Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £2,348,501, 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, 1938, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Health for Scotland; including Grants, a Grant in Aid and other Expenses in connection with Housing, certain Grants to Local Authorities, etc., Grant in Aid of the Highlands and islands Medical Service, Grants in Aid in respect of Benefits, etc., under the National Health Insurance Act; certain Expenses in connection with the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, and other Services."—[Note.—-£1,250,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Elliot)
The Estimates which we are about to discuss present on the health side, in administration, a fairly comprehensive section of the activities of the Scottish nation, but it is well to say at the outset that no one in Scotland is completely satisfied with the position that our country occupies, either actually or relatively. We feel that there are a great number of improvements that could be made and will have to be made in our health services and in our housing, and that in some respects we compare unfavourably with the great nation south of the Border. There is no reason for despondency but every reason for action, which must be continually pressed forward if we are to make Scotland what we all desire it to be, a twentieth century nation, fit to take her place in the line with other twentieth century nations.
We have to press our activities, as far as government is concerned, along the lines of inquiry, administration and legislation. We have, first of all, to inquire and ascertain the facts. Examples of such inquiries since the Committee last considered these Estimates have been quite 1400 frequent. There is, for instance, the report on rural housing, a report of very great importance, for which we are very much indebted to the Committee which carried out the investigation, with Mr. Ross Taylor as chairman. There is another report, somewhat longer, on public health services, the inquiry for which was carried out under the chairmanship of Professor Cathcart. To both these gentlemen the Department, and I hope the Committee, will feel indebted. There are also inquiries such as those carried out by Departments themselves, of which the most recent example is the inquiry into the working of the block grant system under the Act of 1929. That inquiry was most carefully carried out and has already been followed by legislation which, among other things, has meant an improvement to the extent of nearly £1,500,000 a year to the Scottish local authorities in the way of central grants.
I merely indicate these inquiries, which are by no means an exhaustive category of the investigations which are constantly proceeding as a matter of day to day administration. The administration itself is, of course, more difficult to describe, for it is the day to day work of the Department. Certain special events have occurred since we last considered these Estimates, such as the inquiry, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollock (Sir J. Gilmour), on which several other hon. and right hon. Members are sitting, into the administration and internal organisation of the Scottish Departments themselves. I understand that they are on the verge of being able to report, and the whole of Scotland will be keenly interested in anything that has to do with the work of its governing Departments.
In connection with housing activities, I shall have more to say later. There, again, inquiry is vitally necessary, and we are particularly indebted to the Ministry of Labour for supplying an officer of great skill and competence, Mr. Leggett, for carrying out certain inquiries in connection with the building trade, which have been proceeding and which have now practically reached their conclusion. This is not the only line on which the Administration has been active. The Administration has heaped upon it tasks by Parliament. The passing of an Act of Parliament, as we all know, and particularly those who are concerned with 1401 local authority administration, does not by any means end with the passing of the Act. The real work then begins. An example of that is the Maternity Services Act, which recently passed through Parliament and the Vote for physical training. Both of these have involved a great deal of activity on the part of the Department.
It would be out of order for me to refer at any length on this occasion to any possible legislation, but the Committee will know that reform in all these branches is being actively pressed forward. I need only refer as an example to the legislation at present under consideration, the National Health Insurance (Juvenile Contributors and Young Persons) Bill, which has just been presented, and which is intended to close the gap between leaving school and entering into the medical benefit scheme, a gap which has been adversely commented upon by many people who are interested in the matter. It is interesting to note that the actuarial value of the pensions schemes has now reached very high figures. The actuarial value of the con tributory pension scheme alone for Scotland reaches now something like £160,000,000 and the actuarial value of the non-contributory pension scheme amounts to some £190,000,000, so that the actuarial value of these two schemes alone is in the region of £350,000,000, which shows the enormous size of those social services, taking only the actuarial point of view. I need not mention the great responsibility which is thrown upon the Department with regard to the solvency of such schemes.
§ Mr. Maxton
Those are fine round figures— an actuarial value of £350,000,000. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to an ordinary Member what it means? Is there that amount of money left to the credit of the Scottish pensions schemes, or will that be the amount in the year 2000?
§ Mr. Elliot
It is the present day value of those schemes. Those are the liabilities under the schemes, and it is a figure equivalent to that which I have quoted which the Administration has to look after and be sure that it can provide when it is called upon to do so. As the hon. Member says, they are round figures and figures which, perhaps, have no immediate impact on the lives of the people 1402 as such, but they are important figures for the Committee when it is considering the Estimates of the Department, because the contributions towards those schemes form a very large portion of the Estimates which I am asking the Committee to sanction.
But the health figures for Scotland, of course, represent something much more immediate to the actual feelings of the people, and although our position is not as we would wish it to be we must not paint too black a picture. The rate of infantile mortality last year was 82 per thousand births. That is higher than the rates for the previous three years, but lower than the rates for the years prior to 1933. That is a disappointing fact. The Committee will be glad to hear that the rate over the whole country for the first quarter of 1937 shows a marked improvement over the rate for the similar period in 1936, and the rate for the 16 large towns, taken over the five months, shows that that improvement has been continued.
§ Mr. Elliot
I should be glad to deal with that at a later date, but I am anxious now not to give too great a spate of figures. I shall confine the figures to a minimum because there is a danger, especially in a Scottish audience, of producing a dust of figures behind which the real case is not as closely examined as it should be. I would call attention to one or two figures which show that our health has suffered. I now refer more particularly to the epidemic of influenza. The notified cases in Scotland jumped from 43,000 in the year 1935–36 to 123,000 in 1936–37. Cases of whooping cough—it was a very serious malady last year in Scotland—jumped from 1,144 in the first quarter of 1936 to 8,417 in the first quarter of 1937. In spite of these epidemics the health of Scotland continues to improve, taken generally, and taken over a long period of time there has been a most marked improvement.
1403 I would refer again now to the report on Scottish Health Services by the committee under the chairmanship of Professor Cathcart. We are by no means shelving that report. We are taking action along some of the lines recommended by it, but there are many more on which we shall have to take action. The committee dealt with the need for a new sanitary code and reorganisation of hospital services. That is proceeding. It dealt with the need for an extended general practitioner service, and recommended the extension of medical benefit to the dependants of insured persons. Perhaps the most important of the committee's recommendations referred to the maternal and child welfare figures and to the need for taking steps to deal with them. We passed the Maternity Services (Scotland) Act, 1937, which came into force on 16th May. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who put several questions to us during the passing of that Act, will be glad to hear that I can give an assurance that there is no case under the Act in which a certified midwife will not be present during the whole time of labour, and that in addition a medical man will be notified at the onset of labour and will need to hold himself in readiness to attend the case. We have done our best by subsequent administrative inquiry to meet a point of view strongly stressed by the House during the passage of the Act.
The maternity figures for Scotland are showing an improvement. They have come down this year. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) will be glad to hear that maternal mortality is at present the lowest on record in Scotland. It shows a saving of some 60 lives over the figure of the previous year. I have stated that I would say something about the reorganisation of hospitals. The reorganisation under the local authorities is proceeding, although perhaps not quite as quickly as we would wish. Some of the large authorities have taken steps for comprehensive schemes under the Act of 1929, and many of them are taking steps of their own to bring their hospital service up to date. A scheme, for instance, which would give Lanarkshire as a whole a new general hospital and a new maternity hospital, as well as improved care of infectious diseases, would be now well on 1404 its way; but unfortunately the large burghs did not see eye to eye and would not combine in a joint scheme with the county council. I do not attach blame to either side, but it is desirable that the parties concerned should thrash out their difficulties as soon as possible and get a scheme under way. Further proposals are now being examined by the county council and two of the burghs, three of the burghs having decided to stay out. I would rather have a scheme covering the county and two burghs than none at all.
Provision is being made for a new municipal hospital at Greenock for the care of the general sick. It was hoped that agreement would be reached by which the hospital would serve Port Glasgow as well, but unfortunately Port Glasgow decided not to participate in the scheme on the ground that they would not have a share in the actual management of the institution. These cases show that it is not always on account of lack of energy or interest on the part of the central Department or the local authorities that these things do not proceed more rapidly. In fact it is very often on account of an excess of zeal and interest in these matters that schemes are held up, because every one wants to be assured of full representation on the administration of the institution that is brought into existence. Arrangements are being made, however, in Dumfries and Galloway, which I think are going rather more smoothly than those which I have mentioned. There the local authorities are in negotiation with the voluntary hospitals as well, which is very desirable. In the north some six local authorities have jointly agreed to maintain a consulting physician at the Northern Infirmary, Inverness. That is a type of combination which the Committee will welcome very much.
It is my desire to hold as near as I can to the self-denying ordinance by which we all desire to be governed, or desire others to be governed. I will, therefore, not dilate upon that subject, except to say that four schemes adopted under Section 27 of the Local Government Act of 1929 cover 800,000 of the people of Scotland, or one-sixth of its population, the authorities in question—it is rather odd—being Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen Burgh and Bute. It seems a little odd that to only four authorities so far the 1405 desirability of a general scheme of the kind should have appealed. It would not be fair to pass from this without referring to the service in the Highlands and Islands. The schemes under discussion are extensions of hospitals at Lerwick and Kirkwall and Stornoway. In Lerwick, with Treasury approval, the Department of Health has promised the managers of the Gilbert Bain Hospital a grant of 80 per cent. of the estimated cost of a new hospital. That estimated cost is £45,000. In Kirkwall the Balfour Hospital trustees have submitted to the Department an application for a grant to enable them to extend the hospital at an estimated cost of £10,000, and we are giving that question sympathetic consideration. At Stornoway plans have been submitted for the approval of an extension to the Lewis Hospital, and the managers have been promised a grant of £14,000 from the Highlands and Islands Medical Fund, or 80 per cent. of the estimated cost.
These particular schemes which we have been considering are, of course, to be built on the broad foundation of the general health of the nation. We have to start in the first place with the mother and the newly-born infant, and passing on we have to come to the school child, later to the adolescent and finally to the adult. As far as school children are concerned, one big constructive measure which has been in operation, in addition, of course to the medical inspection of school children, is the milk in schools scheme for children. The nutrition aspect of our administration must be very present to us all at all times, and the milk in schools scheme is one of the big practical demonstrations of our interest in nutrition. It is true, however, that in certain areas the increase in numbers under the milk scheme has not been what we would wish, and in fact in certain counties, and even in certain cities, there has been a diminution. It is very necessary to examine closely the reasons for this. I do not wish to go into this question at length now, but it is odd to find that in the Spring of 1936, in Lanarkshire, 67,000 children were having milk in the schools, and that since then the figure has dropped to 35,000. In Lanarkshire, as the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) knows, we have been interested in this subject for many years. 1406 Indeed he himself started the first large-scale experiment in the county. It is strange that although we do know that the milk is of benefit to the children and the Lanarkshire County Council are certainly not niggardly in the conditions under which milk is provided, the number of children taking milk has declined.
§ Mr. Elliot
I should not like to go into that, because the explanations we have been able to find are of this nature, that the novelty of the thing has worn off. That is not a satisfactory explanation, and I should riot like to give it to the Committee. I do not know what the reasons are. The decline shows itself in areas where a great quantity of the milk is supplied free, as well as in areas where half price is charged. I do not wish to give to the Committee on my own responsibility any explanation for this decline. All I say is that it is not satisfactory, and certainly requires further consideration. At the same time, do not let us blind ourselves to the fact that in Scotland, where a few years ago practically nobody was taking milk, there are now 294,000 schoolchildren getting a ration of milk every day. I am certain that this will show itself in an improvement in the health of the children, particularly in the dental condition of the children in our schools. The dental condition of the people in Scotland is bad, and that of our schoolchildren, I say it frankly, is unsatisfactory. I think that a supply of mineral salts in the best possible way must show itself in an improvement in the dentition of the child, and ultimately will save an expense which will fall on the local authority, or on the individual when in later years his teeth go wrong, and lead to lasting conditions of ill-health.
§ Mr. Elliot
I should have said every school day, which is more correct. Since we last had this subject under review, Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirk-shire, where no schemes were in operation, have been brought within the ambit of the scheme, and it is now operating in these counties. I have spoken of the 1407 desirability of a full inquiry into all these subjects, and the Committee knows how much the people of Scotland are indebted to Professor Cathcart and Sir John On for their work. Further surveys are being undertaken by these eminent experts, and the Northern survey under Sir John Orr is being supplemented by assistance from the Carnegie Trust, which will enable the survey to be carried out more thoroughly in Scotland than it has been in any other country. I do not say that it will relieve us from the necessity of action when the results come. Indeed, it will make it all the more necessary.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the investigations will be of such a nature and character as to produce findings which he will be able to regard as final and authoritative?
