street, which we all of us know too well.That was 12 years ago, and it may be regarded as the beginning of the post-War housing campaign. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that in spite of the effort that has been made—a gigantic effort in some ways—"the unhealthy, ugly, over-crowded house in the mean street," is in a rather worse condition today than it was at that time. So far as the slums and the lower paid workers are concerned, the great housing campaign has been an absolue failure throughout the whole of the 12 years and during the two years during which the right hon. Gentleman has been in power. May I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1924 his leader, Mr. Wheatley, and he, as Parliamentary Secretary, took a very different view from what he is taking to-day? They appreciated in those days—or Mr. Wheatley appreciated—that what was wanted were more houses at low rents. I have here the Memorandum explaining the Financial Resolution for the Wheatley Act, which is entitled, "Housing (Financial Provisions)."
I have put this matter once or twice to the right hon. Gentleman in questions, and it has always been denied that this White Paper says what it actually does say. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will no longer deny what is undeniable, because I have the Paper here. It lays down a 15-year programme to build 2,500,000 working-class houses to rent at not more than 9s. We want that now just as much as we did in 1924. It was because the Liberal party agreed with that object in 1924 that we supported the Measure. The 2,500,000 houses were not to be built evenly over the 15 years, because the building trade could not do it. The programme was for 90,000 houses in 1925, 100,000 in 1926, rising to 150,000 in 1930, and to 170,000 in 1931. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested once or twice that these houses were not meant to be houses to rent, but were to include private enterprise building. If he will look at page 6 of the 67 Memorandum, he will see that the assumption is that the full "Exchequer contribution is payable in all cases"; and there is a long table on page 7 showing that when the 2,500,000 houses were built, the burden on the Exchequer would be 2,500,000 times £9. In other words, they were to be 2,500,000 Wheatley houses. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now agree that that is absolutely undeniable. That was the right hon. Gentleman's object in 1924. If it was not, it was the object of his leader; it was what was put before the House, and what the House agreed to.
According to that programme, we ought in the last year to have built 150,000 houses under the Wheatley Act. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich pointed out that in fact we built 51,000—just a third of what was promised. The right hon. Gentleman has hopes that during the next five years we may get an average, if all local authorities fulfil their promises, of 90,000 houses under the Wheatley and Greenwood Acts. Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly satisfied. In 1924 he was working for a programme amounting eventually to 225,000 houses a year—a total which was to be reached in 1934, when it was to be stabilised at that figure until 1939, when the 2,500,000 would be completed. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary looks surprised, but the figures are here, and I shall be glad to hand her the document. That was the object of the 1924 Act. Now the right hon. Gentleman, apparently, says that if he can get this rather vague promise of 90,000 a year fulfilled, he will be content. I hope that I misunderstood him.
What was the position when the right hon. Gentleman came into power in 1924? Mr. Wheatley found that the labour did not exist in the building trade, and that he could not get the houses he wanted. He therefore made a 15-year programme and what he called his treaty with labour. That treaty was very successful. Combined with the Chamberlain subsidy, it brought, in the course of three years, 150,000 men into the building trade, and we had that great year of building, 1927, when 273,000 houses were built. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) cut the subsidy, and that cut 68 down the Wheatley houses from 97,000 to 50,000. For that the right hon. Gentleman was responsible, but it had one good result in that it brought down the price. When the present Minister of Health came into power, he found a very different condition of affairs from that of 1924. Any amount of labour was available; building material prices were fairly low—at any rate, lower than they had been before; and that we were building only 50,000 houses. One would have thought that he would have regarded that as a Heaven-sent opportunity to do a really big piece of constructive Socialism, and to show that he could build 150,000 working-class houses to be let a year, and work up to 225,000 a year. That is what many of us on these benches hoped for, and expected, and it has been extraordinarily disappointing. In the first year he did prevent the Wheatley subsidy from being cut, and then, I think it is fair to say, he took no further action; house building went on at the rate of 50,000 a year, and he seemed to be satisfied. On 23rd July, seeing how badly things were going, I put a question to him as to whether he were satisfied. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary replied:My right hon. Friend has solid reasons for satisfaction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1930, col. 2159, Vol. 241.]That was said in reply to a supplementary question by the Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). The Parliamentary Secretary added that she hoped the women of the country would take note of what her right hon. Friend was doing. The right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day has been on the same lines. He has again found solid grounds for satisfaction because the local authorities have promised, though they have not done anything yet, and I do not believe they are able to, any more than was the case last year. I do not believe that we shall get more than 50,000 or 60,000 houses in the year ending 30th September—at any rate that is very unlikely, on the figures we have had so far. But the right hon. Gentleman, instead of deploring that state of affairs, again talks about "solid grounds for satisfaction," because of the promise that in the next five years they may get up to a figure of 90,000, if all the local authorities rise to the promises they have made. That is a deplorable position, 69 not only from the point of view of housing, but also from the point of view of employment.
We, on these benches, have been urging that a great effort should be made to give employment in these days of depression, and there is no branch of public work in which it would be so easy and so profitable to find further employment as in building houses. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich said, if we could get up to 170,000 houses this year it would mean that, directly and indirectly, 250,000 more people would find employment. I beg and pray the right hon. Gentleman to put some energy into this matter, and see whether he cannot arrange for that expansion. It is not the business of us on these benches to tell him how to do it, though, to some extent, we have done so. I am sorry the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir. T. Walters) is not here, but the Committee will remember the speech he made on the subject recently and the concrete suggestions he put forward. There was one suggestion for building 100,000 rural houses for agricultural workers, to be let at low rents. With his great experience, he believes that that can be done. It is suggested that as in many districts the rural authorities are not doing the job, it should be undertaken by some system of central building, some form of national housing council, or else direct building by the centre—we have no particular feeling on the matter. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has paid any real attention to this proposal, but I beg him and the new Lord Privy Seal to do something on those lines. I am sorry the Lord Privy Seal is not present, but he might celebrate his accession to his new office in that way. I believe it is a practicable proposition; it certainly has great weight behind it. I hope we shall be told to-night whether the Government are prepared to consider the building of 100,000 cheap houses in agricultural areas by some form of national housing council. I think I am safe in saying that if any such proposition were brought forward, it would receive the heartiest support from these benches.
Rents are another aspect of the problem with which I wish to deal. Since the War we have built 1,500,000 houses, 70 1,000,000 of them for sale and 500,000 for letting, the latter mostly at rents of from 12s. to 15s. and up to 20s. per week. It is because the rents are so high that these houses have been useless for the main purpose in view, which is to relieve the pressure on the slums and to help those who really need most help. May I bring to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the present position in Manchester, which I know best, under the Wheatley Act and the Greenwood Act? I have here a pink paper such as is given by the Manchester Housing Department to any applicant who asks for a house. Let us take the case of an engineering labourer. I know only too well how low the wages of engineering labourers are. They range from 40s. to 42s. a week. I will imagine the case of an engineering labourer with a family of two or three boys and girls who needs a three-bedroom house. At present he is living in the slums and paying, probably, 7s. 6d., or something of that sort, a week as rent. Hitherto he has regarded it as hopeless to try to get a corporation house, because, as everybody knows, the rents are far too high. He may have seen the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the other day that under his Act it is possible to build a decent family house and to let it at 5s. a week.
That announcement would bring this man real hope, and he would go off to the civic department and inquire whether he could have one of these houses at 5s. He would be told that that figure would be the net rent, and that with the rates the cost would be 7s. 6d. a week—a figure which would still be within his means so long as the house was not too far out of Manchester. He would then be given one of these pink forms. It is now six or seven months since the Greenwood Act was brought into force. Let us see what chance the man has of getting a three-bedroom house in Manchester. I sent the right hon. Gentleman a copy of this form, so that he can verify it. Particulars are given there of five estates. The first estate is at Wythenshawe. The cheapest family house there is not 7s. 6d. a week but 13s. 2d., and up to 13s. 11d. [Interruption.] That is the gross figure; it includes rates. A remark on the form states that a considerable time will elapse before the houses on this estate are ready for let- 71 ting; they are not there now. That estate is six miles from the centre of Manchester, and the fares amount to 6s. a week, so that a labourer working in the centre of Manchester would find that his house and travelling cost him 19s. a week. The next estate is closer in, with only 2d. fare. There the cheapest house is 14s. 11d. If we add the 2d. fare, the weekly expense is up to 17s. There is not very much hope there, and those houses are only in course of erection. The third estate is right in the centre of a working class district, Gorton, and the cheapest houses, which are only in course of erection, are 16s. 10d. That is for a parlour house; there are no non-parlour houses available. No fare has to be added in this case, but we start with 16s. 10d. for the cheapest house. On the last two estates the cheapest house is a parlour house at a rent of 19s. 6d.
This list shows, therefore, that nothing can be got for less than 13s. 2d., and, including fares, the cost in that case will be not less than 19s. To add to the irony of the situation, the applicant for the house will see a notice on the top of this pink form stating that applicants are invited to apply for houses at the highest rentals which they can afford to pay, owing to the fact that the lowest-rented houses are always being sought after. That seems to me a really appalling condition of affairs. On the one hand, the Minister is saying that it is possible to build a house to let at an inclusive rent of 7s. 6d., yet we find the very cheapest house available in Manchester to-day costs 13s. 2d. a week, and there are very few indeed of those, and they are a long way from the centre. Surely this state of affairs is making a complete farce of the housing subsidy. I believe in subsidising houses under present conditions, but I always thought the principle should be that the more fortunate members of the community should subsidise the less fortunate. The exact opposite is happening. My engineering labourer has not the least chance of getting one of these houses. There is not a single engineering labourer who has even thought of getting into a corporation house in Manchester, and I suppose the same thing applies to the rest of the country. At present the man is living in a slum. In Manchester the charge on the rates far building sub- 72 sidies is more than 4d., and so the engineering labourer, in his slum house, is paying something like 1d. a week to subsidise his more fortunate fellows to live in these houses at from 15s. to 20s. a week. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will let us know whether this is typical of what is happening or whether it applies only in Manchester. I am quite sure that he cannot deny the facts I have given, and even if it does apply only to Manchester, I want to know what steps the Government propose to take to see that these 7s. 6d. houses become available?
The subsidy is being abused in two ways. First of all, many people who ought not to be in subsidised houses are getting the benefit of a subsidy of 4s. or 5s. a week. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question on it the other day, but he evaded the point. Almost everybody will know of cases in which families with an income of £300, £400 or £500 a year are living in corporation houses and getting the subsidy. I was told the other day of a case where both the medical officer and the town clerk are living in subsidised houses, and the very poorest people are contributing towards the expense of enabling these people, who could perfectly well afford to pay for another house, to get this subsidy of 4s. or 5s. a week. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to have an inquiry made into this matter, and, if it is correct, to take steps to stop this particular abuse of the subsidy. Secondly, I ask him to let us know why there is this tremendous gap between the 7s. 6d. at which he says the houses ought to be let and the present rents. A very well-known social worker in Manchester who has been taking part in a housing survey wrote the other day that to those who know anything of the appalling conditions of life in Manchester slums the failure of the Greenwood Act must be regarded as a calamity. If Manchester must let its houses at from 13s. to 18s. a week instead of 7s. 6d., the Greenwood Act stands condemned as a failure. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this question with all the energy which he possesses—both with the question of the houses to be built and the rents to be charged.
§ Mr. QUIBELL
I am somewhat disappointed with the speech we have had 73 to-day from the Minister. The speech of the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters) on this subject some weeks ago was one with which I very largely agree. The legislation passed by this House has been sufficient both in quantity and quality to solve the housing difficulty, but what we need is more energy and drive from the Ministry. Mention was made of the slums of Manchester in the closing remarks of the speech to which we have just listened. Having an intimate knowledge of the countryside, I say there are no worse slums in the large cities than are to be found in our villages. If there is any part of the country in which we have failed more than in any other it is in the rural areas.
I have met with one experience which I have brought to the attention of the Minister. A firm of builders got out a scheme to build 40 houses in a fair-sized village only a mile or two from where I live. The local authority, which was reactionary—and, I would say to the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), mostly Tory—turned down this scheme. An undertaking had been given by the firm that every one of the 40 houses would be let at a rent which would be within the capacity of the people in the village to pay; but the rural district council turned it down. I took up the case and forwarded it to the Minister, and he, in turn, I presume, brought it to the attention of that local authority and got their answer—more or less satisfactory; it has been my experience of them that in most cases it is less satisfactory. The fact is that not a single house has been built there, although houses are badly needed in that area.
The public authorities in that district will not build houses themselves, nor will they allow private owners to build; and the ground which they put forward for taking this course is that if they allow more houses to be built, the next thing will be that they will need a sewerage and water supply scheme. That is the reason given by the rural district council for not taking action in regard to the building of houses, and yet no pressure is brought to bear by the Ministry of Health upon the local authority in order to compel them to make provision for a necessary sewerage scheme and water 74 supply. Even the chairman of the parish council in the village to which I have referred has denounced the abominable conditions in that area, and although appeals have been made to the rural district council, that body has turned a deaf ear to those appeals on every occasion.
The tragedy of the whole matter is that while the rural district council are not performing their duty to the public, the Minister of Health, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth, is not using all the powers which he possesses to compel the public authorities to do their duty in providing houses on the countryside. I have some knowledge of the way to build a good cottage on the countryside for £300 all in. I am confident that with a subsidy we could afford to let cottages of that kind to the agricultural labourer at a rental of 3s. or 3s. 6d. per week, and I do not believe that so far as a local authority is concerned, that that would be the slightest burden upon it. The need for more houses is urgent, and if the need is there and the labour and materials are available, why on earth cannot we bring the two things together and do something to solve this difficulty?
We have had a Departmental Committee set up to consider the housing problem. It has been argued that money is not available for building houses, but may I point out that there is no difficulty about finding money for purposes far less useful and urgent than the housing of the people on the countryside? We want to bring these two things together, and I cannot understand why the Minister of Health fails to use the powers given to him by Parliament for getting along with this very essential work. Mention has been made of the committee which is considering this question. I should say that it would be difficult to find a subject with which a committee is not dealing. It seems to me that we want a Committee appointed to inquire into and report upon the inaction of the various committees which have already been appointed by this House. Most of the people concerned with this question know all that is to be known in regard to its urgency, and the only way to solve the housing problem is to build sufficient new houses to meet the needs of the community. We have appointed a Departmental Committee to report to the House on this question, and we all know that 75 they can produce only facts and details upon this subject which every Member of the House knows all about.
Some hon. Members of this House know that in North Wales, slates which are brought from other countries are being used in the erection of council houses in a district where it is well known that the best slates are available. The same argument applies to districts where tiles can be produced. I have had some experience in this matter, and I remember the time when we bought 1,000 bricks for 16s. 6d. I need not remind hon. Members of the cost of bricks at the present time. The cost of land has not doubled, and wages have not doubled, but the cost of bricks instead of being 16s. 6d. per 1,000 has gone up to much more than 33s. If the departmental committee could arrive at some decision as to where all these abnormal profits are going, they would be doing something useful. I know that a square of 100 feet of slating with the best copper nails for roofing used to cost 25s., and the price to-day is 75s.
These are facts which the Minister of Health ought to know. Other materials such as floor tiles, which cost between 36s. and £2 per 1,000 pre-War, now cost £6, and I should have thought that those were practical subjects into which a departmental committee ought to inquire. That is where the committee, if it is a practical one, can put its finger on the spot to show where it is possible to reduce the cost of housing. All these are essentials where the cost of housing can be considerably reduced. So far as the problem of housing is concerned, if the Government would use to the fullest extent the powers which this House has conferred upon it, a good deal could be done to solve the housing problem. If such a policy were adopted, the building trade would be able to absorb an enormous amount of labour, and this ought to be one of the main objects of the Government and the House. If the result of this Debate is to impress upon the Minister of Health the necessity of using the powers which he possesses, then the Debate will not have taken place in vain.
One of the most alarming things about the housing problem is the attitude which the 76 Minister of Health has taken up. To imagine that we shall have any solid satisfaction from the policy of the right hon. Gentleman leaves one absolutely dazed. Fancy a Socialist Minister of Health being satisfied with a policy under which the Department has built a less number of houses than the reactionary Tory Government which preceded the present Government! The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) alluded to the promises which had been made by the Minister of Health, and he told the Committee that he was satisfied with them. If the hon. Member for Withington is satisfied on this point, all I can say is that no person interested in social and moral reforms in the country is satisfied with those promises. We are not satisfied, because we know that housing is the root of most of our social difficulties. The Minister of Health devoted only some six or seven minutes of his speech to the question of housing, and then he proceeded to talk about introducing more humanity into our casual wards. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman is not only disheartening but discouraging, and ought to arouse the indignation of the back benchers of the Labour party.
Hon. Members opposite draw appalling pictures of the housing conditions in various parts of the country, and yet we find those opposite who know all about the conditions sitting silent in face of one of the most reactionary and incompetent Ministers that this country has ever seen. No private enterprise or business enterprise would stand a manager who, after running housing schemes for four years, allowed things to get into such a state as that in which we now find the housing problem under the present Minister of Health. Private enterprise would very soon get rid of such a manager. I cannot understand the Labour party allowing this state of things to go on. At one time we heard a good deal about the policy of the direct building of houses by local authorities. I have just come from Wales, and some of the social workers there asked me why the Socialist Government do not undertake a little more direct building. Instead of doing that the Government are reducing the grants to necessitous areas for building houses. Instead of getting on with more building schemes, the Government have reduced 77 the grants, and I am sure that if the Parliamentary Secretary would go down to see some of the houses in Wales, she would not find there a state of things which she could regard as satisfactory.
The same argument applies in regard to the policy of providing boots for the children. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that all these things would be changed in three weeks by a Socialist Government. It reminds me of a social novel entitled "Three Weeks," which is no more fiction than the promises of the hon. Lady. If we cannot change the Government, at least the country ought to demand that we should change the Minister of Health. That is what we want, and that is what the House of Commons wants. I want to ask the Minister whether it is not possible to do something in the way of direct building in the distressed areas of Wales? I know that there is a problem there, and, naturally, we have to be practical. In certain mining areas where the mines have closed down, they cannot be expected to go in for great housing schemes, because people will not live there, but still we might expect the Government to have some sort of constructive scheme, and, instead of paying away money in what are called doles, to pay it for direct labour and put people to work on housing. If that had been suggested by the late Government, it might have been called unpractical, but we never promised these things; we said that the matter was difficult; but the hon. Lady and her friends were always telling us that we had no heart, no courage, no vision and no enterprise. We may have seemed blind to them, but we must look to the country like great lights of vision as compared with what they are. The hon. Lady smiles but she almost used to frighten hon. Members on this side—she looked so grim and so determined, and seemed as though she knew so much. She poured out figures upon figures, but, although you may talk about figures, what worries me is that, while most Members of tile Labour party have got it all in their speeches, when it comes to their heads and their hearts they cannot put it into action. I have had to listen for hours to my party being, as I have said, abused by hon. Members opposite for their hard-heartedness, but as regards slum clearance, even the hon. 78 Member for Withington, who knows far more about slum clearance than any other Member of this House except the late Minister of Health, does not think that these slum clearance schemes are going to do anything.
