Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,919,120 (including a Supplementary sum of £36,700) 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, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Health for Scotland; including Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, certain Grants to Local Authorities, &c., Grant in Aid of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, Grants in Aid 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.—£1,100,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
From the mere recital of the Estimate the Committee will see the large number of topics to which I might direct attention, but I think I shall be reflecting the wishes of the Committee if I address myself mainly to the question of housing. I am satisfied that if I can initiate a discussion of value on the topic of housing in Scotland I shall be dealing with a topic which the Committee deems to be the most important.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Before the Under-Secretary initiates any further, I would ask him what he means by simply dealing with housing. Were we not to embrace health with housing?
§ Mr. SKELTON
Even on my first sentence the hon. Member asks me a question. The main topic which I propose to deal with to-day is housing, but if any hon. Member desires to raise other questions I shall, of course, do my best to deal with them in reply, but I am satisfied that in the whole area of 1112 activity of the Department the question of housing is the most vital before it. There are, however, one or two other matters about which I desire to say a few words before I turn to housing. First let me say that the total amount of the Estimate shows an increase of £150,000. That £150,000 represents an increased expenditure upon housing. The estimated expenditure has increased by £156,000, but certain reductions have reduced the increase to £150,000.
The two topics I want to say a few words about before I turn to housing, are, first of all, questions connected with public health, and some connected with water supply. On both these topics I shall be very brief. The record of public health as tested, first by infant mortality, and secondly by maternal mortality, shows for 1933 a small but definite improvement. I do not say that we can draw any general deduction from an improvement extending over 12 months only, but I think the Committee will be glad to know, with regard to infant mortality, that the figure has fallen from 86 per 1,000 in 1932 to 81 per 1,000 in 1933—a very definite fall. With regard to maternal mortality,.Which I dealt with at some length last year on this day, I can also report a small reduction. In 1932 the mortality was 6.3 per 1,000, and this year it has fallen to 5.9 per 1,000. It is in fact as low a figure as we have had since 1924. Least of all on that topic do I seek to draw any general deduction.
The Department has a very elaborate and scientific investigation in progress on. maternal mortality, and it is much more important that the cases should be most closely examined and sound deductions drawn than that we should seek to hasten the production of the report. I am sure the whole Committee look forward to reading with great interest the results of the scrutiny, which is more detailed and more widely extended than any other scrutiny on this important topic conducted elsewhere.
Let me turn to the subject of water, which South of the Tweed is a very urgent matter. Fortunately we are most definitely better off in Scotland. Last December we were in considerable anxiety, but the resources of the Scottish climate came to our aid, and the months particularly of January, April and May did more than their average work with 1113 regard to rainfall. April produced a. rainfall which was 82 per cent, above the average of the last 35 years. May gave 20 per cent, and January 17 per cent. That has very much improved the situation. There are a few places where it is necessary to cut off the water within certain hours, and there are other districts and places where it has been necessary to issue warning notices; but, speaking generally, while we are watching the situation with very great care, it may be said that the existing provisions for water supply are functioning according to their ability. I use that phrase because it brings me to the other topic I want to deal with—the existing provisions. The next thing is to improve the existing provisions.
As the Committee know, an Act was passed this year which gave, for the assistance of rural water supply in England, £1,000,000, and in Scotland the sum of £137,000. Following that Act, the Department asked for applications for schemes to be put before it by 15th June. These applications are now in. They are 176 in number and they cover schemes representing a total expenditure of £1,095,000. Our grant of £137,000, if distributed by way of a flat rate system, would amount to some 12 per cent. of that total; but the Committee know that we do not think that in this matter a mere flat rate assistance is the proper way to proceed. Therefore we propose to allocate that grant in order of need. I mention that only to show that the considerations which will be before us in determining which application shall receive a grant and what amount it shall be, are (1) the requirements of public health; (2) the requirements of housing; and (3) the financial needs of the area from which the application comes. That is all I can say on that topic for the moment.
I now turn to the question of housing in Scotland, and I am glad to say that I am able to submit an account of work achieved which I think the Committee will regard as satisfactory. Before I deal with the general work of the construction of new houses and the operation of the 1933 Act and all those interesting topics, let me clear out of the way the question of the extent to which the reconditioning of rural cottages in Scotland has proceeded during the last year. The number of rural cottages reconditioned under the Acts of 1926 and 1931, 1114 during the year 1933, was 2,815, which, if not the highest figure ever reached in any one year, is a very high figure. That brings the total number of cottages reconditioned to 14,012. That the work is still going on is shown by the fact that applications for grants for reconditioning during 1933 were also up to a good standard. They numbered 2,800 as against 2,600 in the previous year. Without developing the subject further, I think I may say that these Acts, for which Members on both sides of the Committee are responsible—the Conservative party having passed the original Act and the Labour party the amending Act—are, so far as Scotland is concerned, functioning constantly and effectively for the reconditioning of houses mainly in the rural areas.
I now come to the main question of the work which has been achieved in the rehousing of the people since last the Department's Estimates were considered in Committee of Supply. Let me say at once that, as regards the number of houses completed with State assistance, 1933 was a record year. The number of houses completed under all the Acts was 20,915, the previous highest figure having been in 1927 when the number completed was 20,158. The past year's achievement thus wins by almost 800 houses over the previous best. But that is not everything. The figure which I have just given is the figure up to 31st December, 1933, but for the first six months of 1934 we have again a record. The number of houses completed with State assistance during those six months was 11,850. The previous highest figure for a six months period was in the year before and the figure in that case was 9,051. The Committee may ask whether the total for the present year will reach or surpass the record of last year. I cannot make an estimate but I can say that with 2,600 houses in hand at the end of the first six months, it looks as if the figures for 1934 would certainly bear comparison with those for 1933. For the rest we had better await the event.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Under all the Acts. The year 1933 with which we are mainly dealing is interesting in this respect as being the year in which the Housing Act 1115 passed by this Parliament began to function. The Committee will I am sure desire me to give a full account of the functioning of the Act. I shall endeavour to give not only a full but I hope a clear and impartial account of what has been done under that Measure. I would first recall to the Committee that the objective of the 1933 Act was to concentrate State assistance and local activity upon slum clearance. We brought to an end the £9 subsidy under the 1924 Act and we attempted to concentrate the attention of local authorities on the major problem of slum clearance and I submit that it is by its effect upon slum clearance that the 1933 Act must be judged. That is the test. Slum clearance began as a result of the 1923 Act and was carried on by the 1930 Act. The 1923 Act began to operate in 1924 and in the nine years from 1924 to 1932, the total number of slum clearance houses completed was 19,699. That figure represented the work of nine years. In the 18 months including 1933 and the first half of 1934 the total number of slum clearance houses completed has been 11,647. That is 11,647 for 18 months as against 19,700 for nine years—a very striking advance to which I particularly direct the attention of the Committee.
We were not content with attempting to concentrate the attention of local authorities upon slum clearance merely by legislating. We have attempted, not without success, to institute a real drive in administration and in every other way possible towards the development of slum clearance programmes and the acceleration of the work. It will be recalled that on 31st December, 1933, the time had come for local authorities to send in returns of their requirements and their estimated programmes for the ensuing five year period. The estimated number of uninhabitable houses in Scotland was set down at 61,200 and the local authorities programmes—for the most part fixed but in some proportion still rovisional—propose for the period to secure the building of 56,394 houses, that is to say just over 92 per cent. of the total number of houses recognised as uninhabitable houses in Scotland at present. It may be asked why have only a 92 per cent. programme? Why the margin of 8 percent.? Some small proportion of these 61,000 houses may be capable of 1116 being reconditioned. I do not think it will exceed the 8 per cent., but my impression is that the programmes promised by the local authorities, fixedly or provisionally, will amount to very nearly 100 per cent. of the requirements, so far as slum clearance is concerned.
The real drive in housing does not consist merely in stimulating local authorities to put forward good programmes. It consists also in giving them every assistance to carry out these programmes that the central Department can give, and it is for that reason that I draw particular attention to new administrative assistance which, within the last few months, we are giving to the local authorities. We have named it the "Flying Squad," but it consists of experts who go round to the local authorities giving them every kind of assistance, which, without going into too great detail falls into two classes; first, assistance in pointing out to them the full resources of the existing legislation; and, secondly and more important, the best technical assistance on structural and other practical questions. That new branch of the Department came into existence last May. Already it has assisted 125 housing authorities out of a total of 228 in Scotland, and, without going into details, I can assure the Committee that the work it is doing is extremely valuable and that it is well worth its institution.
The institution of this most valuable administrative assistance was, if I may say so in his presence, directly the result of the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and it is only another example of his insight and foresight in every practical administrative problem, with regard to which, as we say in Scotland, a poor lawyer buddy can only stand and admire. It is the essence of the idea that we should have this constant touch on their own ground with the local authorities, and I hope the local authorities will agree that the work already done in helping them is of real value. First of all, it has already helped to increase the programmes that the local authorities have put forward, but also it is helping to accelerate their completion.
Let me deal now with the further progress of slum clearance as a result of this drive: I gave the Committee the figures of the completions in the last 18 months, as against those for the previous nine 1117 years, but that is not the end of it. The best test of the way in which the momentum in slum clearance is gathering is the number of tenders which have been approved for the construction of new houses, and I will give one or two figures which I think are very illuminating. The tenders which were approved in the year 1931 numbered 5,500; in the year 1932 they numbered 8,191; in 1933 that figure had increased to 8,643; but, if we are to test how things are getting on up to the actual moment, we must see bow the tenders for the first six months of this year compare. The tenders for the first six months of 1933 were 4,807, and for the first six months of this year they were 6,738; that is to say, an increase of Almost 2,000. It does not end there. Taking it up almost to to-day, the tenders approved for the first fortnight of July of this year numbered 822, whereas the tenders approved for the whole month of July last year numbered only 880, and it looks as if in July we shall get 100 per cent increase. I think I am not overstating it when I say that there is a constantly increasing momentum and intensity in the work of getting on with the new slum clearance houses, and I am satisfied that, returning again to the functioning of the 1933 Act, we could not have got that result, and the even better results that we hope to get in the months ahead of us, unless we had concentrated the attention of the local authorities in the first place on the slum clearance problem.
The Committee will expect me to say one word on the other provisions of the 1933 Act. It was intended that private enterprise should do the main work of building houses to let for the working classes, and that for that purpose they should receive the assistance of building society loans for a particularly high percentage guaranteed by the State. Let me be perfectly frank. Under that particular provision very little has been done, and only one scheme, of 260 houses, has been approved. That was in Edinburgh; but that does not end the activities of private enterprise. I think the most remarkable new phenomenon in housing in Scotland is the greatly increased activity of private enterprise in building houses of five apartments or under, mainly, of course, to sell. I am not saying that these houses are necessarily working-class houses—I do not make that point—but I do say that the addition of the 1118 figures which I am going to give to the total supply of new houses in Scotland must have a very considerable effect. I am not going to dogmatise, but I will say that we are watching what the effect will be with the very greatest possible interest.
I think it was the year 1927 when the Department first got information as to the number of houses completed by private enterprise. That was, at all events, the first year of accurate statistics. In that year private enterprise completed houses of five apartments and under—I disregard the others—to the number of 1,502; in 1928 it rose to 1,703; and after that, between 1928 and 1932, the figures were lower. In 1932 the number of this class of house completed by unassisted private enterprise was actually 1,456. Now what happened in 1933? That figure of 1,456 rose at a bound to 5,202—very remarkable—and, as far as we can see, that new level of private enterprise construction of houses of five apartments and under is being to a very considerable extent maintained, because in the first six months of this year 1,724 have been completed, which is a higher number for six months than for any whole year before 1933. I said that I was not going to dogmatise, and I have not the material for doing so, but it is a fact that some of these houses approach the capacity of the better paid wage-earning class.
§ Mr. SKELTON
No. They are unassisted private enterprise houses. The supply of these houses for the better paid wage-earners will, I believe, have very important results. It is a striking thing that this new level of private enterprise building has been reached and that it has occurred after the introduction of the 1933 Act.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
Is the Under-Secretary trying to draw a moral from the jump in the figures in the last 18 months? Can he make any statement of the rent that is being charged or are the houses only for sale?
§ Mr. SKELTON
They are to an enormous extent for sale only. There are a few examples for letting—only 28, I think, for the first quarter of this year. I have scrutinised the rents that are 1119 payable for this small proportion, and I find that some of them are approaching working-class levels. I will not say more than that.
§ Mr. SKELTON
It would not be possible now because I have not the figures, but, if any one wishes to pursue this question in subsequent speeches, I will give any details that I can in my reply. I do not want to draw any definite moral. I merely say it is an interesting phenomenon which, I think, will have some relation to the general question of housing.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
Does the Under-Secretary attribute the large increase to the lower cost of materials?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am not going to draw any general deduction. There is a variety of causes, but there is nothing worse than trying to give premature explanations of a phenomenon. Even a scientist would not do that. Let me turn to another feature of the 1933 Act, the £3 subsidy which was for houses to rent to low-paid wage earners living in overcrowded conditions. Here, again, I frankly admit that the results in figures have been disappointing. We have now 1,253 of these houses completed, under construction, or approved. We know that every one of these houses will pull their weight, that the right people will go into them, and that State money is being applied to what we want to apply it to, namely, the assistance of low-paid wage earners whose economic situation compels them to live in overcrowded conditions. We have undertakings from the local authorities that they will select only the low-paid wage earners and people living in overcrowded conditions for these houses, and we shall see when the time comes for paying the subsidies that these undertakings are carried out.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not think so. This is the nearest approach that has been made directly to cater for the re-housing of people who are unemployed. We have never before by legislation fixed a rent at all or fixed a rent at such a low figure. These are the comments I 1120 wish to make on the 1933 Act, and that is the situation as I think it can be impartially put before the Committee—this great extension of activity against slum clearance, this extraordinary phenomenon of the increase of unassisted private enterprise building, and the building of the smaller class of house for workers from overcrowded districts under the £3 subsidy. Let me complete this by saying that we have had almost universal expressions of opinion from local authorities that in their experience the £3 subsidy was not high enough.
I cannot go into the question of future legislation, but I can say that the next stage of our programme is to deal drastically, thoroughly, completely, and we hope finally, with the questions of over-crowding. I cannot deal with the actual provisions because they will have to be in legislative form, but I would say in regard to the £3 subsidy that it has blazed a fresh trail in housing. It has laid down by Statute a maximum limit of rent, and it has laid down that State assistance Should be given to people of low wage-earning capacity and that the people who most need re-housing are those living in over-crowded conditions. Those provisions which surround the £3 subsidy will dominate the considerations of future State assistance to cure over-crowding, and ensure that the assistance of the State will be most wisely applied to the low-paid wage earner. My right hon. Friend and the Department of Health and all connected with Scottish administration, either local or central, are convinced that the problem of over-crowding is peculiarly Scottish, peculiarly dangerous, and one which, as a famous figure said at this Box, brooks no delay.
In Scotland almost 15 per cent. of our people are living three to a room. The English figure, which I think is worked out on equivalent data, is only some 15 per cent. Therefore, we have here a special Scottish problem. My right hon. Friend and I have said again and again that we are determined next Session to grapple with this problem. I cannot deal with the method which we shall adopt, but I can say that the £3 subsidy of the 1933 Act, which local authorities have pointed out is not in itself sufficient, has blazed the trail along which we must go, and that we must concentrate upon the low wage earner and on seeing that the rent he pays for the house that is built 1121 is one which he can afford. We must concentrate on the over-crowded areas in Scotland and clean them out and spread out the people who are living in them. That is the fundamental problem of the social life of Scotland. It is for the purpose of putting the position clearly that I have attempted to deal mainly with housing, and I hope the Committee will feel that the upshot of it all is that, mainly thanks to my right hon. Friend, we have got such a drive in slum clearance as we have never had before, and that no effort of energy or intelligence will be spared to deal effectively next Session with the problem of over-crowding.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. M. MACLEAN
I think that the Committee will be quite prepared to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Under-Secretary on what they consider to be a great impetus in the building of houses in Scotland, and, in their opinion, the building of houses for those who are overcrowded, or are living in overcrowded districts. I think that the Committee will also agree, that while they are to be congratulated on the steps which they have taken, the results are not yet sufficiently complete, or, I should say, sufficiently far advanced to enable us to put forward any really considered opinion as to their value in diminishing the slum conditions of Scotland.
Although the speech of the Under-Secretary was mainly concerned with housing, I do not think that other questions should be excluded. There are certain other matters which, though not definitely in the category of housing, may be considered to be so closely related to it as to enable the Committee, while discussing the problem put forward by the Under-Secretary, to bring them under review. I think that the Department of Health for Scotland must also be congratulated on the fact that in three different categories of disease there has been a very marked diminution in the number of deaths. Considering the large amount of depression there has been in Scotland, the reduced incomes of the household, and, consequently, the reduced vitality of large numbers of those who are living in overcrowded conditions particularly in working-class areas, the fact that from tuberculosis, for instance, there has been such a marked decline in 1122 the death rate is, I think, at least something upon which we can congratulate ourselves. At the same time the increase in deaths from such a complaint as influenza may be considered as due in part to the lowered vitality of the people owing to reduced incomes in households in working-class areas.
The figures which the Under-Secretary has given us with regard to housing are most interesting. They show, as he has said, a very definite and marked increase within recent years. But may I be permitted to point out that the large numbers of houses which have been built by private enterprise must not be considered as in any marked degree—I will not say "in any way "—affecting the housing conditions of those who form the working classes of Scotland. The five-apartment and four-apartment houses which are being built by private enterprise are not the houses which are being occupied by what one would classify as the working classes of Scotland. As a matter of fact, if one goes through what used to be called the middle-class districts of Glasgow—districts such as Pollokshields, Ibrox, Dowanhill and Dennistoun—you find houses with five, four and three apartments, with boards out inviting intending house occupants to view them with a view to becoming tenants. I think that those of us who represent divisions of Glasgow will at once agree with the statement that those who have been previously resident in that type of house are the individuals who want to occupy the five-apartment and four-apartment houses, mainly of the bungalow type, which have been built in the last two or three years by the private builder in Scotland.
Therefore, this type of building is really not affecting in any marked degree the overcrowded conditions of the people of Scotland, because it has not yet got down to the working-class districts, where you will still find, as the hon. Member was good enough to admit, 15 per cent. of our population living three to a room, whereas in England the percentage is very markedly lower, namely, two. I think that in itself indicates, that while we can flatter ourselves upon the re-entry, as one might say, of private enterprise into house building, at the same time we cannot flatter ourselves that private enterprise is entering into it in a manner 1123 which is going to affect the housing of that particular class of person for which the Housing Acts which we have been passing here since 1919 were intended. They are not building houses for the working classes, and, consequently, in any discussion of the housing problem the houses of that type which are being built by the private builder ought not to be taken into consideration. If the private builder alone continued building, and no other houses were built under the £3 subsidy or by local authorities to meet the needs of the working-class population, the conditions in the working-class districts would remain practically the same, and, as the houses became worse, would become even more intensified.