§ Mr. Elliot
I think so. They are being carried out in the most careful way and the fullest possible co-operation is being afforded by all the Departments under my control—the Education Department and the Departments of Health and Agriculture. The fullest official assistance will be given to make the investigations authoritative and such as we can act upon. On the question of nutrition, it is worth while remembering how far we have advanced in the health of school children in Scotland. I was looking up the figures of mortality among school children. The figures of infantile mortality have often been given, but the figures of the mortality of children of school age, that is, between 5 and 14, may not he so generally known. As recently as 1901, which is not so very far removed from the birthday of many hon. Members, there were 3,700 deaths of school children between 5 and 14. Last year the figure was about 1,500. If you go back to a more distant date, 1870, 6,000 children between 5 and 14 died in that year as against about 1,500 during the present year. It is interesting to note, in spite of all we hear about the healthy rural life, that in 1870 when 6,000 school children in Scotland died, 40 per cent. of our population was rural as against 20 per cent. at present. It shows that mere fresh air is not sufficient to produce health. There must be reasonable conditions of sanitation and nutrition as well.
1408 I have tried to inform myself of the subjects which are of interest to the Scottish Committee. I find that the question of water supply interests them very much. Regional schemes are now in progress in the landward areas of Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, and similar schemes are under consideration by other county councils. There is evidence of the desirability of developing regional water schemes and this is being recognised more and more by Scottish local authorities. I hope an increase in the money available under the block grant will form a source by which some of these desirable reforms can be accelerated. There is under the Rural Water Supply Act, 1934, a grant available, and as a result 71 different water schemes have been put in hand, or are about to be put in hand. Some of them are of considerable magnitude; the capital cost of one is £,230,000. Assistance has also been given by the Commissioner for the Special Areas to water supply schemes, and the total of these assisted schemes under the Commissioner is £225,000. There is, of course, a special problem in the Highlands and Islands, and the Committee on Scottish Health Services has recommended a special grant for health services and for water supply in those parts of the country.
§ Mr. Elliot
I cannot say without notice. The special preoccupation of Scottish administration, and indeed of Scottish Ministers, for years has been, and must still be, the subject of housing. Progress in the past 17 years has been considerable. We have built about 250,000 houses, and that means that nearly 1,000,000 people in Scotland have obtained better housing accommodation. But we have another 250,000 houses to build, and we cannot take another 17 years in building them. To put it in a more graphic form, there are 100,000 houses in Edinburgh, and we are therefore building a new city of Edinburgh every five years. We have to get to a stage when we build a new city of Edinburgh every four years. We have in front of us the building of two cities of the size of Edinburgh, and another city of the size of Aberdeen. That is a big 1409 task, and we shall have to bend ourselves to it without any sort of party predilections.
§ Mr. Elliot
It is always an occasion for a laugh when one says that there should be no party feeling, because it may be an excuse for a very violent party view, but I am sure that is not the case of the hon. Member. At present, instead of building a new city of Edinburgh every four years, we are building only at the rate of a new city of Edinburgh every eight years. That is not quite enough. A new feature has arisen since last year—the rise in the price of houses. Roughly speaking the price of houses has risen £100—I mean the sort of house about which we are talking. For the benefit of hon. Members I have analysed the elements in that rise, and, as far as I have been able to judge, £40 is accounted for by the rise in the cost of materials and wages, and go is unaccounted for—it can only be put down to what might be called "scramble." It is not entirely a question of profits. It is a question of the demand outrunning the supply and people quoting higher and higher because they do not want the business. Anyhow, we can put down £40 to a rise in materials and wages and£60 to what I call the element of "scramble." It is important that we should keep our minds clear on this matter, because it makes a great difference to the methods we adopt to deal with this admittedly unsatisfactory situation.
Take one remedy suggested. Local authorities have suggested that we should raise the subsidy from £6 15s. to£9. If you capitalise £6 15s. you get a capital value of about £150, and therefore to raise the subsidy to£9 is equivalent to adding about £70 to the capital value of the subsidy. It is our opinion that to add £70 to the capital value of the subsidy would be to throw it into the scramble. If that is true, then it is important. If we add £70 to the scramble, and the scramble goes on at the same rate as during the last 12 months, we come back at the end of the year with no advantage whatever from the £70. In fact, we are back again to where we were. The request would be for another £70. That is not the solution. We tried that between 1919 and 1921, when an unlimited subsidy was provided, and the price of houses rose and rose until the whole scheme had to be brought to an end.
1410 I think we shall have to consider this as a problem of the supply of materials and wages. Some of the materials are under our control—bricks for example. Others, such as timber, are not. Timber comes from many parts of the world. 'There is certainly no supply of timber in this country upon which we can draw or which we control. We are doing our best to secure an increased output of the materials which are within our control, such as bricks, and we are also doing our best to fit the calls to the amount of supply which is reasonably in sight. For that purpose we have been discussing with the local authorities the question of a priority programme of their own, under which each local authority would reconsider in its own area what are the most pressing and urgent things which it thinks it ought to get ahead with, and similarly the State would need to consider what are the most pressing and urgent things with which it ought to proceed.
A question was asked about Duke Street prison. There is land bought for that prison. We all desire to see Duke Street prison pulled down and a new prison built, but there are people in Duke Street prison who are a great deal better housed than are some outside, and certainly, if it comes to a case of priority, there are people, to go no farther than my own constituency, in Gray Street, Anderston, whom I desire to see housed before I pull down Duke Street prison and rebuild it somewhere on a pleasant site on the outskirts of Glasgow. We have to deal with this as a question of supply to fit the demand, and on that we have discussed this matter closely, over months of negotiation, with the building industry. I am very desirous of proceeding in harmony with the building industry here for as long and as far as we possibly can, and I am happy to say that the building industry, both employers and employed, has shown a desire to co-operate with us in producing a greater personnel for building needs, and more particularly for housing needs, when the situation has been proved to its satisfaction.
§ Mr. Cassells
Has there been any definite understanding with the employers with regard to the question of continuity of employment?
§ Mr. Elliot
That is one of the things that has been under consideration, and I 1411 shall have a word to say on that matter in a moment or two, but it is largely a matter of organisation in the trade. As far as continuity of employment goes, from the point of view of the community, the community programme is a quarter of a million houses in the next 9, 12, or 15 years, or as soon as we can possibly get them, and this House has voted great sums to enable that continuity to be maintained. But the organisation of the industry itself turned, at any rate in the initial stages, upon some additional staff. We looked into the question, and it was generally agreed by both sides, employers and employed, that there had been for the last 12 months a registered shortage in the Employment Exchanges alone of some 500 to 600 bricklayers, all the time within the 12 months, sometimes showing itself here and sometimes there. There was a registered floating shortage of something like 500 to 600 jobs during the whole 12 months. And course, as the Committee will realise, when it comes to that stage people are not registering all their demands at the Employment Exchanges. A shortage of that extent means that a scramble begins for labour as well as for everything else, and consequently there are many applications for employment and many engagements being made quite outside the ambit of the Employment Exchanges.
§ Mr. Lovat-Fraser
Is any attempt being made to apply the principles of town planning to the new Edinburghs that are springing up round the original cities?
§ Mr. Elliot
Oh, yes. The local authorities are doing their utmost to apply the principles of town planning to the new areas which are being built, in some cases satisfactorily and in some cases, I think, not so satisfactorily. But that is another matter, if I may say so. What I am dealing with now is the point that, unless we get an increased supply of men and materials, we shall not get the new Edinburghs built at all. That is the main point to which we have to apply our minds. I must say that I have great sympathy with the building trade in this matter. It is galling to have these long negotiations and to find that there is no prospect of unlimited expansion, but I have great sympathy with the position of those who say, "We cannot expand 1412 our industry to meet a peak demand and subsequently be met with the consequent slump." You have to iron out these heights and howes, if I may use a Scottish term, as far as possible, and we must get rid of recruitment to an industry which is subsequently followed by a great depression in that industry and by unemployment in it.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am not discussing that at the moment, and I hope very much that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs will not lead us off upon that path, as I am already over my time, and I must get on. I want the Committee to consider simply these two figures, that in 1936 the number of houses under construction was 17,986, or call it 18,000, and on 31st May, 1937, a year later, the number of houses under construction was 23,60o, a very considerable increase. You might say that that is perfectly satisfactory. No, Sir. Consider this further figure. The number of houses approved but not commenced on 31st May, 1936, was 6,098, and on 3rst May, 1937, the number was 14,000, so that it is clear that there is an increasing lag between the houses which are being arranged for by the local authorities and the houses which are being completed, which, if I may say so, reinforces our contention that merely to increase the subsidy will not in fact solve the problem with which we have to deal.
§ Mr. Westwood
Is it not a fact that the subsidy to-day is not uniform, that if two blocks of buildings are being erected at the same time, one under the 1930 Act and the other under the 1935 Act, the subsidy for the one may be £6 15s. and the subsidy for the other might actually be as high as £22 10s.?
§ Mr. Elliot
It is true that the subsidies differ very much, and that again reinforces my case, because nobody can deny that no subsidy, whatever the demands of the local authorities might be, would ever reach the figure given by the hon. Member; that is to say, no average subsidy of £22 could be paid, or anything of that order. The only thing the local authorities have ever suggested was that the subsidy should be increased from £6 15s. to £9, and even that would not bring it 1413 up to the figure which has already been paid under the 1930 Act; and I say again that that seems to reinforce the fact that merely to increase the subsidy available will not cause an increase in the number of houses being built.
The hon. Member has just brought out a fact of considerable importance, namely, that the £6 15s. subsidy is not the only one under which local authorities are building. We have already made an announcement, and I repeat the assurance again, that when the subsidy under the 1930 Act comes up for examination I am willing to prolong, or to recommend to the House a prolongation of, that subsidy for another three years, that is to say, for the whole length of time of this Parliament. That, I think, again strengthens the claim which I am making, that it is not from any niggardliness that we refuse to increase the subsidy under the Act of 1935 from £6 15s. to £9, but because we do not believe that it would bring about the solution of our problem. The argument, as I say, seems to us to point conclusively to the fact that we have to increase the supply both of material and of labour, or we shall not succeed in removing this scandal in Scotland in any reasonable time.
The Committee may wish to know the actual figures for the increase in the number of bricks arranged for in the last year. It comes to a figure which will enable another 4,000 or 5,000 houses to be built, a figure of some 83,000,000 bricks this year. The Scottish Members asked for information as to the progress of the building labour negotiations, and they were very anxious to know all that could be told them about their progress. At a meeting on 19th June the operatives proposed certain adjustments, where necessary, in the apprenticeship quotas, and also made proposals for the working of overtime on housing schemes. To that latter point they attach very great importance. The employers were somewhat apprehensive that overtime on housing schemes might have the effect of denuding their other building projects of labour, but after discussion the employers suggested that the operatives might consider a revision of the apprenticeship rule so as to permit, where need was proved, one apprentice to every three journeymen. The present rule is one apprentice for the first three journeymen employed 1414 and one for every four thereafter. The employers indicated that if the operatives would show a disposition to consider this favourably, they, on their part, would show a disposition to consider the overtime proposal favourably also, and the meeting, after some stormy passages, ended on a hopeful note.
Both sides expressed the desire that a Joint Executive Committee should be set up—and there we come to the question of continuity of employment mentioned by the hon. Member a few moments ago—to consider, from time to time, certain questions that might arise for the carrying out of the housing programme and indeed of the defence programme also. On that Committee, Government Departments, building trade employers, and operatives would all be represented. If the views of the representatives present at the meeting are confirmed by their respective federations, I and my colleague the Minister of Labour are certainly prepared to give this proposal our most favourable consideration, and if that is carried there will be established, for the first time, machinery by which Government Departments, employers, and operatives can enter into joint consultation for the purpose of establishing a true relationship between the supply of skilled building labour and the existing and probable future demands for such labour. I think that meets the point of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, and I think that in that manner it should be possible, with advantage to all parties, to secure a measure of planned co-operation between the building industry and the Government, and to obviate the possibility either that the resources of the industry should be strained, as they are strained at present—the demand for overtime alone shows that—or that, as has happened in the past, a considerable proportion of the skilled operatives should be unable to get work.
§ Mr. Cassells
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when we are likely to have a definite decision on that matter?
§ Mr. Elliot
No, Sir; I am always chary of giving dates of definite decisions in industrial negotiations. I hope, however, that, if possible, within the next fortnight we shall be able to get a definite commitment entered into on these points. These proposals would amount to a reinforcement of the building trade in bricklayers 1415 alone by some 500 or 600 men, the equivalent of some 200 to 300 being derived from the overtime of an hour a day, and the remainder from some addition of apprentices. But I would be most unwilling to give details of that, because these industrial matters are so delicate that, skilled or unskilled hands coming in may easily produce a complete cessation of a favourable approach.