There is, however, a way out of the slums and I thought that perhaps, seeing that the Government cannot build houses, they would take it. That is the provision of open-air nursery schools. It affords the only practical way of getting quickly and directly out of the slums. When we were in office we heard about children in Wales who were starving; we heard that they were all dying of rickets; and I went down there myself, with Mrs. Wintringham, to see about it, because such passionate pleas were made about the health of the children there. We did not find them starving, and it was not true. A lot of them could have been better fed, but it was not true that they were starving, and I do not think it is true now. They are doing as well as can be expected. But they are in a far worse condition mentally than they were two years ago. The real starvation in South Wales is the lack of hope. If you ask social workers who are trying to run settlements there, they say that, if only the Government would go in for the direct building of houses, and give the people something to do, it would help more than anything else.
The Minister has said that he was pleased about the health of the country, but I do not know whether the House of Commons realises that, in 1929, 88,524 children in this country died under the age of 15, and, of these, 74,497 were under the age of five. We all know that infant mortality has gone down, so that the great loss really occurs between the ages of two and five, and I think we might have expected that the Minister of Health would have said something about that, and would have had some plan for its prevention. It may be said that the provision of nursery schools would be a matter for the Board of Education, but it ought to be the policy of the Minister of Health to put this question before the House and the country and to have some plan, but not one single word has been said in regard to it. Hon. Members, if they had watched these matters, would know that there is a great deal of talk about pre- 79 ventable mortality among mothers and preventable mortality and disease among children, and it can be prevented by nursery schools in the slum areas. I do hope that the Government will face up to this problem before it is too late. They ought to have some plan. We know that they have set up a departmental committee to look into the subject, but they need not do that; it is simply a waste of time; everyone knows the facts. Margaret MacMillan gave her life for this, and died discouraged with the Labour party because she could not wake them up. She realised, as most of us do, that with the Labour people it was talk, talk, talk—
The CHAIRMAN (Sir Robert Young)
I must point out to the Noble Lady that what she is proposing would require legislation, and, therefore, cannot be dealt with now.
I was talking about the health of the children. I was not asking the Government to bring in a Bill to establish open-air nursery schools, but I was saying that they might tell the House—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The necessity may exist for what the Noble Lady wants done, and it might be well to tell the Minister that it would be a good thing to do, but it does not arise on this Estimate.
§ Major ELLIOT
Surely, in pressing the importance of nursery schools from the health point of view, the Noble Lady is strictly in order in asking the Minister to take every opportunity of urging this upon the local authorities and upon the House, and in doing so she is actually carrying out the purpose for which these Estimates are brought here?
§ The CHAIRMAN
That might lead to a very long Debate, indeed. There are many other things which are of great importance and which might be used in the same way. We are not now concerned with anything for which the Board of Education is responsible.
§ Major ELLIOT
It is not a question of the Board of Education; it is a question of the health of the people.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think I was able to follow the Noble Lady's argument in pressing the importance of nursery 80 schools and asking the Government to take action, but that does not arise on this Vote.
I was saying that the Minister of Health ought to bring forward figures in order to show the country what the problem was in the case of the child, and that he should have some vision as to the manner in which it could be dealt with. I did not ask him to bring in any legislation, but he said nothing about the matter, and I wanted the House to realise the enormous mortality among children under 15, and the fact that a great deal of that mortality is in slum areas. Health, surely, has to do with slums, and I hope that the hon. Lady, when she replies, will say whether the Government have a plan. We expect a lead from them, and not merely solid satisfaction. I do not know whether the House quite realises the cost to the country of ill-health, a great deal of which is preventable. During 1928, 26,750,000 working weeks were lost through sickness of insured workers. This cost the workers themselves, in loss of wages, £30,000,000, and the cost to industry from the diminished effort of the sick workers was estimated at £2,000,000 a week. A great deal of this is preventable, but it will not be prevented while we have a Minister of Health who is not thinking in terms of prevention, but just sitting down in solid satisfaction with the few things that have been done.
Take the question of maternal mortality. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had sent circulars to local authorities, but he is pledged up to the hilt to a national maternity scheme. He did not, however, say one word about it. We know that you can send circulars to local authorities year after year. The right hon. Gentleman can send circulars to that rural council who do not want to put in a water supply, but that is not going to make them put in a water supply. This sending of circulars is not carrying out the promises which the right hon. Gentleman made. He said he was going to give us a national maternity scheme, but to-day we have not heard a single word about it. It is disappointing and disheartening. I like to feel that the House of Commons is a place where, when people make pledges and make speeches, they will at least, if they 81 cannot carry them out, get up and apologise and say why it is. The hon. Lady, during the four years she was in Opposition, was continually saying what Governments can do, and now, if she got up and said, "I made a mistake. I know that we cannot do it—at least, a Socialist Government cannot do it, but perhaps another Government could"—and another Government did as far as houses are concerned—if the Government were only a little more direct, I think we should be a little more lenient with them; but it is their lack of directness that is discouraging, not only to the House of Commons, but to the country. "Labour and the Nation" was written by one man, and it was taken up as a parrot cry by the whole party—
It has been mentioned before. We are trying to indict the Government for what they have not done, and they have mentioned "Labour and the Nation" before, but I will keep off that subject. It is no use the Minister of Health telling the country that his difficulties are due to the Opposition. The Opposition has not put one single thing in the way of building houses. The real fault is in the Minister himself. There is no drive; there is no vision; there is no courage. I feel that housing is so important that it needs the very best efforts that can be made, and the best Minister that it is possible to have, because so much depends upon it. It is impossible to go into the homes of these people without feeling perfectly wretched. I appeal to Labour Members—those who go into such homes, and many of them who, unfortunately, have come from them. It is they who ought to be pressing the Government to change their Minister and put in someone who can and will carry out a policy at least as progressive as that of the late Government. But to do that they may, of course, have to borrow someone else from the Liberal party.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
During to-morrow's Debate we shall be discussing certain aspects of housing, and also on the day after, so I hope that the Committee will bear with me if for a few moments I turn the Debate into a somewhat dif- 82 ferent channel. My right hon. Friend, in his opening speech, not only touched upon the question of housing, but upon a number of other questions, and in particular I was interested to note that he touched upon the question of the administration of the transferred services—the administration of the Poor Law, which is now in the hands of the county councils. I was very glad that he did so, and that he made reference to his own circular of March of last year, and to the use which is being made of that circular by what he describes as a certain large authority, but which, quite obviously, is the London County Council.
It is, indeed, time that this Committee gave serious attention to what is nothing less than a silent revolution which is going on in the administration of that department of the Poor Law which concerns itself with out-relief. This scheme for applying test work to able-bodied applicants for relief is in its infancy. It has only been going on for six months. But during those six months there have been, throughout London, some 2,800 able-bodied recipients of relief who have been compelled to attend what is described as a training centre. It is worth while to remark in passing that, strangely enough, although there are 10 areas in London for the administration of public assistance, of those 2,800 able-bodied recipients of relief, no fewer than 1,178 come from one particular area out of the 10. That one particular area is the one which comprises Stepney and Poplar—the nearer part, and the poorer part, for that matter, of the East End of London. I think that that is not without significance for Poplarism in local government serves the party opposite very much in the same way in which Russia serves them for national purposes. We spell it with a big "P," and frighten the more respectable parts of London with all the terrible things which are alleged to happen in a district about which the audience knows very little indeed—[Interruption]—and frequently the speaker himself knows very little about it.
These 2,800 people are now receiving what is called training in training centres, and the first thing we should consider is whether the word "training" is justifiably used or not. If you take a man from one occupation and train him for another, 83 the acid test, surely, is whether at the end of the period of training the man is able to find work in the new job. I think we can apply that test. During February, 130 who were attending the centre left and found jobs for themselves, but only 14 went into work similar to that in which they had been trained at the centre. With a figure like that, in a vast training scheme that extends over the whole of London, I think one is justified in saying that the word "training" is quite wrong to describe what goes on in these centres. It is not to be wondered at. If you go to one of these centres and ask a man why he is doing mattress making or hair cutting or French polishing, he will say, "I had to do one or the other. I did what they told me to do." He will do a little French polishing and then a little hair cutting—God help the people whose hair he cuts!—and then a little something else. Whatever the appropriate word may be for this course, certainly it is not "training," nor should the places in which the work is done have the name of training centres. Indeed, a great deal of the work to which these men are put is highly unsuitable for them.
One comes across the most extraordinary things. My right hon. Friend sent out a circular which definitely stipulates that the work that is given to the men should be suitable to their capacity, their intelligence and their age. I went the other day to a certain training centre, and there were three men learning hairdressing. They were shaving their unfortunate colleagues. One in ordinary life puts slates on to roofs. Another had been a carman. I do not know whether his hands were light when he was engaged as a carman, but they would need to be if he was engaged in shaving. The other was a house-breaker. I thought it would be a tactless question to ask whether he pursued his occupation by day or by night. These people have come from occupations very remote from those that are given in the centre and, with the exception of physical training, which keeps the body fit and which is desirable for everyone, the vocational courses are the biggest imaginable eyewash. How could it be conceived possible, in a district where most of the unemployed are casual labourers, carmen and so forth, 84 that any scheme to train these men at the age of 40 or 50 and put them into some other occupation should be successful? The failure that the scheme is meeting with is natural.
If a painter goes to the public assistance committee and is told to attend a training centre, how long is he going to remain there? What buildings is he going to paint and what is going to be the limit of his work? Until recently, the arrangement was that these men who do painting should paint the institutions in which they work, but you cannot go on for ever painting the institution in which you are being trained. There comes a time when it is finished. At the last meeting of the public assistance committee of the London County Council it was extended under the heading of cleansing and painting work, and we are now going to employ this inmate labour—it is really a variation of inmate labour—on institutions other than those that are used as nonresidential training centres. That is a very big extension. It may mean anything. We tried to find out how far they proposed to go, but we got no answer except that the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the whole thing. How far are we going back to the state of things that obtained 100 years ago? It is possible that some of the men who are to be employed on the painting of all the public buildings in London belonging to the County Council, who do 32 hours a week, are being paid 4s. a week and less. The hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb), who is chairman of the public assistance committee, wrote in the "Daily Telegraph" on 1st December:The statement that men are required to do 32 hours work for 4s. a week is nonsense.I am not in a position to say whether on 1st December that was nonsense, but it is not nonsense to-day, because in the small district that returns me to the county council, in a most perfunctory investigation this morning, I found, without the slightest trouble, three cases of people who are doing this test work and receiving not 4s. but 3s. a week.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
That question should be addressed to the hon. Member for West Fulham. If that is the system that 85 is to be extended—and there is every evidence that it is to be extended all through London—that is a very serious thing, indeed. We shall have to fight the old battle of the use of inmate labour in the same way as in years gone by it was fought in the institutions themselves. I am informed—and, indeed, my own evidence goes to show the same thing—that, because of the hours that these men attend these training centres, they are seriously hampered in their search for work. It is pretty useless going round looking for work in the afternoon. The time to do that is the first thing in the morning, and Monday and Tuesday are better days than the latter part of the week. The hours of these training centres leave the men Monday and Wednesday mornings free, but it is insisted that on the other days of the week, except Saturday, they shall be at the training centre at half-past seven. Indeed next week, under the summer programme, work will begin at seven o'clock. That cuts out Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday morning they have to make their application to the boards of guardians for their relief, probably between nine and 10 o'clock, and every Monday morning fairly early they will have to sign on at the Employment Exchange, so that the actual time that they have free is very small. It is true that, as far as the evidence I can collect shows, a man is free to get off from the centre if he has a reasonable chance of finding a job or can tell a story that sounds likely; but, in a district where the work is casual, work is found in the most casual way possible, and it is a handicap to a man if he cannot get away at times at which it is important for him to be away, unless he has some specific request to make or some specific place to which to go. I suggest to the hon. Lady that she should look into this and transfer some of the morning work to a later hour in the day.
Who is responsible for this vast system of training? The party opposite speak, as they speak on other things, with two voices. There are two distinct schools of thought as to why this system of test work has been built up. The first is that which is current in Poplar and Stepney, and of that theory the hon. Member for West Fulham is the exponent. It has the advantage of perfect simplicity. I do 86 not know what the hon. Member's views are now, but in December they were perfectly simple and clear cut. He said in his letter to the "Daily Telegraph":Any man who accepts relief is bound by the order of the Minister to attend the training and work centres.I do not know whether it is coincidence, but 1st December in the East End of London was an ominous date. It happened to be about the time of the White-chapel by-election, and I sometimes wonder whether the letter of the hon. Member for West Fulham had something to do with the political crisis that was happening in Whitechapel at that moment. That was what the hon. Member for West Fulham thought, and that was what the public assistance committee of the London County Council thought. I cannot understand how it was that they reached that conclusion, having read, as they did, the circulars of my right hon. Friend. I apologise to the Committee, but it is largely because of the challenge which was issued to me by the Tory party in the London County Council, and which I accepted, that I am going somewhat into detail in this matter. In his Circular No. 1069 my right hon. Friend says:While I am opposed to the wholesale application of test work to men who are unfortunately in the position of being unable to obtain work, I am of opinion that boards of guardians must have some means, other than the offer of the House, for dealing with the limited class whom they know to be undeserving of unconditional relief.That seems to put the policy, as I understand it, perfectly clearly, namely, that those schemes are not schemes for general application, and not to be applied as a general test, but rather to be applied to, and to exist for, certain cases. Anybody who has administered the Poor Law knows that you have in certain eases to apply tests, but that they have not to be universal. For the hon. Member for West Fulham, who is chairman of that committee, to have read the circular and the words I have quoted, and to have written in the "Daily Telegraph" the sentence to which I have referred, he must have a very short memory indeed. As though that was not perfectly clear, the Minister issued another Circular dated 27th March, 1930. He says in this Circular, Article 6:The council shall formulate such arrangements as may in the circumstances of 87 their area be practicable for setting to work male persons who are capable of work (here-inafter referred to as 'able-bodied men') to whom relief other than institutional relief is afforded and for training and instructing such men in some suitable form of useful work and for their attendance at suitable classes in physical training or of an educational character, and shall in such arrangements make due provision for securing that the work, training and instruction shall be suitable to the age, physical capacity and intelligence of the several classes of able-bodied men to whom the arrangements are intended to apply.Later on in the Circular he goes out of his way to point out that it is possible by a departure from the regulations to give an able-bodied man assistance without sending him to the training centre at all, provided that the Minister's agreement is forthcoming. That, again, is a very different story from the kind of story put forward on the eve of the Whitechapel by-election by the hon. Member for West Fulham. If the hon. Member for West Fulham really was under a misapprehension on 1st December when he wrote that letter, there is no excuse for the Conservative party at the County Hall to be still under a misapprehension. For only three days after he wrote that letter, my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) asked a question of my right hon. Friend:Whether, under the Relief Regulation Order of 1930 made by the Minister, any man who accepts relief is bound by that Order to attend training and work centres?My right hon. Friend replied:No, Sir. What the Order in question in fact does is to require a public assistance authority to make such arrangements as are practicable in the circumstances of their area for setting to work able-bodied persons to whom relief other than institutional relief is afforded, for training and instructing such men in some suitable form of useful work, and for their attendance at suitable classes in physical training or of an educational character. The authority is to make due provision in such arrangements for securing that the work, training or instruction shall be suitable to the age, physical capacity and intelligence of the several classes of able-bodied men to whom the arrangements apply.The position under the Order is, therefore, that an obligation to put men on test work as a condition of relief could not arise in any area unless arrangements had been made for the provision of work of that kind suitable to all classes of the able-bodied, and even in that case the Order gives the local authority a dispensing power, subject to the 88 power of the Minister to disallow, if he thinks fit, relief granted without test"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1930; cols. 2385–86, Vol. 245.]That, again, is a very different story from the kind of story put about by the hon. Member for West Fulham. Again, five days afterwards, on 9th December, my right hon. Friend addressed another letter to the London County Council, but I will not weary the Committee by reading it, because the vital parts are the same as the answer which was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End. I wonder whether the hon. Member for West Fulham and his colleagues, in the face of all this correspondence, still hold that view, or whether they have changed their minds and admit that on 1st December they were seriously and gravely wrong? As far as the Council are concerned, they have produced various documents intending to help guardians in their administration. In May, 1930, they produced an instruction containing the following words:Although the arrangements of the council for such training or instruction will not permit at present, or for some time to come, of more than a comparatively small percentage"—
§ The CHAIRMAN
Is not the hon. Member getting rather wide of the Debate? We are not responsible for the instructions of the London County Council.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
The contention which is being made by certain people is, that the whole of this training scheme is consequent upon an Order which has been made by my right hon. Friend.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The issue of an Order of the Minister is one thing, but we are not really concerned with an instruction of the London County Council.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
I was endeavouring to show, in point of fact, that there was no foundation for the suggestion made by the party opposite that my right hon. Friend's Order of 27th March, 1930, justified the setting up of training centres and of this test work. I shall try to be as brief as I can. The crucial sentence in this Circular is:It follows from the order that if the district sub-committees consider that an able-bodied man is a proper ease for out-relief, they have no alternative but to include in 89 their order for relief the condition that the man is to be set to work, trained or instructed.But between May, 1930, and January, 1931, the date of the next instruction, the council clearly changed their mind. The paragraph to which I have referred drops out, and in its place appears a mere quotation of my right hon. Friend's Order. One would think—we have had it here before in Debate—that when people make a mistake they should come before this House and before the Committee with which they are concerned, and say, "I have sinned through my fault. Please forgive me." That is what the Noble Lady opposite suggested should be done. Apparently that is not done over the way, because in a Minute in February of this year when the Committee discussed this question, the following sentence occurs:The Minister has been informed, further, that the council has never been under the misapprehension that no able-bodied man is to receive relief except after test.If the council had never been under that illusion, what is the meaning of the letter which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" over the signature of the hon. Member for West Fulham? Quite clearly, the hon. Member for West Fulham held an entirely different opinion then from the opinion of the London County Council. As the chairman of the public assistance committee, the committee concerned, he holds a view on an important question which is diametrically opposed to what is declared to have been all along the view of the London County Council. It is clear that this vast scheme of test-work—because purely and simply it is test-work—has nothing whatever to do with the Order given by my right hon. Friend.