Consequently, I cannot agree with the hon. Member if he considers that these houses built by private enterprise are something upon which we can flatter ourselves as indicating in some way a marked increase in the number of houses which are being built for the convenience of those who most require them in Glasgow. I am certain that those who represent divisions of cities like Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen will find that the same problem has arisen in their divisions as we now have in Glasgow. Those who own tenements are complaining bitterly against the local authority being given the subsidy to build working-class houses, when, as a matter of fact, they ought to be complaining against the private builders who are building houses that are attracting tenants from the four-apartment or five-apartment tenement houses to the bungalow type with a garage thrown in.
There are other matters to be discussed in the Debate, and I do not, therefore, want to take up too much time, because a Scottish day is different from an English day on housing, as practically every Scottish Member wants to take part in the Debate, and in the limited time we have to impose upon ourselves the self-denying ordinance which we used to impose upon ourselves in other days, namely, to make our speeches brief, and so enable as many Scottish Members to speak as can be squeezed into the time at our disposal for the two Debates to-day. Therefore, I leave out other matters upon which I might have spoken, and will put one or two pertinent questions to the Under-Secretary.
1124 In a question to-day I brought up once more the matter of the refusal to extend the period during which the old subsidy should be paid to the Glasgow Corporation for a certain number of houses which could not be completed in the stipulated time owing to a trade dispute between the contractors and a section of their employés, namely, the plasterers. On several occasions questions have been put to the right hon. Gentleman, and on each time some reply has been given. I asked last week if it had not been the case that a precedent had already been established for going beyond the period in England. I have here a letter which has been sent on the instructions of a member of the Sheffield Corporation, to the convener of the housing committee of the Glasgow Corporation, which shows the position to be almost identical, as far as I can make out from the letter, with the circumstances which are prevalent in Glasgow with regard to houses which have been left uncompleted. If I may be allowed to do so, I will read the text of the letter:
"Town Hall, Sheffield.
21st June, 1934.
Alderman Gascoigne has asked me to give you some information with reference to a number of houses which the Minister of Health decided should rank for subsidy after the 1924 Act lapsed. The number of houses in question was 472. The Corporation had purchased a large estate to accommodate about 4,500 houses, and when it was decided that no more subsidy should he paid under the 1924 Act, land sufficient to accommodate 358 houses was left over. The street and sewer works had already been completed. and unless the Corporation was able to sell the land or build houses upon it, it would have to be regarded as a heavy loss. After a good deal of pressure by the Estates Committee through the Town Clerk, the Minister eventually decided to allow the subsidy in respect of 472 houses as above stated, leaving 86 to be completed at the Corporation's own expense. It was pointed out by the Minister that a certain sum of money for additional subsidy had been allocated to the whole country,"—
this is the point to which I would draw the attention of the Under-Secretary —and Sheffield's share would he the amount as represented by the subsidy on the 472 houses. It is the Corporation's intention to build the additional 86 houses to complete the estate. and sanction has already been obtained.I submit that, in face of a letter containing such information, it is surely justifiable on the part of the housing committee of Glasgow and the Members of 1125 Parliament who represent Glasgow, to press for a clearer explanation as to why, in a dispute such as we have had in Glasgow, where a large number of houses have been left uncompleted, and no fault is attached to, or laid upon the shoulders of, the Glasgow Corporation, they should be made to suffer and lose what I am informed is a capital value of practically £280,000, spread over the years, taking the number of years for which the subsidy for each house would have to be paid. I suggest that this letter shows that a precedent has been established for continuing the subsidy, and I suggest that the case I have raised might be looked into in order to see whether or not these uncompleted houses in Glasgow might not also rank for subsidy—the houses which were affected by the recent plasterers' dispute.
§ Mr. ALBERT RUSSELL
Does the hon. Member know what additional rate will have to be imposed on the City of Glasgow if it does not get this subsidy?
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am informed that the entire loss will amount to £2280,0100 if it does not get this subsidy. I think I gave that figure. Another matter on which I would like the Minister to give us some information arises out of the report of the Public Accounts Committee and concerns the houses at Rosyth and the steel houses which benefited by grants and subsidies from the Government in the past. According to the report of the Public Accounts Committee certain matters come up again, and I would like to know whether there has been any report made upon this class of house, and whether any further statement can be made with regard to any other class of steel houses, in order that we may clear up satisfactorily the position in regard to these houses.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I will answer that question by letter to-morrow, so that the hon. Member may have the information before the Debate is resumed—that is, with regard to the Rosyth houses.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I have only to add that I hope that in the new Bill which the Minister has visualised we shall have something which will give a greater incentive to local authorities to go ahead with houses and not leave the position as it seems to have been left since the 1126 slum clearance proposals. I am certain that everyone is satisfied with the way in which the local authorities all over Scotland have worked in with the desires of the Scottish Office, and if the hon. Gentleman could send round a flying squad, send round some members of the Treasury to increase the subsidy and enable the Scottish local authorities to build more houses, both in the towns and in the rural areas, I feel sure that within the lifetime of everyone here the slum problem as we know it, and the housing problem as we have known it for so many years. would entirely disappear.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I am sure we all hope that the Under-Secretary will take heed of the hint thrown out by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean). In the War there was a famous and gallant officer who rode round among the Arab tribes with his saddle-bags filled with gold and induced them to rise and fight on our side, and I am sure that if the Under-Secretary of State rode round with promises of large subsidies to the local authorities we should get the housing problem quickly solved. But I am afraid he would find it a difficult task to get a commission from the higher authorities, and, therefore, we must discuss the housing problem within the limits of the situation, financial and legislative, as we have it. I agree with the two hon. Members who have preceded me that the housing problem is not only a vital question, but that it is, of all the questions dealt with in the Annual Report for 1933 of the Department of Health, the most urgent at the present time, and before they spoke I had intended to concentrate my remarks on that topic, with, however, this one exception, that wished to refer briefly to the question of water supplies, which is a matter of great urgency in the part of the country which I represent.
Not only was there a drought last year but, after a wet spring, we now have another dry summer, and the situation is really serious in the Highlands of Scotland. We have had a Bill to deal with rural water supplies, but I hope the Secretary of State, when considering the claims of the large number of hungry, or, rather, I should say, thirsty clients for the aid which he is able to dispense, 1127 will remember that in these Highland counties there are people who are actually drinking water from peat bogs and carting it long distances, and their case ought to have special attention. I am speaking not only for my own counties; all Highland Members will agree that the claims of these scattered communities, living in homes of low rateable value, ought to have both urgent and sympathetic consideration.
I will pass now to the question with which I intend to deal this afternoon, the housing question. I remarked when I rose that it was a particularly urgent problem, and it is urgent for a great many reasons, some of which were dealt with by the two hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me, but a new factor has emerged since we discussed the subject last year. The problem is now seen to be one of even greater magnitude than we believed when considering the report of the Department for 1932. In that report there was a careful analysis of the problem as it then appeared, and it was estimated that 6,100 houses were required annually to replace houses which were gradually becoming unfit and to meet the normal growth of population. That would be 30,500 houses in five years. In addition, it was estimated that there was an actual shortage of 53,000 houses. Adding those two figures together, that meant that over a period of five years, we should require 83,500 houses. That was the size of the problem last year. Since then the local authorities have, with five exceptions—five out of 228—submitted plans of their housing requirements for the years 1934-38, and the total number of houses required is no less than 127,540, which is 50 per cent. more than the figure we discussed last year.
What progress are we making in dealing with this problem? A housing Measure was passed last year which was to deal with the problem both of slum clearance and overcrowding in Scotland, and I wish to know whether it has really increased the number of houses built and the rate at which they are being built. The Department of Health say in their report this year, and it was repeated by the Under-Secretary, that housing continued at an accelerated rate in 1933 and that the output of houses was a record for any year since the national housing effort began in 1919. That re- 1128 port is dated December, 1933, though it only reaches our hands in the middle of 1934. I venture to say, and I am glad the Under-Secretary has come back to hear me say it, that that statement which, as I say, he repeated at the Box this afternoon, does not give a true reflection of the trend of house building in Scotland at the present time. In making that assertion, I base myself on answers given to Parliamentary questions, and I would say how grateful I am to the Under-Secretary and to the officials of the Department for the extraordinary courtesy with which they have provided me with a vast number of detailed figures.
The statement which the Under-Secretary made this afternoon is true, but the statement I am going to make now is also true. While as a result of the concerted action of the local authorities and the Department the number of houses under construction increased all through 1932, and reached the peak figure in April, 1933, when 24,269 houses were under construction, the total number has since then steadily declined. I am not now dealing with slum clearance. The Under-Secretary referred to the flying squadron, and I would pay a tribute to the work of that flying squadron of experts sent out to advise local authorities. I agree that it was a good idea, and the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary deserve our congratulations. But when the Under-Secretary tells us that it is helping to enlarge and to accelerate programmes I can only say that his statement is not reflected in the returns as they are furnished to us in this House. Let me take the number of assisted houses under construction at the end of each month. The peak month was April, 1933; that was the end of the great effort which started in January, 1932, and the figure reached in April, 1933, was 24,269. Since then there has been a steady decline, and at the end of June of this year the figure was 13,515. That is a decline of over 10,000 houses, or of more than 45 per cent. in the number of assisted houses.
§ Mr. SKELTON
In quoting those figures, as the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly justified in doing, he should recollect that the slum clearance programme only began to materialise in January, and that it is only now that its 1129 effects are being reproduced. I believe that we shall very soon approach another peak.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am obliged to the Under-Secretary. The very last thing I would do is to misrepresent him or be unfair to him in argument, and I hope, if he thinks I am, that he will intervene again and stop me. I am coming to the slum clearance figures in a moment, and I agree with the Under-Secretary that there is a more healthy turn to the slum clearance figures in more recent months, but I am now dealing with the actual output of houses since April, 1933, and I say that at a time when the reports of the local authorities show that the need for houses is 50 per cent. greater than it was last year, the output of houses is 45 per cent. smaller.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I hope the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) will not try to make this into a personal controversy. If he wants to challenge my administration, I shall be delighted to defend it, but I cannot believe that that would be interesting to the Committee, at this stage. I particularly want to avoid going into that, and of taking a personal view. I am sorry if the hon. Member wishes to force me into taking a personal view of this problem.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I was dealing with the number of houses constructed last month, and comparing that with the situation in April last year.
§ Mr. K. LINDSAY
Am Ito understand that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that there is a diminution under the Act of 1924?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am giving the total number of houses constructed in Scotland under all Acts, and I am saying that when the need for houses is 50 per cent. more, the total number of houses being constructed in Scotland under all Housing Acts is 45 per cent. less. My statement is as true as that of the Department, but it is more significant, because it shows for the whole range of 1130 housebuilding what is the trend of the Government's policy under the 1933 Act.
Let me break up the problem and turn to one or two of the particular aspects of it, and first to rural houses. As regards reconditioning of those houses, the policy of the right hon. Gentleman is doing well. The number of houses which are being reconditioned is being kept up, and I would like to pay a tribute to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to that. As regards the replacement of uninhabitable houses, the rate of progress is too slow and too patchy, and. the speed at which the work is going on is tending to slacken. It improved about a year ago, and 1933 was a good year, but unfortunately the latest figures, which I received in answer to a Parliamentary question, show that it is falling off.
When the 1933 Act was passing through this House we were very much concerned about rural houses, and we asked particularly that the Government should ensure that effective measures would be taken to deal with the large number of uninhabitable houses in rural areas. The Under-Secretary of State himself described the replacement of uninhabitable houses as the major problem in the rural districts of Scotland, and he gave it as his impression that the county authorities were making adequate use of the Act. The total which I have here shows that out of 33 county authorities, 16 have made no use of the Act in the past year, and of those 16, the majority are Highland and thoroughly rural counties. I am now dealing with the 1930 Act. The counties which are not making progress are those in which the need for the replacement of uninhabitable houses is greatest. I might add that another five counties have only had one scheme each in the last year, and in some cases that scheme covers only four houses—in more than one case, at any rate. It is not surprising, therefore, that the number of houses constructed to replace uninhabitable houses in county areas has declined from 647 to 518, a decline of 130 houses as compared with last year, for the last quarter for which figures are available, that is, March, April and May. I therefore urge that greater use should be made of the powers available to deal with this problem.
I come to the question of the cost of houses. Speaking on 10th April last year, the Under-Secretary told us that the 1131 three-apartment houses in Glasgow were costing £231 and that in Edinburgh the figure was more striking, £243, for a three-apartment house. He told us that there was a progressive decline in house construction, and he asserted that he was satisfied that the fall in housing costs was by no means at an end. We took the opposite view and said that the more successful the Act was the more certain it was to raise housing costs. We are not surprised that the cost is now up in Glasgow to £248 and in Edinburgh to £262. I cannot help thinking that if housing is accelerated, as we hope it is to be, we face the certainty that housing costs will rise. That is one of the reasons why we said that the £3 subsidy would prove to be wholly inadequate to provide the houses required. I have no doubt that this upward trend is one reason why local authorities are so reluctant to use the £3 subsidy. There were two main clauses in the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, in one of which a guarantee was given to enable building corporations to build houses by private enterprise, and under the other, the £3 subsidy was given to local authorities. I would ask the Secretary of State what is the position with regard to the guarantee. The Under-Secretary of State said to-day, and I was informed in answer to a question on 26th June:One scheme, comprising 260 houses, has been approved for guarantee purposes under Section 3 of the Act of 1933. Of these houses, which were approved in April last, 20 have been completed, approximately 180 are under construction, and the remainder have not been begun."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June, 1934; col. 973, Vol. 291.]To-day am informed that the number of houses completed with the help of the guarantee was 20 and the number then approved—that was on 30th June of last year—for guarantee purposes, but not begun, was nil. What has happened to the remaining 240 houses? Is there some reason why they are not being proceeded with?
The private enterprise Clause of the 1933 Act has been of no effect. The Under-Secretary of State tells us that without any guarantee or any assistance of any sort or kind, the very large and notable number of private enterprise houses built has been 5,200. I agree that that is a very good thing. It must be a good thing to have houses being built all 1132 over the country, because the filtering up process must be going on to some extent. Some of us may have put too much weight upon the filtering up process in the past, but that process must be operating to some extent. Other houses must be being cleared for people who cannot afford to have those houses, and that will take some people off the housing market and allow others to filter in to the better houses. Not that this development is remarkable as the Under-Secretary of State tried to persuade us this afternoon. I remember that this time last year, when we were discusisng this very Estimate, the Under-Secretary of State told us that 14 corporations had been formed and that an output of 4,000 houses was expected from them. As there had been 1,456 houses the previous year, it was not unnatural that we should expect something in the order of 5,600 this year. This is no criticism of the hon. Gentleman. I think last year he rightly appreciated the prospect. The guarantee part of the 1933 Act has not been used. The houses are being built by private enterprise as a result of the fall of prices.
I come to the other Clause in regard to the £3 subsidy. The Under-Secretary says that that Clause blazed a trail; am not quite sure what trail it blazed, but in so far as the idea was to concentrate the subsidy assistance upon the lower-paid wage earner—that was the idea which, as he well knows, was in our minds for some time before the introduction of the 1933 Act—it was a sound and a good idea and it received a notable promotion in that Act from the acceptance by the Government of an Amendment put down by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) to restrict the subsidy to houses the rent of which did not exceed 6s. per week. The Government went much farther than that last year. They told us that this subsidy was ample to enable houses to be built to meet the needs of the lower-paid wage earners. I am afraid that that has not proved to be the case. I need not quote the Report of the Department of Health, because the Under-Secretary himself has said that the local authorities are now demanding that greater help should be given to them in their attempt to solve their statutory problem of making provision for the housing of the working classes. This part of the Act has been described by Sir William Whyte as a dead letter, and I 1133 am afraid that that is not an exaggerated description. The Under-Secretary has said that 1,253 houses have been built or are under construction under this Act, but of course that is only as many as were sometimes completed in a month under the regime before the Act of 1933 came into operation. Those 1,253 houses are the total since the Act came into force. Indeed, in 1933 the total decline in the number of tenders approved each month was nearly 30 per cent., or at any rate more than 25 per cent., as compared with 1932.
I come now to the question of slum clearance. We asserted last year that the idea that you can switch off ordinary housing, and concentrate all your resources on slum clearance, was unsound, and I am very glad to find that the Government are coming to that view and are going to deal with overcrowding under new proposals, because I think it is generally admitted that it is no use concentrating on slum clearance if, while you are dealing with slum clearance you leave new slums constantly being created in your rear by overcrowding. I agree with the statement in the Report of the Department of Health that great advantages are obtained where slum clearance and overcrowding are dealt with by a co-ordinated effort, and it was the necessity for that co-ordinated effort that we on these benches urged when the Bill of 1933 was under discussion in the House last year.
I have quoted figures dealing with the falling off in the amount of ordinary housing done in Scotland, and I come now to the figures of slum clearance. It is true that the total number of slum clearance houses under construction in June, 1934, showed an increase, as compared with June, 1933, of exactly 900. That is an increase of about one-ninth, but it is by no means the greatest increase that has been shown, for a comparison as between June, 1932, when the number under construction was 5,867, and June, 1933, when the number was 8,899, shows an increase, not of one-ninth, but of 50 per cent. I agree, however, with the statement of the Under-Secretary, that there are signs that the curve, having sagged, is now beginning to rise, and I hope that that tendency will,continue. I am sure that, if there is anything that any hon. Member in any quarter of the House can do to help in that direction, 1134 it will be very gladly done. At the same time, however, we not only want to see a concentration on slum clearance, but are eagerly awaiting the proposals which are to be forthcoming in the autumn, and which we said last year ought to have been forthcoming then, under the Measure of 1933, to deal with the problem of overcrowding.
