HC Deb 04 July 1935 vol 303 cc2129-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £2,062,724, 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, 1936, 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 Contribution Pensions Acts, and other Services.

10.42 p.m.


I know that at this late hour it is not to be expected that the Minister will introduce this Vote in a normal way, but I should have liked to have had some discussion on the administration of old age pensions. Can nothing be done in Scotland to deal with the payment of the pensioner who is over 70? As everyone knows, the payment of pensions to those of 70 and over is subject to a different procedure from that adopted under the Contributory Pensions Act. There is a different kind of inspectorate. The inspection is done by the Excise officers. Could not the Scottish Office take up the question with a view to seeing that the administration of both kinds of pensions is under one department? These people who are over 70 do not understand the technicalities and difficulties of the forms which they have to fill. I have nothing but praise for the administrative staff, from whom we always get civility—


As far as I can make out, the point that the hon. Member is raising comes under Vote 6, Class V. Pensions for those over 70 come under a separate Vote.


I knew the dangerous ground I was on, but I was trying to plead with the Under-Secretary to group these two classes of pensions under one Vote. Cannot we get the administration carried out by one set of people? The forms in both cases go to the same department in the end, the Board of Health, and the people who ultimately adjudicate on claims are the same people. The time has come when the whole of the investigating staff and the general administration should be under the Scottish Board of Health.


That would require legislation.


I thought that approach could be made without legislation, and I leave it at that. The other point I wish to raise is in connection with widows' pensions. I feel that the Government could make things easier for the claimants. At present a claimant for a widows' pension may be notified that the claim is refused because her late husband had been passed out of insurance and had come back into insurance without the 104 stamps. I know that that is a matter which would require legislation, but the Government at present have power on one point and that is in regard to the passing-out. People are constantly asking why they have been passed out and I cannot discover from the Secretary of State or anybody else who passes them out and why they are passed out. The law says that if a man is trying to keep within the insurance field he is entitled to be kept in by the society.


I have been looking into this matter further, and it really appears to me that this question should be raised on Vote 7. There is a very small sum in this Vote in respect of certain expenses connected with the administration of contributory pensions, but I am not clear whether that covers the subject which the hon. Member is raising. The question appears to be one of general administration rather than Scottish administration.


I submit that it is covered by the Scottish Vote. In proportion to the number of insured contributors in Scotland it is covered by the Scottish Vote. We pay part of the expenditure in so far as the Scottish section of the population is concerned and therefore I think I am right in saying that the cost of administration in respect of Scotland falls on the Scottish Vote. All I want to say is that I would like the Scottish Office to go into the question of widows pensions again and to see whether this system of men being passed out cannot be put on a better footing. At least we ought to know how and by whom they are passed out.

I now desire to raise a question concerning grants for housing. We have had many and varied housing Acts in Scotland. At present there are two Measures under which local authorities can build and there will soon be a third. At present they can still build in Scotland with the £3 subsidy and there is also the Slum Clearance Act. Under the £3 subsidy there is no right to interfere with the local authority which fixes its own rents and so forth. Under the Slum Clearance Act there is power in regard to fixing rents and general conditions. A large number of houses are being built in Scotland now and I find in Glasgow that some of the residents in more well-to-do districts think that slum replacement houses ought not to be built beside them. I am not going to stand for the idea that the slum dweller is necessarily inferior. He may be better or he may be worse but it is more or less a case of "Jock Tamson's bairns"—good, bad and indifferent.

I will give an illustration of what I mean. I live in a house for which I pay £26 10s. and in the next road to me are new houses which have cost less to build and which in my judgment do not give the same accommodation. Certainly they are not of the same character. These houses have been built and I think they were originally intended for slum clearance people. They are being let at rents which displaced slum tenants cannot pay—£26 plus rates. Displaced slum tenants cannot look at houses at that price. I would like the Secretary for Scotland to go into this question. I do not want to see any social snobbery decree that slum people shall not live in the next block of houses to where I live. Why should not displaced slum tenants live there? Why should the slum people living in my division be carried all together to slum clearance houses as if they were prisoners never able to escape from the slum house atmosphere? If they are to become ordinary citizens they must be freed from this same taint wherever they go. In this respect I do not like slum clearance housing schemes, and I do not like to feel that because people have lived in a slum they must go to live in slum clearance houses.

I believe that wages are at the root of this matter and that if a man had a good wage he would not be tackled as a slum tenant or an intermediate tenant but would go into a decent home just like any other ordinary citizen. I hope the Secretary for Scotland is going to try and induce local authorities not to bar tenants from areas where well-to-do people live. Displaced slum tenants are in no sense inferior to other classes. I suppose we are all subsidised for we are all getting money from the State to some extent. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Under-Secretary will try to see that nobody is debarred from entering these houses. I do not want to see new houses in Glasgow reserved for slum tenants exclusively. I want to see them available for any low wage earner, even though he may not be living in a slum. Certainly I want no snobbery or class basis in this matter.

10.53 p.m.


I greatly sympathise with the whole of the observations the hon. Member has made about displaced slum tenants. From time to time I have expressed exactly the same view to the local authorities, and I have used almost exactly the same arguments. I think the hon. Member will find that under the new legislation that matter to some extent will be remedied. One of the causes of the congregation of people displaced from the slums in slum clearance houses has been that if they were going into State houses at all they had to go into houses to which the slum clearance subsidy was attached. The subsidy was attached to the individual house. The new provisions will take away the topographical cause of the evil which the hon. Member has been discussing, although the social cause will remain. I entirely agree with his two arguments—that it is a vital mistake to suppose that those people who have lived in unfortunate houses represent an inferior class; and I think also the argument at which he hinted, that it is not for A, who is in one form of subsidy house, to turn up his nose at B. Under the new legislation, which in a way gathers all the Acts together, the situation will be made easier, and I will not forget what the hon. Gentleman has said.

With regard to the other points which he made, I will look into both of them. I think, speaking offhand, that legislation would be required with regard to the old age pensions. With regard to the question of passing-out, I will look into it carefully and will try to take the opportunity of discussing it with some Members who are interested in it. I do not think that it has been directly brought to my notice before. Examples of the bad results of passing-out have been brought to my notice, but I do not think that the question whether it can be dealt with by administration has been. The question of pensions has been very little discussed on the Vote of the Department of Health, and I am much less equipped on that subject than I am on some others. I will, therefore, take it up and see what can be done in the matter.

I think that we will keep the Estimate open in case there should be another opportunity of discussing the Department of Health Vote. I would only like to say that I very much welcome the assistance which I get from hon. Members in all parts on health matters, and I welcome the very true and kindly words of the hon. Member as to the admirable efficiency of the officials of the Department, and the courtesy and care with which they deal with their very varied and difficult tasks. I am sure that I can speak in their name in thanking the hon. Gentleman for what he said, which I know is echoed by other Members who have the same close connection as he has in their Parliamentary work with the Department. I congratulate myself on the officials who work for me.

Ordered, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Captain, Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

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