The second solution of it, on the whole, is more likely. It sometimes happens that while Ministers and experienced politicians may maintain a discreet silence, the back benchers in their utterances when not so experienced are less discreet, and here it was left to a reverend gentleman, a member of the public assistance committee—the Rev. H. J. Marshall, who delivered a lecture on 1st December. While the hon. Member was dipping his pen in the ink and writing to the "Daily Telegraph" 90 saying it was the Minister's fault, Mr. Marshall was addressing an audience somewhere else and saying something quite different. This is a very searching analysis. He said:A great many men never returned to the office (the office of the relieving officer) when they heard that their neighbours had been given work and training as a condition of receiving relief. They just dropped off. It is calculated that in this area—test area 1, Stepney and Poplar—three men kept away for every man who underwent training.Therefore, it is not the one man in the training centre of whom you have to think. You have to concentrate upon the three men who keep away. The committee, it has been said, "do not turn those men down." No, because they never come. There, I think, we have the real reason and the real philosophy behind this so-called training scheme. It is a vast, scheme of deterring and frightening from relief people who are really entitled to it. Is it not a ridiculous thing when a casual worker at the docks in receipt of unemployment benefit—and over 50 per cent. of these men are in receipt of unemployment benefit—is only given from the guardians some five, six or seven shillings a week on the average, that he should be submitted to this, in many cases, useless, and, in practically all cases, irksome test work? The effect upon the figures of the Poor Law in London is very surprising. The reductions in all areas in the number of men who have received public assistance is a very spectacular one. It varies from 30 per cent, in Whitechapel to something like 40 per cent. in certain areas in Poplar. The money figure is also spectacular. There is a substantial decrease in Whitechapel. There is an average decrease of 11 per cent. in the money which is given by one sub-district of Whitechapel. In the second sub-district, which operates over ground which is exactly similar and deals with people whose avocations are exactly the same, the reduction is not one of 11 per cent. but of 27 per cent. This shows quite clearly, as many of us have long suspected, that there is an insufficient connection between committees and committees, that each committee is practically a law unto itself, that there is no kind of standard laid down by which the committee can judge cases, and that whereas 91 one committee adopts one policy, another committee, next door, adopts another policy.
I will not worry the House with more figures, except to state that whereas in one district, in one committee in the district which I represent, the reduction in the numbers of men applying during the past year—the figures that I have quoted have been for the last year—has been 33 per cent. in a committee which deals with half the population; in a committee which deals with the other half, and which is exactly comparable in every way, the reduction has been 43 per cent. One could parallel these cases over and over again, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that there is a very strong case for co-ordinating the work of these various sub-committees in their administration of relief in London. Whatever may have been the case two years ago, there is now a very strong case for laying down some kind of uniform scale which should be in operation for the whole of London. I do not say that it should be a hard and fast scale from which there should be no departure, and I do not say that all the committees should be bound to it, but there should be some scale by means of which the committees could deal with the cases. If you have a purely automatic calculation, then the human side can be dealt with by the committee on the spot, but if you have one committee doing one thing and another committee doing another thing, it results in a most ridiculous mess.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend—if speaking or making assertions can do anything—has, once for all, disposed of the extraordinary charge that he is responsible for every piece of indiscriminate test work that is imposed upon the poor of London. Although training may be possible for a few persons, carefully selected, particularly the younger ones, and whereas the imposition of a test may be in a certain number of cases necessary, where you have people who definitely will not work or who are unsatisfactory in one way or another, to impose a test upon all and sundry and to call it training, is a farce which honesty and decency should end as soon as possible. With the co-ordination of the work of the committees, and the attention which I hope my right hon. 92 Friend may give to the matter, one hopes that he will be able to use his influence with the party opposite, which is in a tremendous majority at the County Hall, in order to see that the poor of London who go to the guardians to receive public assistance shall be treated in a decent, proper and fitting manner.
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
I suggest that the House should pass from the subject of relief and from the controversy between the hon. Member who has just spoken and the hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) and turn to the speech delivered by the Minister of Health. I was disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. We have heard very little of him during the last Session, or of his able deputy, the Parliamentary Secretary. That may possibly account for the rather disappointing speech which he made this afternoon. The Ministry of Health is a great Department, one of the greatest Departments of State. It touches intimately the lives of the people. There is not a home which is not directly or indirectly affected, and one expected a broad-minded review of the Ministry's work rather than the series of figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave. I am sorry that, owing to the procedure of the House, one gets so little time to discuss these Estimates, which are so vast in scope. For instance, the question of National Health Insurance only occupied about 10 minutes of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. That system involves millions of people, and its effects, directly or indirectly, are enormous. The right hon. Gentleman did not make any reference to the possible extension of this great system. Whether or not that extension is desirable is a matter of opinion. It may be thought that owing to the state of our national finances—
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member means extension by legislation, then that does not arise on these Estimates, and the Minister had no right to make any reference to it.
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
I was hoping that, in view of the importance of the National Health Insurance system, the right hon. Gentleman would have made some reference to legislation at some 93 future time, without definitely stating the possibility of immediate legislation.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If he had done that, it would possibly lead to a discussion that would be out of order.
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
I am satisfied with having made reference to the absence of any allusion to the subject in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I was very pleased to hear that the cost of sickness and disablement benefit was down last year by £2,000,000. That is a testimony very largely to the very efficient public health services in this country, certainly the best public health services in the whole world. The days are past when epidemics may be regarded as visitations of God. It may be that some illnesses are, but some national epidemics of the type of influenza have been proved to be capable of prevention to a large extent. I was pleased to find in the report of Sir George Newman for last year that the great scourge of influenza which, although it may be minimised by the public, is certainly never minimised by the insurance companies, was last year, both in extent and virulence, very much less than in the preceding year. A great advance has been made in the treatment of this very serious type of illness, an illness which when it does not actually lead to mortality has a very serious effect in after years on the adult life of the country, consequences which are immeasurable in their effect upon the physique of our population.
I was rather disappointed that in the references to the inter-departmental committee on the alleged excessive claims for national health insurance sickness benefit, the right hon. Gentleman did not promise that the report of the committee would be published. I hope that it will be published. We want to know what are the real causes of these excessive claims. If the report had been published, the House would probably be able to appreciate more clearly the recent departmental order issued by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to insured persons and a change of doctor. That order issued by the right hon. Gentleman, greatly curtailing the opportunities to the insured population of this country to have a change in their medical attendant, was issued contrary 94 to the wishes of those who are speaking for the medical profession. Their point of view is that it is not altogether in the interests of the insured person and it is not in the interests of the efficiency of medical treatment to curb or limit rather drastically the opportunity of changing doctor.
The House was very much interested in the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman regarding the post-graduate medical school, which was initiated by his predecessor and has been followed up by the right hon. Gentleman since he came into office. The advances in medical science in recent years have been tremendous, so much so that those of us who had our training 20 or 25 years ago find the greatest difficulty in reading and keeping up with the great and rapid changes in the scope of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. Visualise the life of a hard-working general practitioner who works by day and night, with very few facilities at his disposal and inadequate leisure at his command in order to study and to keep up to date in regard to the modern developments of medical science. It is often said that specialists are the great people, but I submit that the general medical practitioner is the first line of defence against disease and illness. He is the man who comes into contact with it day by day and who knows the lives of the people, and it is of the greatest importance to the State and the citizens of this country that the general medical practitioner should be up to date in all respects in medical science. General practitioners are often very poor. Medical men hardly ever die rich. Some of them obtain a little competence, but very few of them obtain great wealth. I hope that the Government will be able to see their way to give facilities to general medical practitioners to come up to London from time to time to revivify and review their knowledge and improve on what they have learned from the theoretical and academic point of view.
I was rather disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman, in accordance with the usual custom of this House and of all Governments, made not scanty reference, but no reference at all to the Welsh Board of Health. Welsh matters, as usual, are relegated in this House to the limbo of forgotten things. The Welsh 95 Board of Health is doing very fine work. I know of the work that is done by its medical officers, who are extremely capable and who carry out their work with great ability. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give every encouragement to that board, which is working in some ways under difficulties in not being under his direct supervision and not having the same facilities as the English Board of Health. I am bound to say, as one who admires the great work done by the right hon. Gentleman as a Member of this House, that I was disappointed generally with the review which he gave in his speech. It may be that the influence of a very distinguished Member of this House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom we are all pleased to know is recuperating, may from his quiet retreat in Surrey have rather overshadowed what Ministers have to say this year. I hope, if the right hon. Gentleman is in his place this time next year, that he will be able to give the House a more hopeful, more optimistic, more encouraging and more successful review of the work which the Ministry has undertaken.
§ Mr. OSWALD LEWIS
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
Before making a comment on the discussion on housing to which we have listened, I wish to direct the attention of the Committee to another part of the Vote and to ask them to consider the way in which the Ministry of Health is carrying out its duties of ensuring a pure supply of milk in this country. The Noble Lady the Member for Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), earlier in the Debate, quoted some figures relating to infant mortality. There is no single factor more calculated to affect the death-rate of young children than the purity, or otherwise, of the milk supply. So far as the Ministry of Health is concerned, the problem falls naturally into two sections. First of all, there is the question of milk produced in this country; secondly, there is the question of milk substitutes imported into this country. With regard to the milk produced here, we find in the Estimates a reference on page 19 to special inspectors employed to inspect milk, and on page 21 96 a further reference to special inquiries and services with regard to the examination of samples of milk.
We are asked to vote money under both those heads. The sums in question are not large and, indeed, it is rather surprising that they are not larger. I wonder whether one reason why they are not larger is because of the assistance afforded to the Ministry by the big combines engaged in the distribution of milk. I would put a specific question to the Minister whether, in his experience of administration in the Ministry of Health the big combines engaged in the distribution of milk in the country do or do not perform a valuable part in ensuring that the milk when delivered to the customer is, in fact, pure. Very much work is done by the Ministry, by the distributors, and by the local authorities, and it is a fact that in this country the production, distribution, and sale of milk produced here is watched at every stage. The Committee will agree that as a result we get a very good supply of pure milk in this country. Obviously, the precautions that producers, distributors, and suppliers are compelled to take add to the cost at all stages, but there will be general agreement that such an addition to the cost is worth while, because, in fact, we get a supply of good pure milk all over the country.
When I come to the second part of the problem, imported milk substitutes, the position is not quite so satisfactory. There was a time when it did not very much matter, because the substitutes were only imported to a very small extent, but to-day the question whether the Ministry is effectually using its powers by analysing samples of these products and whether its powers are in themselves adequate is one of growing importance. In 1929 some 279,000 cwts. of dried milk powder were imported into this country. I have not the figure for last year, but I believe the amount, showed an increase on the figure for 1929, and takes no account of preserved milk imported in liquid form.
Obviously, the Minister, or the Government as a whole, exercises no control over the conditions under which these imported milk substitutes are produced, as they are produced in other countries where our country has no authority, but there is a curious feature with regard to the powers of the Ministry to which I 97 want to draw particular attention. We are one of the few countries where no minimum of milk fats is prescribed by law in respect of these substitutes. The importation or sale of milk substitutes containing less than a statutory prescribed minimum of milk fats is prohibited in 24 parts of the British Empire and in some 20 foreign countries. Among the parts of the British Empire are all our great self-governing Dominions, while among the foreign countries are countries of the importance of the United States of America and Germany. We have no such requirement. The Minister of Health says that, in his opinion, such regulations are not necessary. He has also stated in this House that, in his opinion, these milk preparation are, in fact, nutritious and no not contain anything likely to render them harmful as an article of diet. I am not sure that all Members of this House are equally satisfied as to the position.
The Ministry of Health at the present time takes samples, which it obtains through the Customs or through officers of local authorities, and has them analysed by the Government chemist, just as other samples are analysed by other public analysts in the country. It would be very interesting to know the result of these analyses by the Government chemist. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us later whether the result of these analyses shows that these milk substitutes which are freely imported into this country, do, in fact, contain that minimum of milk fats which other countries would insist upon. That is a very vital point. It is not enough to tell us that they do not contain poison. We want to know if they contain at any rate the same standard of nutriment that other countries consider necessary for their people. I hope the Minister later in the Debate will give us some definite information as to the minimum of milk fats shown by these analyses by the Government chemist. It is useless to spend money, time and trouble in ensuring that the milk produced on our farms reaches the consumer in a perfectly pure condition if we are to take no trouble about the steadily increasing proportion of the population who take imported milk substitutes of a vastly inferior quality.
I will turn for a moment to the problem that has occupied most of the time this afternoon, the housing problem. I 98 was very much struck by the fact that speakers in all quarters of the House have been extremely critical of the administration of the right hon. Gentleman. I have sat here during the whole of the Debate, and the only Member of the House who has expressed satisfaction this afternoon with the work of the Minister of Health is the Minister himself. It would be interesting to know how far the criticisms which have come from behind the Minister, from Members of his own party, are merely a matter of form, or how far they are supported by an earnest desire that something more should be done—in other words, how much it is a question of a little talk here this afternoon, and how much it is a desire to put pressure on the Minister in the only way in which pressure is possible. In order to test that, I propose to give the hon. Members opposite who have criticised the Minister an opportunity of showing how sincere their criticisms are by going into the Lobby. I desire, therefore, to move to reduce the vote by £100, and I do so for the express purpose of giving Members of the Committee an opportunity of showing their dissatisfaction with the right hon. Gentleman's administration in connection with the housing problem.
§ Mr. WEST
Members on this side of the House who have listened to the figures given by the Minister of Health in regard to slum clearances and housing can at least congratulate themselves upon the tremendous increase as compared with the achievements of the late Government. It may be true that many hon. Members on this side of the Committee are not satisfied with what the Government has done, but I for one am quite convinced that there has been twice as much done as would have been the case if there had been a Tory Government in power.
§ Mr. WEST
I quite realise that there are many local authorities who have not done their duty under the Act. Let me give the Committee some facts in regard to the Royal Borough of Kensington—my own constituency. When one mentions the Borough of Kensington people have visions of Kensington Gardens, Holland Park Avenue, John Barkers, and 99 Church Street, but there is another Kensington which probably most hon. Members have never seen, or even heard of. There is the Kensington of North Kensington, with 10,000 basement dwellings, with over 2,000 mews dwellings, with hundreds of houses with leaky roofs, rotten floors and broken doors, which present some of the most shocking conditions in the whole of the country. Poplar is supposed to be a poor area, but North Kensington, which has many oases of middle class population, has an infantile death rate 40 per cent. above that of Poplar. In case hon. Members may think that I am exaggerating my case let me quote what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said after he had been taken for a little walk in the constituency:This morning I was taken by some friends to see some slums. What I saw really beggars description. No statistics of numbers in a house can give you any notion of the conditions under which human beings live. I started with my friend from a street with a population of 20 to the acre, and in a few minutes I was in a street where there were 400 to the acre, and the rents charged here for squalor and fetters are higher per cubic foot than those charged for ease and comfort.That is in North Kensington, not in Moscow, in the Royal Borough of Kensington, within 10 minutes of this House. Lord Buckmaster, who has done fine work in housing in West London, said this:The Royal Borough of Kensington is one of the richest in the County of London yet within its boundaries there are dens where human beings live, breed and die, that are a disgrace to our Christianity and to our wealth.He went on to say:A man and his wife and four children live in two basement rooms. Both are extremely damp and were flooded to the extent of eight inches over the window in June, 1927, by sewage water. Three children have been born since these rooms were occupied; all have died of double pneumonia, and the woman has had pneumonia herself. The family are extremely neat and clean and the rooms are marvellously kept.Those are the conditions in North Kensington, and yet the local council officially say that there are no slums in Kensington. What are the results of such conditions as these from a health point of view? Where the well-to-do people live, in places like Queen's Gate, the infantile 100 death-rate is 40 per 1,000, but where the poorer people live the death-rate is 120 per 1,000, three times as high, and the disease rates are even worse. The disease rates in the poorer parts of Kensington is from 200 to 500 per cent. above those in the better class areas. I regard these conditions as disgraceful, yet in spite of them the borough council, when it comes to implementing the 1930 Housing Act and to drawing up a programme of houses that are needed and wanted in this area, have drawn up a programme of 50 houses in five years, when there are thousands of houses wanted.
I want to know what the Government are going to do about Kensington. The last Government when it was said that Poplar was wasting money took immediate action against them. Why should not the present Government take action against the Royal Borough of Kensington for wasting public life? The second is a much greater crime than the first. I hope the Government will take direct action against all authorities like the Borough of Kensington, and will compel them to clear slums and build houses. I hope the Minister will not put forward the excuse that they do not want to interfere with local authorities or take away any of their liberties. If they can interfere with the London County Council as they have in the London Passenger Traffic Bill, rightly in my judgment, if they can interfere with the greatest municipality in the country in this way, surely they can interfere with smaller reactionary borough councils in the far more vital matter of providing the houses that are needed for the people. Hon. Members opposite have professed great concern regarding the barbarous conditions in Russia. I too am opposed to barbarous conditions in Russia, in China, and in this country, and I hope that hon. Members who have shown such enthusiasm for better conditions for workers in far off lands will show the same enthusiasm for better conditions here in London, and in Kensington, for by doing so they will be rendering far greater service to the people of their own country.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I desire to support the reduction that has been moved by my hon. Friend. I have listened with great interest to the Debate, particularly to 101 the speeches of the hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. West), and the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). I congratulate both hon. Members on the fact that they are preparing themselves for the day when they will be sitting on this side of the House, because their speeches were the type of speech to which we had to listen during the last Government when we were in office. If any justification was needed for moving the reduction of the Vote, the speeches of the two hon. Members have supplied the justification. The hon. Member for Brigg told us that the failure as regards rural houses was partly the fault of the Government and partly the fault of certain local authorities, while the hon. Member for North Kensington has blamed the local authority for the conditions which prevail in his own area. He is no doubt aware that former Ministers of Health, particularly those representing the Government side of the House, have made excuses in the past but they did not blame the local authorities so much as they blamed other people. For instance, the Minister of Agriculture when he was Minister of Health, away back in 1920 blamed the Labour party. He said, speaking in this House on 21st October, 1920:I have had no help from organised labour in this matter from start to finish.He was speaking of his housing scheme—The organised Labour party in this House has never given me any help."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1920; col. 1200, Vol. 133.]A little later when he was dismissed from his office or rather resigned, he laid the blame on the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who, he said, was responsible for the stoppage of his efforts as regards housing and slum clearances; and he went on to declare that the question of slum clearance could never rest on shifting responsibility. I suggest that these words, used against the Coalition Government in 1921, can be uttered against the present Government on the question of housing. It is all very well to try and shift the responsibility on to the local authorities. I have served as a member of a local authority. We have had the Addison Act, by which a small financial responsibility was put upon our shoulders, but a great responsibility in other directions. Many of the housing estates built up at an 102 enormous cost will some day be a great burden on local authorities, and they have to provide for it. It would be interesting to know how much is owing to local authorities in the way of rent that has not been paid, and what responsibility they have to shoulder on that account
I can assure the Committee that many of these local authorities that are termed backward authorities are not backward authorities at all. They have to face grim realities and to go steadily forward, not with the idea of wasting either national or local money, but with the idea of providing the houses that are so necessary, and not providing them at the expense of the poorer ratepayers who have to find the money. What was the position in the first place? The question they had to ask was whether they would give to those who were most in need the houses under the Addison scheme and the other schemes brought forward afterwards. They did so. Go now into any of these districts, and particularly to those where there is a Socialist majority on the council. To whom are the houses let? Not to the man with the largest family, because he is probably too poor to pay the rent demanded.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I am going to try to prove that he is. I say that it is because of the rules and regulations not working in the right direction. That is my point. The local authority acting under the regulations issued by the Minister has to make charges for rent and upkeep of the houses and has to take this responsibility.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
If there is provision for arbitration I have never known it to operate. I know many people who would have liked to have got a house under a local authority but could not because of the rules and regulations that held them off. Instead of the Minister laying the responsibility on the local authorities for the very slight progress that has been made in housing, he should face the facts. The right hon. Gentleman threatened to deal with so-called backward authorities under the provisions of 103 his own Act. He said he did not want to appear to be bullying the local authorities, but at any rate he was going to see that there was a move made by them. I want to point out what the Minister will have to meet in the way of difficulties in dealing with local authorities. He cannot lay all the blame on the local authorities for the non-success of the scheme that he brought out. He told us that there were certain local authorities which have put forward a five years' plan. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us, when she comes to reply, what real progress has been made under the Shim Clearance Act for which she was so largely responsible last year. I know exactly what has happened in certain districts. The Parliamentary Secretary knows quite well that it is no use a local authority sending forward a scheme for clearing people away from a given area unless that authority at the same time can show that it is willing and able to provide alternative accommodation for the dispossessed. There is nothing more cruel than to turn a poor family out of a house—however bad it is, it is a shelter—until you can provide another dwelling. During the time that the Act was passing through Committee upstairs over and over again I put forward that point.