I would only say in conclusion that the magnitude of the problem is, as I have said, greater than any of us realised last year, and greater than the Department of Health itself realised; that the urgency is very great from the standpoint both of the health and of the social contentment of the people; that there is here a great opportunity for a real stimulus to industrial revival in Scotland; and that this is the right way to do it, by increasing the purchasing power of the people, by giving them work to do—work of real national importance, for it is going to help, not merely the building and all the allied industries, but every trade in the country, including agriculture, if purchasing power is increased in that way. I hope that the Government will go forward whole-heartedly with the solution of this problem, and assure them that we shall await with keen expectation the proposals which the Under-Secretary tells us will be introduced in the autumn.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Sir SAMUEL CHAPMAN
I desire to go a little further than my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), and really, not half-heartedly, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and his most able Under-Secretary on the report which they are able to present to the House this afternoon. The Secretary of State, if I may presume to say so, is going about things in the right way. He has here an able Under-Secretary, who has been taking his place, and he is getting about and seeing for himself what is going on and what; is wanted. I know enough of the political history of Greenock to know that there was a former Member for Greenock whom his friends designated as the Member for Scotland. That may be news to some of my friends here. His name was Mr. Dunlop. I have thought many times, as I have seen my right hon. Friend's activities reported in the Press, that it can now again be said that we have a Member for Greenock who is also Member for Scotland.
1135 I must say a ward also about my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Nobody in the House has known him for as long a time as I have. I have known him ever since he was a boy at school at Glen-almond, and have watched his rise. He has come on wonderfully well. He has the right spirit. As we are a little family party here this afternoon, I will tell the Committee that my hon. Friend's father was a great friend of a statesman who once said that to improve the social conditions of the people should be the first object of a statesman. I will not say who that was, but anyone who is acquainted with political history will know. I am delighted at the confidence and determination which my hon. Friend has expressed this afternoon that, so far as he can, and so far as the Secretary of State can, they will root out the slums, and thus bring about one of the greatest social reforms for which we have all been longing. My hon. Friend is there to do the job, and he will have the support of Members from all parts of Scotland.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who is sitting near me, and who was first elected to the House at the same time as I was, represents a very different constituency from mine. I do not think there are any two Scottish constituencies that are more dissimilar than South Edinburgh and Gorbals. I have said before in the House, and I have told my constituents time after time, that it is the duty of constituencies like my own always to remember that their first duty is to try to ameliorate the condition of those parts of Scotland where the people are less happily housed than we are in South Edinburgh. South Edinburgh is a garden city. Gorbals is anything but a garden city, but South Edinburgh can help Gorbals, and, indeed, the whole of Scotland can help to root out those black spots which we know to exist in various parts of our country.
They have existed even in South Edinburgh itself. Edinburgh is an old city, where the houses in the past were built more like castles, and it takes a long time to root out these old slums. But the Town Council of Edinburgh have been acting with great foresight and doing their part in this greatest of all social reforms—the clearing out of slums and the provision of decent accommodation for those who are living under less 1136 fortunate conditions than their neighbours. The city now covers the largest area of any town in Scotland. I daresay that may be news to my friends from the west. Its area is even larger than that of Glasgow, namely, 32,000 acres. During the last 13 years, the town council have carried out many new housing schemes, including five slum improvement schemes, on land under their jurisdiction. They have expended no less than £6,000,000 in erecting 12,000 new houses for some 48,000 people, and in one year, 1933, they have spent no less than £750,000. Since 1923 they have been engaged in slum clearances, and in Edinburgh alone over 5,000 families have been removed from slums and put into decent houses. The slum improvement schemes are progressing at a rapid rate, and, in addition, it is intended, during each of the next five years, to re-house 1,000 families from insanitary and overcrowded houses. It can safely be said that in a few years Edinburgh, which is famed for its magnificent outward appearance, will also be famed when one goes more minutely into details—that the slums of Edinburgh will be cleared, and the inhabitants of the city will be decently housed, as becomes the majestic and romantic capital that it is.
I remember walking round the slums of London with Lord Shaftesbury more than half-a-century ago, and hearing him speak in the same spirit in which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke just now, and I am delighted to be here this afternoon to hear my hon. Friend say that the Government are going to put their whole heart into this matter. I, for one, heartily congratulate them on the determination which they have shown. During the last 50 years the face of Scotland has been changed; during the last 10 years the face of Edinburgh has been changed; and we shall go on doing the good work to which we have set our hands, because, as Samuel Johnson said, it is the first test of a civilised nation that there should be decent treatment of the poor. That is a phrase that has worked into all our minds. We are not only social reformers because it is the right thing that we should have social reform and place those in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves in decent conditions; it is the highest statesmanship that we should not have these black spots up and down the land and our people should 1137 be what they have always been, people of good natured character on which the great prosperity and soundness of our country rests.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. BURNETT
It is very gratifying that the Secretary of State is able to present such a record of advance in the matter of slum clearance as we have in this report. At a time when the cost of materials is low and money is cheap it is doubly satisfactory to know that we have had a record year and that the output of houses completed nearly tops 21,000, a figure considerably in excess of the peak year before. It must have meant a great deal of staff work on the part of the Health Department, on which they are to be congratulated. But when we go on to the next paragraph in the Housing Report dealing with the output by private enterprise, there is distinctly room for disappointment. It may be a record, but we should like to see a very much larger record. In England 266,000 houses were built, 208,000 without State assistance. That is nearly 40 times what has been done in Scotland. Of the English houses, 77,000 were C class houses for the lower-paid workers. We in Scotland have not been able to get these houses, which are most required, by private enterprise. I hope before long this will be possible, but certainly so Far it seems to me that the reduction of the subsidies has not met with the corresponding answer from private enterprise that we should like. This is acknowledged to a certain extent in the introductory remarks to the report, which refer to the difficulties in the way of a substantial contribution from private enterprise. I hope the further methods that are visualised in the report will mean that before long we shall have this adequate supply of houses at rents which the lower-paid wage earners can afford.
There is no doubt that in certain of the large cities this overcrowding is the biggest question of all, and I feel some agreement with the statement that I heard a Chief Medical Officer of Health make that he considered that the tackling of overcrowding was the most important thing now, because overcrowding had the most disastrous results on the community in general. To overcrowding can be traced very largely the cases of sexual offences, incest and 1138 offences against morality. Its effect is likely to be serious on the physical and moral well-being of the next generation. It is certainly a very big problem. We have to deal with this drift from the country to the towns that is going on to a very large extent. It is due partly, no doubt, to agriculture depression and partly also to educational facilities in the cities, but one very large cause is the larger relief allowance that is given in the cities than in the surrounding country. We can see this reflected in the school roll during last year. In my constituency we had within a school year an addition to the city school roll of something like 800 children of school age who have been transferred from schools in one of the surrounding counties. That would mean 300 or 400 families who have come into the town leaving out of account families with no children of school age.
Provision for this big influx is certainly a serious matter. We see it also in the waiting list for council houses. At the end of 1932, 1,090 of those on the council list were overcrowding cases. At the end of 1933 there were 1,340 overcrowding cases among those on the roll. These overcrowding cases vary from half an adult overcrowded to six arid a-half adults overcrowded, and there are 625 cases in which there was no proper segregation of sexes. These figures have been checked and are up-to-date, and they reveal the very serious problem that we are up against. It is a very difficult question because 260 on the list have incomes of less than 30s., which means that they have no prospect of paying the rent that is charged for council houses.
I have a long list of overcrowding cases. I will take one—husband and wife and seven sons, aged 26, 23, 19, 17, 15, 11, 10 and two daughters aged 14 and nine, a total of 11 persons, or the equivalent of 10£, adults, in two rooms in which there is accommodation for four adults only. That is a typical case, but I prefer rather to speak of cases with which I personally come into touch. A large number of those who have come to me for help in connection with housing are not so much cases of difficulty in connection with slum conditions as cases of difficulty in connection with overcrowding. I should like to quote one case of a father with four children sleeping in one large bed, mother and infant on the 1139 sofa, and one boy who does night work sleeping during the day. This family was too large to be put into a three-roomed house, but the income was too small for a four-roomed house. They have had to stay in that one-roomed house because they could not get a three-roomed houses. They have been moved recently, one member of the family being boarded out. That is a typical case of difficulty. I should like to mention a rather similar difficulty showing the need for two-roomed houses. I know it is said that two-roomed houses are apt to develop into slums, and the report of the Royal Commission speaks of slum areas being due to the building of two-roomed houses, but there are a certain number who only require two-roomed houses and who cannot afford a big rent.
There is the large question of sub-lets. Many young married people have gone into single sub-let rooms, they have been unable to get any other accommodation, and the family has gradually increased. They may not be sufficiently overcrowded to be given a three-roomed house. For them it would be a great improvement to get a two-roomed house, but the number of two-roomed houses is strictly limited. The Department as a rule does not sanction more than 20 per cent. The housing committee at a recent council meeting recommended 16 per cent., and there was one amendment for 25 per cent. and another for 50 per cent. It was stated that it was more expensive for the council to build two-roomed houses than three-roomed houses, because the State contribution was only £7 I0s. instead of £12 10s., and in each house a scullery, wash-house and bathroom had to be put in, so that the loss of £5 in the subsidy more than counterbalanced the saving on one bedroom. It did not make it an economic proposition to charge less for a two-roomed house than for a three-roomed house. A certain amount of latitude might be allowed. We see the possibility of the two-roomed house coming down to a slum, but we want to help the large number of applicants for whom a two-roomed house would mean improved conditions. The sub-lets numbered 2,500 in 1925 and now they are more than double that.
I think we should be chary as to demolition until we are certain that we have 1140 the amount of accommodation that we require to deal with this overcrowding. During last year Aberdeen built 578 houses, and in February scheduled 316 for demolition. That means an increase of 252 houses on the year, which will certainly not meet the increase in overcrowding. Certainly some shelter is better than none. We have the tent dwellers to deal with. At the end of last summer they were a terrible problem. Some of them no doubt came from sublets from Which they had been turned out for arrears of rent. When winter came on no provision could be made for them. All the accommodation was fully taxed. If severe weather had come on early, there would have been fatalities. As it was there were cases of illness through exposure. This year the problem is likely to be worse still. Last year it was met simply through the fact that a large jute works happened to close shortly before. Temporary accommodation was made available, arid 47 families were put up there. That will not happen this year. I think the Department should be very careful how it sanctions demolition in cities where overcrowding is exceedingly rife, as it is with us. These are points which do not detract from the congratulations due to the Secretary of State for the satisfactory progress that is being made in housing. I hope that he will be able to increase our building capacity as the years go on and that before long we may see a different picture from what is presented to-day.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am rather sorry to be the first to strike a discordant note, with perhaps the exception of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), after the speeches which have been made congratulating the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary in connection with the progress which has been made in relation to housing. Hon. Members can find means for congratulation if they are anxious to overlook the facts which exist in our midst and to take part in a sort of pleasant Sunday afternoon meeting where they pat one another on the back and tell each other how well they are doing, and then, on going outside, realise that they have been acting the hypocrite inside the assembly and saying that which is not true. I refuse to accept the point of view which is always maintained in this House when a Minister gets up at 1141 that Box and attempts to contrast the figures of the previous year with those of the present year. He says, "We have surpassed the figure of last year by 200," and then proceeds to congratulate himself and his Government on what has been achieved. If hon. Members were only brought into direct touch and relationship with the houses which are tolerated in our midst, they would not congratulate Ministers in this House and express satisfaction at the progress which has been made. I make that statement with regard to any Government. No satisfactory progress has been made in connection with housing. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir S. Chapman) said that 50 years ago he heard an eminent statesman speak in the same spirit as has been in evidence at that Box to-day. If progress in the next 50 years be as rapid as that during the 50 years of which he spoke, I am sure that people living 50 years hence will have no reason to congratulate themselves upon the progress made.
The attitude of mind of the people in this country is amazing. I have never been able to understand it. The whole nation just now has been aroused by what is called a trunk murder. A man has committed a "trunk murder." He has destroyed a human life, and the whole nation is roused to a spirit of frenzy and passion, and, I believe, rightly so. I do not attempt to say that that is a wrong thing. When you contrast the fact that an individual is being pursued with the whole power and authority of the law and the nation, with the power of the Press of the country offering large monetary inducements to people to divulge information which may lead to the arrest or conviction of the person responsible for that murder, with the fact that we are allowing to exist slums which are destroying the lives of children by tens of thousands, and allowing people to draw money from those slums instead of prosecuting them, I cannot understand the attitude of mind and the self-satisfaction which exist in this country.
When we require. money for the Air Force, as we shall do shortly, we get it without question because of the overwhelming number of Government supporters in this House. When we want money for military and naval escapades, we get it, because it is for the purpose of defending the selfish bondholding 1142 interests of the ruling classes of the country. The Noble Lord the Member for Perth (Lord Scone) smiles. He has a good stake in the country and can afford to smile. When money is required to defend the interests of these people it is readily forthcoming. But when money is wanted in order to defend the life and limb of the people who have contributed their all and have helped to create the wealth which others enjoy, it is given in a niggardly, cheeseparing fashion. Every penny is scrutinised and examined and put under a miscroscope before it is allowed to go through.
The way to deal with the housing problem is to appoint a Minister and to say to him, "Your job, without any restrictions by the slum landlords or landowners, is to re-house the overcrowded population and the slum dwellers of the country, irrespective of the cost or the inconvenience. If in five or ten years you cannot show us that you have re-housed the whole of the overcrowded and slum population of this country, you will be led out and placed against a wall to face a firing squad. You will pay the penalty because of your lack of ability in that direction." That is the way to deal with the housing problem. You should not give Ministers the opportunity of going down and meeting local authorities, and having luncheon or tea with the Lord Provost and a nice round-table talk about what they are prepared to do. I am not saying this of the present Secretary of State, but of all people in these positions. They go down generally to meet the people who are anxious to draw money from slums, or who have bonds in slums or some special selfish interest in the continuance of slums in our cities. I would not allow local authorities or the sanitary and health departments to have the last word with regard to the houses which require to be destroyed. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett) came direct to the point when he said that we should not schedule houses for demolition before we bad provided the houses in which to re-house the people. That is exactly the condition that has kept us where we are to-day. If we had said to the local authority, "Your duty is to provide 30,000 houses in five years' time, and if you do not do it we will put up the houses and charge you with the cost in your area," we should have got further than we have done to-day.
1143 The hon. Gentleman mentioned flying squads rushing round the country seeing to the erection of houses. What is wanted to work in co-operation with a flying squad is a bombing squad—that is where the Air Force is required—to go round and, after warning tenants in the slum areas, bomb those areas and destroy them as being a danger to the life of the people of the country. would appoint a medical man who under the supervision of the Scottish Office, should go round independently of local authorities and schedule for demolition houses in which it is not fit for human beings to live. We find that the health department of the local authority acts in conjunction and co-operation with the housing committee. A responsible man in Glasgow said to me, "We cannot condemn. We agree that a large number of the houses are not fit for human habitation, but we cannot condemn them because there are no houses in which to accommodate the people."
Certain interests in the local authorities are anxious that no houses should be built at all because they would compete with the slum type of house in which they are interested. There are two sections even in the Tory party on the local administrative authority. There are the contracting elements who want houses built so long as they obtain the contract for the building of them, and there are those who own the slums and do not want new houses because the people would then leave their slums and go into better houses. There is a tug-of-war between these sections. It used to be a joke in Glasgow that the convenor on the Housing Committee was a building contractor, and that there was a. master plumber, a master glazier, a master joiner, a master painter, and somebody else representing paints and oils, and slates, and, in fact every type of thing one could mention. They were people, if one cared to say it, who were more anxious to direct attention to their selfish interests than they were to the interests of the community.
The Under-Secretary has said that the number of houses scheduled for demolition as unfit for habitation was 61,000 for the whole of Scotland. I could almost find that number in Glasgow alone. could show the Secretary of State individual houses, and say to him, "What 1144 do you think of that?" and I believe that he would say without hesitation, "It ought not to be tolerated in a civilised community." It is simply throwing dust in the eyes of the Committee when the Department attempts to make us believe that 61,000 houses are all that are required. I have sent a. letter to-day to the housing department in Glasgow dealing with a case of overcrowding in which there are 14 people living in a two-roomed house. The man in question has had his application before the authorities for a considerable period, but overcrowding has not been dealt with. It is no good the Minister standing at that Box and saying, "We had an Act last year, but it has failed, and we think that something else will have to be done in the Autumn or next Summer."
I do not care what kind of Government tackles this question. No Government in recent times has had greater authority than the present Government to deal with these problems because they have the greatest majority ever experienced by any Government. Their supporters are prepared with lamblike docility to accept anything if the Government only say that it is a proper and necessary thing for the good of the nation. If the work were entrusted to me, and I was told, "You have 10 years in which to do the job, and we will give you complete liberty to go ahead with the rehousing of the whole of the overcrowded and slum population," I would stake my life on the completion of the task. It can be carried through, but it cannot be carried through merely by saying that something is being done year after year to meet the problem. I have only been in this House four years, but year after year I have heard the same type of speeches, with hon. Members always getting up and patting the Minister on the back and telling him that he is a good fellow and is doing a great work.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen spoke of the offences which occur in society, of which nobody knows better than the legal Members of this House. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid) and the hon. and learned Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stevenson) and others attend the courts more regularly than ever I can hope to do, but I have been a sufficient number of times to be convinced that a great deal of the immorality in society to-day arises 1145 from the fact that there is no separate accommodation for the male members of the household. I know of one case where five people slept in one bed, all of them adults. The stepdaughter gave birth to a child. All these people had to sleep in one bed. It is not the father who is responsible but society that is responsible for what is going on, and you are tolerating it. You have the power and the authority. These helpless people cannot help themselves. They are living under these terrible conditions. You have been given the authority and the power to deal with the housing problem, but each successive Government has failed to deal with it in a proper manner.
I would ask hon. Members to recollect the great drive that there was during the War to destroy life. If only 50 per cent. of that drive were put into the saving of human life, we should accomplish something in our day and generation. I urge the Minister not to be carried away by the statement that there has been a great work accomplished. You have not touched the fringe of the problem. The 1913 houses are now 21 years old. There is a continual increase in the population which has to be dealt with. Overcrowding and the slums have to be dealt with. The Government come along and say, "We have built something like 20,000 houses, and we congratulate ourselves that we are doing a great job." I do not think that they are doing a great job. It is no satisfaction to me to hear the Minister say that they have built 250 more houses this year than last year. I have never been able to get any satisfaction out of compliments of that kind. Each successive Minister "Should be tested, just as a tradesman is tested by an ordinary employer. The tradesman is expected to do his best in his job. If he is not an efficient tradesman, he is thrown out, without consideration of the consequences. I would apply the same test to the Minister who is responsible for housing. I would give the Minister power, or I would give some man authority to deal with housing. I would say: "It is your job to rehouse the slum population and the overcrowded population. I will give you 10 years, if you like." The penalty on that housing director if he failed to accomplish the job would be the firing squad.