§ Mr. Stephen
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many additional houses this expansion of labour in the industry would be able to provide?
§ Mr. Elliot
It is a little difficult to say. So far as bricklayers are concerned, it would enable about 4,000 to 5,000 extra houses to be constructed in a year, but I hope very much that on this Joint Executive Committee which we hope to set up all these questions may be explored, so that these houses, when completed, are not left standing for want of plasterers or other skilled tradesmen, to deal with parts of a house once it has been erected. It may interest hon. Members to know that the housing problem in the Special Areas has also been the subject of very close consideration. Following discussions, the Commissioner for Scotland proposes to convene a meeting of the local authorities to consider the possibility of a housing association, on a non-profit making basis, for the Scottish Special Areas. If he gets sufficient assurances of co-operation and good will for that suggestion, the association would direct its attention to experiments in alternative methods of construction and would, as far as possible, avoid competition with the authorities in the supply of bricks and bricklayers and other materials and labour which it is difficult to get at the present time. Apart from the existing State subsidies, the Commissioner would provide the funds necessary, so that there would be no cost to the local authorities. I think the operatives themselves would look with favour on a proposal by which alternative methods could be tried out in conditions which would not interfere with the ordinary work of the trade. Those alternative methods could be tried out a great deal better under some special arrangement of this kind than as part of the ordinary activities of the local authorities.
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes. Our desire would be, as far as possible, to put them on all fours with the local authorities' houses. They would be available for housing people in the local auhorities' areas and no charge would fall on the rates on account of them.
I have taken up more time than I intended when I rose to address the Committee, but I have done my best to give a brief general survey of the activities of the Department of Health for Scotland, and to devote some special attention to the housing problem, which concerns us all so deeply. This is the first occasion on which I have presented these Estimates to the Committee, and I shall be well content if, in future years, I can report some reasonable progress along the lines I have suggested, for no greater honour could be bestowed upon any Scotsman than the power to help his nation along those paths which we all desire to see covered as speedily as possible by a nation which has in the past not proceeded as rapidly or successfully as we could wish.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I wish, in the first place, to pay a tribute to the late Secretary to the Department of Health, Mr. John E. Highton, who submitted the Annual Report which we are now discussing. Mr. Highton was cut off in the years of his greatest promise. He was a great public servant, with wide vision and great courage, and I am sure I voice the opinion of every Scottish Member who knew him when I say that the country is the poorer for his passing.
I propose to keep strictly within the period of 15 minutes that we voluntarily allow ourselves in these Debates, and accordingly I do not intend to resurvey the matters with which the right hon. Gentleman has dealt. I know that many of my hon. Friends on this side intend to speak on housing and health matters generally, and my only remarks on that subject will be to repeat the suggestion that I made a year ago, if not earlier, that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department should endeavour to get information about the mass production of 1417 refrigerators for the home. I believe I am right when I say that by mass production refrigeration could be supplied in our municipal houses where it does not exist now, and that refrigerators could be supplied at sums ranging from £4 to £10each. If that be so, I submit that it is the right hon. Gentleman's duty to see that probably the greatest technical advance that has been made in civilisation since electricity should be made available to the working classes. Everybody who has followed the latest discussions on nutrition will know that there is a consensus of opinion that unless refrigeration is made available in the homes of our people, satisfactory diets are impossible.
I propose to confine my remarks to the question of nutrition. There are really two problems of nutrition: not one only. First, there is the problem of a satisfactory diet for the family that has a sufficient income to pick and choose the foodstuffs necessary for the various members of the family in different stages of development. On that problem I do not intend to spend any time this afternoon. The second problem of nutrition is the question of what is to be done for our people who have not now sufficient income to enable them to purchase even the necessary quantities of filling foodstuffs. In the report which we are discussing we are told, as we were also told by the right hon. Gentleman, that infantile mortality had risen last year, although I was very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the figure has decreased during the first five months of this year. The report says that that rise is a disturbing feature. We know that infantile mortality is 30 per cent. worse in Scotland than it is in England and Wales; that is specifically stated in the report.
We know also that in the chief infectious diseases we are two and a-half times worse than England and Wales, and that again is specifically stated in the report. On the other hand, the health conditions of our school children are obviously improving, as the right hon. Gentleman said, although the evidence of the County of Angus, which includes the city of Dundee, shows that in secondary schools boys are two inches taller and five lbs. heavier at the age of 12 than are boys in the borough schools. Similar figures have previously been supplied by the medical officer of health of Glasgow and by medical officers of health in other 1418 parts of the country. On 8th July, 1936, almost a year ago, there was a Debate in the House on the subject of nutrition, in which I took part, and the Minister of Health said:I can give this undertaking to the House, with regard to the suggestions that the right hon. Gentleman has made. The Government will certainly be willing to give their support to any practical proposals for extension.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1936; col. 1250, Vol. 314.]That referred to the milk-in-schools supply scheme. A year before that we had a specific promise—I know it was on the hustings—from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, when he used the following words during the Election campaign:I hope soon to be able to announce a policy under which the cheap milk scheme for school children will be extended to expectant mothers and children under five. It is our policy to divert surplus food into the stomachs of those who live in our back streets and who are sorely in need.Before dealing with the way in which those two promises are being fulfilled, let me refer to the opinions of scientists who are held in the highest esteem by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. Sir John On, whom the right hon. Gentleman quoted this afternoon, has put it on record in the current issue of the National Farmers' Union Year Book that:The next great social reform needed is a food policy to make a diet adequate for health available for every family. This would constitute the greatest social reform of our age, and if it were done on sound lines. it would bring true prosperity to agriculture.The Mellanbys' experiments have proved beyond all doubt that the dental troubles which are afflicting our population can be entirely eliminated. There is no need for bad teeth; they are a disease, and can be cured largely by the right kind of diet. I see that the right hon. Gentleman laughs, but I ask him to read the results of the Mellanbys' experiments.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am not discussing the dental apparatus of the right hon. Gentleman. I am saying that the Mellanbys' experiments have proved that by a proper diet—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's diet is not a proper one, and possibly the 1419 diet of none of us is—particularly in infancy, the dental troubles from which people suffer can be largely, if not entirely, remedied. Professor J. B. S. Haldane has gone as far as to say in a recent book, which I have here, that with a proper diet and the kind of life which science has now made possible for all of us, disease could be eliminated, and that death would simply come to us like twilight sleep. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will laugh when I quote what was said this year by the Advisory Committee on Nutrition of the Ministry of Health. They are most emphatic on the subject, and say:There is no other single measure which would do more to improve the health, development and resistance to disease of the rising generation than a largely increased consumption of safe milk, especially by mothers, children and adolescents.They go on to expand that argument, anddeplore the fact that there is a deficiency of milk in the diet of large sections of the population.I wish to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to what is going on now. We have all the reports that we need; we know what are the facts, and we know what the trouble is. The right hon. Gentleman knows more about the subject than any of us. I would like the Minister who replies on behalf of the Government to tell us how he justifies the continuance of the state of affairs which I am about to relate to the Committee. In Scotland during the present month alleged surplus milk is being supplied to butter factories at 4d. a gallon, while in the distressed areas mothers and children have to pay 2s. for it. Can we be told what is the justification for supplying milk to butter factories at 4d. and charging 2s. for milk in liquid form when it is needed by mothers and babies? Then, cheese factories get the milk at 5¾d.; it is supplied for whole milk powder at 5¾d. and for condensed milk at 61/5d. These are official figures. Last year we actually exported 12,000,000 gallons to Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. Cheap milk for Czechoslovakia, at our expense, but milk at 2s. a gallon for the mothers and babies in the distressed areas in Scotland.
Milk is being supplied for tinned cream at 6½d. a gallon and for fresh cream at 7½d. a gallon in Scotland to-day. Under the scheme for supplying milk to schools, 1420 every child between 5 years and 14 years of age, during the period of school life, gets milk at is. a gallon, but in the case of the child who is just a year younger, the child of four who is not at school, 2s. a gallon is charged for the milk. How can this be justified? I know there is a charge of 3d. a gallon extra for tuberculin tested milk and that milk is delivered in bulk to institutions at is. 2d. a gallon. How can we justify charging 2s. a gallon for the milk for nursing mothers and toddlers in the distressed areas, while we are charging only from 4d. to 6,½d. a gallon to the manufacturers?
I know it will be said that we get cheap butter and cheese in consequence, but it would pay the farmers and would pay the nation, if we adopted a different policy. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) has published a book to prove that disease is costing us £300,000,000 a year. It would pay us to supply milk at is. a gallon to be poured into the stomachs of the mothers and babies who require it, instead of having it exported to Czechoslovakia or handed over to Fry's or Cadbury's at 6d. a gallon for purposes of chocolate manufacture. I do not know how the present position can be justified, and I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he took up this question he would have the active sympathy of both the English and the Scottish Milk Marketing Boards. It is not the fault of those boards that the present position exists, and I am not blaming them for it, but if the right hon. Gentleman puts his statistical experts on to this matter with a view to remedying the present state of affairs he will have the good will of the farmers. They, of course, will get more money by selling milk at is. a gallon than by selling it at 4d. or 5½d. a gallon.
It would pay the farmers, it would pay the board and it would certainly pay the public in improved public health, if the Government took steps in the matter. If this Government desire to leave their mark on the living conditions of the people, here is a way to do it. Let the medical officer of health in each district issue a certificate to every mother and child who wants milk, as is done in Ulster now. Let those who require the milk go to the milkshops and dairies and get it on the production of those certificates, thus saving distributors charges. They could get the milk, now, 1421 for 1s. a gallon in this way. The proposition is perfectly feasible and it would bring about the greatest revolution in public health that is immediately possible. If the right hon. Gentleman did so in the case of milk, there is no reason why he should not develop the same policy in regard to other necessary foodstuffs. There is much waste of agricultural products to-day. There are any amount of splendid foodstuffs available which cannot reach the poor under existing arrangements. If we reduced the price of milk to the poor and saved them is. a gallon, it would increase by 3s. 9d. a week the purchasing power of the average family of five units. By adopting such a course, the right hon. Gentleman would do something real in the interests of prosperity and public health and when he next came before us with these Estimates, he would not be hailed with criticism, but would be applauded by all sections of the Committee, as a man who deserved well of his country.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I wish, in the first place, to associate my hon. Friends and myself with the eloquent tribute which the right hon. Gentleman has paid to the memory of the late Mr. Highton, by whose death Scotland has lost a great public servant. I desire also respectfully to congratulate the Secretary of State on the masterly survey which he has given of the administrative work of his Department. The right hon. Gentleman may have exceeded the time limit which he set himself, but I am sure there is not one of us who would have wished him to have curtailed his speech by a single sentence. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) has set a good example, and if he has not kept strictly within his 15 minutes, he has gone very near it. If I should exceed the limit a little I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, having in mind the recent occasion, will forgive me. I agree very strongly with what he said about the importance of nutrition and I have admired his consistent advocacy in successive debates of a nutrition policy. I feel doubtful, however, about some of the more extreme claims which he has made on very high authority for good nutrition. My personal experience has been rather similar to that of the Secretary of State. I find that I owe at least as much to the skill of my dentist, as to the diet which I 1422 received as a child, for the preservation of my teeth. When the right hon. Gentleman tells me that life can be greatly prolonged by a scientific system of nutrition, I am inclined to make this comment. While life may be prolonged by dieting, it may be made hardly worth living, and, on the whole, I think it is necessary to regard the dicta of these scientists with a good deal of caution. That does not, however, detract from the force of the main contention of the right hon. Gentleman.
I would like to start at the point at which the Secretary of State started, that is on the question of hospital services, which I have frequently raised in these Debates. We learned authoritatively last year from the report of the Committee on Scottish Health Services, what most of us already guessed from our more limited personal experience, that the number of persons awaiting admission to the hospitals of Scotland exceeded the total number of beds available. I would like to express my appreciation of the prominence which the Secretary of State has given to this question to-day, for the first time in these Debates. From the report of the Department of Health for 1936 I gather that progress is rather slow, and I hope that the Secretary of State will press on in this matter as far as he can. At any rate, I am delighted to hear that a consulting physician has been appointed to the hospital at Inverness and I am sure his services will be of great benefit to the Highlands.
Next I would mention a point which was the subject of an interjection by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), who, though the representative of an English constituency, exercised the prerogative of Scottish birth and intervened briefly in our Debate. He referred to the importance of town and country planning and, in reply to him the Secretary of State said, I thought a little hastily, that local authorities were certainly giving a great deal of attention to this subject. I fear the report of the Department does not quite bear out that statement. The report tells us that while local authorities have shown a notable increase in interest and activity in the preparation of planning schemes, town and country planning in Scotland is not yet receiving the attention which it deserves. The present schemes, they tell us, cover a total area of only 89,000 acres, although another 1423 465,000 acres are subject to resolutions to prepare planning schemes.