There are one or two other things as well as housing to which I wish to refer. I want to mention the widows' pensions scheme and the administration of the Act. I notice that on the Order Paper there is notice of presentation of a Bill, and I take it that we shall have the Second Reading of that Bill at some future date. It deals with an anomaly that I had hoped could have been removed by administration. I am astounded to know that it is necessary to have an amending Act in order to deal with a position that did not arise at all before the 1929 Act was passed. In my own constituency at the present time there are many cases of widows who drew their pensions under the previous Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act until their children were 14, then ceased to draw pensions under that Act but came along when they reached the age of 55 and were refused a pension under the 1929 Act, the reason given being that as the husband had been ill for more than three years before he died the widow was 104 not entitled to a pension. I much prefer the interpretation put on the Act—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that the hon. Member is trying to prove that this change can be made through administration without the introduction of a Bill. The Minister has evidently found that he cannot do that. Therefore, the subject raised by the hon. Member cannot be discussed now.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I have heard of a great naval commander who put his blind eye to a telescope. Candidly I suggest that there was no need for all the fuss about a Bill. Such matters could be dealt with all right under the old Act, and why not under the new?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If, as a result of past legislation, good or bad, it is not now possible to deal with the matter by administration, the hon. Member is out of order.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
It is evident that the Minister recognises that there is great hardship. I am glad to know that at least 3,000 widows will benefit when we get the Bill through, and I hope that all hon. Members will support it, because it is the first Bill—
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Miss Lawrence)
On a point of Order. This is a matter with regard to which the Minister was much criticised. Would it be in order for me to explain why it is not an administrative matter?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If a Bill is necessary, that surely is an indication that it is not an administrative matter and cannot be dealt with administratively. Therefore, the subject does not arise on this discussion.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
It all shows that there was bad drafting of the Act. But we now know where we are. There is another matter to which I must refer and it is a matter of administration. I am sure I shall have the Parliamentary Secretary's sympathy in the matter. It is in connection with pensions at 65, where a disqualification still obtains. Time and time again it has happened that local committees, in my own area particularly, have recommended that pensions should be paid to certain old people. Almost immediately there has 105 been an appeal against that by the Minister's inspector, sometimes on very trivial ground indeed. It is natural that the Minister should support his officials as far as he can, but there are cases in which I am satisfied that the word of the local committee ought to be taken even before that of an inspector. There was a notable case that I brought to the notice of the Minister, in which an inspector objected to payment of pension to an old man who earned a few shillings a week occasionally as a boot repairer. I was satisfied that it was a good case. About six months passed before there was a settlement. The Minister decided in favour of the committee and the pension. When the inspector went to convey the news to the old man he found him dead in his coffin. I would like to see a quicker settlement of such cases, where there is a difference of opinion between a local committee and the inspector. In such cases I think the decision of the local committee ought to be taken, for they know the circumstances and are better able to form a judgment.
I want to call attention to another anomaly under the Pensions Act in connection with share fishermen. Under the 1928 Act these men were brought into insurance, but by some ruling of the court it has been held that the widows of skippers of steam trawlers are not entitled to pensions. I suggest that as in the 1929 Act the Minister provided that a share fisherman when promoted to skipper of a steam trawler from a lower rating could continue as a voluntary contributor, so it should be possible for him to do now. I suggest that the widows of men who died before the 1929 Act ought to be admitted to the widows' pension scheme, because these men would have become voluntary contributors and their widows would have been entitled to the benefit of the Act in due course. I make a strong appeal to the Minister to look into the matter. It has caused a good deal of hardship in my own and other fishing constituencies. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give me some assurance on the subject.
A word or two as to the Minister's attitude towards the Local Government Act passed by the last Government. I have very vivid recollections of sitting here and listening to the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary 106 when they condemned that Bill root and branch. We were told what terrible things were to happen. But to-day it has been delightful to hear the Minister speak of the Act as a great Act, and to hear him say that he is glad because he is able to do something in the administration of it. He has told us, what we knew, that the intention of the Act was to break up the Poor Law and remove its stigma. That was our great claim for the Act when it was a Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are not doing it!"] I ask hon. Members whose responsibility it is. Is it the responsibility of those who framed the Act? The Act was framed with the intention of removing the stigma, and we have heard from the Minister of Health to-day that the Act has marked the breaking up of the Poor Law. I am glad to know that after experience of office the Minister agrees with those who advocated that Bill as a step in the direction of wiping out the taint of pauperism from certain social services. I always thought that it was a shame that a patient who, because the voluntary hospitals were full, had to be taken in an emergency to a Poor Law hospital, should be branded as a pauper. I am glad that it was a Conservative Act of Parliament that wiped away that stigma from very deserving people. How is it that we have not heard more from the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of test work? We heard a lot about it in the old days—about stone breaking.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The hon. Member says "Quite rightly," and I agree with him. But what is the difference between stone breaking, so called, and stone breaking that is called quarrying? I do not know much difference. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to practical administration there are many difficulties that have to be faced. It is very easy for those who are in opposition to suggest remedies, but it is very hard for them to put those remedies into operation when they have the power. When the party to which I belong is again in office and when hon. Members opposite are in Opposition, I hope we shall not hear so much from them about these matters, because then we shall be able to point out that they themselves have 107 not been able to do any better. For the various reasons which I have mentioned, I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. KINLEY
I think we are all agreed that in these days anyone who occupies the office of Minister of Health is deserving of some sympathy. No one would suggest that the Minister himself has claimed to be satisfied with the progress which has been made with housing, nor is the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied—
§ Mr. KINLEY
I am sorry to hear that. It appears to me that no one in close touch with housing in our industrial centres could claim to be satisfied with the progress which is at present being made. Whatever has been done falls very far short of what ought to be done, and of what is recognised by everybody interested in the question to be not only desirable but necessary. There is not an industrial centre in the country which can claim that its housing is satisfactory. There is not a report issued by a medical officer which claims that the housing requirements of the area of that medical officer have been adequately met. No housing enthusiast anywhere throughout this land is satisfied that his work for housing is now finished and he may turn his attention to other matters. Everywhere one finds from those interested in the housing question and in the problems attached to it, the same overwhelming demand for still greater effort and still more progress. In my own area, which is no exception to the rule, we are being urged by the Minister to increase our efforts in this direction. That fact scarcely tallies with the claim that the Minister is satisfied. If the Minister is satisfied, why should the Minister urge local authorities to make additional efforts, not only to meet the requirements of the individual who needs an ordinary house, but also to push forward under the new Greenwood Act as it is now termed?
No. The housing problem has not yet been solved. Progress is not satisfactory in any part of the country and the public health problems which arise from insanitary and unsuitable housing are as big, as costly, as troublesome as ever they were, and are still bringing in their train 108 an enormous amount of unnecessary suffering and unnecessary expenditure. Additional expenditure is being heaped up by local authorities in dealing with people who are the victims of their environment, and the evils which are now being contracted and consolidated will show themselves later on in a much worse form. All these things ought to be attended to now, and surprise is a mild term to describe the feeling with which one hears the suggestion that the Minister of Health is satisfied with the housing progress which is now being made. I am quite sure that the Minister himself will be surprised when the reply to that suggestion comes back from the country, because outside of the House of Commons I never yet found one individual interested in housing who claimed to be satisfied with what has been and is being done.
The local authorities find themselves in an increasingly difficult position. I am going to make a suggestion which has not been made, so far, in this Debate, but which follows, I think, logically from the speech of the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) disclosing as it did the enormous difficulty which Manchester is finding in providing houses for the people of that area, who are in receipt of low rates of pay. The means of those people will not permit them to pay the rents which must be charged for the houses now being built by the Manchester Corporation. The shortage of houses is admitted; otherwise, these new houses would not be built. The difficulty arises from the fact that there are so many people who cannot afford to pay the rents of houses built under existing conditions. Many people will agree enthusiastically with that statement, but no suggestion has been put forward in this Committee for dealing with that part of the problem. I suggest to the Minister that, just as his predecessors have failed, so he will fail, because our housing legislation has overlooked one vitally important factor, namely, that the local authorities have not an inexhaustible purse upon which to draw for housing expenditure.
I suppose there are Members of this Committee who are also members of local authorities, and I do not think that any one of them will deny the statement that, had it not been for financial considerations, the housing programmes of 109 those authorities in every case would have been bigger and more progressive and more active than they have been. But to-day even enthusiastic members of local authorities who want to see the housing question tackled in the right way are compelled to pause when their local treasurer insists that the financial position of the authority will not permit of the piling up of additional expenditure for housing or for any other purpose. Local authorities are being urged by almost every Department of the Government to increase their activities. We are passing legislation which casts further burdens on local authorities. Their areas and the needs of those areas are extending all the time, and, side by side with that extension, there is an everlasting need for the borrowing of more money for every conceivable purpose, including that of house building. No matter how the Minister may try, his difficulties are bound to increase in the future, because the financial position of the local authorities does not improve but grows steadily worse.
In an industrial area, even in normal times, a local authority is bound to consider not only its financial resources for the year under consideration, or the three-year or five-year period during which it proposes to build to a plan, but it has also to consider what its financial resources are likely to be 10 or 15 years ahead. At a time of industrial depression the seriousness of which is being insistently forced upon everybody in the country, including local authorities, it is surely asking too much of human nature to expect that those responsible for the finances and the public work of local authorities should take no notice of that circumstance, but should go ahead with borrowing money and putting up new houses and carrying out slum clearances.
Housing is not a local matter. It is a national matter, and we shall never begin even to approach the solution of the problem until we decide that there should be a national standard of housing for the people of Britain and that the responsibility for providing that national standard of housing should be vested in the Minister himself. The proposals contained in these Estimates would not permit of that method, and, therefore, to that extent they are defective. I suggest that the Minister should endeavour to 110 find some way of financing our housing schemes from national sources. If he is not prepared to do what ought to be done, namely, establish housing on a national basis and make it a national responsibility and a national effort from beginning to end—if he is unable to do that, then I submit that he ought to take the only alternative of any real value. That alternative is that, while persisting in his pressure on local authorities to make use of the existing legislation, he should help them materially by seeing that the finances required are supplied from his own Department, or at any rate from the Government. The capital expenditure should be repaid over the lifetime of the houses to be built, so that eventually the local authority would bear no loss, and the national Exchequer would bear no loss, while the rents of houses built under such a scheme would be one-half or one-third of the rents which must be demanded to-day.
Along those lines and only along those lines, can there be any hope of a real contribution to the solution of the housing problem. A national effort is required; national responsibility must be accepted. If that could be done, if people pushed ahead on those lines immediately, it has been estimated that it would mean setting 150,000 building trade operatives to work at the building of houses, and would involve the employment of 200,000 more in ancillary trades. Thus we should make a big and important contribution to the solution of the unemployment problem, while, at the same time, taking a big step forward towards the solution of the housing problem. But we have not even approached the beginning of a solution, and I must repeat my expression of disappointment at the suggestion that the Minister of Health is satisfied with our housing progress.
Another subject which has been referred to this afternoon is the question of the public assistance committees and the administration of outdoor relief. I wish the Minister to understand that I am here making no definite or detailed complaint, but I desire to bring to his notice, and to public notice generally, the fact that complaints are coming forward in increasing number from various parts of the country, and in these days par- 111 ticularly from the London area, as to the conditions under which outdoor relief is being given. It has been suggested that the hands of the public assistance committees concerned are being forced by the Minister, or that the regulations compel those committees to act as they are acting—neither view, in my opinion, being correct—and I suggest to the Minister that he himself should accept responsibility for a detailed survey of everything which is now being done by the public assistance committees in connection with outdoor relief. Complaints that are coming forward call for some investigation to ascertain to what extent abuses have already been set up and what are the tendencies for the development of those abuses in the future. It is suggested, for instance, that the public assistance committees regulate their relief, not according to any standard, but that each one interprets the needs of the individual according to the individual himself and not upon a human, physical basis, but just upon the basis that occurs to those who happen to be sitting around the table in the board room when the application is considered. In some areas it is actually suggested that an individual may be judged by some local prejudice, that he does not get fair treatment, and that there is no medical standard of physical requirement, which certainly ought to be in force; and I want to appeal to the Minister to consider whether he cannot devise, through his own medical officers, some minimum physical standard to which all relief must conform. The complaints that are now coming forward will increase unless there can be a guarantee that, while leaving public assistance committees as wide an initiative as may be compatible with proper regulations, the individual who is compelled to resort to public assistance shall at least have his physical requirements properly attended to.
Further, unless there should be some known supervision by the Minister, there is a tendency in present times for public assistance committees, in areas that are pretty badly hit, to economise, regardless of the effect upon their people, to look to the outdoor relief as one of those departments where economies can always be effected. When they are dealing with 112 a large number of people, the cutting down of scales of relief by 6d. or 1s. a week, while it apparently means little to the individual concerned, may be made to show a fairly substantial saving by the end of the year, but all the time it is tending steadily to worsen the physical condition of those people, and all the time it tends to confirm them, not only in their unemployment, but in their un-employability, and to develop in their homes families who are bound to become public charges in the near future because of the economies that are being practised by the public assistance committees.
I want the Minister, if he will, to investigate the charges that have been made to-day in this House that unemployed people resorting to a public assistance committee are called upon to render service in return for what outdoor relief they are given. Unemployed insured workers drawing unemployment benefit, having large families, go to public assistance committees in the London area, it is claimed, and, their total benefit falling short of the standard for the same sized family in that area, they are given, it may be, 3s., 4s., 5s., or more a week to bring their income up to the public assistance committees' scale, and in return for those few shillings a week are actually being called upon to give 32 hours' work. I suggest that that is a standard that cannot be tolerated and that, apart from the fact that it is of itself a scandal, it should be impossible, certainly in a city like London. I want the Minister to consider what is actually being done. First of all, the individual has thrust upon him a sense of grievance from which he cannot escape. He is quite convinced that he is being penalised, and I suppose most of us will agree that he is, and that the idea is not to keep aim in a physical state that will enable him to take a job when one comes along, but to endeavour to persuade him to stay away from the public assistance committee and let his people go short of what we all agree they ought to have.
There is another point. I want the Minister to investigate what work it is that these people are doing. Is it useful work? Is it necessary work? If so, why are not workers employed to do that work? Are these men, for their 3s., 4s., or 5s. a week, being compelled to keep some other tradesman or labourer out of 113 work? They are doing his job. It is a man's job that requires 32 hours a week, week after week, and from that point of view the question calls immediately for investigation by the Minister, with a view to having that practice put an end to. Again, apparently, two different scales are in operation at the same time, resulting in an insured unemployed worker receiving a higher scale of outdoor relief than is being given to an uninsured unemployed worker. That, I think, calls for a medical opinion as to which of those scales is the one upon which the recipient can be expected to maintain a reasonable state of physical efficiency.
As an illustration, it is said that the London scale gives an uninsured man with a wife and one child 25s. 6d., plus 4s. to 5s. for rent allowance, whereas the insured person will receive 28s. in benefit and can go to the public assistance committee and receive an additional 5s., which brings his total income to 33s. a week, as against a maximum of 25s. 6d. to 29s. 6d. or 30s. 6d. for the other. There ought not to be that difference. No individual ought to receive more, because he is an unemployed insured person, than another, and simultaneously no individual ought to be penalised for not being an insured person.
There is also a point that one would like to have some attention given to, and that is the question of a husband being referred to an institution and a wife and child being left outside, receiving 21s. a week in food tickets only, plus 5s., presumably for rent allowance. I suggest that the individual woman in that case ought not to be tied to food tickets, that she and her child will require something more than food, and if those tickets are limited to food, there may result other hardships so far as her home is concerned, or a temptation on the part, of the woman to dispose of those food tickets for less than their real value in order to get something else.
Another point that I hope may be attended to is the question of the recovery of relief, and here a case is given from Finsbury of a man who is working, whose wife suffers from tuberculosis in an advanced stage, and who has eight children. His wages are 35s. a week after the payment of rent. They have six of their children in institutions, being eared for by the public assistance com- 114 mittee, and from the 35s. they are being compelled to contribute 15s. a week towards the upkeep of their children. One must admit that 15s. a week is not much for keeping six children, although it is more than is given to an unemployed man, at 2s. a week for each child. Certainly 15s. does not seem outrageous for the maintenance of six children in public assistance institutions, but leaving the rest of the family with only 20s. a week to live on, in a case where the wife is in an advanced stage of consumption, cannot be defended, and I hope the Minister will make a note of that and have the matter looked into.
It is being claimed—it may or may not be correct—that public assistance committees, finding a large number of unemployed persons coming to them for outdoor relief, are using test work for the purpose of cutting down their own expenditure, that they are giving an additional 2s. a week to the unemployed man, calling upon him to render 32 hours' work each week, and simultaneously dismissing employés of their own and having the work done by the previously unemployed people. That is a matter that ought to be investigated. Complaints have been made, with specific references to setting unemployed people to do the work of park keepers who have been dismissed, to the painting of London County Council institutions—that was referred to this afternoon by the hon. Member for South East Essex (Mr. Oldfield)—to furniture making and to motor repairs. Those things, coming forward, not once as an isolated "grouse," as one might call it, but continually coming forward, merit some investigation by the Minister.
Another point that is made is that men who are in receipt of outdoor relief, being sent to institutions for training, are sent there for indefinite periods, though the individual is supposed to be available for work at all times if that work is found, but if he is sent to an institution for an indeterminate period, obviously during that time he cannot be available for work. It may be said, on the contrary, that while he is in that institution active efforts are made by the public assistance committee to procure work for him. In that case, of course, there could be some defence, but obviously, on the face of it, the very fact of sending him to an institution 115 for an indefinite period ought to be looked into in order to discover whether it is the best thing for the individual and for the community.