I could comment on many other things in the report, but I agree that the 1146 housing problem is of the most tremendous importance to the people. I am not prepared to argue that those who are providing houses, 5,000 or 6,000 houses, for selling, are not meeting a certain demand; they are. I give them credit for everything that is being accomplished. We were criticised during the Kilmarnock election. It was said that the Independent Labour party members had the rents fixed too low and that no houses would be built. Our answer is not that the rent was fixed too low but that the subsidy was too low. If the subsidy had been higher we could have given to many thousands of people the satisfaction and guarantee of a home. Mankind requires a home. It is all very well for the hon. Member for North Aberdeen to talk about tents. Those who have built mansions and palaces for the rich to live in cannot to-day get houses to live in. They create wealth. We talk in this House about doing something for the poorer classes. I say to hon. Members, the poorer classes have housed you. Surely, they are entitled to be housed themselves.
I appeal to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, who have shown initiative and drive, to apply their minds to the housing problem and to remember that there are tens of thousands of children who are being destroyed every year for lack of a decent house to live in, for lack of sun and air. Children go to school with their minds dulled, unable to do the task allotted to them because they have not had proper rest and sleep in a foul, deadly-laden atmosphere. I ask the Minister to remember that he has the power, and if he has the drive he can provide houses for people. Scotland is looking to the Scottish Office to get a drive on, to arise from its lethargy and to recognise that they have a public conscience behind them. For 20 or 30 years the job was to arouse the spirit of the nation to a conscious interest in housing. That spirit has been aroused and Ministers have only to get into harness and to get on with the job. I appeal to them to get on with the work of rehousing the population and giving some comfort to the miserable thousands who to-day are living under conditions which are not fit for the brute beasts of the field.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Miss H0RSBRUGH
I thoroughly agree with the remark of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) when he said that Scotland is looking to the Secretary of State to deal as it has never been dealt with before with the housing problem of Scotland. From all parts of the House men and women of all parties are anxious to see this problem dealt with and are realising the appalling conditions in which so many of our fellow citizens live to-day. The difficulty is not merely the realisation of that fact but the method by which the problem is to be solved. The hon. Member for Shettleston suggested that it might be done in 10 years. I do not believe that it is necessary to have a firing squad at the end of 10 years, because I do not believe that any firing squad could give more energy and more desire to cope with the problem than we have realised exists in the hearts and minds of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary.
The Under-Secretary mentioned certain figures concerning the general health of Scotland. I would stress those figures, because we have to take into account the general health of the people when we are discussing the housing problem. The Under-Secretary pointed out that there were certain definite improvements. It ought to be known what improvements have taken place, because it is sometimes said, by those who either have not carefully studied the question or are not very careful in the statements they make, that during the years of stress and economic difficulties the health of the people has been neglected. The figures that we have before us show that that is not the case. Maternal mortality has decreased to 5.9 per 1,000 and infant mortality has gone down to 81 per 1,000. We want to see those figures reduced, but we are thankful to reach the present figures. I am, however, sorry to see that the figure for infant mortality in Dundee is 98 per 1,000, but I would point out that that figure when stated in the Department of Health Report is linked up with a statement that there were a great many cases in the early part of the year of peumonia and bronchitis. More and more we have to realise that if we are to tackle this health problem and this problem of the death of young children under one year from pneumonia, 1148 bronchitis and such diseases, we cannot tackle it if we allow them to remain in slum dwellings, which are underground in a great many cases.
In regard to the mortality figures relating to children from one to five years of age there has been an improvement. It is interesting also to note that the figures for those below average nutrition are rather better than they were in the years 1928, 1929 and 1930. Therefore, it cannot be said in future that during the economic stress the health of the people of Scotland has been neglected. Of course, we should like to see it better, but we should be encouraged, and I think the Department of Health should be congratulated because of the way in which these difficulties have been dealt with. Here I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the health visitors and the work done by the maternity and child welfare clinics. Eighty-six per cent. of the babies born have been visited in their homes by health visitors. I note also that children are being brought to the child welfare centres earlier than used to be the case, and I am glad to see—having quoted something from the report that was not to the advantage of Dundee —that in Dundee 55 per cent. of the children are brought to the centres before they are two months old. This work is beginning to show itself in the health of our people. I would point out, however, that the workers at these centres are battling against fearful odds which I am afraid they will have to battle against so long as the people of Scotland are housed as they are. Forty per cent. of the deaths of the children over one month and under one year are from such diseases as pneumonia and bronchitis. I know of cases in Dundee and other cities where these unfortunate children are brought up in damp surroundings. If we can only get the people into decent houses we shall help more than can be done in any other way to give the children of Scotland the chance that they have the right to demand of growing up strong and healthy citizens. It is because of that fact that I welcome the figures that have been quoted.
We have been hearing to-day of the start of a great housing push. I am thankful that the Government began their scheme by asking for a definite programme for slum clearance before they 1149 asked for overcrowding estimates. I say that, because I believe that no local authority will as willingly undertake the work of demolition as well as building at the same time as they will of simply building new houses. It is far easier for the local authority to build new houses only than it is to demolish and build. If we do not get the demolition ahead in our big cities we are going to waste some of the best sites that we have to-day. Hon. Members who know our great cities in Scotland will agree that sometimes right in the centre of our cities we have terrible slums, close behind close and back lands, where the light is hardly ever seen. These places have to be razed to the ground and decent tenements substituted with playgrounds for children and other up-to-date amenities which will help another generation to grow up in entirely different surroundings from the' scandalous conditions which prevail to-day.
Without blaming in any way any local authority for hesitation in dealing with the difficulties that we are up against I do feel anxious as to the amount of progress that is being made and is going to be made even with slum clearance. I realise what an enormous task we are tackling. We are tackling something that has never been tackled in this country before. We have to look to the future ready with new schemes, new types of houses, new plans and I am not at all sure if we are realising what an enormous project we are starting upon. I am not sure that it is going to be for the welfare of the people and of our local authorities if each local authority is to become the biggest landlord of the city. I am not at all sure if the elected body will not find great difficulty in regard to the pressure that will be brought upon them if the power of letting is to rest with the local authorities. I visualise that it may be necessary more and more to draw in other societies and other individuals in order to help in dealing with this problem.
We have heard to-day that slum clearance schemes have been suggested dealing with about 92 per cent. of the slums. Many of us have been anxious about these slum clearance programmes, and I hope are to be dissipated. May I give some figures of the town I know best, Dundee. The number of houses condemned was 3,603, and the number of houses to deal 1150 with overcrowding and the growth in population was estimated to be 1,500, to be built in five years. When the programme was put in I did not see 3,603 houses as the number to be built to make up the number of condemned houses. Anyone who knows Dundee knows that there is an immense amount of property which is entirely unifit for human habitation. I found that the figure put in the programme was 2,000 houses and that it was also intended to build 500 of what they called superior houses for those now living in overcrowded conditions. A change in the figures may have been made during the last few months, but I should like the Under-Secretary to tell us whether in the programme for Dundee the figure of 3,603 has been reached or if they are being content with 2,000 houses.
My difficulty is that many local authorities say that they are building at present up to their full capacity. When I approached the local authorities in Dundee on the subject of 2,500 houses as against 3,603, I was told that this figure was put in because more than that number could not be built in the city during five years. I was told that they could not build more than 500 houses in a year, but last year we reached 606, and in 1927 that figure was passed. I am rather anxious on this matter. Even when we have got slum clearance programmes in which will really clear the slums we have then to find out how the houses are to be built for those in overcrowded areas and to meet the actual growth in population. If local authorities are now building to their full capacity how does the Secretary of State intend that they shall build also to deal with overcrowding, and the growth of the population? Are other schemes going to be suggested to local authorities? Are they going to be told to organise their building, to organise building labour, so that the question may be tackled as it should be tackled. I want to see everybody who can build houses, private enterprise, public utility societies, and everybody else, getting all the possible help that the Government can give. We should encourage everybody to come in.
I want to know whether there are schemes for organising the operatives in the building trade, because if we are to be told that local authorities are building to capacity and then see at Employ- 1151 ment Exchanges men in the building trade unemployed and drawing their allowances, it is a situation which calls for really drastic action. It may be said by some critics, it may be the answer from the Secretary of State, to those who are pressing for more building and quicker building, why such a hurry. From a financial point of view the quicker we build the better, money is cheap, and local authorities in their slum clearance schemes get 80 per cent. of their loss paid by the Exchequer. But I would suggest that we should try to get a larger number of houses built each year because we are not tackling a problem which can be put off, it is a most urgent problem, it has to do with the lives of human beings.
May I remind the Secretary of State of the visit which he paid to Dundee last September. He did not merely meet those who are owners of property or those who have to do with the building trade, he went from house to house, through some of the worst slums, talked with the people and saw their conditions. I do not think I need remind him of those conditions. I remember pointing out to him in a particularly dark hovel, I can call it nothing else, in Dalfield Walk, miserable white-faced children, one child had been bitten by a rat the day before. Those were the conditions which the Secretary of State saw for himself last September, and I tell him that these people are living there to-day, and I fear they may be living there next year or even the year after unless we can accelerate the building of houses by ensuring that local authorities shall get every possible assistance, and by organising the building trade, bringing in more people to help in building. This is a problem which cannot be delayed.
I was glad to hear the Under-Secretary say that overcrowding is going to be dealt with. The provisions of the 1930 Act with regard to improvement areas might have been used with good effect, but the fact remains that they have not been so used, therefore, other schemes to deal with overcrowding must be brought in. The overcrowded conditions in some of our cities and towns are well known, and perhaps it may be unnecessary to give more statistics after what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Burnett) has said, but these facts and figures ought to 1152 be known because many people who talk about housing difficulties have not seen them for themselves and do not realise the position. If they did they would no longer stand outside but would come in and give every possible support to the present Government in its programme and the initiation of a movement the like of which we have never before known in Scotland. I know a case of a two-roomed house in which are living mother and father, five sons, aged 15, 16, 14, 10, and eight, and four daughters, aged 23, 12 and 11. This case was brought to my notice by the mother coming to see me and urging that something should be done, because another son was coming home shortly on leave from the Army and she did not know where to put him. I could give case after case.
In the report of the sanitary inspector for Dundee of December, 1933, there was the case of a one-roomed house occupied by husband and wife, twin sons, aged 8, and four daughters, aged 13, 12, 10, 7. In another case a one-roomed house was occupied by husband and wife, husband's mother, four sons aged 10, 9, 7 and 2 and one daughter aged 4. There was the case of a two-roomed house occupied by husband and wife, five sons aged 18, 14, 9, 6 and 4, and five daughters aged 21, 16, 12, 10 and one year. Is this a state of affairs which can be tolerated any longer in Scotland? I suggest that in every possible way we should accelerate the programme of building put forward by the Government. Much more remains to be done in the organisation of building.
A good deal of the difficulty in overcrowding has come from what I may call a rigid tenancy of houses. Owing to the control which was necessary after the War, people moved from one house to another much less frequently, but the idea is quite wrong that people should remain all their lives in the same place. We must try, with a greater number of houses, to see that families change from house to house as their needs and requirements increase. I am told by a friend that in the old days when it came to 28th May or the 28th November the conversation was, "Are you flitting or sitting?" They had some place to flit to. We want houses of all sizes, small and large, the more families can interchange the better. For some time I was much alarmed because in Dundee there 1153 were so many people on the slum clearance areas, small families or single people, who could not be accommodated in the new three-roomed house. A request was made to the Under-Secretary for a greater number of two-roomed houses, the type of house which these people wanted, and which would be adequate for their requirements. But we discovered in Dundee that there were 9,000 or 10,000 two-roomed houses, about 8,000 of them are overcrowded. I believe that much more could be done by voluntary associations to help people to find out when smaller houses and the larger houses are being vacated, and get a better interchange.
The situation in Dundee was such that I was told that in March of this year there were 135 of the Corporation houses ready and unoccupied as there were no suitable tenants from the slums to go into them. I am happy to say that I have received a telegram to-day from Dundee saying that only 15 of these three- roomed houses are now unoccupied. It seemed to me that this must be due to lack in organisation. If there are in Dundee over 3,000 condemned houses, there is all the more necessity for careful organisation so that people should be moved into the new houses at the earliest opportunity. The fact that the houses are to remain controlled under a rental of £26 5s. will help people to change their houses. I should like to say something with regard to the Rural Workers Act of 1926 and the houses which have been reconditioned under it. The Under- Secretary pointed out that this has been of great advantage in Scotland, especially during last year. As we are hoping that we shall have a greater scheme of re- conditioning in the towns as well, may f point out what a real success the scheme of reconditioning has been in the country. Real good work has been done, houses have been saved and made good houses by the subsidies which have been given, and I hope that this fact will be borne in mind when legislation is introduced to deal with reconditioning in the towns.
In congratulating the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary on the start they have made I have endeavoured to stress the necessity for greater acceleration in the building of houses. The matter is far more urgent than many people realise. The types of houses 1154 should be given more consideration. The fact that smaller three-roomed houses can be built at very little more than the cost of two-roomed houses should also be borne in mind by local authorities. We ought to see when we have demolished the slums that a better type of flat or tenement is built in the centre of our towns and cities. I know that these higher flats or tenement houses may not be considered the better scheme from a financial point of view, but I would point out that the tenant in these houses would be closer to his work and that the greater cost of transport which they may have to add to their weekly rent would not have to be faced, as it would be if they are sent far out. In smaller towns this is not a difficulty, but in the bigger cities it has to be faced if we are to visualise a real start in the provision of these much needed houses. We must see that we build up as well as build out. Otherwise, the workers will find that they have to face not only the expense of rent but the expense of transport.
We want more imagination in our building and more experiments. We have a wonderful chance of doing something that will really mark a new era for the people of Scotland. We have been told of all the difficulties and evils of overcrowding. It is well that we should sometimes look to the future and not think only of the evils of the present—think of what a glorious Scotland could be built for the future. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said that the compliments paid to-day to the Secretary of State reminded him of a pleasant Sunday afternoon and that it seemed to him sheer hypocrisy. I do not agree that those compliments were hypocrisy. I think it is a pleasant Wednesday afternoon to come here and hear that statement of the Under-Secretary of State, because I believe we are starting on a campaign for the better housing of the people of Scotland which will go down to history as the greatest achievement perhaps of a great National Government.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWO0D
I have sat throughout the Debate and listened to all the speeches. One and all of the speakers have been anxious to pay a tribute to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary for the way in which they are 1155 trying to face the difficult problems in Scotland at the moment; but even the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett), to say nothing of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), had to show the changed conditions under which the people of Scotland live, move and have their being. The hon. Member for Dundee gave us evidence that children were being bitten by rats. Imagine human beings to-day, with all our enlightenment, living under conditions such as those, with parents remaining awake all night to keep off the rats. They are shocking conditions. But before I sit down I shall show the Committee that we really have made some advance, and that all the money that is being spent on social services is of tremendous value to everyone concerned, and that Scotland to-day is giving a good account of itself along those lines.
Let me say a few words in reference to the speech of the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). I can never forget that it is not so long ago that he was Secretary of State for Scotland. Immediately he started on that job he attacked the problem of housing and went all over Scotland, backed by the present Under-Secretary, and carried out a tearing and raging campaign to arouse the local authorities out of their apathy, and to get them to build houses. In the midst of that campaign Clydebank Town Council petitioned the right hon. Gentleman to be allowed to go on with the building of houses because of overcrowding. Clydebank Town Council by no stretch of imagination could have been called a Socialist town council, and it unanimously passed a resolution in favour of the building of houses as a means of dealing with overcrowding. The right hon. Member for Caithness, in the midst of all his platitudes and his anxiety about housing, turned that petition down.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
It was turned down, but in their anxiety the Clydebank Town Council came up here and interviewed the Secretary of State. The individuals who organised against these houses being built were the same individuals who are responsible for the awful housing conditions in Scotland to-day. The factors 1156 were the individuals who were responsible. But the whole of the people of Clydebank were anxious, and I did all I could, used all the pressure and influence I could, in this House. But the right hon. Member for Caithness was adamant and would not consent. Probably all the reasons that he gave against the proposal then are now done away with, because we have 9,000 more people employed in Clydebank than we had at that time.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I make no complaint of the hon. Member referring to this subject, but he did not give me notice that he intended to do so, and I cannot claim therefore that I have looked up the papers and refreshed my memory of this incident, which took place two years or more ago. I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for saying that he is not dissociated from responsibility, but I accept the ultimate responsibility for the decision which was given. It is true that I resisted this demand, and it is true that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) pressed it; and there is no hon. Member who is more difficult to resist. But the proposal that was put before us was not a proposal to build houses in order to deal with the problem of overcrowding. The proposal which was put before us was a general proposal for building houses in Clydebank, which we did not think was justified in the circumstances of Clydebank. We made it clear to the people %ciao came to us that if they would submit a proposal to deal with overcrowding it would receive our most careful and sympathetic consideration.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I would thank the right hon. Gentleman for his words, because they will give me more power to go to the Scottish Office and see that we get this concession. The junior Member for Dundee said that there were certain people who could not get into the house: of three apartments. The reason was that they could not pay the rent. Therefore, they required to get smaller houses. That is the argument that has been put up to us in Scotland.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I do not think I even mentioned rent. There were certain people, such as a couple or a person living alone, who were the very people we ought to get into the two-roomed 1157 houses, and then remove the overcrowded people into the three-roomed houses.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
That is a matte: which I took up with the Dundee Town Council before the junior Member for Dundee came into this House. Dundee has always clamoured for houses at rents which people could pay. Even the town council appealed for two-apartment houses. When we came here in 1920 and appealed to the then Government to see to it that the smallest house that could be built in Scotland was a three-apartment house with all modern conveniences, Dundee was up against us because it said that the people could not afford these houses. We must build houses and see to it that people get wages which enable them to pay the rents. It is possible under the present regime at the Scottish Office to get round the problem of housing. The town of Kilsyth has done it. Kilsyth at the moment is building five-apartment houses, and some of them are occupied. They are let at 5s. 9d. a week, taxes included. Four-apartment houses are 4s. 6d. a week, and three-apartment houses 3s. 6d. a week. They are houses with all modern conveniences. The council put a wooden bedstead into each room, and each house was supplied with a wringing machine. They are doing all that in Kilsyth at the moment, not in Russia or Germany. If this were being done in some other place it would he broadcast all over the world as something wonderful. We can do it in Scotland and we are doing it.