There are two points of view from which the question of housing and town planning is vitally important. When we are building, as the Secretary of State put it so vividly, two Edinburghs and one Aberdeen, as we are hoping to do within the next eight years, it is in the first place vitally important for the preservation of the comfort, both material and spiritual, of the people who are to live in these towns and cities of the future, that the problems of town planning should be thought out carefully in advance. Then there is the question of making adequate provision for outdoor recreation of the young people. In too many parts of the country advance in housing is being made at the expense of ground which is now available and ought to remain available in the future for recreation. I am sure the Secretary of State will not disagree with me on this point. I know his personal interest in the schemes of the Government for the promotion of physical training and the multiplication of playing-fields all over the country. I hope he will insist that local authorities, in preparing planning schemes, should have as one of their first preoccupations, the necessity of reserving ground for recreational purposes. In particular I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the report of the Garden City and Satellite Towns Committee which deals with the difficulty of getting local authorities to move. I would like to ask him, as I asked his predecessor last year, whether he has considered the report of that committee and whether he proposes to act on any of its recommendations.
Then I would turn to the Highlands and Islands medical services, to which the right hon. Gentleman also referred. The Committee will remember that the Committee on Scottish Health Services took the Highlands and Islands medical service as the model upon which the health services of the country should be developed. The Department of Health in their report. for 1936 quote that section of the report of the committee in which the Highlands and Islands medical service is acclaimed as an outstanding success. The committee said a good deal more than that however for they made a number of recommendations for its improve- 1424 ment. For example they said that additional hospital accommodation and specialist services for medical and maternity patients should be provided. We have been told of one new specialist service that has been provided at Inverness and I should like to ask the Secretary of State whether this recommendation is being actively pursued.
Then there is a recommendation for additional nurses and the further equipment of nurses with motor cars. I gather from the report of the Department of Health that that is proceeding but I do not see anything in the report about the extended provisions for refresher courses for nurses and very little about the improvement of nurses' housing conditions. They say that some little advance has been made in that direction. I should like the Secretary of State to give us an assurance that an effort will be made in different parts of the Highlands of Scotland to improve the housing conditions of the nurses. The committee also made a recommendation to which the Secretary of State briefly referred, the most important recommendation of all, that a special supplementary grant should be made of £50,000 a year in aid of the statutory health services in the Highlands and Islands. The committee argued the case very closely. They pointed out how small is the rateable value of these Highland counties and how impossible it is for them to carry the accumulating burden of health services without greater help than they are receiving. Since they made this report, Parliament has thrown upon them additional duties under the Maternity Act. This question of an additional grant in aid of the local authorities' health services in the Highlands and Islands is an urgent one, and I would ask the Secretary of State to tell us when we may expect to know whether the Government are prepared to accept that recommendation.
I come to the question of housing. To place the whole responsibility for the present deplorable housing situation in Scotland upon the shoulders of the present Government would be manifestly unfair, but I must frankly say that they must bear a heavy share of responsibility. Notably, they have some responsibility for the rising prices of housing materials in Scotland which is now so gravely checking progress. They must also bear 1425 responsibility—not, indeed, the present Secretary of State or any of the Ministers now sitting on the Front Bench, with the possible exception of the Solicitor-General, who has only a very small share of the responsibility—for the 1933 Act which we fought Clause by Clause and almost line by line. It was an Act which checked the momentum of house building in Scotland, a check from which it is only now recovering, at a time when fresh difficulties are threatening to administer another check.
The Department of Health in their report for 1936 were commendably frank about the present situation. They point out that nearly one-quarter of the working-class houses in Scotland are overcrowded; fully one-third of all the houses in Scotland are without a separate water closet, and a still greater number are without baths. They say that overcrowding in Scotland is on the average about six times greater than in England. They go on to make a very interesting point. They say that the number of overcrowded houses belonging to local authorities was over 35,000, representing 22.7 of overcrowding. They make the observation that there would have been less overcrowding in their houses if local authorities had built fewer houses with only two apartments. When we were told in 1933 that the policy of the Government was to concentrate on slum clearance, we warned the Government that the inevitable effect of that would be that overcrowding would increase and that as you removed old slums in front of you new slums would be growing up behind you. That is, in fact what has proved to be the case in our experience. I therefore submit to the Committee that it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to spare no effort to wipe out this blot on their record and on the social conditions in Scotland.
The main difficulty with which the Government are faced is rising prices. His Majesty's Government put part of the blame for rising prices on the improved standard of housing. There is something in that, for if you have larger and better houses they cost more to build. That, however, is far from being the whole cause. Then they blame rising wages. There is no doubt that to some extent wages have risen very sharply in places where there is a local scarcity of skilled labour of certain types, and that 1426 the scarcity of this labour has held up housing. I am sure that the Committee were glad to hear the information which the Secretary of State was able to give us about his negotiations for increasing the personnel, and we may congratulate him on the new machinery which he has been able to set up for joint consultation, I am sure that we all hope it will work well. Otherwise, rising wages are good and are to be welcomed. They are necessary because the cost of living is rising. In all the trades and industries of the country wages are rising more slowly than the cost of living. The figures at the end of 1936 compared with the figures for 1933 show that the rise in wages and the rise in the cost of living were about equal, but this year the rise in the cost of living has forged ahead. Therefore, a general rise in the level of wages is necessary and greatly to be welcomed.
There is another fact with which the right hon. Gentleman did not deal, and that is the rise in the cost of materials. The Department of Health, although they do not lay much emphasis on it, do not fail to mention it in their report. They say that it is true there has been a rise in the cost of materials which became more marked towards the end of the year, and they mention certain materials in which the rise was particularly steep. This, I submit, is a more important cause than the Government seem prepared to admit It was the subject the other day of a debate in the Convention of Royal Burghs, when the Commissioner for Clydebank, Provost Martin, who is not only a man of great experience in municipal work and ex-Member of Parliament, but also a chartered accountant, made an important speech. He pointed out that there was what he called a ramp entering into the building trade. He said the price of bricks had increased from 8s. to 10s. in the last six months, that cement had risen by 10 per cent. in the last year, soft woods by 85 per cent., light iron castings, including rhones, conductors, gutters, grates and such like had risen by 50 per cent., lead water pipes by 100 per cent., copper by 50 per cent., fire clay goods, including baths and wash-hand basins, by 35 per cent. in the last six months. He said that the real cause to-day of the great bulk of material rises was the growth of monopolies and combines. He went on to say: 1427I wonder whether it has come to the minds or consciousness of most of the members here that tariffs are placed by the Government on steel and quite a number of other commodities, and that these tariffs not only are increasing the prices of those commodities, and to that extent the Government is to blame for the increase, but they are also preventing other goods from coming in from other countries, with the result that there is not the same fair competition that there was before, and so allowing the combines to charge practically any price.In these contentions he was supported by, the Commissioners for Buckhaven and Methil, and in what they said they seemed to be expressing the general sense of the convention. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was a scramble element in the situation, and that demand is out-running the supply. If that be so, the right action, must be to increase supply, and that can be done by taking tariffs off building materials and thus lowering prices and enabling houses to be built more cheaply. The Secretary of State gave us an interesting review of what he was doing about the scarcity of labour. In his reply to the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) he said that it would increase the supply of houses by 5,000 or 6,000. It is obvious that more drastic measures than that will have to be taken.
With regard to rural housing, we on these benches arid hon. Members above the Gangway always contended that the 1935 Act had no effective application to the problem. It was Sir Robert Hamilton and I who, in the Scottish Standing Committee, put down the Amendment which led to the appointment of the Special Committee on Rural Housing. We were criticised at the time for having allowed ourselves to be fobbed off with another inquiry, but we could ask for no more complete justification of the line we took than is to be found in the bold, trenchant and constructive report on rural housing which has been published within the last few weeks. I wish, in no uncertain or grudging terms, to express our gratitude to the ladies and gentlemen who compiled that report. Its conclusions and recommendations constitute a challenge to the public opinion of Scotland and to the Government, and it will be a powerful weapon in the hands of housing reformers and all who are concerned to bring about an improvement in the social conditions of the Scottish countryside. It is stated 1428 in downright terms that "many landholders and statutory small tenants are living in radically unfit houses, and the living conditions of cottars and squatters are worse." I quote the words of the report:A very large number of farm servants' houses are defective and in general no section of the population is condemned to live in such consistently bad housing conditions as farm servants. … Little or nothing is being done to replace the unfit houses or to put an end to overcrowding in villages and hamlets. … There is a serious shortage of houses in rural areas for the general needs of the population … and … the county councils are unable at present to erect houses for the general needs of the rural workers.Those are the findings of that Committee. In this Committee to-day we are not allowed to discuss proposals which involve legislation, and therefore I cannot deal with the various recommendations of the Committee on Rural Housing, but I ask the Secretary of State to tell us how he proposes to handle this report, what stage his consideration of it has reached, whether he proposes to have conferences with local authorities upon it, and when he will be able to announce the decisions of the Government upon it. There is no doubt that the findings of that Committee are of an almost sensational character. There is one in particular which deals with a matter of administration on which I would ask the Secretary of State, or whoever replies, to give an answer. On page 15 of their report the Committee state:What is significant is that the needs of rural counties as estimated by the local authorities appear to bear no relation to the facts.They go on to say:We find it impossible to believe that in four counties no houses are required, and in other areas the estimate has so little relation to the real requirements as to be useless.What is to be done in the face of that serious charge? Is it true that the estimates by the county councils are useless? If so, is the intention of the Act of Parliament to be defeated; or what do the Government intend to do? In conclusion I shall refer to only one other recommendation which this Committee make. [Interruption.] Other Members before me have exceeded their time limit. I remember that the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston) exceeded it by 10 minutes on a previous Bill.
§ Mr. Johnston
On a point of Order. An honourable undertaking is being broken. 1429 Had I known that it was going to be broken I should certainly not have confined my remarks to under 15 minutes. It was agreed that that should be the limit, with the exception of the case of the Secretary of State, who was to make a review of a year's work and deal with very important matters.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, he is not showing me the same courtesy as I showed to him on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Public Records Bill, when there was a similar undertaking. If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see that he exceeded the time by more than 10 minutes on that occasion. I did not complain at the time, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make no complaint against me now. I propose to discharge my responsibility to my constituents as quickly and as shortly as I can. [Interruption.] But the right hon. Gentleman did not keep it on that earlier Bill, as he will see if he will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am going to discharge my responsibility now as quickly as I can.
The final subject to which I must refer, because it is a matter of great importance to us in the Highlands, is this question of water supply. We have had reports from the county sanitary inspectors year by year on the urgency of this question. We have had the reports of the Department of Health telling us that water is a cardinal necessity of public health. We have had the Committee on Public Health Services, which published an interim report, and emphasised the importance of the subject in its final report. We also had a pledge from the Government at the last General Election; in their election manifesto they said that the question of water supplies in the sparsely populated districts would be dealt with. I would therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance that this question will receive the early attention of the Government. It is a question which is insoluble without more assistance than we are getting from the Government at the present time in counties like Caithness and Sutherland and other High-land and rural counties. I urge the Government to give us an assurance that they will grant more adequate assistance in dealing with this question of water supplies which, as the Committee on 1430 Rural Housing in Scotland report, is holding up housing development.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Hannah
Next to the most sacred cause that we all have at heart, that of international peace, I think there is no question we can discuss which is quite so important as the one before us. The conditions in which the rising generation are to be brought up, the social state of the people themselves, their housing, their food, are far more important, after all, than anything else could be, and I do feel very strongly the importance of the appeal made by the Secretary of State that this should not be treated as a party question. We can all be good party men when the time comes. In the highly probable event of hon. Members opposite trying at the next election to eject me from Bilston I will do the very best I can to stick there; but we all agree at the present time, I think—a Scottish Parliament as we are, meeting at Westminster—that what we want to do is to get the best possible conditions for our Scottish people. I feel in the first place that it is very important that the rising generation of Scots should be brought up in conditions that really represent the best traditions of Scotland herself. Sometimes, no doubt, as in the case of Dr. Whewell, a well-known master of my own college, a boy brought up in the slummiest part of a slummy town can overcome that great handicap, become a great scholar and play a great part in the world; but that is exceptional. For the most part we realise that people are, to a large extent, what their environment and education have made them, and I am sure we shall all agree that we want Scotland to be free for ever from what the Americans are beginning to call the "Main Street mind."