Again, where individuals are called upon to render work, it commonly happens that they are sent to render that work not near their own homes, where work is being done for the public assistance committees, but to an outlying station or to another part of London, which obviously creates a good deal of ill-feeling on the part of the recipient and one that, I think, might easily be attended to and rectified. It is said also that there is too little discrimination shown in setting the men to work, that old men have been set to work that was too heavy for them. It is claimed that instances can be brought forward of individuals who, after a cursory medical examination by the public assistance committee's doctor, have been set to work as fit for that work and have complained to their own panel doctor, with the result that the panel doctor has made such representations, from his own knowledge of the physical condition of the individual, that the judgment of the public assistance committee's medical man has had to be set aside and the individual taken off that work.
I hope I have given the Minister something with which to fill in his spare time. It is important that we should be cognisant with what is going on. There has been a change. The abolition of boards of guardians has brought into existence the public assistance committees, which are now beginning a new system, and it is vitally important that we who are responsible should see that the new system is established on the right lines and does not lead us into a quagmire of difficulties and problems which will occupy far more time in the solving than the little time that will be required in rectifying the grievances to which I have drawn attention.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of the new Elysium in housing introduced by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley). I am afraid that I do not entirely understand the scheme, but apparently if only the State will take charge of housing and use the unem- 116 ployed for the purpose, whether they wish to be used or not, the houses can be erected without any charge on the local authorities and without increasing the charge on the national Exchequer, and the rents can be reduced by one-half. That is a scheme that requires close attention, because it has been the object of us all to get those results. The surprising thing is that even a Socialist Government has not been able to do it. The Government might pay a little more attention to their back benches and to this Elysium which has been placed ready to their hand. I am afraid, however, that there may be some flaw in the hon. Member's scheme.
When we talk sense on so serious a question as housing, we agree in the main essentials, for on bath sides we are working on the same lines. Consequently, we recognise many of the difficulties and the good points of the administration on whichever side we may be. The real question to-day is whether the matter is going any better than it did under previous Administrations. We cannot ask for changes of legislation. We are here to criticise administration. Apart from administration, the main difficulties would be the same whichever Government were in power, and we have to consider the particular line of administration which is at present being adopted. Both sides are as keen as can be for the welfare and the better housing of the people. The Conservative party can take the credit for having been the first party to start housing and to carry it through to a considerable extent before it was taken over by another party.
The housing movement has failed in the provision of houses within the financial competence of those who need to be housed. That has come up again and again, but we are met by the financial position taken up by the hon. Member for Bootle, that money does not matter. He actually said that, if the local authorities had not had to consider finance, they would have gone ahead much more quickly with housing. Of course, they would have done so, but, if you adopt that idea, you will never be able to attain your end of getting houses within the competence of those who really require help in housing. Finance must be considered. It is the most essential thing, and both sides in their heart of hearts 117 recognise now that over-taxation falls eventually, through stratum after stratum, on to those who can least afford to pay. If you try to house the people out of national finance, you will increase the difficulties, as was very well shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Mr. Simon). I do not know how far we can feel satisfied with the line taken by the Minister of Health in this matter. In two notable public speeches last October, the right hon. Gentleman went so far as to pronounce that he would never be a party to economy in social services.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
The Parliamentary Secretary agrees with that, and so repudiates what her chief said to-day. She repudiates what is the plain duty of every Minister—
§ Mr. McSHANE
Would the hon. and gallant Member tell us exactly what he means by economy in social services?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I trust that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will stick to the Ministry of Health Vote.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I must leave it to the Parliamentary Secretary to explain. She said, "Hear, hear!" when I quoted her chief as saying that he did not believe in economy in social services. I am glad to say, however, that the right hon. Gentleman said to-day that he did not want to see extravagance in administration. That is economy, but, if the Parliamentary Secretary and Members on the other side put any other meaning on the English language than what they will find in the Oxford Dictionary or Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, they had better explain it. They are constantly implying that they want to see no financial cut in the social services. They will not admit that for one moment, however, when they talk in constituencies where finance is understood.
§ The CHAIRMAN
This is rather too general. We are not dealing with the whole question of finance, but with the Ministry of Health Vote. The hon. and gallant Member is entitled to ask for economy in connection with this Vote.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
I am dealing solely with economy in the Ministry of Health services. When we 118 discuss the Budget, we shall find that the housing estimates with which we are dealing to-day—
§ The CHAIRMAN
We cannot anticipate the discussion on the Budget and what is in it. The figures are in this Estimate, and they are the things which the hon. and gallant Gentleman may criticise.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
That is what I am doing. These Estimates are part of the Budget which will be presented in a fortnight's time, and, when we are discussing that, we shall be discussing this Vote. The real difficulty of the housing question is the absence of economy. It is no use talking the platitudes which are liable to be taked on this question. Those who understand know that the real difficulty is economy, and that it is necessary to be most careful with expenditure. What so many of us recognise is that the money which is poured out by the State is largely—not wholly, of course—going to people who could afford to house themselves. Instances have been given of that to-day; and, on the other hand, the people who really most need the help are not getting it. If only we could get a proper distribution of money the whole question of housing could be solved. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am sure that I should not be allowed to discuss the sentiment which hon. Members are applauding.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think it was the very general nature of the remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman which elicited the applause.
§ Lieut. - Colonel FREMANTLE
I thought you would understand, Sir, that I was dealing with the question of housing. It is the proper distribution of money for housing that we are discussing. The housing problem has laid an appalling load upon the community. To-day we are asked to vote nearly £7,000,000 for houses built under the Addison scheme of 1919, and that sum will recur year after year for 60 years. That scheme produced only 213,000 houses. Under the Act of 1923 we are asked to vote a sum of £2,500,000 for only 20 years, and yet that expenditure produced 436,000 houses. Further, we are asked to vote £3,160,000 for the houses under the 1924 Act, which brought 119 only 338,000 houses—100,000 houses fewer than under the 1923 Act so far. Altogether, we are asked to vote more than £12,500,000 year after year; and what I say is that if that money had gone in the right direction we should have solved the problem.
What is it we have to do? We cannot turn the people out of the houses, although among them are those who could quite well afford to house themselves. Unfortunately, they have a right to be there, but they are there by virtue of a portion of this subsidy which we must go on paying year after year. All we can do is to see that the price of the new houses to be built shall come down. Every Government in turn has been aiming at cheapening the cost of housing. The most reliable guide to the cost of housing is probably furnished by the cost per superficial foot. For non-parlour houses the cost was reduced between 1926 and 1929 by 2s., from nearly 11s. to under 9s., but last year the reduction was only 2d. In the case of parlour houses the cost per superficial foot was brought down from 11s. to 9s., whereas last year there was a reduction of only 1d. Why is that? The answer is to be found in the general suggestion which we meet with everywhere that there must be no economising on the social services. The greatest reduction in the cost which ever occurred came about with the sudden cut in the subsidy which ended the reign of the then Minister of Health under the Coalition Government, and brought about the end of the Addison Scheme.
The Minister has told us to-day that he is dissatisfied with the present cost of building, recognising that we do not get value for the money spent. The reason is to be found in the general defect which underlies every public subsidy. As soon as there is a public subsidy—it may be necessary or not, that is not the question—everybody is plucking at it, and the money does not always go to the end to which it is directed. When the late Minister of Health was in power he reduced the subsidy. He cut out the subsidy under his own Act in order to let private enterprise stand on its own feet, and reduced the subsidy on the Wheatley houses. When this Government came into power they had, under pressure from their own party, to restore the Wheatley 120 subsidy to what it had been before it was cut down. If we could get away from oratory and come down to the actual facts I am certain that we should realise that we shall never get a proper reduction in the cost of building and therefore proper value for the nation's expenditure on housing, so long as we keep the subsidy in force. On the other hand we cannot suddenly cut it away. If, however, we were gradually to foreshadow a reduction of the subsidy so, gradually, would building costs come down, and eventually we should be able to supply houses at cost price to the people.
The National Housing and Town Planning Council have prepared a statement showing how, under the present subsidy, a £350 house can, if the rate of interest is 4½ per cent., be let at 7s. 10d. a week, inclusive of rent and rates. That sum is within the competence of most wage-earners, though not of all. Unfortunately, many people have to-day to pay double or treble that amount in rent. But according to that statement costs are coming down, so that by degrees people may look forward to housing being provided without subsidy, whether built by a local authority or private enterprise. If only we can get away from platform oratory about social services and come down to the actual facts a real economy in housing is possible without any reduction of efficiency, indeed, with an increase of efficiency. That is a brave thing for anybody in this House to say, because he is liable to have his remarks misinterpreted in his own constituency or elsewhere. It will be said that he is against expenditure on social service. I am only against it because there is only a limited amount of money to go round, and because we have to be careful of the money entrusted to us. I have shown one way in which I believe we can reduce the constantly increasing demands on the State for houses. We should encourage the return of private enterprise.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
That is rather too large a subject to go into at the present time. Who is to pay the rates?
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
The hon. Member can develop that view himself, if he can do so within the Rules of Order, which I rather doubt.
There are two other subjects which I wish to mention. One has been already referred to by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. O. Lewis), and that is the cost of the milk supplied and the purity of it. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if she will be kind enough to give me a further assurance about the promise made to me about 15 months ago. The main problem with milk in its relation to health does not lie in its cleanliness, although that is of importance; the main difficulty is to get it free from tubercle. Year after year children are infected with tuberculosis, and either die or become cripples, and to a large extent this arises from tuberculous-infected milk. We get a tremendous number of articles, papers and speeches on this subject in which reports vary and figures vary, and 15 months ago I asked the Minister whether he would have an authoritative statement prepared by his Department, such as has been drawn up on other subjects, giving us the main facts and the main conclusions with regard to bovine tuberculosis. In the meanwhile, I was told by those interested in this subject that they would wait until the authoritative statement which had been promised came out. The Minister of Health told me that the memorandum would be published. The Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to a question, stated that a memorandum was being printed and would be published at an early date. I was told that it was being printed on 5th February, and on 14th April it had not been published. On another occasion the Minister told me that the memorandum was in print and that he hoped to publish it shortly. I think this is an instance of the criticism which has been made in this Debate, that there is a good deal of dilatoriness in the Ministry of Health at the present time, and I hope that when they take up a definite idea which has been proved to be helpful in this matter they will push it through a little more quickly than has been the case in the past.
The question of the changes which have been made in the insurance regulations has been raised. A new regulation has been made by which the members cannot change their doctors without giving a 122 quarter's notice. Some of the committees dealing with insurance consider that this is a most retrograde step. The doctors did not ask for this restriction in regard to a change of doctors, and it has always been considered to be in the interest of both patient and doctor that there should be freedom in regard to the choice of doctor. I believe that the Minister of Health himself made the suggestion that the medical men were divided upon this subject, but I know that they were against this change, and I think they made known to the Minister that they were against it. The medical profession do not think that this change is advisable, and I do not think that there should be any restriction on the choice of the patient. There should be freedom to have a change of doctor if the patient required it. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will say something to make it clear that the medical profession did not ask for this change.
Another question I wish to raise is that of general public health administration. The appointments of medical officers of health are of great importance nowadays, more especially in counties and county boroughs. At the present time, those appointments are subject to inconvenient regulations by the Minister of Health. Hitherto the local authorities have had to make their own appointments separately and independently, and each local authority had its own staff. When a position of medical officer of health was vacant, the local authorities advertised the appointment, but the conditions which have now been imposed do not attract the best men. There is a great deal of difficulty and trouble to the applicants, and they say that they have not time to go through all the difficulties which face an application.
I want the Minister to see if he cannot help in this matter. The changes which are necessary do not require any fresh legislation, and all that is required is more co-operation with the local authorities concerned. The Minister of Health has great influence in the matter, because of the large share which the Ministry contributes towards the expense. Therefore, both parties are interested, and the matter is of enormous importance. I notice that the senior appointments are limited to men under 40 years of age. That is one of the 123 difficulties, and it is quite unnecessary to specify such an early age. I should like to know whether the Minister of Health approves of such a limit in regard to the chief appointments. When medical officers can keep those appointments up to the age of 60 years, it seems to me very unjust to limit them to applicants under 40 years of age. If the Minister of Health can see his way to alter the terms of these appointments and the conditions of promotion and pensions; if he can do that with the co-operation of the local authority, I am sure he will be doing good administrative work which will not only help the medical officers concerned, but also the local authorities, and that such an arrangement will be for the general benefit of the community. For these reasons, I support the proposal to reduce the Vote by £100.
§ Dr. MARION PHILLIPS
There are three points that I should like to raise on this Vote. The first is with regard to housing. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that those authorities whose housing programmes are noticeably inadequate will receive the special attention of the Minister, and that others will be made to increase their programmes. I can give from my own experience in my own constituency a case of the kind that I mean. We have 3,500 houses which are declared by the medical officer of health to be unfit for use as human habitations. The programme of the local authority for the next five years under the new Housing Act is for the demolition of 700 of these houses, and the erection of 1,000 houses; that is to say, they propose to demolish one-fifth of the houses that are unfit for habitation, and their only programme is 1,000 new houses to replace them, spread over five years. I think everyone will agree that that is totally inadequate, and I hope the Minister is not going to let that programme pass unnoticed without some effort to amend it.
The second point on which I should like some assurance is with regard to the negotiations conducted by the Minister for the formation of a national maternity service. We are very well satisfied with the circular to local authorities, but that is not enough. It can never be adequate to have maternity work looked after by 124 the local authorities alone, and, while we should like to see every pressure that the Minister can bring to bear upon authorities that are not fully carrying out their powers, further powers are necessary, in the form of some coordinated and larger service, before the problem of maternity can be adequately tackled. We should much like to know what has been the progress of these negotiations, to which the Minister has several times referred.
The third question on which I should like information is with regard to the administration of old age pensions in relation to public assistance authorities. It is extremely difficult to discover how public assistance committees are administering any particular question. It can be seen, from the speeches which have been already made to-night, that in every area there are variations. I have had difficulty even in discovering how one authority does its work, and I believe that the Ministry has not always adequate or accurate information from those authorities as to what they are themselves doing. The old age pensioner has a right to his pension. He is not disqualified from receiving his pension if he enters a public institution under the Poor Law for medical or surgical treatment. There are in the institution of the authority with which I am best acquainted, that of Sunderland, a large number of old men who are qualified to receive pensions, and who were in receipt of pensions before their admission to the institution, which is under the authority of the public assistance committee. But, on entering the institution, they have placed before them a form under which they assign the right of drawing that pension to the relieving officer. Those forms have to be countersigned by the doctor. There are two kinds of forms. There is the form given to old age pensioners and to persons who are blind or too infirm to attend at the post office; and there are the forms for the widows', orphans' and old age contributory pensions. They are both the same in kind.
In theory, the old age pensioner is quite free to sign his pension over to the relieving officer or not, but in fact it is the custom to place the form before him and say, "Sign there"; and, if he protests at all, to say, "Oh, that is the usual 125 thing." I have one form here signed by an old man with his mark, and one can well imagine that an old man so ignorant that he cannot write his own name is not going to read and understand a complicated form. The result is that the pension is signed over to the relieving officer, who draws the pension each week—quite legally, because he has the form which entitles him to do so—and the old age pensioner gets nothing from it whatever. In cases where he is only temporarily in the institution, he goes out from it again to find that he has run up a lot of rent which probably he will never be able to pay, or, on the other hand, that his landlord has in the interval sold him up altogether.
It is very difficult to find out what actually happens in these cases. I raised this question a little while ago on a letter from an old age pensioner in the institution of Sunderland, and, from a local report in the Press when this matter was again raised at the borough council meeting, it appeared from the statement of the chairman of the public assistance committee that in fact the old age pensioners were getting half-a-crown back from their pensions. I have made further inquiries, and either the newspaper mis-reported the chairman or the chairman mis-reported the fact, because Sunderland old age pensioners who are in the institution for medical or surgical treatment are not receiving anything from their pensions at all except in a few rare instances, where they do not get it from their pensions, but where the public assistance committee has agreed to pay their rent when they are only temporary in the institution.
The result of this is that these poor old men, spending their last years in the institution, qualified to receive a pension, have signed away the whole right to that pension, and they themselves are, therefore, handing it over entirely to the public assistance committee. They have not a penny to buy tobacco; they have not a penny to make flat racing a little bit more interesting or to put on the Cup Tie; they are just stuck there in the institution without anything in their pockets at all—they cannot even buy an extra newspaper. But someone is getting pocket money out of them all the same. The public assistance committee does not get the whole of their 10s. pen- 126 sion; the relieving officer who draws the pension gets a 10 per cent commission on this money which he recovers for the public assistance committee. Ten per cent. of 10s. is 1s. a week, so that the relieving officer gets pocket money to the amount of 4s. a month on each old age pensioner. It comes in with the general commission for the recovery of money due to the public assistance committee; he gets 4s. pocket money and the old age pensioner gets nothing. And that money does not go in reduction of the cost of administration, because the relieving officer gets no less salary; he simply gets an additional bit of commission as pocket money.
I do wish to put it to the Minister that this matter needs the most careful inquiry. I am quite sure that there is no one in any quarter of this House who wants to see the whole of the pension of an old man or an old woman who is in any of these public institutions going entirely from them and into the funds of these institutions. There is nobody, there is no ratepayer, who would not be willing to see an old man or an old woman get something back, such as the 2s. or 2s. 6d. which the best authorities pay today. And it is not only a scandalous thing that they should get nothing at all, but it is still more scandalous that they should be helping to provide pocket money, in the form of commission for the relieving officers, who are paid sufficient salaries for their work already; and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some assurance that this matter will receive careful investigation. I do not know whether it is the ordinary practice of other authorities except the one I have mentioned. I fear it is, but, whether it is only one authority or whether it is many, we should not let such a state of things continue.
§ 9.0 pm.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
I want to obtain an assurance that the policy of the Ministry in relation to test work and training centres and public assistance committees shall be in harmony with the outlook of the majority of the Members of this House. I do not want in the least to condemn the administration of the present Minister so far as the work of public assistance committees is concerned. I think he has done his very best to humanise administration, and, un- 127 doubtedly, he has effected certain very definite improvements. We used to be threatened by the auditor in my constituency in the lifetime of the previous Administration regularly every few months that, unless we reduced our scales of relief and submitted the recipients of public relief to lower standards, we should not be able to get any more loans. That process has ceased. True, the Minister continues to exercise a watchful eye upon our expenditure, but we are not being constantly threatened with a surcharge. I think the Minister deserves commendation for the abolition of test work, and in general he also deserves the commendation of the House for the principle involved in these training schemes as a condition of public relief. If the instructions in the Minister's circular are interpreted in a broad-minded spirit, it seems to me that it equips the public assistance committee to deal with a very difficult type of case, and to deal with it in such a way as to help these unfortunate individuals. No one who has had any close connection with this work can fail to realise that there are certain types of unemployed people who are not equipped with very good intellectual powers and who, after a period of prolonged idleness without any kind of oversight, become less and less suitable for work even if work be available. I am a very strong supporter indeed of the principle that it should be made a condition of relief from the public assistance committee in suitable types of cases that they should be submitted to some measure of discipline, and that the community should make a definite offer to help them by increasing their educational attainments, by helping them to use their hands and, generally, to make for employability when the labour market can absorb them. In any case, I think we shall be lacking in our duty to this unfortunate type of individual unless we have this power to help him in the way the Minister desires. But there is a very great danger that the principle embodied in the circular may be used—indeed it is already being used—by reactionary authorities in such a way as to constitute a very grave menace to the trade union standard of the wage earners and may, in effect, 128 mean that the public assistance committees will be using the labour of people in receipt of relief to do work which in the normal course of events would be done by trade union labour at a proper rate of wages. I am sure the Minister will not lend his approval to anything of that kind, but I should like to ask him what exactly he can do to prevent this kind of development, because I have had my attention drawn to one or two cases where, quite clearly, if my information is correct, work is being done by public assistance committees which in the ordinary course of events would be done by trade union labour and paid for at trade union rates. It is not part of the functions of a public assistance committee, as I understand its powers, to provide work for wages. The duty of a public assistance committee is to relieve destitution, and these training schemes, and the provision of work by public assistance committees, ought to be strictly confined to the principle of helping the individual to improve his employability. We ought resolutely to set our faces against the idea that public assistance committees, as part of their normal functions, should be expected to act the part of employers to men seeking work at wages. I hope the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that he will discountenance and discourage this development, and perhaps he will explain at the same time exactly what powers he possesses to stop this kind of thing developing.