I want the Secretary of State to let all Scotland know what is being done in Kilsyth, because it can be done elsewhere under the 1930 Act. They get £17 10s. a year subsidy under the 1930 Act for a five-apartment house, and for three- and four-apartment houses they get £12 10s. a year subsidy. I am satisfied that if more of the people of Scotland knew what it is possible to do, they would see that their local authorities put the Act into operation as Kilsyth has done. Kilsyth has faced the problem of re-housing the people in a very intelligent way. It is realised what is the great difficulty of re-housing in the west of Scotland. When people are taken out of the slums and from bad housing conditions to new houses, the new houses call for a higher rent than the people have paid hitherto. Apart from that higher rent, there are innumerable things 1158 required that the folk cannot buy because they have not the money to buy them. They have been accustomed to one-apartment houses, and in those single apartments has been all their gear. When they go to a three-apartment house they have to get new furniture but have not the money to buy it. We have contended in this House time and time again that that was one of the difficulties, that when we take these very poor people out of the slums we only aggravate their condition, because they starve themselves and do without food in order to pay the rent.
Again Kilsyth has got over that difficulty. It has a municipal bank. We are doing all we can to do away with private enterprise, for if ever there was a case in which private enterprise beyond a shadow of doubt has been a failure, it is in the housing of the people. Nothing came of the Bill on which so much valuable time was spent by this House last year, because that Bill left the work to private enterprise and private enterprise cannot do it. Through the municipal bank the people of Kilsyth arrange to pay the rent, and the bank supplies them with bed and bedding. The people are now getting decent beds and bedsteads, such as they never had before, because formerly they had to be content with the cast-off articles of other people. Now they are getting new articles.
I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will let all the local authorities in Scotland know what is being done in Kilsyth, because what is being done there can be done elsewhere. As a result of this re-housing scheme, there has been a remarkable improvement in the standard of health in the community. I was among these people for an afternoon. I addressed about 4,000 or 5,000 of them, and practically the whole town turned out, and I never saw healthier children anywhere. We have to remember that this is one of the towns on which unemployment has lain like a blight. It is in one of the mining areas, but, as a result of the problem being handled in an intelligent fashion, they are working through their difficulties, and they have achieved results which are a credit to all concerned.
With regard to the wider aspect of housing, I am able to carry my memory back for 50 years. I can recall the awful 1159 housing conditions in which the working class of Scotland lived 50 years. ago. We have changed all that to-day. We are now building what I always advocated, namely, houses outside the towns. We are building new towns. We are building a New Jerusalem, and leaving the landlords their old houses. They are moving heaven and earth to support this idea of reconditioning, but the people of to-day desire a better type of house than they were content with 30, 40, or 50 years ago. They want a higher standard of life, and a higher standard of life is attainable by the people of Scotland to-day, even making due allowance for unemployment and poverty and everything else. The people of Scotland never were as well-looking or as healthy as they are to-day. There never was a better type of man and woman in Scotland than there is today, morally, mentally and in every other way.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
It is in spite of capitalism. I have spent some time at the commencement of my speech in order to show what has been done in a little township with no capitalists in it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Not in the general sense of the term. It is a mining community governed largely by miners who work in the pits throughout the day—when they get the chance—and administer the laws of their country at night. Their council meetings 'are held at night, and I have described what they are doing, in spite of private enterprise. They have had those difficulties to overcome. If we regard the condition of public health in Scotland to-day from the point of view of an observer of the conditions which prevailed 50 years ago, we are bound to regard the progress which has been made in that period as little short of a miracle. Fifty years ago terrible diseases which the people did not understand were described as the vengeance of the Almighty. Many of those diseases we have now eradicated. It is not very long ago since ministers of the Gospel were asking the Government of the time to declare a fasting day because there was an epidemic of 'smallpox. When the "middens" were cleared away, smallpox was cleared away in the process.
Public health services have had a very severe test during the past few years, 1160 and they have come through that test with remarkable success. I find in the case of my own city that in spite of the depression, economic and mental, of the past few years, the disease of phthisis continues to decline and that the non-pulmonary type of tuberculosis has declined in proportion. During the past year there has been a definite drop in both. We are now reaping the beneficent results of early restrictive and progressive measures. Tuberculosis has declined as the public health administration has improved. The establishment of welfare centres and clinics with facilities for tuition and training, with the provision of advice and nourishment, has produced a general improvement in the public health while the change in the housing conditions, although yet very incomplete, has already had its effect. When the "backlands" were swept away, a mortal blow was aimed at Glasgow's scourge—rickets—and when rickets disappeared the virulence of other diseases diminished, because the people affected were better able to resist those diseases. Scarlet fever, though still prevalent, has become so mild during the past 20 years that the mortality rate is now less than 1 per cent.
The disease of measles, which in former days was frequently fatal, has also become mild and, more remarkable still, is the fact that whereas in the old days this disease was a scourge particularly to infant children, nowadays, though it still affects infant children in the congested tenement areas, it does not affect them to the same extent in the new housing areas, and is largely confined to children of school age. This is demonstrated by the fact that the death rate among children between the ages of one and five has dropped like a plummet. I am not exaggerating when I say that for every death among children between the ages of one and five to-day there were five deaths 50 years ago. Moreover some of the diseases which produced the effects of blindness and lameness are now almost eradicated. It is not possible to compute the number of people who became blind formerly as a result of the disease known as ophthalmia neonatorum. Twenty years ago it was estimated at that time that 100 people became blind every year in Glasgow from that disease. During the past 10 years, as a result of early treatment by public health authori- 1161 ties, the fear of blindness from that cause has been completely removed.
The importance of this change m public health conditions ought to be realised by those who consider that we are going too far in the provision of social services. We have a declining birth rate, but by means of our social services we are reducing the death rate in a ratio greater than the decline in the birth rate. The time may come when industry itself will be grateful for the public health services and, apart from industry altogether, it is a notable thing, and a cause for pride, that the health and stature of the children of to-day should be so much improved compared with former years. We are developing a race which is better able to withstand the onslaught of disease, and, at the same time, we are taking measures to wipe out the diseases themselves. It happens to be my lot often to stand at the gates of some of our big factories and to watch thousands of workers coming from work. When I stand at Singers' works and see the young women coming out—and the young men, too—1 cannot help recalling the words:A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.I cannot help contrasting the workers of to-day with the workers of 50 years ago. When I was a young apprentice engineer I saw them in the old days, when young women went to work in the mills with practically nothing but coats and shawls on them. They had not then. reached the length of having dresses, never mind hats, and they presented a melancholy appearance as they went to and from their daily work. Now the scene is changed. The workers of to-day, both men and women, are a credit to our country, and that change has been 'brought about largely as a result of the money which we have spent on social services and on education. We have produced a different type. A great revolution has taken place, and it has taken place without the shedding of blood. We ought to be proud of the rate at which we have travelled on the road of progress and of what we have accomplished. The money spent on education and social services has been well spent. Those who can remember what the working class people of Scotland were like 50 years ago, have only to take a walk through one of our great industrial centres to-day 1162 in order to be impressed with the great change for the better which has occurred.[...] I want on this occasion to urge the Secretary of State for Scotland to go ahead with that good work. Expenditure on social services pays in the long run. What does it matter about the money? We are always being told that these reforms cost so much. There are people here who ate against subsidies of any description, but it is all a ease of subsidy. Unemployment insurance is a subsidy. Everything of this kind that we get is a subsidy. We are subsidising the provision of houses. Expenditure for these purposes is the 'safest investment which the country can make. In return for all this expenditure, we are producing a better type of citizen. It is only 100 years since the first grant was given by Parliament for education. That grant was opposed as tenaciously in 1833 as a matter of millions would be opposed to-day and the amount was only £20,000. It was predicted that such a grant would bankrupt the country, and at that time 75 per cent. of the boys and girls in England and Wales, up to 14 years of age, could neither read nor write. Just think of the change that has taken place as a result of what we have been trying to do. We are to-day mopping up the mess of generations, and the reward of the past 50 years is adequate proof to the Government that money spent on housing and health services is the best investment, as far as national resources are concerned.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. KENNETH LINDSAY
I do not wish to detain the Committee long, as many other hon. Members wish to speak, and I believe I air the junior Member from Scotland present. We have had a welter of congratulations of the Government from the Opposition benches, and it has been very pleasant to get the kind of perspective that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) has given us of the last 100 years. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) did not, however, put forward a single constructive suggestion during the whole of his speech, and the most critical speech has come from this side, from the junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), who is not now present. I was particularly interested in her speech, because it seemed to me that every now 1163 and then she was getting down to what I consider the root of this question. I think we ought to be frank about it. The 1933 Act has not worked, either on one side or the other. I believe the Under-Secretary of State gave the number of 1,200 houses under the £3 subsidy, and about one-eighth of those are in Kilmarnock, but we are not going to build any more, for a variety of reasons. First of all, although there were 1,200 applications for these houses, 800 of them had to be refused, because the incomes were in excess of the statutory amount. Secondly, the income test has been found extremely difficult to apply in practice, and the large families, with three, four or five children, very often come just over the £3, which again makes it difficult. I am not sure whether 6s., plus 2s. 3d. for occupier's rates, is not too much for families with an income of between £2 and £3 a week. The loss to the authority works out at about £3 5s. per house. The other part of the Act, we have already been told, has produced 260 houses.
It is very difficult to have this Debate to-day, because the most valuable report, which we have all read, is waiting to be implemented in the new proposals. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), who spoke from the Liberal benches, gave an entirely wrong impression. He said that because there were temporarily, as I agree, a smaller number of houses being produced during these last months, therefore the Government's policy was all wrong. I think their policy is perfectly sound. I did some arithmetic while the Under-Secretary of State was speaking. He said that 5,000 houses had been built under the 1930 Act during the last six months, and if that be so, that is very nearly getting up to the figure for the whole of last year, which means that the 1930 Act is working cumulatively, and it is bound to do so; but the accusation was that the 1924 Act, the Wheatley Act, ought to have been kept. I daresay the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) would agree, and I quite understand that point of view, though I do not agree with it. The policy of the Government, it seems to me, is perfectly sound in concentrating the whole resources of the local authorities on slum clearance, and in leaving to private enterprise what pri- 1164 vate enterprise can best do. What is going to happen in between? The fact is that there is a rental—it is very hard to get at, but it may be 7s. or 8s. a week—which cannot by any means be built to by private enterprise.
There are a great many schemes about. I have with me here the report which has been prepared by Lord Amulree and a committee of business men. I have myself been concerned with another report, produced in the last two or three months. These reports are flying about, some of them from better sources, some from less good sources, but they are composed by hard business men; and I look upon the Secretary of State for Scotland not only as the Secretary of State, but as the chairman of a vast housing concern, and I congratulate him on the business steps that he has taken, the intimate touch of going around and seeing the localities, and the putting in of this "flying squad." If it were a business concern, we should perhaps not make such a fuss about it, but we should put on a few extra men and say that we were wanting to get on with the job. I share with the junior Member for Dundee some doubts about the extent of the Government machinery in tackling this new part of the problem. There is a certain portion of housing that can be done, at a figure. You have only to look around London and all parts of England and Scotland to see it.
It is no good the hon. Members for Dumbarton Burghs and Shettleston saying that money does not matter. I might agree with them that we ought to spend more—I do—but it is money that is settling the question. It is the difference in money that has produced the economies. It is money first and money last, and a number of us are asking ourselves to-day, when we in this country are giving subsidies of £3,000,000 here and £4,000,000 there, By what criterion do you test the amount of subsidy to be given to one industry or another? I do not want to recite the evils of the slums; anyone can do that, and the hon. Member for Dundee has done it very eloquently. We are all agreed on that, but if this awful situation is likely to go on for many years, it might pay, from a purely business point of view to set up some, I do not say parallel organisation with the local authorities, but some fresh scheme to implement their work, if as a fact they are working up to full capacity 1165 already. I think a parallel authority would be a highly dangerous business. You have the old local machinery working, and there are many other reasons which could involve an inflation of prices unless you had some sort of control.
My last point is this: Some 25 per cent. of the persons in Scotland to-day are unemployed-320,090 odd—and that includes some of those who are able-bodied and under the Poor Law. It is very difficult to tell how many are counted twice, but a tertian number are. You have in Scotland at present not so much a dereliction as a general depression, but one of the things which is making this housing problem in Scotland so doubly difficult is that you must have a lower rent because of a lower wage or absence of wage. In England there is 14.8 per rent. of unemployment which is a very different figure. I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman because, whatever one says about the past, one must admit that this is a much bigger drive than has ever been made before, and the local authorities, at any rate the good ones, are doing a lot. My own authority is working up to its capacity, and when you have got in one place a maternal mortality rate of 2.6, it shows what is possible. I am sure chat that must be one of the lowest in the whole of Scotland. Therefore, in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the initiative that he has given to the slum clearance programme in Scotland, I would ask him, when he comes to this intermediate problem of building houses in overcrowded areas for the smallest wage-earner, to be equally bold. Beyond that I suppose it is impossible to go, because one would have to talk about fresh legislation, but because of the general depression in Scotland and the lower wage, as compared with England, whatever meaures are taken in England we shall have to take probably even bolder measures in Scotland in future.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) complained that my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) had not made any constructive suggestions, but I waited in vain for any practical proposals by the hon. Member himself, and I must confess that all we got was that we could not quite discuss anything and that things were not ready. May I remind him that 1166 to-day we are discussing administration, and that practical proposals are more or less the subject of Bills? Consequently, if certain hon. Members have failed to give detailed, concrete proposals, it is not their fault, but it is due to the fact that they have had to be concerned with the realities of administration in the past. I thought the hon. Member might have told us exactly what he thought was right and wrong, but he failed to do that. I cannot congratulate the Government on their achievements. They passed an Act quite recently, and their object in doing so was that they thought it would help the housing situation in Scotland. If they did not think there was no need for it, they had no right to pass the Act, but after taking official advice the Government came to the conclusion that they should pass the Act. Nobody forced it on them or demanded it, but they did pass an Act, and to-day, on the admission of the Under-Secretary of State, whatever other drive has been made, whatever other good figures can be shown, their Act has lamentably failed.
Here you are with a situation in Scotland that cannot call forth congratulation, a situation where slumdom is rife, where overcrowding makes decent men and women aghast, where the housing conditions are awful. In these circumstances the Government pass an Act, and in 12 months it is proved that the Act, for the purpose of grappling with these problems, has completely failed. What has this Act done to solve the great problems in the cities and in the rural towns? We were told when the Act was passed that private enterprise would tackle a portion of the problem, to put it no higher than that. Private enterprise has not looked at it; it has not got near the problem. Every local authority, whether dominated by Labour as in Glasgow, or by Conservatives as in Aberdeen, or mixed in their politics, every local authority, whatever be their politics, is agreed that the £3 subsidy is hopeless for the purpose of enabling them to grapple with the housing problem. Let me say a word about the problem of rent. I was the Mover of the Amendment which fixed the rent and which the Government ultimately accepted.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not want to deprive the hon. Member of any kudos to 1167 which he is entitled, but the whole point was whether the sum, having been fixed, should be a minimum.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I agree, but I moved the Amendment and the Government accepted it. The Labour party issued a, leaflet attacking me for doing it. I do not see why fixing low rents should be the subject of an attack. My view is that the rent is not too low, and that for a man with £2 10s. or £3 a week, 6s. is enough for rent. If the Labour people believe in making it a higher rent, let them say so. The question, however, is not that the rent is too low, but that the subsidy is too low. For the workers in many industries 6s. 6d. is not too low. How can a man in a shipyard earning 39s. or £2 a week afford it? His wage is not even that, because it is based on a 52-week year which he never gets. I am not complaining so much about the rent, however. The challenge I make to the Government is that they deliberately introduced a Bill designed to improve the health and well-being of the community which was an insult and totally inadequate for the purpose.
One approaches this problem with feelings of anger, particularly when we have at the Scottish Office two Ministers who must know the problem and have mixed with the problem. While they may not live in slums, they cannot be impervious to what they see as they go about. Surely men cannot walk up and down the streets of cities and towns like Greenock and Perth without seeing the horrible places in which people live. Yet, knowing those conditions, they have deliberately cut down the subsidy introduced by the late John Wheatley, and they do that at a time when the Government are embarking on every form of subsidy. The Government have embarked on a subsidy policy to shovel out millions of pounds to the Cunarder, to tramp ships, beef, Palestine, Newfoundland and beet sugar. At the time they are doing this they are taking the housing subsidy from the people of Scotland who are living in the most shocking conditions. That is not a subject of congratulation, but a subject of the utmost condemnation. The two men in charge of the Scottish Office are guilty of conduct for which they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
The Under-Secretary said they were driving on with slum clearance. I admit 1168 his figures show an improvement. The slum problem is only part of the housing problem. It is a moot point as to what is a slum. There are slum districts which are definitely scheduled as such, but there are other parts which are slums, too, but, because they do not happen to be in an area which is scheduled for a clearance scheme, they are not regarded as slums. The Glasgow City Council say they cannot give a house to a man who is living in shocking conditions in a slum because he is not living in an area scheduled for slum clearance. We have that kind of case every day. I am glad when I see a house built, no matter if it has five or six rooms, because I would rather see a new house than a hew battleship. It represents human life in some form and useful social labour for those who built it. I do not detract from the number of houses that have been built, but I say that the great housing problems in our cities are not being faced and tackled at all. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock will say, "What is your constructive suggestion?" Our proposals need no reiteration. We think that the subsidy ought to be restored to at least its amount when John Wheatley left it. We think that there should be control of prices and that nobody should be allowed to profiteer out of the well-being of the community. We think a housing board should he set up, and that if local authorities do not build, the Government should tackle the problem.
We are faced to-dab with a position in which human life is at stake. A Government faced with that position in time of war would take the most drastic measures. We say that human life is at stake in times of peace and that the Government should take as drastic steps as they would in time of war. I agree with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and the hon. Member for Shettleston that to the extent to which we solve the housing problem we gain social advantages in other directions. Many problems arise from overcrowding and shocking housing conditions. A judge recently said in a case involving a sex offence in one of the Scottish courts that the conditions in which the crime was committed were in themselves criminal. The position to-day leaves no room for complacency or congratulation. The Ministers in charge of the Scottish Office have been too easy. 1169 They introduced a Bill and it has been proved wrong, and instead of coming to the House and saying, "We are wrong; we are going to devote the next two days"—not at some time in the future— "righting what is wrong," the Under-Secretary says that new proposals are ahead. They have no right to be ahead; they should be here and now. Instead of talking of the beef subsidy to-morrow, we should be considering the Government's housing proposals for Scotland now. They should retract as honest men now, and not wait while helpless people are suffering in shocking conditions. We shall divide against the Government to-day, small as our numbers are, because we shall wish to recall with satisfaction our protest against the Government's miserable and contemptible tackling of the housing conditions of the people.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Captain ARCHIBALD RAMSAY
I do not want to follow what was said by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), but I think he was a little unkind to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay), who had said that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) had made no constructive suggestions, for he went on to prove that in his speech by making constructive suggestions himself. No doubt there are many of us who sympathise to some extent with the hon. Member in his remarks, but I think he was a little ungenerous to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in passing over the fact that, although we had been able to secure a subsidy of only £3 for Scotland, we had been able to get a. subsidy at the time when England secured no subsidy at all. That should have been borne in mind when the hon. Member for Gorbals made his speech. I would ask the Under-Secretary's attention to three points which are of importance locally, of which he may have some knowledge, and in which he should have some official knowledge here. He opened his spech on the subject of water supply and told us that the water schemes submitted to date were of such dimensions that if he gave to all he would only be able to distribute at a flat rate of 12½ per cent. He was, therefore, classifying them in the order of their importance as regards public welfare and housing conditions.