I want to spend the very few minutes at my disposal in talking mainly about that city that I know best and love the most, because I think in many ways it is the noblest of all cities, that city which in the eighteenth century was most magnificently extended. The new town of Edinburgh is, perhaps, the finest example of street planning that this country can show. Are not Adam and Playfair, architects of Edinburgh, better than all the Woods of Bath? We have heard a good deal about the splendid planning of Bath, and I fully agree with that, but I do say that the street planning of Edinburgh 1431 was better still, and that those magnificent squares and terraces, on the other side of the loch from the old town, are among the noblest things that this country has to show. So I think we feel with a good deal of sorrow that he who runs through Edinburgh at the present time, or passes in a motor car, or railway train, or flies above, cannot fail to realise that the city is failing, and failing very badly indeed, in some of her most prominent and difficult problems. In spite of what the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) said, I think the Secretary of State for Scotland did admit that the town planning was not all that could be wished.
I cannot help contrasting, rather unhappily, conditions in another town which I know very well, because I have the privilege of representing it in Parliament. Coseley, in the Black Country, is in an area consisting chiefly of dumps and slag heaps, bearing marks of the bad industrialism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The way in which the urban district council of Coseley, which is not yet a borough, is grappling with the problem of turning country of that kind into splendid parklands, and town planning the whole district, is one of the most splendid things I know. All of us in this House feel that we can have no greater pleasure than helping our constituents to build new towns worthily, wherever that is required. I say without any hesitation that if the mighty works that are being done in Coseley at this present time had been done in Edinburgh no city in this country could compete with it in magnificence. We should, indeed, have to go as far as Athens or Constantinople to find a town that could be even distantly compared to it. We rejoice in what has been done in the present preservation of Tailors Hall and various other buildings in different parts of the town, and we intend to see that they shall be preserved, but I am rather worried by the fact that in the debates in the Edinburgh City Council one councillor said that the best way to deal with old buildings was to tear them down and replace them with new. If what we were talking about were a' pair of trousers I should entirely agree. If a pair of trousers is worn rather thin, or gets burnt in places, or is shabby, I entirely agree that if the necessary funds to defray the expense can be made available it is 1432 better that a new pair should be made than that the old pair should be patched up.
I was rather sorry to hear, in the same connection, the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) talking rather contemptuously of the way in which this Government has merely patched up certain ancient buildings. I think he was referring to old cottages. Anybody who wants to apply the philosophy of the pastry-cook and the tailor to the noble craft of the mason knows nothing of what he is talking. If when this palace was burned down they had destroyed the magnificent thirteenth century vault of our Crypt and the noble fourteenth century roof of Westminster Hall, and got a new site on which to build an entirely new fabric, how inferior the results would have been.
§ Mr. Hannah
It is rather interesting to realise that in Scotland, in the fair city of Dundee, the old town house built by the elder Adam has been torn down, to be replaced by a civic centre, which is good in its way, but displays far more of what one would expect to find in a prairie city of the United States than in a great town in the centre of Scotland. We feel enthusiastic that it should not be thus in the city of Aberdeen, where there is an opportunity, as I understand, of using a very fine example of late seventeenth century Scottish architecture as a section of certain new buildings that are required. Does anybody pretend that the reckless expenditure so characteristic of a town like Aberdeen, that tore down a splendid old Dominican church and built that gingerbread nightmare, Marischal College. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, it is an absolute eyesore, completely out of touch with the city of which it is so prominent a part.
In many ways this matter of better housing, and particularly of town planning on a large and worthy scale, preserving all that is good, is rather better carried out in a certain foreign land than here. I do not propose to disclose the name of that foreign country, for tear of rousing the tender susceptibilities of certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen of this House.
§ Mr. Hannah
If we imitated Russia, the first thing we should learn is that the duty of the Government is not to argue with their opponents but to shoot them. Perhaps that is what the hon. Member intended. In strongly arguing for a better town planning of Scottish cities, I emphasise that I am speaking not merely for myself. The Scottish Society of Antiquaries, the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, the Scottish Anthropological Society, of all of which I have the privilege of serving on the council, the newly constituted Scottish National Trust, and the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, all have this matter very much at heart. Perhaps we can get a good idea from the psalms of David, which have been the centre of Scottish worship for many centuries, of what a town should be. Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself. I am sorry to realise that that is not the case with some of those Scottish towns, as they have been extended of late. I emphasise very strongly indeed not merely the tremendous need for good town planning but the need to try to preserve, at the same time, all that is worthy in the great Scottish tradition. A town plan that might be excellent in Southampton is hopeless in Edinburgh. We want Edinburgh to grow, as a Scottish city, preserving the best ideals of a noble and ancient Royal Burgh. Above all else we ask that Scots of all classes be worthily housed.
The National Trust is doing perfectly splendid work in reconditioning that fine old building at the top of the High Street, Gladstone's Lands, an old seventeenth century fabric which I understand is being reconstructed for working-class flats, with bathrooms, in a thoroughly convenient and suitable way. It is undoubtedly not desirable that everybody should have a garden. We have all seen on some of the new building estates how they are rather spoiled by the fact that while a large number of gardens are admirably kept, others are in utter disorder. It is most desirable that those who want gardens should have them, and that those who do not want them should not be saddled with them unnecessarily. I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the extraordinary way in which Edinburgh has failed to make those new buildings that spread out in all directions harmonise with that ancient town. When my wife 1434 was coming into Edinburgh a few weeks ago she told me that the omnibus conductor and a person dressed as a fisherman were talking very earnestly indeed along those very lines. It is the working class themselves that realise the great associations of their country, and are anxious that these things should be otherwise. In asking for careful town planning I am speaking for the slum dweller, for the duke, and for every class between.
The Scottish atmosphere is what we want to preserve, above everything else. That Scottish atmosphere in days gone by gave a particular character and a very special beauty not only to the towns but to the remotest hamlets. If we are to do anything at all, and if we allow those Scottish towns to extend without a worthy plan and without trying to build houses in the best possible way, our children will arise and call this generation accursed above all others. If we once allow it, it can never be undone. I am not asking for more money. It costs no more to recondition old buildings than to build new ones and to do it very badly. It is easy to argue that a whole district should be torn down and built anew, but it is far more trouble to do the work well and carefully, preserving all the monuments of antiquity and all that is good in that setting, and in every way trying to work along lines that will give people the best possible conditions in which to live. Let me conclude by adapting a quotation from a great British poet:… nor shall the sword sleep in our hand,Till we have built JerusalemIn Scotland's well-loved, rock-bound land.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Welsh
I do not propose to follow the arguments of the last speaker, although I reverence ancient things as much as anybody. I want to have regard to the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman to-day, with many of which I agree. He wants to see Scotland as it should be in the twentieth century. To house people in fourteenth-century houses will be a much more difficult task than the right hon. Gentleman has set himself. I shall not examine the whole of the wide field covered by the right hon. Gentleman, but I agree with most hon. Members who have spoken, that housing is probably the most important point. Reading the report upon rural housing 1435 that has been referred to, I noticed a statement to the effect that the housing problem of many of the county councils, if not all of them, in Scotland, would not be so severe as it is if they had taken advantage of the better facilities, in regard to subsidies and the prices of materials, that existed in the period after 1919, particularly in the rural areas. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the authorities are now facing a new obstacle in the rising cost of materials. Some authorities in Scotland have recently intimated that they cannot go on with their building of houses, not only in rural areas, but in industrial areas, because they cannot meet the price being asked for materials. When materials go up, wages go up, and when wages and materials both go up, rents naturally go up. Then a further difficulty is created for the people who have to go into the houses.
I had a letter a couple of days ago from a local authority in the county of Lanark telling me that in November last year, when they had scheduled 175 houses for a new scheme, the joinery work was to cost slightly over £14,000. Hitches occurred, and the scheme could not go on. Last month, the property had to be re-scheduled, and in the re-scheduling of the houses it was revealed that the joinery work had risen in cost to £19,500. That was apart from the cost of bricks and other things. It means that it is impossible for that authority to face the extra cost of the building materials. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that fact to show that to increase the subsidy, as has been asked by many authorities and many Members of this House, would not be sufficient. The picture he gave us of the cycle of events that would follow any increase of the subsidy would, I think, be borne out. I do not quarrel with it, but there are certain things that the Government could do. They could put the county councils and the local authorities in the position in which they stood before the prices went up, even by increasing the subsidy and then controlling the prices. I agree that the big problem is the production of materials. We have plenty of bricks; all we want is to organise the use of them and to put idle men to work. We cannot be expected to discuss a problem of that kind now, but I am 1436 merely making a suggestion on those lines.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that this was the first time in his new office that he had had to introduce these Estimates. I hope he will, by next year, be able to show a very great amount of progress in connection with this problem alone. He knows the problem as well as anybody does, particularly as it applies to the rural areas. I would like, as much as he would, that future generations should look back upon his period with the Scottish Office and that we might be able to call it, with a degree of pride, "the Elliot era" at the Scottish Office, just as we sometimes look back at the Shaftesbury era in industrial legislation. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that would be a reputation worth living up to.
I want to confine my remaining remarks mostly to rural housing, and to my own county of Lanark. It is not an insignificant county; it is a very important county in the scheme of things in Scotland. Much of the glamour that has attached to the so-called contented happiness of the rural worker is a myth. Probably the poets of the country are largely responsible for it. It is a fine thing to sit in slippered ease at the fireside and dream of the happy, whistling, rustic worker following his team in the fields, with the birds singing around him and the blue sky and white clouds overhead. That is a very fine thing, especially when you are looking at it objectively from the comfort of the fireside. But the writer of those descriptions would probably have a different outlook if, coming in body-sore and limb-tired from the fields at night, and looking forward to a few hours of rest, he was told that he would have to sit up all night with a cow that was calving, or some other of the regular incidents of farm life. The great majority of these workers have not a house that any of us would desire to live in. Their cottages are very picturesque on postcards, and very nice to look at, but they are generally dingy and dull and dilapidated. Some of them are over 100 years old, and they have no convenience of any kind. I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that it was a remarkable fact that rural school children showed a higher death rate than children in industrial areas at a particular time, 1437 and I feel sure that that was largely due to living in those so-called picturesque cottages.
The Report on Rural Housing states that a very large number of farm servants' houses are defective, and it goes on to say that in general no section of the population is so poorly housed. When I look at the figures for my own county, I am, as George Robey said recently, not surprised—I am amazed. The total number of rural houses in Lanarkshire is given as 57,675. In our legislation provision is made for the inspection of houses, and, indeed, the local authorities are urged regularly to inspect the houses in their areas; but in the year 1936 of those 57,675 houses, only 1,177, or 2½ per cent., were inspected; and, of the 1,177 that were inspected, 46 per cent. were found to be unfit for habitation. That is not a very fine picture, and you do not find lyrical descriptions of it in songs or on postcards. Overcrowding also is considerable in the county of Lanark. It is not necessary for anybody in this House to enlarge upon the evils of overcrowding at the present time, but the figures given in this report are terrible. They show that, of the 57,675 rural houses in the county of Lanark, 22,252 are definitely overcrowded as measured by the Department's own standard. The tragic thing is that, at the end of 1936, there was not being built a single house in the rural areas of Lanarkshire for the purpose of dealing with overcrowding.
If county councils could be encouraged in some way, by control of prices with an increase of subsidy if required, to build houses, and were able to know that they could budget for a period ahead when prices would be in some relationship to the rents they could get, it might stimulate them to build more houses, but a good many county councils in Scotland are not composed of individuals who are keen on building houses, particularly in rural areas. We suffer very badly from that fact, and, even when subsidies are available, one does not find that punch and drive put into the provision of houses in rural areas that there was in the 13 years from 1919 onwards. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who knows the rural worker, probably, better than most of his predecessors in his office over a large number of years, will put some drive and punch into the provision of houses, particularly for these people. We 1438 want them in industrial areas, too, but in the rural areas, particularly, we want drive and punch, and I hope we may be able to look back on the right hon. Gentleman's tenure of his office as a period that was worth while in Scottish history.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Sir Samuel Chapman
I must say that my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) has been very hard on the City of Edinburgh. I think he knows the city fairly well, but, if he would be good enough to come and spend a few days with me, I would show him some of the things that he has evidently not seen yet, and I think he would then be not quite so hard on the town council of Edinburgh, who are quite as keen as he is on seeing that the glories and picturesque features of Edinburgh are what he thinks they ought to be.