Mr. FRANK OWEN
I should like, before we take a Division, to hear some kind of answer to the questions that were put to the Minister by my hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Mr. Simon). It seemed to me that the Minister's speech was flippant, and even contemptuous of the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am entitled to my view. It seemed to me, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) reminded him, that he has forgotten Thursday, when we shall be taking a Vote of Censure upon the administration of the Government in national affairs. It appeared to me, too—and I think it time these words were said—that the Minister had forgotten that the Government exist by the support and the sufferance of the votes of these benches. He expressed himself as being filled with satisfaction with the 129 progress that was being made. I thought that he was filled rather with self-satisfaction. He was not able to attribute the decline in house building in this country to world causes, a very popular reason. He, therefore, fell back upon the second excuse which the Government have offered for doing so little to mitigate unemployment. He said that it was all due to the wicked local authorities, but surely that excuse has no substance whatever.
There is a majority in this House—and we have said it from the beginning of this Parliament—for bold and comprehensive measures for tackling the problem of housing and the problem of unemployment. We have offered from these benches powers, time and money to the Government if they will undertake a direct national housing campaign over the heads of those recalcitrant local authorities. Therefore, the excuses of the Government upon that ground must fail. The Minister of Health forgets, in view of Thursday, that the housing campaign which occupants of his own back benches have been urging upon him this afternoon, and which we from these benches have been urging upon him, and which our friends above the Gangway have almost seemed to urge upon him, is part of that national programme of development for which, I believe, a majority exists in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich gave us figures this afternoon which showed conclusively that for every man out of work in the building trade in 1929, when the late Conservative administration left office, there were three out of work to-day. The failure to build and to get on with the housing industry in this country cannot be attributed to world causes. It cannot be attributed to any external force whatever. It is not dependent upon international trade, or upon imports or exports. The Minister can find no excuse there.
For my part, although it is true that I have fairly consistently voted in support of the Government, I say quite frankly that to-night, unless the Minister of Health can promise us something very different from what he promised us an hour or two ago, I shall be found in the Lobby with those who are censuring him. From these benches something like six 130 or eight weeks ago, one of the greatest authorities on housing in this country and, I believe, in the world, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Penryn (Sir T. Walters), was urging upon the Government to build 200,000 houses in the countryside. It was our pleasure at the beginning of this Session to vote for a Bill which was very largely Liberal in its origin—the Land (Utilisation) Bill. It was a Bill to put unemployed workers back on to the land, and to give farm labourers an opportunity of placing the first step upon the ladder which would bring them ultimately, we hoped, towards a land ownership of their own. The Minister made provision in the Bill for men to obtain smallholdings. There was no provision in the Bill for the families to be housed upon the land that was to be settled, and from what we have heard from the Minister to-day there is no provision of any kind on the part of his own Department.
The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) this afternoon, in a very eloquent and a very forcible speech, stressed the point that the slums in the countryside are as bad as the slums in the towns, and that they are due to exactly the same reason. They are due to overcrowding. Even where you have comparatively decent habitations in the countryside to-day, you are going to put, you hope, something like another 100,000 families upon the land. Where, in Heaven's name, are you going to settle them? I am asking the Minister of Health whether he is going to settle them in the stables, as I found a family in Hereford living a few months ago. As far as I know, there has not been a single new house built in the rural district of Herefordshire under the Minister's Slum Clearance or Housing Acts which passed through this House last year. I do not know of an instance of a new cottage having been built, and yet at the same time you are trying to recreate your rural industries, and plant more of your urban population upon the land.
It may be considered inadvisable in this House to offer the great farming industry of this country further subventions and subsidies to prop itself up in the face of what we all admit is a most severe competition. But I suggest to the Minister of Health that if it is impossible to raise 131 the wages of the agricultural worker, and if it is impossible, unhappily, in some districts to defend the existing wage, surely we can ask him to help us by giving the farm labourer a cheaper habitation than that in which he lives at the present moment, and thereby remit some of the burden of wages upon the farming industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Withington asked the Minister of Health if he would give some kind of indication that he and his Department and his Government were going to try to press for building no fewer than 200,000 houses in this country every year. Nothing less will suffice, nothing less would keep up even with our needs, and nothing less can hope to overtake the serious shortage which has occurred in this country. Therefore, I say to the Minister—I am speaking only for myself, but, although I am not the party spokesman, I think I can certainly speak for some of my colleagues—that unless he can show that he intends to make a more vigorous move in this direction, I shall vote against him to-night, and I shall vote against him again on Thursday.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
I wish to refer to that part of the Minister's statement dealing with his very great attempt to make the casual ward a little more human. I fully realise the tremendous difficulties which he has had in his way. Above all, I would like him not to be too confident that because every public assistance committee is in receipt of his Circular, these things will be carried out. I trust that during the next 12 months he will pay unremitting attention to each casual ward in order to see exactly what is happening, and not be content with what is being done on the part of his guardians or inspectors. I will deal with the two Circulars, No. 1183 of March this year, and No. 1140 of last August. It is a little difficult to make hon. Members realise the importance of what may seem to be small items in these Circulars. They affect, in my view, not less than 100,000 men and women. There is not a Member in this House who has not someone in his constituency who may have to go into a casual ward at some time or other. Therefore, the smallest item here, as far as these people are concerned, who have nothing whatever to depend upon but the hospitality of 132 the casual ward, is of the greatest importance. With regard to accommodation, I was delighted to see that the Minister is abolishing hammocks. I would ask him to see whether provision cannot be made for those casual wards which are almost normally over-crowded, and I suggest that something handy should be provided which the casuals can place on the floor for sleeping purposes. It would not be extravagant to suggest that they should have at least boards to separate them from their neighbour.
During the seasonal occupations, when it can always be expected that there will be more in the casual wards than can be accommodated with beds, could the right hon. Gentleman not see that provision is made for something on which the men can lie? When the beds arrive in the institutions where there are any beds, I suggest that something should be placed over the wire of the mattress. In the great majority of cases where there are already beds in the casual wards the men are simply given two, three, or may be four, blankets and a cotton night shirt, and they have to lie on the wire. The consequence is that the pattern of the wire mattress is embedded in the flesh. It is impossible to sleep under those conditions. Surely it is a small thing to ask that the authorities should be compelled to provide at least a straw mattress, which can very easily be cleaned. In the main wards such mattresses are provided.
I should like to draw attention to the use of sloping beds, where the foot of the bed is very much lower than the head and on which it is impossible to remain during the night. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to arrange that the beds should be horizontal. These may sound very small things to Members of this House, but they mean a great deal to the men in the casual wards. In regard to furnishing, will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the number of casual wards in which in the day room there is nothing whatever for the men to sit on. I have had experience of a day room from Friday night until the Monday morning, and the only thing in the room was a table. There were 20, 30 or 40 men in the room, and they had nothing on which they could sit. When one realises that a man on the Sunday may be the whole 133 of the 24 hours with nothing whatever to do, with nothing to read, nothing to smoke, and that he has simply to sit there and brood, it is no wonder that the effect is very depressing. Surely the men could be given a form to sit upon.
I should like to know whether the admission of casuals is direct, or indirect through the police. I have very strong objections to their having to go to the police station. These people are sinned against and not sinners, and I cannot see why they should have to go to the police station. I have no objection on the ground of the way the police treat the casuals. I have never heard a casual complain of the way that he has been treated by the police. In my own district the police have a special fund for helping casuals, and it is a common thing for men to get shirts and so on from this special police fund. My point is that they ought not to have to go to the police station. Why should they not go straight to the casual ward in all cases?
In most places there are cells which are officially known as cubicles, but they are in every degree a cell and very much more forbidding than a police cell. Why should the doors of these cells be locked? Why retain the prison atmosphere? Why not leave the doors unlocked, as is done in the more humane institutions? I should also like to call attention to the question of searches. The Circular in regard to searches says that the casual may be required to hand over any articles which he possesses. I trust that it is "hand over" and not a case of being handled by any attendant. The casuals are stripped of everything that they have got, particularly their smoking materials, except in the case of the old hands, who know the ways and means of avoiding this. Good luck to all those who can. Why should not the casual be allowed to smoke? Imagine the effect upon any casual, particularly the thousands of unfortunate young men who have been forced upon the roads by their state of disheartenment at not getting a job, going into a casual ward and not merely having their smoking materials taken from them but sometimes being searched in a most unpleasant way. I have seen an attendant turn the lining of a man's pocket inside out in order to see whether there was a little tobacco there. Why should not a casual be allowed to smoke 134 under supervision in the day room? In many places it is allowed. I have visited several casual wards this week where it is allowed. The authorities of the casual ward would experience much less trouble if they allowed this simple amenity to the casual if he was fortunate enough to have a few fag ends.
The regulation in regard to drying clothes requires attention. The clothes very soon become a mere covering for the casual. When he arrives at a casual ward the regulations provide that the clothes shall be dried. Sometimes they are dried and sometimes they are not dried. In all cases the clothes are taken away. Could not the Minister of Health see that in all casual wards the clothes should not be bundled together but should be pigeon-holed and kept separate? The majority of the men, 90 per cent. of them, are trying as well as they can to keep themselves clean, but you cannot keep yourself clean if your clothes are bundled up with others. Again, as happens in so many cases, when a man gets his clothes the next morning he finds that they are still wet. I could give the Minister a number of cases where the men have refused to work next day, because they have refused to put on their wet clothes. They have said: "You have not carried out your part of the bargain, and we will not carry out ours." I could give particulars of cases where prison has resulted because of the refusal to do the task. In regard to cleanliness, I am pleased to say that in no department has the improvement of the casual ward been so marked as in the bathing. I want to add a little more to it. Will the Minister try to secure that in every casual ward there are provisions for shaving. What hope has a chap of getting a job when he has to go out with a week's beard on his face? In many cases the men carry razors, but they are taken from them. Even where they are allowed the razors there is no mirror. Would the right hon. Gentleman see that in all casual wards, as is done in London, the men are encouraged to clean their shoes? They do not need much encouragement. In every casual ward part of the outfit should be boot-cleaning materials.
I come to the thorny question of detention. I note the recommendation of the Committee which has been dealing with this matter, and that it is not to 135 be applied until 1932. I hope that it will not be applied at all. I would leave the matter discretionary on the part of the master and the men. In Gloucester this week when I arrived I found six men leaving the casual ward. They had been admitted the previous night. Inside were 20 others who were doing their tasks. The master had seen that these men were genuine work seekers, as 90 per cent. of the casuals are, and as the 10 per cent. would be if they were treated properly and not made into a work-shy class by the casual ward system. The master said to the six men: "What are your prospects" They replied: "We do not know. We are doing our best." Three of them had their tools. One was a painter and had his brushes. These fellows were told to clear off, but the others who looked rather more hopeless were detained. Why should you not leave the discretion in every case? In some cases, men who are keen on a job might desire to stay in. One fellow could not possibly walk any further, as his feet were far too bad. The soles of his boots had gone, and his feet were a mass of sores. He ought to have been kept in not for two nights, but for a week or more to be medically attended to. For these, and many other reasons, I do ask that before this is applied in 1932, the Minister should consider whether it should not be discretionary either on the part of the master or the men.
I should like to convey to the right hon. Gentleman the congratulations of thousands of casuals for the addition to the diet. Those who know me have asked me personally to do this, and I do so with great pleasure. It will be remembered that up to 1st April all that casuals got was bread and margarine for breakfast, bread and cheese for dinner and bread and margarine for tea, the same thing day after day and week after week—unless they did what the system compelled them to do, namely, beg. I think that the diet which the Minister has put on will obviate begging in many cases. Although no one can call it in any sense luxurious, and I do not think any Member of this House would like to live on it, the Minister has made the addition of meat at the midday meal, either tinned or cooked, and vegetables and bread. Thank God, skilly has gone for ever, but 136 I ask the Minister to watch that it has gone. It is one thing to put it in the circular and another thing to see that it does not appear in the casual ward. Nothing has delighted the casual more than the fact that skilly has gone.
Let me add that I would much rather that the Minister had made no differentiation whatever between what the casuals get and what the inmates get, but that they should have the same. I know that in Whitehall they talk about the difficulty of organising it, but I have spoken to dozens and dozens of workhouse masters, not one of whom has not said he would prefer that, and could organise it. I should like the Minister to have second thoughts about it, try to do away with the many anomalies that arise and give the casual the same food as the ordinary inmate. Gould he not also secure that the casuals should have some utensils with which to eat the food? Up to now anyone who wants to spread the margarine on the bread has had to do so with his fingers or with a piece of bread. I have been to one ward in a most enlightened place where, if a casual wants to spread the margarine on the bread, he finds the knife at the end of a chain. Surely that is not the sort of thing that should be done considering that you are dealing with decent men. The excuse is that the casual would "lift" the knives. I went to one casual ward, and in the middle of the day-room there was a box containing knives, forks and spoons. I said to the master, "How do you keep these things?" He replied, "What do you mean?" I said, "Do you not find they disappear" He replied, "Of course not. We treat the men decently, and they treat us decently in return." Could we not have utensils provided in the wards? Also could it not be arranged that men who leave after two nights' detention should not go out of the ward with their lumps of bread and cheese unwrapped but have them in paper bags as in London?
With regard to tests, the Minister has been very much criticised by the other side about stone-breaking. We know, as far as the Minister is concerned, stone-breaking in the casual wards has gone, with two exceptions. There is one case where it goes on where there may not be many objections, as under good conditions the men work perfectly happily. 137 I always object to stone-pounding, because it is degrading and piffling. Outside we see machines doing stone-pounding, and inside the men chipping off little bits of stone, which seems to me stupid, unnecessary and uneconomic. I understand that the Minister has kept this permissive authority on application to the Ministry because of two wards, where they are making roads inside the institution, but it is very dangerous, indeed, to keep it in the Order at all, just for those two wards. What will happen if you get a reactionary Minister of Health who wants to make the casual ward penal again? The whole thing will be repeated. I ask the Minister to think again whether it is worth while keeping it in for the sake of two casual wards. I know the chief reason is that it is rather difficult, where men are passing through a place and are only there for one day, to find useful jobs for them to do. You get the sort of Army jobs, in order that men shall not do nothing. A large percentage of these men are skilled men who would be only too glad to use their skill in the many ways which are necessary in the average casual ward. Take clothing. The clothes are all huddled together, and it would be a great joy to the average man who is a carpenter to be given the job of making pigeon-holes and racks. Similarly, a plasterer could do the small repairs which are so much needed in the wards. Given the will on the part of those who are running these places, useful work could be provided which would be good from the point of view of the casual ward and the men.
Coming to medical examinations, it is hoped in the circular that inspection of casuals will take place once a month. Here, again, I cannot see there will be very much use in the inspections unless they all take place on the same day, because men who are medically inspected at one place on a Tuesday will go to the next place on the Wednesday and find the inspection takes place there on that day, and so be inspected again. Some may be inspected over and over again, and others missed altogether. It would be very much more valuable to have the inspection on the same day. I hope the efforts of the Minister to withdraw the old men in from the roads will meet with success, if we are to give the younger men a chance. The great danger is that the youngsters mix with the older 138 men and I hope great attention will be paid to that question by the Minister's inspectors.
With regard to work-finding opportunities, in some casual wards there are on the day-room wall, advertisements of jobs going in the locality and Employment Exchange advertisements. It would be a very simple thing to do that in all casual wards, so as to save casuals from tramping to other districts as well as to the next casual ward. It is a simple thing which is dictated by common sense. Lastly, with regard to the staffs, I wish the Minister all success in his attempts to improve their status. It has often been my duty to call the Minister's attention to something going on in the casual wards. Casuals are brought up at the police court and rarely get away without imprisonment. As a rule, the reason for these police court cases is the wrong treatment of the casual, either because he has not had his rights—and they are few in a casual ward—or because he has been maltreated by the attendant. Let me say this, however, that I do not know a harder job than that of an attendant in a casual ward. Day after day he sees the "down-and-outs" coming and going and is apt to become a little demoralised. They are very few in number, but there are a few cases where the attendants have become so demoralised that they pass on physical treatment to the casuals, and I especially desire to ask the Minister of Health, wherever there has been a prosecution of a casual, to require that a report shall be sent to him the same day in order that an investigation can be made. I could say a great deal more about this matter, but I will leave it at that; and merely emphasise the urgent necessity of requiring a report to be made to the Minister of Health without delay wherever a casual is prosecuted. I am sorry that the recommendation of the committee with regard to the younger men of the workless and hopeless on the roads are so vague that they cannot be carried out. We had hoped that the old men might have been taken into the institutions—
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
Yes, but will they do it? I know how near this is to the heart of the Parliamentary Secretary. 139 We had hoped that the old men might be taken into institutions and that we could say to the young men who were likely to become confirmed vagrants, "Come along to a training centre where we will equip you for industry." I know that this is very difficult when there are 2,500,000 unemployed, but I hope the Minister will keep this proposal in mind. There are private institutions which are carrying on, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use them. In conclusion, may I ask hon. Members to take a little more interest in their own locality? There are 100,000 casuals. There may be 12,000 in the casual wards, but they are those who happen to be there on that particular night. On a warm night no person who has been in a casual ward would go inside one. They would prefer the shelter of a warm rick or hedge. Our constituents are involved in this matter. They may not have votes, but they are human beings, and I ask hon. Members to visit the casual ward, not at the usual time, but after the men have been admitted, after dark, and particularly on Sundays. In the same way I ask the Minister of Health that his inspectors should not visit these wards at the usual time. Ordinary visits by inspectors at the usual times are worthless. They should go in after the men have been admitted. The Toc H in my own constituency has made an application for permission to go into the casual ward on Sunday afternoons, not to preach. If they did that it would be much better to stop away. Why should not this be done everywhere? Let us have a little practical Christianity. Why not provide the casuals with papers and books, take a gramophone, or instal a wireless set, and give them a little cheer which has so long been denied them?