§ Captain RAMSAY
I thank my hon. Friend for that reminder. May I recall to him that there is under the attention of his Department a case of a water scheme at Penecuik which satisfies the two essential conditions which he first mentioned. The housing scheme there is definitely being held up until this fresh water supply can be given, and if the water supply is not augmented and the drought continues, there may be serious water shortage for all persons concerned.
The second point concerns the type of house which is at present being built. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Secretary for Overseas Trade is not in the House, because I know that, as the Member for North Midlothian, he would bear me out in dealing with the request made to the hon. Member to use his influence in the matter of two-roomed houses. This is no idle statement; my hon. Friend and I have received numerous representations from burghs in Midlothian, and the contention which they put forward for two-roomed houses is roughly as follows. They say that if you divide the housing problem—which, I understand, my right hon. Friend does —into two parts, namely slum clearance and over-crowding, it is essential while you are obviating one problem not to exacerbate the other. I could produce quite a number of cases to prove to my hon. Friend that this is, in fact, what is being done when four-roomed houses are being built regardless of special requirements. In a great many cases, as the hon. Member for Gorbals will confirm, where four-roomed houses are required, it is easy to take out an old couple or a young couple newly-married who can be moved away to a smaller house. In neither of these cases is it convenient or right to put those two persons into a four-roomed house. They cannot afford to furnish it; they cannot afford the rent. What happens? If they are moved into a four- or five-roomed house, the first thing they do is to take lodgers, and within a few weeks you have overcrowding in a new house.
I know that the position is very difficult. We have made representations, and I beg my hon. Friend to use his influence and develop this subject a little more. I believe that a little more consideration by the county council for the local authority is all that is needed. Local authorities, after all, bear the burden and 1171 heat of the day in this matter. They go into these questions and make personal inquiries and lists of special requirements. It is a little hard on them to have their proposals turned down when they send them in, and to be put on a flat rate for four-roomed houses. I beg my hon. Friend to give his attention to this matter.
I wish to speak of another point, no less important, in which I ask the assistance of my hon. Friend. It greatly discounts the good work that he and the Government are doing in re-housing and improving the conditions of the people if we allow private enterprise to let its standards fall below what the Government are setting themselves as the housing standard. It would afford good ground to some of our hon. Friends opposite for pointing to the failure and attributing it to the capitalist system. We who are quite certain that private enterprise, given sufficient attention and good will, is still by far the best and most superior system that mankind has found for his social economy, must make it our duty to see that private enterprise fulfils its task even outside the scope of Government action.
I ask my right hon. Friend to give attention to the state of affairs in a certain mining village in Midlothian by the name of Cousland. In that village there are two blocks of new houses, one containing 10 houses in a single building. These houses have been relying solely on one pump in the street for their water supply, and when there is anything more than slight frost the water in this pump becomes frozen and you have the picture of a crowd of persons standing in the street lighting a bonfire in front of the pump before any one of them can get water. Frequent representations have been made on this subject but nothing has been done. This year the situation has been further aggravated by the fact that, a drain in one of the nearby fields having got out of order, the water has been seeping into the middens and dry closets at the back of the houses. I went round these houses as recently as 10 days ago, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that they are, for the reason I have stated, in no fit condition for persons in this country to live in. I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend to this matter, and to ask him 1172 whether or not he could send down a representative from the Department in Edinburgh to report on these houses; and whether, when he is considering further legislation, he will bear in mind the possibility of taking power to bring their shortcomings to the notice of persons who have failed to carry out their housing duties. Secondly, I ask him to consider taking power to compel such people to conform to the housing standard of which he and my right hon. Friend are setting this country and the world so good an example. I beg to thank him for his speech, and to congratulate him on an energetic and enlightened policy.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I should like to say a word or two about certain activities of the Department to which the Under-Secretary—I know, out of a desire to save time—did not refer. I refer to the part of the report which deals with the food supplies of this country, and especially with milk. There is no gainsaying the fact that this Government has made the problem of milk a national question. I noticed in the report of the Department a very important admission, to which I should like to refer in order to obtain assurances from the Under-Secretary that something is being done in the matter. I am speaking of the question of better veterinary inspection of dairy cattle. I read in the report:The Department have continued to press local authorities in suitable areas to replace part-time veterinary inspectors by veterinary inspectors not engaged in private practice in the area of the authority. This policy is now being followed by the majority of county authorities.I know that the policy is being followed, but I should like to put on record what has already been said by a part-time veterinary person functioning on behalf of a local authority. He states:'One point that arises in connection with the inspection is that most of the visits are made when the cows are not in lactation or are drying off. The season for milk production is practically from March to September or October, and as that is when there is most private professional work to be done, it is impossible to do as much dairy inspection as is desirable, although I do examine a herd whenever it is possible in the course of private practice. It is unfortunate that most of the sickness occurs when the inspection is most required.'I submit that that is a very important statement to be made by a person who is 1173 endeavouring to do his best, under part-time conditions. I am pleased to see that the matter is being raised and that the public are taking cognisance of this question, because of the campaign that is now about to be waged for a further consumption of milk in this country. It is also rather perturbing to note from the same report the limited number of county councils at the present day who have arranged to carry out the minimum number of three inspections in a year.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I read from the report in order to be correct:The number of county councils who have arranged to carry out the increased minimum frequency of three times a year in landward areas and four times a year in burghs is now 18, but it is to be regretted that several important dairying counties have not yet appointed sufficient staff to attain this minimum frequency of inspection. The annual reports of veterinary inspectors have again indicated the valuable results achieved by the three inspections in the year. Educative work among the milk producers has been greatly facilitated by the more frequent inspections.The report goes on to give details:In one area several cottagers' cows were found to he suffering from clinical tuberculosis.The report then points out that there is great danger lest, owing to the likelihood of mass infection, such cases will cause human cases of bovine tuberculosis. Therefore, I trust that the Department will see to-day that, if the powers they have are not deemed to be adequate to deal with this most important matter of inspection, further power is taken at the earliest possible moment. I feel that if there are at the present time 18 counties already carrying out the increased minimum, it can be further extended by the Department. I hope that modification will take place in the proper direction with regard to this question of the food supply.
With regard to housing, I do not propose to indulge in a general throwing of bouquets concerning what the Government are doing to better the situation. I look upon the money spent on this work as money spent in a productive form. Already the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has related instances of the meagre sums which are spent on housing in contrast to other activities of the Government. When we 1174 look at the problem and when the Government look at it, we are entitled to demand that they shall look at it from the point of view of the general well-being of the community. If that attitude is taken, I cannot see how the Government, or anyone else, can expect congratulations anywhere, when we look upon the awful conditions of thousands of people in this country.
I am admitting that things are going in the right direction, but, even so, I am positively of the opinion that they are not going quickly enough. I see a tendency of the same kind in the comments that have been made, especially those of a character congratulatory to the Government—including also the Under-Secretary—on the great work that has been done in slum clearance. I am prepared to admit that, so far as Glasgow is concerned, the problem is being considerably ameliorated. It has been improved by two things: first of all there has been a decline in the birth-rate, which is of some assistance; and, secondly, there has been increased activity in building. That, however, is not the whole problem of Glasgow, and, in my opinion, the whole, problem is that which deals with the smaller type of house. There is admittedly overcrowding in the one-apartment house—very bad overcrowding—and no less than 50 per cent. of the one-apartment houses are overcrowded to-day. If that is not a proper picture to hold in the mind, it will be made more complete when I say that in Glasgow to-day we have 38,000 one-apartment houses and that over 50 per cent. of them are overcrowded.
This is apart from the slum clearance problem. This is the problem of settling the type of house that will be adequate to allow ordinary, decent people to have all the advantages that we should have because of our enlightened civilisation. Reference has been made once or twice to a difficulty that if you build that smaller type of house you are spreading your city, and people will have great difficulty in getting to their work. I do not think that is a great difficulty at all. It is a very grave thing that we, in this great civilised State, are unable to allow our workpeople to go out for fresh air after they have been working for many hours in the factories. I look upon this as one of the most important factors of the future. I am not inclined to do any- 1175 thing that keeps them segregated within the four corners of a tenement dwelling. If the Government cannot go the whole way with regard to this matter, there is a mid-way.
I should like to speak of one or two details with regard to the Whitson report, about which there has been no mention to-day. The framers of the Whitson report appear to think that by a little tinkering with the houses which in the opinion of their advisers are capable of being reconditioned, they will considerably relieve matters. I am not of that opinion. Most of the houses pointed out to me as houses which would suffice with a little tinkering, the addition of a water closet or something like that, are houses which in my opinion ought to be done away with altogether. They will only create a problem in the future, and it would be more courageous to deal with the situation on the lines of providing new houses, and catering for the future with vision.
As to the flying squad, I do not like to put a damper upon anyone who is trying to do good work, but hope the squad will confine their attention to explaining to the local authorities what legislation permits them to do and giving them technical guidance. I hope they will not be cheeseparing. From what I have seen of tenements in Glasgow, their construction has suffered in great measure from economies on the part of the Government which I think are a disgrace. Some have fireplaces made of concrete which would be a disgrace to an apprentice. They have put into the living rooms, in which the people spend most of their time, the most awful constructions of concrete that I have ever seen, all to save a few shillings on decent tiles.
§ Mr. LEONARD
To the district of Germiston. With regard to overcrowding, taking the census figures as a guide and on a standard of more than three persons per room, 29,371 houses were overcrowded, but of that total 28,000 were of the one and two apartment types. On a standard of two persons per room there are no less than 74,398 families who are overcrowded. This matter calls for much more urgent action. An hon. Member opposite made a reference to some de- 1176 fects in Cousland Park, Dalkeith. It was something to do with the water. I can tell the hon. Member that that matter has been outstanding for a long time, I believe since November, 1927, but from information which I have received repairs were started in February of this year. On a previous occasion I incurred the displeasure of some Members who represent northern constituencies by referring to the conditions on certain farms there, and while I do not like to make anyone feel angry I would point out that hon. Members on this side of the House sometimes receive complaints regarding these constituencies which are not sent to hon. Members opposite. I want to touch on some of these complaints which, in my opinion, indicate that there has been a total lack of action on the part of the local authorities. Not only are they not discharging their duties but, when that is pointed out to them. they act in the strangest manner that I have ever known in the case of authorities charged with looking after the interests of the people. In the first place there is no systematic inspection at all. Such inspections as do take place are only incidental to other inspections. An official is sent to investigate a case of infectious disease, and if it is remembered that something has been said about some house in the vicinity he is asked to look into that at the same time, but when his report is submitted no action is taken.
According to the representations submitted to me, large numbers of houses in these areas require attention, and I think the Department ought to take action to inspect them independently of the local authority. The Farm Workers' Union is an organisation of working-class people and these farm workers are entitled to look to that organisation to safeguard their interests, especially in view of the fact that the worker in a rural area, particularly if he lives in a house connected with a, farm, is living in a social environment totally different from that which prevails in a town. He is in an environment where the owner of the property has a more intimate connection with the members of the local authority than is the case in the cities, and the people who live in the houses are under the influence of fear. They are afraid to make complaints. The local authorities ought to introduce a more efficient system of inspection and be more active 1177 in seeing that the statutory requirements are fulfilled.
According to Section 5 of the Act of 1925 and Section 14 of the Act, of 1930 a local authority has power to compel proprietors to put their houses in a state fit for human habitation, and Section 5 of the Act of 1925 imposes upon a local authority the duty of making a systematic inspection of all houses in its area. According to Section 40 of the Act of 1919 it is the duty of a local authority other than the local authority of a borough to require an owner to obtain a proper supply of wholesome water and to introduce it into the house if it is reasonably practicable to do so, and, if not, to provide such a supply immediately out- side the house or as near thereto as is reasonably practicable. It is within the knowledge of the Under-Secretary that the Department agreed to make a test inspection in Berwickshire and Ross and Cromarty. I am informed that a test inspection was carried out in five or six parishes in Berwickshire, and that in no case was a complaint reported to be ill- founded. I would like to know whether the rest of Berwickshire has been inspected in the same way as the six parishes. A promise was also given to attend to Ross and Cromarty, and I wish to know whether anything has been done there, and whether there has been any Improvement in conditions following the long-standing complaints sent to the Department. May I give the House an example of the astounding attitude adopted by authorities up there? It shows that they are capable of exercising a great deal of intimidation over the People. The Public Health Committee of the county of Ross and Cromarty have a stereotyped reply which is sent to all who make complaints with regard to the lack of water supply to their houses:The Public Health Committee were of the opinion that it was not reasonably practicable to introduce water into the houses or to provide sufficient water closet accommodation therefor, mainly on the ground of expense, and that there will be no hardship when the water has been brought to within a reasonable distance.There is no effort to investigate the matter, and no action is taken. It will astonish hon. Members to learn that they have actually passed a resolution on the matter:Regarding the foregoing complaints and others of a like nature, it was agreed to 1178 inform the Department of Health that the committee do not favour the methods by which, in the first instance, complaints are not brought to the notice of the proprietors of houses; that ordinary courtesy demands that complaints should be so brought by the parties complaining before asking the council to exercise their statutory powers; and it was considered that this method would result in remedial measures being taken more expeditiously and without engendering unnecessary irritation.That is an excuse for not carrying out the duty of making an inspection:It was further agreed to intimate to the Department with regard to future complaints that the committee will only take notice of complaints made by people actually interested and affected by the subject of the complaint, as they can recognise no responsibility resting upon them to investigate complaints made by outside parties, however well intentioned they may appear to be.That is an astounding attitude for any local authority to adopt, and I hope that in future the Minister will make them face up to their duties. I heard of a case of one local proprietor who would do nothing in the matter of water supply until he found out that the local authority were prepared to pay two-thirds of the cost. Then all the difficulties of getting water vanished, Officers of the Department made a three days' inspection of certain portions of the country in the north, and assert that the complaints made were proved to be well founded. Again I say that I would like some assurances as to what the Department will do to insist that local authorities do not in future wait until complaints are brought to their notice, because of the special conditions in country places to which I have referred, but themselves take the initiative in seeing that the requisite provisions are made in their district. I have been informed that some time ago the Department were considering the advisability of testing the question of whether they are entitled to insist on water being introduced into houses by taking a case to court. I am sure the Under-Secretary will agree that water is one of the prerequisites of a decent house, 'and I should like to know whether the Department still intend to take a test case into court.
§ 7.28 p.m.
Sir ADRIAN BAILLlE
In spite of the somewhat fiery utterances of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the rather Hitlerite attitude of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) 1179 I should like to pay my meed of tribute to what the Department has done in the matter of slums in the year that has gone by. The hon. Member for Shettleston is not the only one who takes occasion to visit slum areas and go into the houses. In the past months I have also had occasion to discuss housing matters with the local authorities concerned, and I may say that for the most part they are satisfied with the unit grants given to slum clearance houses, though not entirely. In one area, which will be familiar to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, where they propose to build 200 houses under the Slum Clearance Act of 1930, they found that, even with the provisions of that Act the scheme would be unprofitable and. a burden on the ratepayers. They are already paying 14s. 6d. in the £, and there are hundreds of them every week asking to be exempted from paying those rates. But, generally speaking, that scheme seems to be working satisfactorily, and we can only hope that when the terms come up for revision they will not be reduced.
I will come to the serious question of the day which has been mentioned by nearly every speaker in this Debate, and that is overcrowding. I can only endorse what has been said by almost every speaker that the local authority cannot afford to build houses to let at a low rental with only a £3 subsidy. It was at first claimed that £3, a year ago, was equivalent to £9 in 1924. I think the Under-Secretary would not regard that as correct now. He must know as well as I do that the cost of house building in England is far lower than in Scotland. We were told, when the subsidy was introduced last year, that it was to encourage private enterprise by literally discouraging local authorities to build houses, except in cases of absolute emergency where private enterprise could not come in. I know that the Secretary of State does not claim that the building of houses under private enterprise has been any more than exiguous. Private enterprise has not even given us the "once over."
The problem of overcrowding in my constituency is as real and urgent as anywhere in Scotland. I have been told that if the unit grant were extended for the purpose of meeting the overcrowding 1180 problem, it might go a long way towards that end, but, unless some such extension of unit grant be made, or unless the subsidy be increased, the local authorities in West Lothian will not put their hands to the building of one house in any shape or form. Reference was made by the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) to the "tinkering up" of houses. I would be delighted to subscribe to his view, in many such cases, but I was examining a row of houses the other day about which there was some difference of opinion. My own opinion was that the houses should be scrapped, but there are other houses which could be reconditioned. There is no grant in regard to reconditioning, hut, if such a grant were made to local authorities, considerable economies, both local and national, might be made. The local authorities in my constituency are doing their very best, but they have not the wherewithal to tackle the problem of overcrowding. Reckoning outstanding loans and the deficit on current expenditure, they are out by something over £1,000,000. About 10 per cent. of the population are in receipt of public relief, and 'West Lothian is one of the two counties in Scotland described as distressed areas. In far too many cases, the housing conditions in West Lothian are deplorable. The problem is further complicated in certain areas by the fact that we cannot look with any degree of optimism for re-employment of men, especially in the shale mining areas.
§ Sir A. BAILLIE
We have not yet heard what the Government proposals are to be. To provide employment in that area you would have to employ men to build houses for themselves or for other poor people, and there would still be no opportunity of re-employment for those who are still out of employment.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I understood that the Government had made proposals to put the shale oil industry on its feet, and that they were not just going to let it die.