§ Sir S. Chapman
Yes, and every other hall too. We look to my right hon. Friend to make himself one of the greatest Secretaries of State for Scotland that we have ever had. He knows Scotland so well, and we look to him to do great things in his time and generation. In the report there is an interesting paragraph with regard to a circular to Scottish authorities suggesting that recreation grounds and community centres should be among their first considerations. I should like to know whether any response to that circular has been received. Some of us in Scotland are getting a little anxious about the action of the Advisory Committee with regard to physical fitness. My right hon. Friend has appointed that committee, and perhaps it is hardly fair in its early stages to say that they have not got to work properly, but the information that dribbles through to me does not show me, at any rate, that they are thinking things out on a big scale. I hear that they are going to do a little advertising to try to get some steam into the young people of Scotland to go in for physical fitness. But that is the last thing that is wanted to begin with. The political economists used to tell us, in the days of my youth, and the Library is full of that sort of stuff now, that when there was a demand the supply would soon be there; but in these days it is not the demand that creates the supply, it is the 1439 supply that creates the demand. Who wanted wireless? Who wanted aircraft, or anything of that kind? What the Advisory Committee have to do is to formulate some practical plan—and it can be done—which will catch the imagination of the youth of Scotland, and of the older people too. If they are going on in a humdrum sort of way, they will make nothing of this physical fitness campaign.
What they have to do is not only to supply community centres, but to make those community centres so attractive that everyone will give up the pictures and things of that kind and go in for physical exercises. But that is not all. These community centres must not be only for gymnastics; they must attract the mind as well as the body; they must do something in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah), of giving interesting lectures, if not on archaeology, or whatever his pet subject is, on physical fitness. They must be made attractive—as attractive as the hon. Member made his speech here this afternoon—and they must be as well read as his speech will be well read, I hope, by the town council of the City of Edinburgh. I hope the Secretary of State will keep his eye on the Advisory Committee, and, if they are not doing the right thing, will put some life into them, because they are only an advisory committee. He is responsible, and we look to him to make this physical fitness campaign a great success for the future of Scotland.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I want to begin with a reference to the health services of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I have just come back from a cruise round the Western isles, and I want to tell the Committee in a few moments my impressions as a result of that sojourn. I think it is about 15 years since the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) and I visited the Lewis, and in my opinion a great transformation has taken place there for the better, particularly in the health of the children. When my hon. Friends and I were there, a schoolmaster at the Butt of Lewis told us that he had seen the children dying before his eyes as the result of malnutrition. Such is not the case to-day. I have never seen healthier and happier children, not only in the 1440 Lewis, but all over the Western Isles. Largely, apart from the fact that money is more plentiful than it was 15 years ago, that is owing to the medical services that have been instituted in the Highlands and Islands. The doctor in Stornaway drew my attention to the fact, as is exemplified in the Report of the Health Department, that the hospital accommodation is inadequate.
I was annoyed to hear the Secretary of State intimate that, because of certain conditions that have arisen in the building industry, Duke Street Prison, which I have pressed three Secretaries of State for Scotland in the last six years to have demolished, has to remain, because of shortage of labour and the price of materials. If that is correct, it will apply also to the building of hospitals. I hope it will not apply to Stornaway, because there the condition is alarming compared with other centres. The doctor told me that at the sanatorium in Lewis they cannot get fresh eggs, though he has demonstrated to his entire satisfaction that there is no reason why they cannot be supplied. I hope that matter will be taken up. I was also pleased with the remarks that I heard passed regarding another thing that I was instrumental in having instituted and that was the air ferry. When I appealed for a subsidy to enable that to be put into operation, it was pooh-poohed. Now it is put into effect and is performing excellent service which is very much appreciated by the people in the Outer Hebrides in particular.
I wish to say a word about housing. The conditions in Clydebank are absolutely alarming. Overcrowding is worse than anywhere else in the British Isles, and is getting worse. Employers of labour are drafting in all the men and women they can get, and there is no accommodation for them. At Dumbarton they have built a huge factory, in record time, for making seaplanes, and they are proposing to bring in at least 1,000 men, and where they are going to be housed it is beyond the wit of the council to know. I find no encouragement from the Scottish Office. The Secretary of State said that the principal reason for the holding up of house building is the rise in prices, of which 40 per cent. went in material and wages. I should like to know how much of that 40 per cent. represents wages.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
That means 6 per cent. increase in the workers' wages and 94 per cent. for the robbers. I hope the Committee notes that. It means that 34 per cent. is for material. The Secretary of State was trying to put it across that the workers were exploiting the necessities of the people in order to raise their wages, but such is not the case. But it does not end there, because there is the other 60 per cent. that is taken by the profiteers, the robbers, those who live on the flesh and blood of the working class. Until the Government are prepared to face this, we shall never get over this trouble of housing. They are holding us up to ransom. I asked the Prime Minister, when he was Minister of Health, to see to it that the prices of material were not raised, and he assured me that he would use all the power he had to see that that did not take place, and here we are again faced with the situation of these people holding Scotland up to ransom, and keeping the people living like pigs. We are not talking about Russia, but about our native land, and these are the conditions. Overcrowding is rampant. I hope the Secretary of State will exercise his power. The Scottish Office is quite capable of the task that I ask it to perform, but it has not the courage to face up to the situation. The Secretary of State told us how the conditions in Scotland are worse than in England, and how we have been going back for years. That is perfectly true, but it is no use making speeches to us.
I remember a Secretary of State who told us time and time again how sympathetic he was with every proposal that we made for the betterment of our country. The Secretary of State for Scotland should come to this House with proposals to remedy the existing state of affairs, and I am perfectly satisfied that the House would give him every support in order to see that the wrongs of Scotland were righted. We ought to put a stop to those individuals who are exploiting the situation at the moment for their own aggrandisement. How often have I wrestled with them, metaphorically speaking, to try and get them to be a wee bit more considerate. The Secretary of State for Scotland has the power, if he has the courage, to say 1442 to them, "We are going to build the houses ourselves." He told us that one of the difficulties was that, when the rush was over, we should be faced with a very difficult situation; that there would be too many men in the building industry, and we should be in a worse position than we were before. I interjected at that point in order to arrest his attention and get him to elaborate that point, because I do not intend to be "kidded" either by the employers in the building industry or the building industry operatives. We want houses. They are absolutely necessary for the well-being of our country.
What about armaments? How are the engineers going to be placed when all this rush of armaments is over? Is any consideration being given to what is likely to happen to all the men who are being brought into that industry? None whatever. The idea of the Government is to get armaments, and they are prepared to pay the price. This House has said so. The Chancellor of the Exchequer got away with his last Budget but one with an increase of 3d. on the Income Tax, and there was not a murmur in this House. It was for the purpose of armaments, and now he is going to expend £1,500,000,000 upon armaments. Eeverything else is being held up in the country at the moment. The Minister for the Coordination of Defence can deny it if he likes. He can go to Kilmarnock and say that this armament business is not the chief reason for the rise in employment in this country, but there is no denying the fact that it is. I am in a position to prove it right up to the hilt. The report from the Amalgamated Society of Engineers proves conclusively that 40 per cent. of the unemployed men who were on their books are working on armaments.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Directly, never mind indirectly. This house-building can be augmented, and the Secretary of State has the power to stop all the luxury building that is going on in the midst of this dearth of bricklayers, plasterers, plumbers, etc., in the building industry. The building of cinemas continues. I suggest to the Scottish Office that, if they have not the powers, they should take powers to see that there are no more grants from the Dean of Guild Court to allow any more cinemas to be built in Scotland, until the housing of the working 1443 classes in the country is eased in some manner, and overcrowding is not rampant, as it is at the moment.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Sir Murdoch Macdonald
I am sure that we all listened with pleasure to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) in regard to the Western Isles of Scotland and the comparison he found between the conditions on a previous visit many years ago and those which he found the other day. I am sure that Members on all sides of the Committee also will be delighted that he is back among us in his pristine vigour, and able to expound the case which he desires to put before the House just as fluently and eloquently as ever. I was indeed delighted to know—as he told me in private, and as I have now heard in public—that he thought that the condition of the children in the Western Isles has greatly improved compared with that which he found on a previous occasion.
The dental condition of the children, more particularly in my own county and in the Hebrides, is of particular interest to me. In looking at the figures contained in the report, a very serious state of affairs is exhibited. In the case of Glasgow a request was made by the issue of 30,000 odd cards to parents for their opinion as to dental treatment for their children, and it is most unfortunate to have to record that 20 per cent. considered treatment to be unnecessary, and that of the 26 per cent. who promised to attend for private treatment, a very large proportion of them in the following six months were found not to have carried out any treatment of any kind. In the county which I have the honour to represent there is an examination for dental treatment, but it is a very widespread county indeed. The distances are great, particularly in the Hebrides where they are separated by sea from the mainland, and it must be extremely difficult to give even the clinical advice which a dental specialist might give to the children and to their parents as to what ought to be done.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to say that favourable consideration is being given to the appointment not only of an inspector who will clinically advise what ought to be done to the children in the outer isles in 1444 regard to dental treatment, but also that a clinic should be established where the treatment itself could be meted out. I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) refer to malnutrition as being the cause of dental caries, and he rather associated that with the poor condition of the people generally. The Secretary of State for Scotland very rightly interjected that in other cases that might not be so. I have listened to the eminent specialist, Dr. Mellanby, who was quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling, on the subject of nutrition, and while I know that a great increase in the amount of proper fresh milk taken by children would be of great advantage, yet I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that farmers ought to supply that milk at a far cheaper rate than they do now. If it is necessary to supply additional milk to these children in order to prevent dental caries and other diseases of the teeth, or indeed to cure malnutrition, then the Government themselves must step in.
At the present moment the farming industry is very hardly put to so as to make a living as it is, and milk in a certain part of my constituency is one of the mainstays whereby farmers are able to make a living. They are with very great difficulty making a living now, and the agricultural labourers receive wages which are far lower than the wages paid in any other trade in the country. They certainly ought not to be at such a low rate. They could not by any means increase the wages of agricultural labourers, if, as the right hon. Gentleman was proposing, farmers had to part with their milk at something like half the price they are getting now, which is small enough to keep them and their agricultural labourers in their present condition, and the latter are very badly treated in comparison with all other employés in the country. I hope, therefore, that the Government will favourably consider the matter of dental treatment not only for the Island of Skye and for the Outer Hebrides, but for the country generally. I would like to see dental treatment made very much the same as medical treatment. Not only should clinical advice be given but some system should be evolved whereby the actual treatment itself should be possible.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Leonard
I do not intend to keep the Committee long in placing before the Solicitor-General, the Lord Advocate, or whoever is to represent the Secretary of State, a few points on which I should like some guidance and satisfaction. Nor is it my intention to go into the question of housing. I have, however, purchased for one penny a copy of the Statutory Rules and Orders that have been issued, and which become operative in September next in regard to rent rebate. I have also obtained a copy of the guidance circular issued to local authorities covering these regulations, and I should like some assurance in regard to one part of them. I notice that local authorities in fixing rents are required:to take into consideration the rent ordinarily payable by persons of the working classes in the locality. Rents should be fixed without regard to the means of the particular tenants who may occupy the houses from time to time.The point on which I should like an explanation appears on page 3 of that document. It says:Applications for rent rebates will be made by persons who are in receipt of unemployment assistance, and the Unemployment Assistance Board will arrange for their officers to consult with the officers of local authorities concerning the application of schemes of rent rebates to tenants of this class so as to secure equitable arrangements as between the authorities and the BoardI am in doubt as to why it is necessary for this to take place, because the rents have to be fixed without regard to the means of the particular tenants, and those particular tenants belonged to a certain class in the locality who are in receipt of benefit from the Unemployment Assistance Board. While the document says that the consultation is intended to secure equitable treatment as between the authorities and the Board, there is the possibiliy that this matter may be made more complex than it is. There are very few hon. Members who are not aware that the computations that have to be entered into in regard to the Unemployment Assistance Board are already so complex that very few people can understand them, and it takes a good time to make them up. Is it necessary within an area where no regard is to be paid to the income of the tenants to isolate the people who are unemployed and who are under the Unemployment Assistance Board for this 1446 specific purpose? Would it not be sufficient to let it be known that those who are entitled to rent rebate are those people who are in receipt of unemployment assistance from the Board, and that the suggested collaboration will not be necessary?
A further point to which I should like to draw attention relates to the maternity service, in regard to which I moved an Amendment in the Standing Committee on the Maternity Bill. The maternity service which we are going to inaugurate will remove entirely the type of midwife who not only performs the ordinary functions of midwifery but also other domestic duties which are essential at these times in a working-class home. I pointed out in Committee that the Department of Health for Scotland had issued a circular to local authorities urging them to institute a scheme whereby domestic helps could be provided in such cases, because when the Act comes into full fruition we shall have eliminated the type of midwife who previously functioned, and the women will not have recourse to the ordinary type of midwife who could also, render service in the form of daily help. Has the Department followed up the circular, and, if so, I should like to know what response they have had from the local authorities. If the response has not been satisfactory, what are they going to do to ensure that in connection with the new maternity service domestic help will be provided in the ordinary household while the mother is receiving midwifery assistance?
The hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) referred to dental defects, and I should like to draw attention to that part of the Department's report which deals with dental defects in children. This is a matter of great importance. The report says:In general, the dental condition of school children is one of the major problems of school health services.Here is admittedly one of the major problems of the school health services, yet according to the statistics there are only 51 full-time dentists engaged in endeavouring to attend to this major problem. To that number has to be added 31 part-time dentists, but that only means one person attending to 12,000 children. According to the opinion of authorities on this subject there should be one qualified dentist to every 5,000 children. I think 1447 that more attention on the part of the Department is required. Dentistry is really preventive medicine, according to the report, and if so it would be money well spent to attend to this matter. Glasgow attaches so much importance to it that they are not only providing dental treatment bat also dentures as part of the ante-natal scheme.
Another subject with which I should like to deal is that of nursery schools. Referring to infantile mortality the report says that it is 82 per thousand compared with 76.8 last year. On this point the report says:it must however be remembered that the infantile mortality rate is subject to fluctuations from year to year arising from various varying incidence of disease.That sounds rather more like an excuse than an explanation, and I do not think that there ought to be any excuse. I know that those who wrote the report did not intend it in that way, but it appears to me to be giving the facts, recognising that they are bad and then looking for an excuse. This question of nursery schools is urgent and must be developed quickly. There are only 50 nursery schools in Scotland attending to 1,800 children, and of that number 36 are run by voluntary bodies.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That does not necessarily mean that it is a matter for this Vote. In England such a subject comes under the Education Department Vote. Whether it is the same in Scotland I do not know.
§ Mr. Leonard
In Scotland, I think that the health services and the education services are both placed under the general health work of the local authorities, and it was on that assumption, and because it is mentioned in the report, that I have made reference to it. I submit that the point is of considerable importance, especially in view of the fact that in the same report it is stated:the Special Area Commissioners were prepared to give aid in this matter especially in Special Areas but the difficulty was the difficulty of obtaining organised voluntary help.1448 With regard to the sanitary services, I should like to say a few words. So far only one of the sanitary services has been referred to, and that is water. Great progress has been made, but the report points out that there is still much room for advance. If we are to advance in sanitary matters, one of the mediums of obtaining that advance will be to pay attention to the special districts that exist. The time has long passed when we can countenance certain people for certain purposes being looked upon as part of the community, but when they ask for communal recognition and communal services they are given the designation of special districts, and must be a State burden for that purpose. In a special report which was issued last year it was stated that there were 1,700 special districts in Scotland, and nearly 200 of them were in Lanarkshire. In England during the past year under the Public Health Act they have brought their sanitary code up to date. I think the Scottish Office ought to pay some regard to the desirability of bringing the sanitary code of Scotland up to date, and that they should eliminate the special districts.
The only other point to which I would refer is that of tuberculosis. The death rate from tuberculosis is the same this year as last year—74 per 100,000; but I am glad to note that the death rate from pulmonary tuberculosis is the lowest on record—55 per 100,000. In the special report on the Scottish Health Services there was amplified reference to this disease, but I have not seen anything in the Departmental report with regard to the suggestions contained in the special report. In the special report there is this paragraph:Institutional accommodation for tuberculosis should be overhauled with the object of securing regional institutions for modem treatment of all forms of tuberculosis, from which all treatment over wide areas should be supervised.Perhaps the arrangements have not been brought forward sufficiently for any observations to be made in the Departmental report, but I should like to know whether anything has been done by the Department to bring to the notice of the competent authorities in Scotland the considered report of those who presented the special report as to the need for greater co-ordination and for a general advance in the treatment of tuberculosis. 1449 I am specially pleased that so much progress has been made in regard to the medical services in the Highlands and Islands. Nothing pleases me more than the great advance that has been made in that service, and congratulations are due to the officials and the medical people who have brought it about.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby
I shall not detain the Committee for more than a few minutes, but I should like to say, in passing, that I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing Scottish affairs again this summer, and that the fact that only one Vote has been put down by the Opposition does not mean that we are not to be given the opportunity of saying something in regard to agriculture and fisheries before the end of the year. Some of us are anxious to speak on those subjects, but I recognise that in that matter we are in the hands of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Westwood
The hon. Member can rest assured that the Opposition will claim another day for Scotland, and that in all probability agriculture will be one of the subjects to be discussed.
§ Mr. Boothby
I am delighted to hear that. I want to deal with two subjects. In the first place, I should like to reinforce very strongly what was said by the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) on the subject of milk. When we are discussing the subject of health, milk is perhaps the most important, perhaps even more important than housing conditions, in the last resort. There is definite malnutrition among a section of the working class population in Scotland. It is a scandal that that should be so; and I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for West Stirling that there is something wrong about a system under which 2s. a gallon is charged to the working classes for milk while the manufacturer gets milk at a price between 6d. and 1s. a gallon. Whether it is the milk scheme, the Department of Health or something else, I would not say at the moment. But no stone should be left unturned to get milk as cheaply as possible for the young children, especially before they go to school, and the nursing mothers in the industrial areas of Scotland. I would rather the Government took over the stuff and distributed it itself in these necessitous cases than allow the present con- 1450 ditions to continue without action of some kind.
I know that the Secretary of State is keen on this subject and I would like an assurance that something will be done. There is a strong case to be made for considering whether it would not be possible to get other articles of food we produce in Scotland to the working class more cheaply. Oats may be one; herrings certainly are another. I cannot for the life of me see that it is not a wrong thing that hundreds of crans of herring should be thrown back into the sea, good food which has been fished for by our own fishermen, because they cannot he disposed of, while people should be hungry in our industrial areas. Again there is something wrong there. Last week-end I was at Peterhead and Fraserborough and crans of herring were being thrown back into the sea. Equally there is something wrong about the price of milk. The breakdown of the milk scheme has something to do with that. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to tackle this distributive side of the question. It is impossible in eight minutes to put forward a constructive scheme. I have some ideas, but the Minister, with all his sources of information, must have better ones. I would ask him to consider this question of cheap milk for the industrial areas, particularly for the children before they get to school, and for nursing mothers.
The only other point to which I want to draw attention is one aspect of the question of housing. It is a terrific problem. The report on Rural Housing Conditions came as a pretty good shock to many of us. It is a startling document, and if it is true—and there is no reason to suppose that it is not—it reveals a disgraceful state of affairs. What action are the Government going to take? I am inclined to think that it is not a very good thing to content yourself as far as the country districts are concerned with patching up broken-down cottages instead of pulling them down and building new ones. If there was a defect in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act that was it: it encouraged local authorities to patch up old cotters' houses which were in the last state of repair, instead of pulling them down and building new ones. The result is that the houses which were patched up are now falling down again. That is a point to which the Minister should direct his 1451 attention, because the facts as revealed by the report are disquieting, to say the least.
With regard to urban housing the Government and the local authorities have got to face up to the fact that it is necessary to carry through building operations on a large scale in our industrial towns. In this connection I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether that admirable report which his Department issued two or three years ago on working-class housing on the Continent of Europe has been put in a pigeon hole and completely forgotten. I would like to recall one paragraph:So far as housing is concerned, much of the architectural talent which exists in Scotland is hardly being used. Young men, largely unoccupied, who have been trained in the newest science of architectural technique are anxious to express their ideas but get no chance to do so, while overworked officials cover acre after acre with drab monotony because the pressure of other duties prevents them devoting any time to creative work.That report concludes that more imaginative architecture and planning, a better lay-out and provision for social amenities could be achieved in Scotland at no great cost. It contained admirable constructive suggestions, and I have yet to learn that any action has been taken with regard to it. I am not one of those who advocate the building of modern tenement flats to the exclusion of single houses. I know that the bulk of the working-class population of Scotland prefer to have their own houses. But where you have to rebuild inside urban districts and on sites where you have had to destroy houses under slum clearance schemes, there it is necessary that you should tackle this question for modern tenement flats for the working classes as they have done successfully in every other country in the world. We have only about two schemes of that kind worth looking at, whereas wherever you travel on the Continent, France, Germany, Poland, even Russia, everywhere they have these modem tenement dwellings. They provide much better facilities for a communal life for the workers.
There need be no lack of space and light in these tenement flats because it is no longer thought necessary to put them in strict alignment. They take them back from the street and provide them with gardens. They have a central supply of 1452 electricity, communal wash-houses, bathrooms, stores, wonderful facilities for recreation for children in security and safety, which imposes far less of a burden on the mothers, and these flats enable the worker to live in much closer proximity to their work than they would be if they had to go right out of the town, and that saves them a certain amount in transport charges. I do not advocate tenement flats to the exclusion of separate houses, but they have immense advantages, and there is unquestioned beauty in the straight lines, plain surfaces and gay colours of many of the schemes to be seen in Europe. We are miles behind.
§ Mr. Boothby
Peterhead is not an industrial town. I am referring particularly to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
§ Mr. Boothby
No, they are the most monstrously ugly things imaginable, and the housing which has gone on in Scotland since the War is frightfully monstrously ugly.
§ Mr. Boothby
Anything would be better than the old tenement, but because the old tenement was so awful it is not necessary to think that a modern tenement is necesarily an awful thing, too. It need not even remotely resemble the old tenements scheme. As far as our modem housing schemes are concerned, if they were not better than the old tenements it would be absolutely disgraceful, but the housing schemes carried out since the War have been carried out without imagination or planning. They are ugly, and could have been done much better at no greater cost.
§ Mr. Boothby
Nobody likes the houses, least of all the people who live in them. Anyway, if they do like these schemes, 1453 they will have to be taught to like something better later on. I believe that the Secretary of State will have to go beyond what he indicated to us this afternoon if he is to make a great reputation in this matter. I would like to see his central council developed into a central housing committee for Scotland with adequate powers to control to some extent housing development all over Scotland, and containing men of wide experience in housing and local government. The central committee, if given adequate powers, would be able, if necessary, to make bulk purchases, and certainly it would be able to keep a sharp eye on the question of raw materials. The advice such a committee would be able to give in the matter of housing, housing development schemes and architecture, would be absolutely invaluable. It is because there is no central authority, no design, no plan, no great experience or authority at the disposal of many of our local authorities that so many of our housing schemes are in such a mess. Everybody in the House wishes the Secretary of State well, but his fame may stand or fall by his success or failure in tackling this problem of housing, and if he applies some of his own imagination to this problem, where imagination has been so tragically lacking during the past 12 years, he may well not only make a name for himself but transform Scotland.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Mathers
I am anxious to have from the Under-Secretary some further indication than we have had up to the present of the way in which the Government intend to deal with the problem with which the county I have the honour to represent is so tragically faced. The county council have provided a number of houses, but up to the present time they appear only to have touched the fringe of the terrible problem of bad housing in the county of Linlithgow. The conditions under which we work in these Debates in trying to confine ourselves to a maximum of a quarter of an hour each, makes it impossible to go into many details. I will content myself by saying that the county council have used the opportunities provided under the various Acts of Parliament from 1923 to 1935 to build, or put under contruction, 2,957 houses, and that figure includes houses which were granted the lump-sum payment under the 1923 Act for houses 1454 privately owned. It is worthy of notice that the Housing Act of 1930 is the one of which most advantage has been taken.
The overcrowding survey which took place some time ago and of which we have particulars in Command Paper 5171 of 23rd April, 1936, supplemented by information given in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) only as far back as yesterday, showed that in the county of Linlithgow, including the burghs, the number of habitable houses overcrowded was 5,260, and that to meet this overcrowding 3,613 new houses were required. The burghs and the county council have made preparations for the building of 2,267 houses of that total of 3,613. Full details from one burgh are not available, but I have assumed in respect of this particular burgh that it will make arrangements to build all the houses required in its area. That shows a shortage of between 1,300 and 1,400 houses which are required to meet the position disclosed by the overcrowding census. A difficulty has been found in proceeding with schemes owing to increasing costs, but one thing which also causes local authorities to decide against further progress in housing schemes is that they are anxious to know exactly what the Government are going to do. We have not had much encouragement up to the present to believe that the Government intend to make any advance in the subsidy or to take proper action to deal with the increasing costs. It seems to me that the Government should take some action to deal with these costs.