§ Major ELLIOT
The remarks of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd) have been most interesting. He takes a deep interest in the question of the casuals, and it is interesting to us on this side to find such an indictment of bureaucracy coming from one who supports the bureaucratic principle and whose general argument is that the voluntary institution is a mistake and that only by an official and formal bureaucratic machine can we run the various services of the country.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Member is rather misinterpreting what I said. I can take him to places which are admirably run, and it is only where they are refusing to do their duty that I am asking that special steps should be taken. In regard to the young, I am asking that we should use the voluntary institutions until we can get the State institutions going.
§ Major ELLIOT
We shall all agree that an institution which is doing its job is suitable, but the question is what is to be done with an institution which is not doing its job? I have no wish to misrepresent the hon. Member, but I claim that he indicated that in some cases the formality of the bureaucratic machine has led to what amounts to a kind of tyranny, where little rights and perquisites and privileges have been filched away by officials. It is a matter of great interest to us to have this testimony from one who has taken such an admirable part in this question in a spirit of real comradeship and a desire to see the best thing done for the man who is down and out, and that he finds it necessary to appeal to Cæsar, to public opinion, to the non-official mind, against the risk that the bureaucratic machine by its very efficiency tends to crush out the small irregularities which are so redeeming a feature of the life itself. That is the difficulty of the Minister and of anyone in command of a machine of this kind. It is a question of humanising the machine. The most traditional engine of administration in this country is the co-operation of local authorities and the central organisation, and we have managed to preserve for a long time, and to an extent which is the envy of other countries, a virile, healthy, local organisation in co-operation with an active impulse coming from the centre.
When the work of that machine and Ministry in charge of it—in this case the Ministry of Health—is reviewed there are two or three main lines of investigation which must appeal to all. In this case it is a question of the public life of the country. Are we getting stronger or weaker? Is the nation becoming healthier or less healthy? It is a pity that other questions which have to be debated have occupied so much time of the Committee that this fascina- 141 ting avenue of inquiry into public health has had to be considerably scamped. I hope it will be possible to review that action on some other occasion, for I can imagine no more important thing for a community to-day than to know whether the bone and muscle of the people, the fibre of the nation, is becoming rotten or sounder, whether the health of the nation as expressed in tuberculosis statistics and infantile mortality statistics, and statistics for diseases such as cancer and diabetes, is improving or not. After the long continued stress of unemployment it is necessary to know whether it is being reflected in the physical constitution of the nation. From the last report I understand that infantile mortality has gone up from the year before, but that it still remains at a low level.
§ Major ELLIOT
According to the Eleventh Report, for 1927 is was 70, for 1928 it was 65, and for 1929 it was 74.
§ Major ELLIOT
I was speaking of the figures in the 11th report. I understand that the tuberculosis rate continues to remain at a low level, and that the steady fall which has been a feature of the rate for many years continues to be manifest. The figures as to cancer continue, I suppose, to rise? I do not know whether the Minister will be able to give us any figures or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "He never said a word about it!"] The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, not for the first time, is "the last man in," and has to make a great many of the runs. The Ministry of Health is a team which has a very strong batting tail; I do not say so much about the head of it. The tail has succeeded before in pulling the match out of the fire after it has been looked upon as lost. She will have to raise a pretty high batting average if she is to placate the Committee this evening. Seldom have I heard the Ministry's Estimates treated with such universal condemnation as these have been to-day. A few words of praise from the hon. Member for Darlington were the only bouquets amidst the universal shower of brickbats hurled at the Minister's head. When the Parliamentary Secretary is threatened not merely with votes against her side this 142 afternoon, but against her side next Thursday, she will indeed need to see that she returns a satisfactory answer to the questions that have been put.
Public health is not the only question that has been raised. Are we getting stronger or weaker? Are we getting richer or poorer? What is the reflection in the administration of the Poor Law, of the state of our national strength, in so far as it is surveyed by the Minister and the innumerable local authorities? There again it seems that the figures are far from satisfactory. We have still a very high rate remaining of people in receipt of Poor Law relief. The figure is still well over 1,000,000. We all remember that when the Unemployment Insurance Acts were being passed one of the main defences of them was that anyhow the nation was carrying these people on the Poor Law. It was said, "We propose to carry them on the Unemployment Insurance. It will absorb hundreds of thousands of people who at present have to seek poor relief. The rates will consequently be lower." Indeed the Minister responsible for Unemployment Insurance in another place actually defended it on the ground that it was a de-rating Act which would have the effect of a great reduction in local rates.
All one can say is that the great reduction certainly has not taken place. The figure which was 1,200,000 in 1929, in 1930 was 1,100,000, in 1931 was 1,038,000, and in January of this year was 1,082,000. It is clear, therefore, that although the figures have fluctuated a little, there has been no great absorption of the people from the Poor Law roll by reason of the vast sums which are being poured out on Unemployment Insurance. Indeed it is not very much wonder. The Parliamentary Secretary on a previous occasion, on 1st May, 1929, in condemning us for our actions, made that famous speech in which she said that there were things which a Labour Government could cure within three weeks of coming into office. She said:Human misery, which it is almost impossible to contemplate, has resulted from that policy, and that is what will continue to happen to the unemployed if, by any misfortune, the present Minister of Health and the present Government are allowed to remain in control. But if we come back we will end the misery, the hunger and the starvation. I know that to bring in a proper Unemployment Insurance Measure 143 would take months, and to start everybody who is unemployed on schemes of work, would also take months. We will do these things, but we will not only look to the curing of unemployment; we will deal with the people who are suffering from hunger and cold, from want of boots, from want of milk and want of clothes. These are things which a Labour Government can cure within three weeks of coming into office. They are things which we can cure without Acts of Parliament. They are things which can be cured by administration, just as was done in 1920. We shall cure them by administration, just as the evils themselves have been caused by administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1929; col. 1601, Vol. 227.]It is a bitter commentary to find a letter, in the "Daily Mail" of all papers, sent from Merthyr Tydvil on 13th December, 1930, signed by the Mayor, the Deputy-Mayor, the Director of Education and the President of the National Union of Teachers, in which they draw attention to the acute distress which existed in the borough of Merthyr Tydvil as a result of long and widespread unemployment. They stated:We have 14,000 children in our schools, more than half of whom are in immediate need of boots and clothes.Yet the hon. Lady told us:We will deal with the people who are suffering from want of boots, from want of milk, from want of clothes.That was on 1st May, 1929, but that is not the story reported to-day from Merthyr Tydvil. There, we are told,The education authority does what is possible in the matter of school feeding, but can do nothing more without adding to the already crippling burden of a 25s. 8d. rate which the people of Merthyr are called upon to bear.
§ Major ELLIOT
I am perfectly willing to argue with the hon. Member either about his own country or the country which we are discussing at the moment if he says that there is as much distress in the mining areas to-day as there was when we were in office, and that there was as little done to relieve it in our time as is being done to-day.
§ Major ELLIOT
Unemployment in South Wales was 80,000 when we raised 144 the Lord Mayor's Fund, and raised £500,000; to-day that unemployment is up to 100,000, and not a penny is being found by this Government. I do not mind criticism, but some of the accusations which have been brought and still are being brought against us are nothing less than nauseating.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that in the county of Glamorgan £244,000 has been granted to meet the requirements of necessitous areas, and in Merthyr a sum of £24,000?
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
On a point of Order. Is it correct for an hon. Member belonging to one party, to address the Committee from the benches of another party?
§ Major ELLIOT
Whatever has been done, the Borough of Merthyr Tydvil has been left in this position—that the mayor, the deputy-mayor, the director of education and the president of the National Union of Teachers write to the "Daily Mail" and beg for charity to get boots and clothing for the children attending their schools. [An HON. MEMBER: "Under capitalism!"] I do not suppose that you, Mr. Dunnico, would allow the suggestion that the Minister of Health can cure capitalism by administrative action, and without any legislation whatever, and therefore it would be out of order to discuss that matter. I will only say that the promise was given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that these were things that could be cured without Acts of Parliament and by administration hut that does not seem to be the opinion of the borough of Merthyr Tydvil. The grant to necessitous areas for England and Wales is, I understand, actually lower. It has decreased to about three-quarters of the amount given last year. There is a very considerable decrease in the amount of the grants which have been given to the necessitous areas for certain of the public works which are being carried out, but as I say I do not wish to go into that question at any length.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Major ELLIOT
We are obviously talking about different things. The grants under the Act of 1929 are, of course, governed by special circumstances, and I am not discussing those special grants and special loans. I do not wish to go into the details of this question save to say that the actual administration is turning out both for the Minister and for the Parliamentary Secretary a great deal more difficult than they assumed it to be when they were in Opposition, and the promises so rashly given by the hon. Lady who is going to reply have met with a comment, in the letter I have quoted, from which it is quite impossible to escape. The Minister himself will agree that these problems are not such as can be ridden away from by assuming hard-heartedness or callousness on the part of the Administration, whether that Administration be Conservative or Labour. Other arguments brought forward by the Minister require still closer examination. Are we getting stronger or weaker, richer or poorer? Is progress being made on the lines along which the whole Committee would desire to see progress made? In particular, what is being done in the case of housing? The Minister dealt with that subject, and then rather rapidly skirted away from it. I have heard the subject discussed by a greater expert than he, in the person of the hon. Lady who is to wind up the Debate. She, I will say, always succeeds in creating the impression that things are not nearly as bad as they have been made out to be. She takes a number, doubles it, asks you to take away the number you first thought of, then writes it down a little further, and makes it clear that, in some way or other, a mysterious number of houses has been produced—in figures. But when we look into the matter we always find that the position is not nearly so satisfactory as she would make it out to be.
The Minister rode off on promises. He said that things were going to be all right, that local authorities were about to build a great many houses, and that the 146 Slum Clearance Act was going to be a great success. He said that the local authorities were finding that it was not so difficult as they thought. The facts remain, first that there is great unemployment in the building trade, and secondly, that none of this supposed expansion in the building industry or in the number of houses completed, is coming along. The best that the Minister is able to show is that things are not doing so badly, that the number of houses is slightly up or slightly down, that there are promised programmes ahead, that if people are unemployed they must be unemployed from some other cause, and that, in fact, as Mr. Hicks mentioned at a recent by-election, there really are not people exceptionally unemployed in the building trade and all this is merely due to the juggling of figures, and to wrong comparisons.
I quote from the memorandum of the National Housing and Town Planning Council, and from figures which have been derived from the Ministry of Labour. These figures give a comparison of strictly comparable months, the dates being 25th June, 1928, and 23rd June, 1930. In June, 1928, there were 81,927 building operatives unemployed; in June, 1930, there were 102,492 unemployed. In June, 1928, there were 7,000 carpenters unemployed, and in June, 1930, there were 11,000 unemployed. In June, 1925, 2,900 plumbers were unemployed, and in June, 1930, 4,600. Take the figures down to a more recent date, and note the comparison between 21st January, 1929, and 26th January, 1931. In January, 1929, there were 14,000 carpenters unemployed; in January, 1931, the number was 29,209. In January, 1929, 11,500 bricklayers were unemployed, and in 1931, 15,600. In January, 1929, 4,000 plasterers were unemployed, in January, 1931, 6,000 were unemployed; 3,000 plumbers in 1929, 6,700 in 1931; a total of 159,219 on the 21st January, 1929, and 220,360 unemployed on the 26th January, 1931.
These are rather damning figures, which will take a good deal of explanation, and the Minister will require to explain why, for instance, the promises which were made by the First Commissioner of Works that the passing of the Housing Acts would mean a great reduction in the unemployed have not matured. It is not enough to say that it is due to Conserva- 147 tive local authorities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Were there no local authorities with Conservative majorities in 1928? Conservatism must be making wonderful strides. That is too weak an explanation, and if it is only the persuasive power of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) that can get houses built, the sooner we get a Conservative Government back, or the sooner the Labour Government recruit the right hon. Member for Edgbaston, the better it will be for the 220,000 unemployed in the building industry. I understand that there are 36,000 houses in course of erection by local authorities. Can the Minister say whether that figure is accurate?
§ Major ELLIOT
I have only the figures up to the 28th February, 1931, and there were only 36,000 local authority houses then under construction, and of houses authorised but not yet started, 36,000 again. These are very small figures—only 36,000 local authority houses building in the whole of England and Wales, and only 36,000 more authorised but not yet started. What number does the Minister expect to get built under those conditions? How many houses does she expect to get completed this year—30,000, 40,000, 50,000? These are trivial figures compared with the size of the problem and the extent of the promises held out. Does the Minister really say that she is satisfied with 36,000 houses building on 28th February for the whole of England and Wales? That is a question which we shall have to have answered.
As for rural housing, what is the Minister's attitude towards that? We remember that when the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was under consideration the Minister had some very bitter things to say about it. The Minister said it was a tinkers' Bill, not a builders' Bill, and that it was a dole for the landlords. [HON. MEMBERS: "So it was."] It is interesting to notice the spirit in which the Minister has administered it. Are we to speak of the spirit in which the Minister described the Bill then, or of the spirit in which the Minister is bringing in a Bill to extend it for five years? What will his supporters, who are so vociferous in their condemnation of it, say when that is 148 brought in? We have already had the Financial Resolution. The Minister got that, fortunately, before Easter. The Minister got the money for the dole for the landlords before we went away for the holidays; the money for the tinkers' Bill.
What is the proposal? Is the Minister going to administer it with a genuine desire to make the thing work and to produce houses, or is he going to do his best to stultify it by administration? I take it that, as an honourable man, he will desire to make it work, but we shall have much to say and a good many rather interesting quotations to make from his past speeches on the subject when be brings in that Measure, or when, as I understand, he allows the Secretary of State for Scotland to bring it in, since the Secretary of State is not so heavily burdened and since in Scotland a great many more houses have been built under that Act. As for rural housing, I think the Minister has fallen back upon the Act which he condemned.The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.As for slum clearance, nobody knows whether this Act is going to work satisfactorily or not. It is true that it has produced so far a small number of houses. If it had been possible for the Government, when they came in, to pass a simple Act giving a 75 per cent. grant to local authorities instead of the 50–50 allowed by us, they could have got more progress in housing far more quickly, for they would not have thrown all the housing programmes of the local authorities into confusion by waiting to see what the wonderful gifts were which they were going to get from the fairy godmother of the new Labour Government.
The Minister does not deny that the number of unemployed has gone up from 159,000 in 1929 to 220,000 at a comparable date this year; she does not deny that the figures of local authority houses under construction are 36,000 only for the whole of England and Wales. If the Minister can justify her Estimates to the House on those figures, then indeed she will have deserved well of her superior, because a Minister whose Estimates and whose salary were in greater danger I have seldom seen. The demand for a re-constitution of the Ministry of Health has come from more corners of the House than one to-day, and 149 the ancient and honourable tradition that Under-Secretaries fire out their chiefs and get their jobs has a very good chance, as far as I can see, of being fulfilled at an early date in the present Labour Government.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I do not think I can allow the last words of the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) to pass without reference. It was a thing which filled me with profound disgust to hear the hon. and gallant Member say that the Parliamentary Secretary, whose incapacity and weakness I know well, could worthily supplant her chief. It pained me, and I think no gentleman ought to have said it. Let me come, first of all, to the miscellaneous points that have been raised during the Debate. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down began by complaining, very mildly, of the House of Commons. He said the House ought to have discussed the nation's health, and he invited me to give some resume of that subject. It is a late hour, and I understand that very important subjects are being raised on the Motion for the Adjournment, so that I must be brief.
I will say, briefly, that though all the figures for 1930 are not yet to hand, every indication that we have points to the fact that 1930 was an exceptionally healthy year. I will give the few figures that I have got. Infant mortality has sunk to the lowest point ever known, and it is now at the figure of 60. The other definite figures that I have up to date are the claims of the approved societies, which show a considerable rise for the first quarter of 1929, which was marked by the influenza epidemic. The expenditure on sickness and disablement benefit was in round figures, £15½m. in 1928, £17¾m. in 1929—due mainly to the influenza epidemic—and was down to rather over £15½m. in 1930. We have every indication that 1930 has been an extremely good year. Cancer, unfortunately, is an exception to the general rule. Points were raised in regard to old age pensions. The hon. Member who raised them showed some ignorance of the administration. With regard to the means test, the officials who object to pensions are not officials of the Ministry of Health, but officials of the Treasury, 150 and they are bound to administer the law, which is excessively strict on the matter. The review of these cases by the Minister and the ascertainment of the exact means must very often, in the interests of the claimants be a slow business. With regard to the share fishermen, the hon. Member who raised the point was demanding legislation. The skipper of the share fishermen getting over £250 a year cannot under the existing law obtain a pension, and there is no means beyond legislation of giving him one.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
That being so, why not allow it to be retrospective so far as the widows are concerned?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Because it needs legislation. It is impossible for a Minister to make Acts of Parliament retrospective. Then we were told that the doctors object to changes in the regulations which extend the period during which a patient may not change his doctor. Again, there is ignorance. A doctor, if he choose, can let his patients go at any minute he likes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
My point was that the doctors object to the change of regulations that has been made, whether it affects them personally or not. Doctors do not always look at things from their personal point of view, but from the public point of view.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
If a practitioner desires to let his patient go, he can do it at once. Members of the medical profession have discretion in the matter. As to the report on bovine tuberculosis, I hope that that useful piece of work will be out in the course of a few days. I come to the questions on the Poor Law. Two questions on test work and casuals were raised. My right hon. Friend issued regulations exhorting local authorities to provide training, education and work for those on out-relief, and he has emphasised over and over again that that training should be designed for the benefit of the individual. Some persons need training in the strict trade sense, and other persons need education. I have been shocked at the number of young persons whom I have met who have forgotten all their schooling. There is education, physical drill, work and meals which are given in order to fit a man to take up labour again and to keep his 151 hands hardened. All these things were done to a considerable extent by Labour boards of guardians in old times solely in the interests of the individual.
It is said that in London things have not been going altogether as hon. Members would desire. We have had some considerable correspondence with the London County Council on this matter, and I would refer to the last letter we wrote to them. We were very much surprised that the hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) should rush into the Press on the eve of the Whitechapel election to say that the local authority was forbidden to give out-relief except under conditions of work or training. That was denied by the Minister. When we wrote to the London County Council on the matter the council said they had never been under that apprehension at all. There were two voices between the county council and the chairman of the Public Assistance Committee. The county council had never been under the misapprehension that an able-bodied man should not receive relief except under a test, and I will leave it to the county council and the chairman of the Public Assistance Committee to settle their direct contradiction between them. Undoubtedly what the council said to us cannot be made to square with the public utterances of the chairman of the Public Assistance Committee on the eve of the Whitechapel election.