§ Sir A. BAILLIE
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right, but he is speaking of the past and I am speaking of the future. The measures which the Government have already taken have stabilised the in- 1181 dustry to the extent of re-employing one thousand men, and the total employed is about 4,000. The industry at one time employed 12,000 men, so that there must still be a solid wedge of shale miners there who are without an opportunity of re-employment. I was very much relieved to hear what the Under-Secretary had to tell UP about housing and the way In which he said it. I am not like the hon. Member for Gorbals, always jobbing backwards. I agree that the Measure last year was, from some points of view, a mistake, but I am glad that the Measures which are now to be taken by the Department will be drastic, thorough, complete and final. The matter brooks no delay, and I look, not with anxiety but with keenness, to the early disclosure of the Measures which the Department have in mind.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. STEVENSON
Hon Members on this side of the House have congratulated the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary on the work done in connection with health during last year, but I think it is a mistake to accept the suggestions put forward by some of them, that we look with favour on the conditions of housing. I congratulate the Secretary of State and his Department on the drives which they are making with the object of clearing the slums. The statistics which he has produced as to the houses built by private enterprise are satisfactory. I put that forward with two qualifications, one of which is that the houses built under private enterprise are a very small proportion of the number of wage-earners in this country who can afford to pay the rents. I have also certain reservations to make on the congratulations which I offer to the Minister in regard to slum clearance. He tells us that we can now expect that 92 per cent. of the slum clearance houses in Scotland will be removed under schemes at present put forward. Those of us who are familiar with the densely populated areas in our industrial towns realise that a very fine distinction is sometimes drawn between houses which are condemned and those which are allowed to remain.
Slums cannot be cured by demolishing condemned houses. The condemned house is only a symptom of the trouble. If we are to clear our cities of slums we must go a step further. We must look at the 1182 cause of the disease and tackle it wholeheartedly. The cause of the slum area is two-fold. Some people suggest that slums are due to overcrowding only, but there is another reason, which depends to a very large extent on the condition in which the houses or tenements are maintained. The external appearance of a house or tenement may be very good, but if sufficient be not spent in maintaining the house and keeping it continually in as modern a condition as possible, the house immediately goes down in character. I regret that the Scottish Office have not insisted upon local authorities drawing up rules, regulations and bylaws, as they are entitled to do under the Housing Acts, the Public Health Acts and Local Government Acts, setting forth the minimum conditions, with reference to the maintenance and sanitation of houses, below which houses shall not be occupied. That is one of the first things to do in trying to cure a slum area.
Many advantages will be derived from that. We are all familiar with the type of tenement which requires a considerable amount of work to be done upon it to make it habitable. It is impossible to recondition certain tenement houses, but all depends upon the state at which the tenement house has arrived. There are many that could be put into reasonable condition with reasonable expense, perhaps by enlarging the size of the house, turning a two-roomed house into a three-roomed house or taking one room out of the house and seeing that the space is divided up and the house provided with proper lavatory and bathroom accommodation, and with scullery and wash-house. The Secretary of State should consider whether at as early a date as possible he can lay down some reasonable standard as to the sanitary condition of houses, using powers which are in existence or acquiring other powers in order to see that houses are maintained to that standard. If that be not done, it will not matter how many slum houses we clear, because other slum houses will come into existence.
I feel a great deal of disappointment in regard to the small provision which is made for the reduction of overcrowding. It does not matter very much what type of house people live in while they are in overcrowded conditions. Such conditions are bound to lead to a reduction in 1183 health and, in very many cases, in general conduct and morality. I mean by morality not only sex morality but the general mental and physical strength of the people residing in those conditions. The more people there are in a room the less chance there is of individual development or of any attempt at home life. People are driven outside in all conditions of weather and stress, and the temptations which are put before them in our cities in such circumstances are often deplorable. I hope that in the near future there will be as strong and enthusiastic a drive by the Secretary of State to reduce overcrowding as that which he appears to be making to reduce the amount of actual slum property. He has told us that he has representatives of his Department visiting the various localities and giving advice as to what the locality can do under the existing law, and also on matters connected with the structure of houses. I should like him, if he has this staff available—and I suggest that, if he has not, he should acquire the staff—to go one stage further than that. A large number of slum clearance and other houses are being dealt with by municipalities at present, but in rather a spasmodic way, without any plans. In some areas of our cities, houses are being pulled down while other similar houses escape.
I should like to see, even in the centre of our towns, some system of planning adopted for rehousing or the rebuilding of houses there, and I am particularly anxious also that, in the very densely populated parts of our cities, provision should if possible to made, not only for leaving open spaces where houses are pulled down, but for making those open spaces attractive and congenial to the people who live round about them. Often we see in our cities a blank space where the ground is not even level enough for children to play on, and where there has been no attempt at growing trees, or laying out grass, or anything of that sort. I feel that as much provision as possible should be made for open spaces where the people in the locality can sit or walk, and derive some benefit in addition to fresh air. I cannot help thinking that the fact that people living in a crowded area are able to see trees and grass growing, to realise that, while there is a time when the trees are bare, 1184 yet a time also comes later on, in the spring of the year, when they begin to show forth their leaves and flowers, must give to the people themselves a feeling that they have an opportunity of getting into better surroundings, and that, where they are able to do so by putting forth, as is almost invariably the case, some little additional effort in their work, they will have prospects of flourishing as the trees do. I think that that does as much good as anything else in helping to raise the morale of the people, and I am sure we must realise that persons who have been moved from the slums to more open surroundings, where they have their own gardens and a different atmosphere, derive as much benefit from that as they do from the advantages of reasonably good and well equipped houses. While I congratulate the Secretary of State on the drive that he has made in the past towards reducing and clearing our slums, I hope that in the future he will use as much, and if possible more, effort in trying to remove the various defects of our housing system which are the cause of the slums. Otherwise, we shall never get rid of them.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES REID
At this late hour I do not propose to do anything more than suggest those steps which I think ought to be taken immediately, before the comprehensive Bill of which we have heard is brought in. At the present moment there is, so to speak, a breathing space. Building under the Acts of 1923 and 1924, and under the slum clearance provisions, cannot take up the whole energy of the building trade in Scotland, and, clearly, the Act of last year cannot produce any reasonable number of houses. No one ever expected that it would. The purpose of that Act was really to bring to an end the subsidy provisions which were not satisfactory, and to release the whole energy of house-building for the purposes of slum clearance, with the certainty that within a year or two a further and more comprehensive Measure would be necessary.
Before that further Measure can be drafted one must envisage the problem as a whole. The problem of the slums is a severe, but limited, problem. Overcrowding is just as severe, and much more widespread. But even that does not end the problem. What is required is an accurate survey of the capabilities, 1185 potentialities, and requirements of each area, and the object at which we must all aim is one habitable house per family. I do not suggest that there should be one new house per family, because that is unattainable within a generation. My quarrel with those hon. Members who pooh-pooh reconstruction is that, if reconstruction be ruled out, it is not possible for the building trade to produce enough houses within the next 15, 20 or 25 years, and, therefore, we should be condemning a very large number of people to remain in their present almost uninhabitable houses.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Would the hon. Member be in favour of reconditioning the houses at the expense of the owners, without subsidy from the Government? Otherwise, the expense is going to fall on the Government and the municipality.
§ Mr. REID
The first thing about which one has to make up one's mind is the work that has to be done in a particular area, and the next thing is by whom the work is to be done and on what financial terms. If it is possible to make the owner do the work without expense to the State, nobody will be better pleased than I, as I have more objection to spending the State's money than the hon. Member opposite has. But, if it turns out that it is not possible to make the owner do it—if he goes bankrupt or something of that kind before he does it—the job nevertheless has to be done, and in such circumstances the State's money will have to be applied to the purpose.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but this is very important. In the event of the owner going bankrupt, would the hon. Member say that the municipality or the local authority should take over the houses?
§ Mr. REID
I confess that I object, speaking for myself alone, to the local authorities taking over more houses than they have already, because there are many reasons why local authorities should not own houses; but I have no objection in principle to a national housing board taking over such houses. If the hon. Member thinks that that is Socialism, I give it to him. Personally, I am perfectly indifferent whether a proposal is called Socialism, or Capitalism, or any other "ism," so long as it works. My 1186 own personal view is that in this case there is room for a national housing board to take over a number of these houses and recondition them. I am quite willing to be told that other people have other views, but it seems to me that the main thing is to get the work done. How it is done and who does it are to me rather secondary considerations.
I assume, therefore, to begin with, that what we are out to do is to produce, within, say, the next 10 years, one habitable house for each family, and I think there ought to be a comprehensive survey of each area with a view to discovering how that is to be done in that particular area. We have to start with what is in the area at the moment—the number of reasonably satisfactory houses that do not need to be touched; and I should very much like to see all houses which are at present owned by local authorities thrown into one pool, and no longer earmarked as 1923, 1924 or 1930 houses, because I am sure that in many cases local authorities are thereby handicapped. I would like to see all existing houses, whether owned by local authorities or by private enterprise, catalogued. The second point would be as to the number of houses which are not quite satisfactory, but which can be reconditioned. We ought to have an idea of how many of these there are in each area, roughly; it could not be attained accurately without a long investigation. Thirdly, it should be ascertained how many there are which, within the next 10 years, ought to be demolished. The number would be much larger than the number of houses already condemned for slum clearance purposes, because it would include all the decay that is going to take place in the next 10 years. It has been recommended that no houses should be reconstructed unless they have 20 years' useful life. If a house has only 10 years' useful life, but is not yet a slum clearance house, it ought to be put in my third category of houses which would have to be demolished before we attain the result at which we are aiming.
Then it would be necessary to ascertain the requirements of the area within the next 10 years, and that could not be done merely by counting heads or counting houses. We are aiming, not at one house for so many individuals, but at one house per family, and we know that the number of individuals per family is de- 1187 creasing year by year. Moreover, there may be a larger rate of increase of population in one area than in another, and, in order to ascertain the housing requirements of any area, one must consider the general trend of trade and the general trend of population in the area. It sounds complicated, but I do not believe that, in the hands of skilled people, it would be found to be so complicated as it sounds. Assuming that it is found that there is a certain shortage to be made up within the next 10 years, then comes the really important point—where the houses are to be built. It is no good planting even a new Jerusalem if it is planted at the end of a car-line three or four miles away. Although you may have whole rows of new houses standing empty in the outskirts, you will still have overcrowding at the centre unless you provide there, or within a short distance, sufficient accommodation for those who require to live there, and, indeed, for those who desire to live there.
A great deal of the present overcrowding is probably caused, not by lack of houses taken broad and large, but by lack of decent houses at the place where they are wanted, and I venture to think that no plan will succeed unless it contains very specific provisions for the construction of decent houses in those parts of our large cities where they are specially required by the population. Therefore, the plan would have to deal with the number of houses to be cleared in the course of 10 years, or whatever the period may be; the number to be reconditioned; the number to be built at the centre; and the number to be built on the outskirts, as is done under the present system. It may be found that in certain cases the present system of building has about reached its useful limit, and that we shall have to adopt a different system in order to meet what is now an unsatisfied demand. I hope that in that way the Government will be able to see, before they introduce their new Measure, exactly what is required in the larger and more important areas.
I do not think it would be possible in the time to make a comprehensive survey of the whole of Scotland, but the right hon. Gentleman's flying squad might select one or two, or perhaps six or seven, typical areas of an urban 1188 character, and similarly of a rural character, and they might make a comprehensive survey of them. Those surveys ought not to be made by the local authorities but by the Department in consultation with the local authorities. We have been told by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) that the local authorities last year estimated one sum and that today they estimate quite a different sum. That is inevitable. Local authorities cannot possibly all work on the same lines. They cannot have the same ideas. In order to see the problem as a whole we want someone to work throughout the whole of Scotland with the same ideas in the same way. Who is going to do the work at the end of the day is another and more controversial story, but the man to make the census and to present the problem to us ought to be a servant of the Department and not of the local authority. I hope, before the final details of the Bill are settled, the right hon. Gentleman will have adequate assistance from his own officials in the shape of some such survey of selected areas as I have suggested.
There are arguments in favour of local authorities doing the whole of the work and there is a very obvious argument against it, namely, that the local authorities have their hands full with slum clearance. am not at all sure that, if you put on the local authorities' shoulders the additional task of reconditioning, of building up a new type of tenement it may be in the centre of the city, and other activities of that kind, you will not fail to achieve your object even more lamentably than failures have taken place in the past. Private enterprise can undoubtedly be stimulated. I have no objection to private enterprise receiving subsidies under control if it turns out that they produce the goods which the Government want at a lower cost than they could be produced in any other way. It may be also that some national supervision, or indeed national control, of building or reconditioning may be necessary. It may be that two or more of these methods will have to run concurrently, but whatever the ultimate decision, we have, first of all, to envisage the problem fully and as a whole, we have then to spread the work, it may be, over different kinds of organisations if no one organisation can tackle the 1189 whole thing, and we have undoubtedly to spend a great deal of money, because the thing cannot be done without it. Provided we know we have a workable scheme which is going to put the housing system right for another 10 years, I do not think anyone will object to a pretty large expenditure of public money on the ground that, if not from a mere accountancy point of view, certainly from the point of view of the health and happiness of the country, it will be returned to us many times over.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord SCONE
I wish to refer for a few minutes to the Rural Housing (Scotland) Act. That Act has undoubtedly been of the very greatest benefit, and it has enabled many houses whose only fault was that they were somewhat out of date to be put into a condition to house our rural workers in modern conditions. It may be asked why a rural landlord should have a subsidy in respect of these houses. There are several very good reasons. First of all, rents have come down very much, with a by no means corresponding decrease in the cost of repairs and administration, and few landlords, unless provided with a large independent income, are able to keep up their workers' houses in the way that they would like. Only a few days ago a case was brought to my notice of a farm that was re-let at a rent of only 57 per cent. of what it was some three years ago. Next it has to be remembered that, even if the Exchequer contribution is as high as two-thirds, there still has to be one-third paid by the landlord which may amount to a very large sum, if many houses are involved. Thirdly, and most important of all, in almost every case these are houses which are part of the emoluments of those who occupy them. No rent is every received from them, and therefore the owner receives not a penny back for his expenditure. All he gets is the satisfaction of knowing that his work-people are living in really up-to-date houses, and in every case that is a sufficient recompense.
One danger to the expansion of this scheme to which I should like to draw attention is the question of the shortage of water. Not merely are many districts ill-provided with water as far as their present requirements are concerned, but as those requiements increase with the introduction of water into many more 1190 houses, so will their supplies prove even more inadequate. In Dumfriesshire on a property belonging to my family we are beginning a large scheme of reconstruction of cottages. Unfortunately this area is very badly provided with water. It is a special water district, and the supply is outwith the parish. Last year it was not very far short of failure. At the moment it is adequate, but it is likely that it will run very short as the autumn proceeds. If we are to introduec water into a large number of houses, it, means that we are going to increase the consumption by anything up to 25 gallons a clay, which is the usual figure taken. Suppose it is only 20 gallons and assume that each house contains five occupants. If we put 20 houses in order, we are going to throw an additional burden of 2,000 gallons a day on to a supply which already in dry years is hardly adequate. We are, therefore, faced with the unpleasant alternative either of leaving the houses in their present state or taking the risk of bringing them up to date and very likely throwing on to the local water supply a burden which it is totally impossible for it to carry. The district can only get an adequate water supply by means of a very large scheme. For reasons best known, to itself the Dumfries County Council has not made any application for a grant for this district. It is regrettable in view of the fact that the whole area along the coast from Dumfries to Annan is badly supplied with water. This instance is typical of many areas. As far as my own constituency is concerned, I read to-day the annual report of the county medical officer of health. Throughout the county, in places too numerous to mention, there is a water shortage. Again, the problem is going to be brought very forcibly before landlords, who will either have to leave the houses as they are or take the risk of causing a universal shortage of water.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is the Noble Lord aware that I asked the Secretary of State in how many places there was a shortage of water and the reply was that there was only one place in Scotland, and that was the Brig of Turk.
§ Lord SCONE
A month ago is not to-day. I also put a question a month ago, and at that time the situation was as the hon. Member has stated. To-day it is very considerably worse. The only way in which these small districts can hope to get an adequate water supply is by assistance from Government grants. The county council of Perth is very up to date, and it has applied for many grants, but, to use a commercial expression, the issue of £137,500 made by the Government has already been heavily over subscribed, and there is no chance that the county council will get anything like probably a quarter of the sum necessary. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to extract from a flinty-hearted Treasury at least £250,000 for water in his next Estimates.
All Scotland is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the drive that he is making to clear up the slums, and all Scotland will be equally grateful for the drive that he is going to make to reduce overcrowding. I am glad to say that the Perth Town Council are showing themselves to be very progressive indeed. They hope that within two years there will be neither slums nor overcrowding. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said one might see unpleasant sights in the way of housing in Perth. That was the case up to a few years ago, but it has now very nearly disappeared, and I trust that in the near future it will be impossible for anyone to see houses in Perth which will not be a credit to the city. I know the town council are doing their best in that connection. There is one point in regard to compensation for slum property. A case was brought to my notice of a constituent, an old woman whose sole income is derived from the rents of some eight small houses. She is doing her best to keep them in decent condition as far as her means allow her. As the income that she derives from them is barely sufficient to keep body and soul together, it is hardly surprising that they have got into a state which can hardly be described as fit for human habitation. If she is forcibly deprived of her property and is only to be given the site value, an injustice will be done and she will be forced to the alternative of starvation or the poor house. It may be very difficult to draw a distinction between cases where an old person is entirely dependent 1192 on rents and others where a person owns a large amount of property and can well afford to put it in order, but I hope the right hen. Gentleman will make some effort to do something for these poor people who are faced with the loss of the small income on which they entirely depend. With almost every one else who has spoken, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary on the efforts that they are making to improve housing and at the same time to better the water supply, but a very great deal more has to be done, and, if they bring forward a really energetic scheme which will put Scottish housing into a very different condition in the next ten years, Scotland will be grateful to them for evermore.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
It is rather difficult for one to take part in this Debate and to express any feeling contrary to that of good will towards the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary. There are some things upon which we can all agree. Both the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary have been as competent and capable as any holders of their respective offices during the 16 years that I have been a Member of this House. But most loyal supporters of the Government have made it plain that the Bill which they passed through this House has proved to be a failure.