With regard to work which might be done for wages, I will quote the last letter we sent to the London County Council. We said we approved of certain schemes of work subject to the condition that our approval covered no work which formed part of the necessary maintenance and which otherwise would be done for wages. That is a perfectly definite statement. We also said that training must be a serious matter, that training for indefinite periods was positively repugnant to the whole nature of training, and that such training or such educational work should be for fixed periods. That letter has gone to the London County Council and we now await their answer. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Dr. Phillips), in her remarks on Poor Law administration, stated that sick and infirm people assigned their pensions under undue pressure from the relieving officer 152 and asked the Minister to give that matter serious attention. We gave it serious attention some weeks ago. We took the matter up with the Sunderland committee and the Sunderland committee said they were reconsidering the whole matter. There have been some adumbrations in the Press to the effect that what they are considering is a plan to give half-a-crown a week to the pensioners. In that matter, we did all we have been asked to do several weeks ago, and we expect an answer after the local authority have had time to consider our representations.
I come to the question of the casuals. The hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd) is honourably distinguished by the part he has played for the casuals, both on the committee and in this House. I have in my hand lists of the questions asked by him and asked by other Members of the House with regard to the deplorable conditions of the casuals in many of our casual wards. On the opposite benches there are two hon. Members who have pressed particularly the question of the plank bed and the stone floor. At that time they received very little comfort from hon. Members opposite and not once but twice the right hon. Member who occupied my place in the last Government said that he had no reason to believe that the guardians were not carrying out the recommendations of the Commission.
Let us go back and see how little has been done to carry out the desire of every humane Member of the House. I will take Oxfordshire. I have already stated that the hon. Member for Oxford pressed the question of the plank bed and the stone floor, and the answer which he received was that investigations were being made. I have here the report for Oxfordshire made in 1930, and it states that the sleeping arrangements in the casual wards leave a good deal to be desired and that in some cases bedsteads are supplied, while in other wards beds on trestles or wooden platform beds were in use. Those are precisely the abuses which were pressed on the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain).
153 We have put into force in our casual order all the recommendations of the departmental committee, and never again will casuals have to sleep on the floor.
Let hon. Members believe that I am speaking the truth about this matter. I have spent some time visiting casual wards throughout the country. There are casual wards which are perfectly well managed, the London casual wards are decent and clean, the Birmingham casual wards are distinguished, and in Manchester they are mostly good. Only the other day I was in a casual ward where the casuals had to sleep on stone floors on which chaff was strewn. I have been to casual wards where men were habitually locked up two in a cell to sleep on a floor with a coverlet or overlay. I have been through the reports of these wards one by one and I say, and I say it deliberately, that nothing more incredibly uncivilised than the conditions under which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston left the casual wards in a great many places can possibly be imagined. This was not for the want of notice being given. I have here a list of 336 questions which were asked on casual matters in this House, and in face of all this, hon. Members spent a good deal of the time of Parliament placing upon the Statute Book a Measure appointing commissioners to supersede boards of guardians instead of endeavouring to obtain powers to prevent these unfortunate men having to sleep in their clothes on stone floors. Now in these places we have ordered beds and mattresses. We have done away with the skilly. We have given them a proper diet, a decent diet, and we have done away with the stone-breaking tasks.
Hon. Members opposite talk about road-making and stone-breaking, but they do not know even the elements of the subject. The stone-breaking which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston permitted was stone-breaking in a cell. The man was put into it, and had to break stone and pass it through the window, and he was not let out until he had either completed the task or had served his eight hours. That was given, under the right hon. Gentleman, indiscriminately to all casuals—to men who had never been accustomed to stone-breaking, men who hurt their hands over 154 it. When we came in, it is true that the humanity of the local authorities had revolted, and a great many authorities whom the right hon. Gentleman permitted to do it had dropped it because it was so hateful a task. But when we came in it was still being exercised by certain authorities. It is true that it has been reported to us that four authorities do a little road-making and making paths in their institutions, and it is true that, if you put men on to making paths in an institution, they do break a little stone.
As regards quarrying work, there is one quarry, where suitable persons are put on to work for the authority; but there is no hardship either in quarrying work or in making paths for men who axe accustomed to it, and no labouring person would refuse such work. But stone breaking—mere stone, with no admixture of other work, carried out in cells, and applied to all casuals—is a thing which is now absolutely forbidden. If there is any task which involves a little incidental stone-breaking—and there are such cases—it has to come for approval to the Ministry, and, if we think that the stone-breaking is not too much and is incidental to the task, we approve of it; but, as I have said, there are only four such cases, and there is only one quarry. The corn-grinding task, which I think is almost as bad as stone-breaking—it is the old treadmill, only worked by hand—which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston's appointed guardians introduced in West Ham, has gone the way of the stone-breaking, and we hope that this feature of the casual wards, which was a blot on the Poor Law will be wiped out, and that the casual wards will give decent and humane treatment.
I should like just to refer to one thing that was said, and that is with regard to the sorting of the casuals. We found that no less than 15 per cent. of the samples taken were mental deficients, and among these 800, I am horrified to say, were men and women who were insane—poor, crazy old people, running about without anyone to care for them. We have given instructions that there shall be a periodical medical examination, and we have asked the local authorities, whenever it is possible, to conduct their examinations on the same day, in order to avoid 155 examining the same people over again; and we hope to get off the roads these poor, unfortunate, crazy and semi-crazy people who ought to be in lunatic asylums. With regard to the voluntary societies, anybody who knows the good work that is given by them and by the Salvation Army cannot but feel that it is a good thing to bring charitable association into touch with the authority, and that we have done; we have pressed the authority to do that. I do not know anything in the world that I look upon with greater pleasure than what my right hon. Friend has done for casuals. It is one of the things that make all the political strife seem worth while.
I come to the question of housing, and there are certain minor points which I will take first, which are not in themselves unimportant, but which are unconnected with my main argument. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) spoke strongly, but not too strongly, on the question of the high rents in Manchester. That is a matter which my Department has frequently brought to the attention of Manchester, and, as far as I can understand it, the difference between Manchester and the rest of the country is in the high cost of the houses. That does not seem to my Department to be a thing which can very well be justified. Let me give one example. In Manchester, the contractor's price for a house is £361, but in Birmingham, which is a most successful housing authority, whose conditions are more or less comparable with those of Manchester, the contractor's price is only £290 per house. That is a considerable difference. Manchester is a very good housing authority as far as quantity goes and as far as slum clearance goes; but they are building a particularly expensive kind of house. That matter has received the attention of the Department and will, I hope, be rectified. The hon. Member for Sunderland complained of the programme of the Sunderland authorities. She said, I think, that they were building only 1,000 houses in five years. That is a mistake. They are building 1,000 houses under the 1930 Act and 2,000 houses under the 1924 Act, a total of 3,000 houses and not 1,000.
§ Dr. PHILLIPS
I said under the 1930 Act. I was referring to the 3,500 houses 156 that were declared unfit for human habitation, which is the statement of the medical officers of health. Of those houses it is proposed within five years to demolish 712 and to build 1,000 in place of them. My information was given in reply to a question that I put to the Minister of Health.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I do not think it is fair to Sunderland to announce to the House that the programme is 1,000 houses when in reality it is 3,000, and I ought to make that correction.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
No, I have explained that the total programme is not 1,000 but 3,000 houses. It is no correction of the answer, which merely dealt with one specific point.
The hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. West) complained of the deplorable condition of the slums in his constituency. I really hardly know a place where the slums are worse than in the Royal Borough of Kensington. It is also true that the Kensington Borough Council have only put forward some 50 houses for demolition, but I think I ought to say that the London County Council is now conducting a survey of the boroughs and that we have asked them to take the Royal Borough of Kensington early in that survey and to submit to us a report of what the London County Council, as the larger housing authority, mean to do in that district. When that is done, we shall announce our decision.
I come to the main Debate. I still must daily by the way to point out some of the engaging fallacies of the right hon. Gentleman who was formerly Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. He began with the old question of prices. He said the Addison houses in 1921 were at an enormous height, that they dropped on account of the reduction of the subsidy, that they went down in a healthy way during the Conservative administration and that we had stopped production. I have repeatedly pointed out, and I thought the right hon. Gentleman had learnt the lesson, that in 1921 the prices of everything in the world soared, that they went up with the extraordinary changes in the value of money and that 157 houses and everything else dropped in the main in the same manner. They dropped to £424 in 1924. They picked up during the following years. When the right hon. Gentleman went out of office, the prices, corresponding more or less to the general fall in commodities, stood at £362, in 1929 they went down to £345 and in 1930 they went down to £340. Prices have continued to drop during our administration. I do not say we are satisfied. We still consider that there is too great a difference between the drop in wholesale prices and the price of houses. But it is not true to say that the reduction in price did not continue at more or less the same speed as under the right hon. Gentleman's administration.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
Will the hon. Lady remember that the actual figures are a reduction in the last year of only 2d. a superficial foot, and for the previous four years of 2s.?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
When we came in, the total price for a non-parlour house stood at £362 and it has now dropped to £340, and it is not true to say that we have stopped the reduction. I come to the same old fallacy with regard to the total supply of houses which the hon. Gentleman opposite has mentioned. What happened was that in 1929 the private enterprise houses ceased to receive a subsidy. We had often said that the subsidy under the Chamberlain Act bad ceased its usefulness, and that private enterprise would build just as well without a subsidy as with a subsidy. And so the subsidy for private enterprise houses was taken off in 1929. The favourite trick of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich is to compare State-assisted houses, local authorities and private enterprise, lumped together at some date previous to 1929, and local authority houses for a year subsequent to 1929. I had better give, in order to show the effect of it, the total number of houses built by private enterprise, assisted or not assisted, and by local authorities for the last three years. The total number built in 1928, by local authorities, assisted private enterprise and not assisted private enterprise, was 166,415; in 1929 the number, all in, was 203,443, and in 1930 it sank to 161,699 houses. The Financial Memorandum of 1924 accounted for assisted private enterprise houses as well as those of local 158 authorities. I have the Act here. I hate to say that so great a housing authority as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Withington has made a little slip. If he will look at Section 4 of the Act he will see that the reference is to all houses receiving the subsidy. That is to say that in that total of figures we included not only the Wheatley houses but the Chamberlain houses, the private enterprise houses, in respect of subsidy.
§ Mr. SIMON
On the last page of that document is the total giving the calculations showing the number of houses estimated each year to make up 2,500,000, and on the last page but one the number of houses multipliable by £9 to show what the cost would be. That £9 is only under the Wheatley Act.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
In the Financial Memorandum you have the agreement, and in Section 4 of the Act the estimated number of houses includes the private enterprise houses. This document shows the progress of houses, State-assisted houses built by public and private enterprise. For the maximum estimate the programme was 210,000 houses for 1933. These were the houses mentioned in the Section, the subsidy receiving houses, including the Chamberlain private enterprise houses. Then, for the purpose of making that maximum estimate it was said, "Let us take an extreme case, in which private enterprise builds nothing and every house receives the higher subsidy." For the purpose of that estimate and for the purpose of giving the highest figure possible it was assumed that private enterprise built nothing and that everything received the subsidy.
§ Mr. SIMON
I thank the hon. Lady, but she has omitted something. The table shows that the 2,500,000 houses received the £9 subsidy, as though they were all under the Wheatley Act. She now says that that was not the intention. All I can say is that it is most misleading.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
If the hon. Member will look at Section 4 of the Act he will see that it provides for the posi- 159 tion where the total number of State-assisted houses do not reach two-thirds of the numbers put down in the Schedule. All the houses are included in the estimate. Then for the purpose of the finance of the estimate it was said: "Let us suppose that all these houses receive the higher subsidy." That is how the misunderstanding may have arisen. I apologise to the hon. Member if he has been misled on a minor matter, and I hope he will accept it from me that really he has made a trifling slip.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I have dealt with the old joke about the prices in 1921 being due to the Addison subsidy, and I have dealt with the contentions of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). I will now come to the question of the progress of housing. Local authority housing went down a little during 1930. When we came in, local authority housing was 52,900. It amounted to 52,700 in 1929 and it stood at 49,000 houses in 1930. There were reasons for that reduction. The local authorities undoubtedly held their hands while the Act was in progress through this House, but the moment it went through building went forward, and in the quarter October to December, 1929, they actually built 14,947 houses. They were building in that quarter at the rate of nearly 60,000 houses a year. The actual figure of houses under construction in March last year was 25,000, and it is now 36,000. The hon. Member really showed ignorance when he said that the number under construction in March was a very bad figure. It is a very good figure.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I am not satisfied. When they were building 25,000 houses last March, the total was a little under 50,000 a year. They are now building 36,000, and if they build 72,000, it will be a very considerable increase, and it does show an upgrade in housing. It is asked, what are the local authorities going to do? It is said we have only estimates, hopes and promises. The fact is 160 that we have in our hands the programme of the authorities charged with bringing out their programmes by 1st January. Perhaps I had better explain that there are two classes of local authorities. There are the urban districts of over 20,000, including about five-eighths of the population, and then there are all the other authorities, amounting to three-eighths. The urban authorities were asked to bring out a five-year programme. With the others, it was a slower process. The programme-making authorities number 289, and 278 of these have brought out their programmes. These programmes show the immense increase of no less than 80 per cent. over the actual building last year carried out by these authorities. They were responsible last year for about 37,000 houses. Their programmes provide for an average of about 67,000 houses a year for the next five years.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
When London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and all the great authorities of the country send in their programmes to the Ministry of Health, yes, I do believe they will carry them out. I believe it all the more for the reason that some of them have intimated that they will do better than their word.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Yes, up-to-date. The London County Council sent forward a fairly good programme, but they indicated clearly to us that they were giving only the absolute minimum, and that they proposed to conduct a detailed survey of London, so that they hoped to add to the programme. I do believe that when local authorities give us a fixed programme of five years that they mean to carry it out. An increase of 80 per cent. on last year's building is an enormous one. Those are the programme - making authorities. The others are a little slower. If private enterprise, now wholly unassisted, comes up to its previous performance, the number of houses will be about 107,000; that is to say, an average increase for five years of well over 200,000. I do not say that this is all that we want, but I do say that it is a most remarkable advance in housing. We do not blame the bulk of local authori- 161 ties. As a whole, they have responded magnificently to the appeal of the Minister.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The hon. Member for Sutton, Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) was not in the House when I was explaining the matter, and she is now dealing with scraps which she has picked up outside the Committee. I say that it is a most remarkable response on the part of local authorities. We are not satisfied with this admirable result, but I do say that we have had an excellent response from local authorities. Since the Armistice, that is, since 1918, only 11,000 houses have been demolished. In the programmes of the five-eighths it is estimated that 67,000 houses will be demolished and replaced in the next five years. That is to say, that the annual average will be considerably greater than the total attained during all the years since 1919. Is not that a hopeful sign of progress? Hon. Members opposite seemed to think that I should have a hard task in justifying the housing programme of the Government. They could not have listened very carefully to the
§ statement of my right hon. Friend. We have reason to thank the local authorities for their response and to know that they are making a considerable advance, and no Parliamentary Secretary ever had an easier task that I have in closing this Debate in explaining our hopes in regard to housing, which are founded on present performances and not on vague promises.
§ Mr. de ROTHSCHILD
Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether the Government propose to build more houses than the Conservative Government built? I understand that the Conservative Government built 200,000 houses a year.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
When the right hon. Gentleman opposite said that the Conservative Government had built 1,500,000 houses he was counting in all those under the Wheatley Act, all of ours, and all the houses which private enterprise has built. The total of 200,000 houses a year was only reached on one occasion; and that was when the subsidy was in danger of being ended.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £13,116,112, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 72; Noes, 199.163
|Division No. 209.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Albery, Irving James||Fielden E. B.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l., W.)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Muirhead, A. J.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Owen, H. F. (Hereford)|
|Astor, Viscountess||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Atkinson, C.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Remer, John R.|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Rothschild, J. de|
|Beamish, Rear-admiral T. P. H.||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Betterton, Sir Henry B.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Bracken, B.||Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford)||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Smithers, Waldron|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T,||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Inskip, Sir Thomas||Thompson, Luke|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Law, Sir Alfred (Derby, High Peak)||Train, J.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lewis, Oswald (Colchester)||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford)||Lockwood, Captain J. H.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Margesson, Captain H. D.|
|Dugdale, Capt. T. L.||Marjoribanks, Edward||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Captain Sir George Bowyer and|
|Major the Marquess of Titchfield.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Arnott, John||Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Attlee, Clement Richard||Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigle M.||Ayles, Walter||Bennett, William (Battersea, South)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')||Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Benson, G.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Barnes, Alfred John||Birkett, W. Norman|
|Ammon, Charles George||Batey, Joseph||Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret|
|Bowen, J. W.||Law, A. (Rossendale)||Rosbotham, D. S. T.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Lawrence, Susan||Rowson, Guy|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Lawson, John James||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Brooke, W.||Lawther, w. (Barnard Castle)||Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)|
|Brothers, M.||Leach, W.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire)||Lees, J.||Sandham, E.|
|Buchanan, G.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Sawyer, G. F.|
|Burgess, F. G.||Lloyd, C. Ellis||Scurr, John|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||Logan, David Gilbert||Sexton, Sir James|
|Caine, Hall-, Derwent||Longbottom, A. W.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Cameron, A. G.||Longden, F.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Cape, Thomas||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Shield, George William|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Lunn, William||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Charleton, H. C.||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Church, Major A. G.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Shinwell, E.|
|Clarke, J. S.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Cluse, W. S.||McElwee, A.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||McEntee, V. L.||Sinkinson, George|
|Compton, Joseph||McKinlay, A.||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Daggar, George||MacLaren, Andrew||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Dallas, George||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Dalton, Hugh||McShane, John James||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Manning, E. L.||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Duncan, Charles||Mansfield, W.||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|Ede, James Chuter||March, S.||Sorensen, R.|
|Edmunds, J. E.||Marcus, M.||Stamford, Thomas W.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Marley, J.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Marshall, Fred||Sullivan, J.|
|Egan, W. H.||Mathers, George||Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)|
|Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Matters, L. W.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)|
|Gibson, H. M. (Lancs. Mossley)||Messer, Fred||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Gill, T. H.||Middleton, G.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Gillett, George M.||Milner, Major J.||Tillett, Ben|
|Gossling, A. G.||Montague, Frederick||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Gould, F.||Morley, Ralph||Toole, Joseph|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Tout, W. J.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Mort, D. L.||Townend, A. E.|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Muggeridge, H. T.||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Murnin, Hugh||Vaughan, David|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Naylor, T. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Walker, J.|
|Harbord, A.||Noel Baker, P. J.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Hardie, George D.||Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Oldfield, J. R.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Hayes, John Henry||Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Palin, John Henry||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.)||Palmer, E. T.||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||West, F. R.|
|Herriotts, J.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Westwood, Joseph|
|Hopkin, Daniel||Phillips, Dr. Marion||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield)||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Isaacs, George||Pole, Major D. G.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Johnston, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Potts, John S.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Price, M. P.||Wilson, J. (Oldham)|
|Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Quibell, D. J. K.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston)||Raynes, W. R.||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh)|
|Kelly, W. T.||Richards, R.||Young, R. S. (Islington, North)|
|Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Knight, Holford||Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Ritson, J.||Mr. T. Henderson and Mr. Paling.|
|Lathan, G.||Romeril, H. G.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Questions again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.