There have been so-called constructive speeches by supporters of the Government in regard to the slum problem. I do not know whether a suggestion which I desire to make to deal with the question of slums and overcrowding will be regarded as constructive, but I propose to put it forward with the utmost sincerity as one deserving of consideration by the Department. The members of the Department and their families should be compelled to live in a one or a two-roomed house for six or 12 months, and then they would get to know what a one or a two-apartment house really means. I believe that it would have the effect of quickening the rate of progress as far as the clearing away of slums is concerned. I would not be at all annoyed if some Members of the Government, and particularly representatives of the Treasury, were dumped down into some of the houses in my constituency where the occupiers have to sit up all night 1193 to prevent their children from being eaten by rats and have to go to work the following day and are generally expected by their employers to perform a good day's work. The people who know best the conditions of the slums are not the intellectuals. The people who are appointed on various commissions to make recommendations to deal with the question usually know absolutely nothing about it, and, in very many cases, lack sympathy.
The slum problem is a pretty severe one. It is not new so far as Scotland is concerned, and Scotland is not worse than England. There are as rotten slums in England as there are in Scotland. Slums are due to low wages. One-apart went houses may become overcrowded owing to the inability of the occupiers to pay for more adequate accommodation. I dare say that the character of those people is as good as that of the best of us. It is not a question of character or of willingness to work or being able to work, or being capable workers, but of not having sufficient income in order to pay a sufficient rent to enable either private or public enterprise to provide them with adequate housing accommodation. It is all very well to talk about private enterprise failing to supply houses. Public enterprise has also failed. None of the public utility societies and none of the local authorities in Scotland are building houses for the men who are unemployed.
There are large numbers of persons in my constituency, and in every constituency in the West of Scotland, living in overcrowded conditions and in rotten slums. Families are separated, the mother living in one house and the rest of the family in another. They have lived all their lives in the locality, and the municipality cannot or will not provide them with houses. If they are unemployed or dependent upon public relief and they go to the town or county council and ask for a house, they have to produce rent receipts to show that they are clear in their rent. I appreciate the point of view of the local authorities. They do not want to let a house to a tenant who is unable to pay the rent. They have any amount of sympathy with the applicant, but they say, "No, we cannot give you a house because you are unable to pay the rent."
This brings me to a point which was raised by one or two hon. Members. It 1194 was mentioned in the first instance by the Under-Secretary who rather prided himself on the fact that the money to be devoted to the provision of water supplies is to be distributed in areas where there is a water scarcity. That is all to the good from many points of view, but I would like to draw the attention of the Department and the Minister to the fact that although we are not suffering from lack of water as far as our area is concerned, we have to pay towards the provision of water for Caithness or Dumfries. Are Dumfries and Caithness prepared to contribute to the maintenance of the people who are in bad circumstances in my area, seeing that we have to pay towards the provision of water? I have lived long enough to know that there has been too much coddling in certain areas at the expense of industrial areas, and it must be remembered that the poverty of our country is in the industrial areas, where the wealth has been created. It makes people not merely Socialists, but Communists, and even worse than Communists very often, because of the experience they have to undergo in regard to this matter. There is only one way of settling it. and that is by the State becoming responsible for the provision of houses. The State is as entitled to do that as it is to provide work. It would be not merely a paying proposition from the economic standpoint, but it would be a paying proposition from every point of view, if we look at it free of prejudice. I am not opposed to private enterprise merely because it is private enterprise. I am not a believer in Socialism merely because capitalism is bad, but because Socialism is a means by which it will be possible to produce conditions that will make life much more comfortable for every member of the community. If it did not do that, I should not believe in it and I do not know any Socialist who would.
I believe that the State should be responsible for the provision of houses. It is a health question and an economic question. A man who has full rest in his house, a workman who has a bed to himself and who gets fully rested after his day's work is an infinitely better workman the next day than the man who has to lie in bed along with five or six others. The child who goes to school out of a crowded home and a crowded bed is under very considerable disadvantages compared 1195 with the children of parents who are in somewhat better circumstances. There will be no possibility of our giving commendation to this Government or to the next Government, even if it should be a Labour Government, or a Socialist Government, unless they are going to deal in a really thorough manner with the question of housing, and that can only be done by providing not one or two-apartment houses for families but a sufficient number of houses to separate the sexes.
There are several questions that I wish to ask. I have been invited to attend a conference, at which I understand there will be a representative attendance of Members of this House. We are summoned to meet in Lanarkshire House, and the subject to be discussed is the subsidy. I do not propose to cross the t's or dot the i's of what has been said by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), but I agree with him that if we can spend millions of pounds in subsidising various industries we should be prepared to give sufficient payment to the local authority to enable them to carry out the instructions they get from the flying squad or any other squad appointed by the Scottish Department. In Glasgow, Paisley and Hamilton there is a considerable number of houses in respect of which the local authority will not get the subsidy, because of the dispute that took place in the building trade in which the plasterers were involved, which meant that they were unable to complete the houses within the time specified. Those authorities have had an intimation from the Department that they will not be entitled to the subsidy. If I were a member of a town council and I felt that we were being treated in that fashion by the Department, I should endeavour to get round any instructions that they sent. It is natural for the local authorities to be against the Department if the Department take up the position that, because, for some reason over which they had absolutely no control, the local authorities were prevented from carrying out a certain duty laid, they and the people they represent are to be mulcted in a considerable addition to their rates.
I have the figures from the Ministry of Health Report of the payments made under the Poor Law in respect of the able-bodied unemployed, and I find that 1196 in Hamilton the rates of payments for destitute able-bodied unemployed have increased by 183 per cent. since 1931. In Clydebank the increase is 106 per cent., in Motherwell 450 per cent., in Dumbarton 184 per cent., and in Greenock, the Secretary of State's own constituency, 204 per cent. In Hamilton, Clydebank, Dumbarton, Glasgow, Port Glasgow, Greenock, Rutherglen, Airdrie, Coatbridge, Motherwell and Paisley, all industrial areas, where they have much overcrowding, slums, low wages and unemployment, the local authorities are unable to meet the calls that are being made upon them by the Government. To ask them now to submit to the indignity of being refused the continuance of the subsidy because of failure to complete houses that could not be erected because of a dispute over which they had no control, is not merely unreasonable but is an absolute scandal. I ask the Department to approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or anybody who can be brought into the matter, with a view to endeavouring to get them to give us the same privileges that have been given by the Ministry of Health to an English town, to which case my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) called attention to-day.
There is another question in Lanarkshire which is of great importance, and that is drainage. The Department will have representations made to them from Lanarkshire in regard to that matter. The drainage question is somewhat serious in certain parts of Lanarkshire. Lanarkshire is one of the worst distressed areas in the whole of Great Britain, and the rates have increased by nearly 200 per cent., therefore I appeal to the Government to pay some regard to the representations made from that county in regard to this matter and to give them the assistance that will be necessary to enable them to put the drainage conditions in various villages in Lanarkshire in a more healthy state than they are in at the present time.
There is one other question I want to bring to the notice of the Secretary of State. My friends and I met him in regard to a difficulty which has arisen in Dundee over the redistribution of the wards. The right hon. Gentleman agreed that there should be an inquiry, and he appointed Sheriff Blades to hold the in- 1197 quiry. The local people are satisfied with the action taken by the Scottish Office, but, unfortunately, the date of the inquiry has been fixed for the Dundee trade holiday week. Obviously, if the inquiry is to be held during that week it will be impossible for some of those who have been protesting against the proposal to attend, and I am asking the Secretary of State to give favourable consideration to the application I now make, that the inquiry should be adjourned to a later date in order to give them an opportunity of appearing. In our remarks there is no personal reflection upon the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary of State. Our experience is that while we may not get much, we always get civility, and occasionally the one thing above all others which we want, not merely promises but performances. As far as we are concerned I can promise on behalf of my colleagues that we will give the fullest support to the Government in this matter. If they give us evidence that they really are in earnest they can rest assured that it will be a national effort, there will be no division of parties, but unless we do get something more than promises there will be something in the nature of 'an explosion a year hence when Scottish Estimates come before us.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
I am sure that no Member of the Government will take exception to the closing words of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Graham). All we ask of hon. Members is that they will judge us by our performances, after we have had sufficient time to see that our plans are put into operation. The hon. Member has touched on difficulties which have arisen in certain areas; they were also referred to by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) in regard to the housing subsidy. I have had an opportunity since the hon. Member spoke of discussing this matter again. I have been in touch with the Housing Committee of the Glasgow Corporation, and am anxious to remove 'any doubt or suspicion which may have arisen, and which may still exist, in their minds, more especially as the Glasgow Corporation are bending all their energies to the utmost to deal with their slum areas. I ask hon. Members opposite, as I ask the corporation of Glasgow, to believe me 1198 when I say that I have been definitely assured by the Minister of Health that not one of the Sheffield houses referred to will earn any State subsidy unless they have been completed by the 30th June, 1934. The conditions of approval of the erection of these houses do not affect that fact. That is a definite statement which I make on behalf of the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
Will the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to receive a deputation on that matter from the localities affected?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Most decidedly. I was asked to receive a deputation from the Glasgow Corporation last Thursday, and I replied that I would meet them on Monday last. That date was not convenient to the corporation, but I am prepared to meet them on any date which is most convenient to them.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The right hon. Gentleman was present when I read a letter received by the convener of the housing committee of the corporation, and he will agree that it was evident from that letter that members of the Sheffield Corporation were under the impression that a concession had been granted by an extension of the period within which the subsidy could be earned. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will state, or if the Minister of Health will state, that no such extension of the period is to be given to the Sheffield Corporation for earning the £9 subsidy, and that consequently the statement contained in the letter sent by a member of the Sheffield Corporation to Glasgow must be founded on a misconception or upon error?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am glad that the hon. Member has raised that matter again, because it is my desire that it should be definitely cleared up. I have no doubt that the person who wrote that letter to the individual in Glasgow was of the opinion that some of the Sheffield houses would earn the subsidy although they may have been completed after the date of the 30th June, 1934. But say here very definitely that not one of the Sheffield houses will earn any State subsidy unless they have been completed by the 30th June, 1934. The condition of approval, and this may be where the misunderstanding has arisen, of the erection of these houses does not affect that 1199 matter. In England, as in Scotland, no £9 subsidy is payable on any house under the 1924 Act after the 30th June, 1934. May I carry the matter one stage further in order to remove a sense of unfairness which exists in the minds of some members of the Glasgow Corporation that they have been treated differently from the treatment of Sheffield. They feel sore, I have no doubt, but I ask them to view this matter with a sense of proportion. About 20,000 houses have been completed in Glasgow by the 30th June with the aid of the £9 subsidy under the 1924 Act; a total annual subsidy, therefore, of £180,000 for 40 years. The number of 1924 Act houses uncompleted at the 30th June, 1934, in Glasgow was 1,474. The corporation will get £3 in respect of these houses if they are completed by the 31st March next. Their incompletion by the 30th June this year means that the corporation will lose £6 per house; that is a sum of £8,844 per annum. My hon. Friend has mentioned more than once that the" corporation should transfer those 1,474 houses, or some of them, to the 1930 Act, and so obviate or lessen materially the loss to be sustained. I think that that is a fair statement.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
But are not the conditions under the 1930 Act considerably different from the conditions under the 1924 Act?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am not denying that at all, but, if the houses do conform to the 1930 Act, they will get a very good subsidy, several pounds per house, as the hon. Member knows. I hope that that explanation may satisfy the Corporation of Glasgow. I do not want to blunt their edge, and I hope that they will press forward as now with slum clearance in that great city. I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the hon. Member for enabling us to discuss the problem of housing for most of the day. He has raised, as other hon. Members have raised, several problems with which shall hope to deal in my general observations after I have dealt with some of the specific points put to me. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) quoted figures relating to the number of houses; but he will remember that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary quoted figures they related to the number of houses completed. The right hon. Member for Caithness spoke at 1200 times of the number of houses under construction. Since he spoke I have had prepared some statistics showing the number of State-assisted house completed during each of the last four years. The total for 1931 was 10,600; for 1932 it was 15,800; for 1933 it was 20,900; and the estimate for this year is 21,000, the actual figures for the first six months having been some 12,000 houses.
From those figures of houses completed there has been no setback. My right hon. Friend referred to the difficulties in rural areas, especially the Highlands, and he pressed upon us that the Department should endeavour to deal with uninhabitable houses in the Highland country. I admit that much has to be done, and I can. assure him that the officials of the Department are presently attending to that problem. I hope that before the next Vote comes forward, we shall be able to give my right hon. Friend an account of some satisfactory work in the Highland areas. My right hon. Friend spoke of the cost of building. The figures for the last two years have been showing a slight decline. The year 1934 shows a slight decline over 1933.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I quoted figures which were given to us by the Under-Secretary of State in the Debate on the Report stage of the 1933 Bill, and quoted also the figures which were given to me only last week, and they certainly show a rise for exactly the same class of house.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The figures I have had given me show a decline, but will withdraw them for a moment and make further inquiries and inform my right hon. Friend of the exact cost, the comparable cost with the figures referred to on page 18 of the annual report. From my present information, the 1934 figure does show a slight decrease. The right hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members have referred to the water supply in their several areas. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in his opening statement mentioned the four factors which would guide the Department when allocating the sum set aside by Parliament for the purpose. It will not be an easy job to sit in judgment and to allocate this comparatively small sum of money, in view of the vast applications which have been pressed forward by the different counties and areas, but on the 1201 guiding rules which have been enunciated to the Committee the money will be applied to the best possible use.
The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) made a very powerful speech in favour of dealing in a large and comprehensive way with overcrowding. He asked, what has the State done? I fear that at times the hon. Member is rather apt to overlook the very large effort which the State has made for housing since the War. I do not stand here in any spirit of complacency; far be it from me to do that. I know full well the terrible overcrowding conditions which exist in our towns in Scotland, but I must remind the hon. Member that since 1919 176,000 State-assisted houses have been built with Exchequer money, at a cost to the Exchequer of £17,500,000 already and a larger sum for the future. As the hon. Member drew his picture this afternoon I could not help saying to myself—and I am inclined to think that he will agree with me—that although the conditions are indeed bad in our cities, yet no country has ever made greater efforts for her people than Great Britain has made in the last 15 years.
The hon. Member said that someone should be given power to deal with this matter, to cope with the problem of overcrowding and slum clearance in 10 years. During the last few months we have endeavoured to tackle the problem of slum clearance. If we could be judged and criticised this afternoon for failure to deal with overcrowding, I would stand here in a, white sheet. But I submit to the Committee that if the Government of the day in Scotland were to try to drive forward with all the energy at their command to cope with the two great evils which have existed in Scotland for so long—the problems of slum clearance and overcrowding—they would indeed fail. We felt it was far better to ask the public authorities in Scotland during this year to concentrate first, with all the forces at their command, on getting slum clearance under way, before asking the local authorities to bend their energies in future years to deal with overcrowding.
Many hon. Members have touched on that point. The junior Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) spoke with truth of the bad housing conditions in Dundee and of the sights which I saw 1202 there with her and other hon. Members. The picture which she drew was, alas, an accurate one and I am glad to think that at a recent meeting between the Dundee Corporation and the, Department's officials the Lord Provost of Dundee on behalf of the corporation gave an assurance that they would build to the full extent of their capacity and that they hoped during this year and next to complete about 1,500 houses to replace these slum houses. I can only say that Dundee would honour itself if it would abolish these slums at a very early date. The junior Member for Dundee also referred to the different types of houses and it is interesting to note that under the slum clearance formula yin the 1930 Act the burden on local authorities in respect of the erection of three-roomed houses, is less than that involved in the erection of two-roomed houses. In other words, local authorities who erect three-roomed houses instead of two-roomed houses under the 1930 Act, have a smaller sum to pay. That wise provision is now in operation and I am glad to do justice to it because it is a direct encouragement to local authorities to build three-roomed houses rather than two-roomed houses.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) displayed that spirit which we know so well both here and in the Scottish Standing Committee. He spoke as a true Scot when he said he was proud to know the rate at which Scotland had travelled on the road of progress and the change for the better in the past 50 years. We all agree with him that further progress can and must be made, but it must have been gratifying to the hon. Member's colleagues from Scotland to hear his direct testimony to the vast improvement which has taken place among the Scottish people during the past 30 to 50 years. The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) raised a variety of questions about local authorities and rural housing conditions which I may deal with as follows. The test case to which he referred is I understand going on. With regard to the local authorities inspection, a considerable amount has already been done and we shall certainly consider what steps can be taken to accelerate the completion of that inspection. Several hon. Members have touched on the question of water supplies and various other topics and if 1203 I do not endeavour to deal with those matters as fully as those hon. Members would desire, that is not through any lack of courtesy on my part but through lack of time.
Before concluding I should like to make one or two general observations about the Debate. It has indeed been a very remarkable Debate. Hon. Members from all parts of Scotland have been unanimous in the view that the problem of overcrowding must be tackled with earnestness and a determination to succeed. Government supporters, no less than Members of the Opposition, have this afternoon pressed that case upon the attention of the Government. One hon. Member after another has addressed the Committee, with knowledge, on the conditions existing in their various constituencies. They have, as I have already said, drawn a picture which is only too true of the tragedy of overcrowding in many areas. It is in no spirit of complacency that I stand here responsible with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the housing-policy to deal with these conditions. We have endeavoured this year to deal with slum clearance. In February last the local authorities met us and put forward proposals for dealing with 70 per cent. of the slum areas under their control. In July, I am proud to think, the local authorities in Scotland showed themselves so much alive to their duty and so keen to wipe out this problem from their midst, that they submitted proposals under which 92 per cent. of the slums in Scotland will, if their plans mature, be wiped out within five years. This Debate has shown a burning desire on the part of hon. Members that the Government of the day should interpret the mind of Parliament by dealing with overcrowding next year. That is the object of the Government—to interpret the mind of Parliament on these all-important subjects—but I must ask the Committee to wait until next year, until our plans have matured.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
For the very obvious reason that if we asked these local authorities to press forward with overcrowding as well as slum clearance this year, the whole machinery would become clogged. My experience in these matters shows that it is better to do one thing at a time. Surveyors and architects have to 1204 be consulted and much work has to be done and by attempting too much at once we might cause the whole machinery to break down. At any rate, for good or ill, we took the decision some time ago that the attention of the local authorities might well be directed to the slum clearance problem this year. It may be that we were wrong but I submit that if we had tried to press forward both matters we might not have had those excellent figures dealing with slum clearance which the Under-Secretary was able to give to the Committee to-day. As I say we made our decision and I am prepared to submit it to the judgment of the Committee. But we realise the determination of hon. Members to force the problem of overcrowding on the attention of the Government. If we did not interpret the minds of our colleagues from Scotland and the mind of our people upon this subject, then, indeed, we should be sensible of having neglected in our day an opportunity of dealing with a great need of the people of Scotland. In view of all that has been said, I now ask the Committee to allow us to pass from this to the next Vote which is down for consideration, and, with that object in view, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.