In reply to a question on Tuesday it was said that the higher costs of building materials had been applicable only in the industrial belt in Scotland and did not apply to any extent outside that industrial belt. If these increasing prices can be localised in that way it makes the problem of dealing with them much easier, and it should not be beyond the competence of the Secretary of State to deal with them and make sure that profiteering in respect of materials is not permitted. I should like to have some amplification of the statement that has been made on behalf of the Government as to the possibility of tackling these increasing costs. When I find local authorities inclined to hold their hands and see what the Government intend to do, I recollect the case of the Elgin Town Council which was badly 1455 let down because it had no information from the Government as to what action they were going to take. The Elgin Town Council concluded that the Government's scheme of 1933 was the last word, and proceeded with a housing scheme under that Act. It was in progress in 1935 when they appealed for the better subsidy provisions which were given by the Act of 1935. But the Government would not concede that claim, and said that the 1933 position must apply. The Elgin Burgh Council felt that they had been let down, and other authorities, perhaps learning that lesson, are not taking the risk.
I want to give one or two instances of the increases which have actually occurred and which can be proved in respect of housing costs. The county council price for houses of a similar type has increased from 20 to 25 per cent. on each house. I have a statement showing that in January, 1933, they were able to build a three-apartment house at prices from £248 to £277, according to type. In May of this year they have had to face prices, for the same type of house of £361 to £439. I could give further instances, but that will suffice to show that more than a 20 to 25 per cent. increase has been incurred in respect of housing costs. I am informed by those who know the position in Bo'ness that their latest scheme of house building shows an increase of 19 per cent. in cost, and the probability is that Bo'ness will decide to proceed no further with housing development if they have to face that increase, or any further increase in costs.
§ Mr. Mathers
There is a necessity for houses to be provided, and I know that those who look after the interests of the ratepayers do not want to put more on to the rates, that the taxpayer has also to be considered and that we must take into account the position of the tenants in respect of the rents they have to pay. Taking these three factors into account, it seems to me that the fairest way is to place the burden on the broadest back, and the broadest back is that of the taxpayer, not the ratepayer or the rent-payer. In South Queensferry there is, 1456 and has been for some time, a development of housing by direct labour, and even there there is an increase of £75 per house. This means that rents will have to be increased, perhaps to the extent of £2 per house per year. Everyone knows that rents are high enough already. To avoid an increase in rents the council would probably hesitate to build houses at an increased cost, and to prevent increasing the rents on houses already built it may be necessary also to consider the suspension of the building of new houses.
I want to put a point in regard to the statement of the Secretary of State that a new public utility company is to provide houses in the Special Areas with no cost to the rates. I want to ask whether it will be possible for that company to provide houses for purposes other than slum clearance or overcrowding. I put that question because I have in mind the position of Whitburn in Linlithgowshire. There is an expansion in the coal trade there at the present time, and this expansion is being hampered because there are no houses to let for ordinary purposes. I am anxious to know whether in that area, which is a scheduled area, it will be possible for this public utility company to provide houses for ordinary purposes. I put this point also bearing in mind the evictions which have taken place from colliery-owned houses. I have had many distressing cases of this kind brought to my notice. There is very little that one can do, because the owners are the colliery companies and they have a right to evict the tenants when they cease to have any connection with the colliery. It would meet a great want if houses for ordinary occupation could be provided. I remember more than one family who were evicted in this way going to the workhouse, and serious overcrowding taking place by other families having to go and live with other people. We always have with us newly married couples, and it is necessary, having in mind their prospective happiness, to see that they have the opportunity of getting into a new house instead of having to live for a long time with relatives.
We shall all wish success to the Secretary of State in his efforts to expedite house-building by the arrangements he is making with the building trade. I want 1457 to ask what is his attitude towards direct labour? Direct labour has been in operation in South Queensferry for a long time. The first scheme they tackled, not a big scheme, was a scheme of 28 houses, and they were able to save on the estimate, which was accepted by the Department of Health as reasonable, no less than £1,722. Since that time the Department has been rather restrictive towards the Queensferry Town Council and their direct labour activities. They have demanded a 20 per cent. reduction in the estimated costs, no doubt because of the saving that had previously been made. A compromise was arrived at on a reduction of 10 per cent. The original estimate made by the surveyor in South Queensferry was an estimate in keeping with other estimates in other parts of the county, and I consider it unfair to put a penalty upon this development by direct labour. I would like, if possible, to obtain a pledge from the Government that they are not opposed in principle to the idea of direct labour. I think they would help their housing problem if they encouraged this method, and I hope they will be able to show that there is no definite opposition to the idea of building houses by direct labour. The arguments in favour of it are manifest. Better houses are obtained, better conditions are given to the workers to carry out the work, and there is a lower cost of upkeep, because there is no scamping of the work, as is often the case when houses are built by contract.
I want also to ask the Secretary of State what is his attitude towards the vexed question of the reconditioning of old property. I am not talking now about property of antiquarian interest, but of property that has been soundly and strongly built in days gone by and has now fallen, so far as inside the walls is concerned, into a state of disrepair. Does the right hon. Gentleman, in the cases where reconditioning could take place, insist on the standards that are now laid down in respect of new houses, or has he a minimum standard that could be acted upon in dealing with houses under such conditions? I know it is difficult to bring them up to the full standard, but in some cases—I do not want to appear in any way reactionary about providing proper and adequate housing accommodation of the best type for our people—it does seem a pity to see 1458 a soundly built property being sacrificed where that might be unnecessary.
In respect of rural housing, I find that the county that I represent comes out very badly indeed among the industrial counties in Scotland. Indeed, it comes out the worst, because if the average percentage of houses examined that were found to be unfit for habitation is taken, for the five years over which the examination has taken place—I know that the figures may not be strictly accurate, but taking the industrial counties and the average percentage of houses found unfit in the county of Linlithgow—I find that the figure is no less than 62 per cent. That is a terrible position indeed, and it is necessary that great efforts should be made to deal with this problem of slums in the countryside. We had a word from the Secretary of State one night on the Adjournment recently, showing how gravely he looks upon this problem, and I am hoping that the words he used then will be translated into action, for undoubtedly it is a disgrace that at this time of day we should have in Scotland, in the countryside, such very terrible slums as we know exist and as has been brought very prominently to our notice by this report on rural housing. I hope the points that I have put will be answered by the Under-Secretary of State when he makes his reply.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
The housing report shows a very bad state of affairs, and it looks to me as if the local authorities have not had the time or the capacity to manage these matters. They have certainly been very dilatory. When costs were low and when labour was wanting to be employed—that was the time to get busy, and it is only now, when costs are beginning to be high, that the matter seems to be occupying their attention more seriously. I remember having a discussion with the late Sir Tudor Walters, who managed to build houses at a third less than they cost any municipality. I often wonder whether we could have in Scotland some man completely disinterested, some wealthy man like Sir Tudor Walters, with no possible inclination to make a "job" of it, who could take up housing and get it done in the best possible way. But men of this kind are very scarce, in both countries. We had Sir Tudor Walters in England, 1459 and I wish he had been given the power to solve the housing question.
We have had serious criticism as to why some cottages have been pulled down, but who in these days is going to contemplate building a great number of houses in which to house the people if they are to be really solid in construction? You can make temporary dwellings, and make them comfortable, but people do not like the look of them. One of the causes of housing in Scotland being so costly is that the houses are far too lasting. In the old days we sought to build for generations. Take Edinburgh itself. There is nothing more inconvenient than the Edinburgh house built on the north side of the city, away from the sun, and far too strongly built. Those houses were built some three generations ago, and nobody hardly can live in them nowadays. There is no view, and there is no sun. One man has divided a lot of them up into flats, but he did that not so much as a building speculation as because he was fond of the job. I often think it was wrong to have built our houses so permanently. They remind me a little of the story, that I think I have already told in this House, of the Russian peasant who wears a leather suit which he has inherited from his grandfather, and unless he is built the same, it does not fit him very well and is apt to become insanitary.
I often think that houses should be built that would only last for 30 or 40, or at the outside 50, years, and that then they should be pulled down and new houses, suitable to their day and generation, built in their places. I remember some magnificent buildings in Glasgow, built a hundred years before. There was nothing wrong with them, but they did not suit the district then, and they were pulled down and all that capital destroyed. I believe a great deal might be done with graceful temporary structures. If I had my life to begin over again, I would have one of these Boulton and Paul's dwellings that you see about the country as my country dwelling. It would last quite long enough to serve the purposes of one's own life. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) spoke about tenement houses. The view taken in Germany is that they do not like tenement houses because they make Com- 1460 munists, and I quite agree. If they have no space or air, people in them are apt to get dyspeptic and to take a very prejudiced and evil view of the world round about them.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) on the Overcrowding Bill Committee gave quite a revelation as to the sanitation of some of our houses in Scotland, which I think shocked the whole of us. I knew something about it, but I did not know as much as that. I do not believe in women having communal wash-houses. If they do, they are much more likely to quarrel. You want people to have their own individual arrangements. New houses should have constant hot water and heating provided, and, as I think one hon. Member said, refrigerators as well, but they are not so necessary in Scotland as in England, because we get all the cold we want.
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen spoke about milk and the high price thereof. I think it is one of the greatest scandals of modern times. Here we have milk offered at a price that the people cannot pay, namely, 2s. a gallon, which is preposterous. When I was a boy it was 2d. a quart and a id. a pint, and that is all we paid, and there were lots of farmers selling it at 3d. and happy to take it from door to door and give a long pull where there were widows and children. All that is now a crime, and it is monstrous. The Minister for Agriculture said there had not been a drop of milk wasted, but I am told that if you go down to Stranraer you are reminded of Lisbon and the Tagus. The yellow Tagus flows out to the sea and stains it for miles around. At Stranraer you find a great white sea, and that is the milk that is poured away into the Minch.
§ Mr. Elliot
I think my hon. and learned Friend must be drawing on his imagination. I do not think he is describing anything that he has himself seen.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I call the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) as evidence. He has photographs of the drain pouring milk into the sea.
§ Mr. Elliot
I think that was part of the propaganda against the co-operative societies. If there is anything coming out 1461 of that drain, it is washings from floors. There is no truth whatever in the story that there is any milk running out.
§ Mr. Macquisten
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the sea is white? I think I will go down and see for myself, because I do not rely on anything done by the Milk Marketing Board. They said that it would never mean a levy of more than a ½d. a gallon—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I ought to point out that any question of the Milk Marketing' Board really arises on the Estimates, Class VI, Vote 22, and not on this Vote.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I would like to agree with the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, but I do not see why these supplies of milk cannot be taken and distributed to the school children at manufacturing prices. It would be infinitely better. Why should people who make cheese get their milk at such a ridiculously low price? Why is solidified milk supposed to be such a virtue, when drinking it liquid is not? It is entirely wrong. There would be an immense amount more milk used if it was is a gallon. Wherever you go in Scotland now you see dumps of empty milk tins, because the people have to use condensed milk owing to the price of the liquid article. The children in the rural areas get no fresh milk; they get nothing but Nestles milk, and one sees the tins on the dumps in the villages. Why cannot they get milk for children at the manufacturing price? Why should manufacturers of cheese have this preference? The other day the Minister of Agriculture said that if we had not this system, everything would have been in chaos, but this system seems to be manufacturing chaos. The whole system is nonsensical. I would like now to make a few remarks on the question of the distribution of herring. In old days there was the herring hawker who went about selling herring which he had bought direct from the fishing ports.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I do not see what that has to do with the Vote under discussion. There is a special Vote for herring.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I am dealing with the question of nutrition. It is the hon. Member for East Aberdeen who has drawn a red herring in front of me. Something must be done with regard to the question of nutrition. The people are not getting the food they ought to get, and I think it is largely because of the excessive costs of distribution. I do not know how that state of things could be remedied, and it is not for me to make suggestions, but I believe that if there were some means of getting the consumers and producers face to face, we should be able to solve the problem. At the present time the food passes through so many hands, with the result that people are not getting the food they ought to get and are not properly nourished.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Barr
If I may refer to the very fine speech made by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah), I share his enthusiasm for "Edina, Scotia's darling seat," but I do not agree with him when he goes to Aberdeen and roundly condemns the Marischal College buildings, which I think are about the finest in the country. Then the hon. Member said that he is a member of the Society for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, but when I read the report on Rural Housing in Scotland, I desire rather to join a society for the rebuilding of rural Scotland than a society for the preservation of it.
I would like to draw attention to the condition of affairs which is revealed in this report, which the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) said shocked him, as doubtless it shocked many others. It is a very strong indictment of rural housing in Scotland. I take from that report, first of all, the fact that, taking the houses of five rooms and under, we find that the subsidy was used only to the extent of 4.7 per cent. of the total number of such houses in rural counties, whereas for Burghs it was used to the extent of 14.9 per cent., and for industrial counties 17.9 per cent. When we come to the inspection of houses under Section 5 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1925, the report says:We have no hesitation in saying that, with a few exceptions, county councils are not carrying out adequately their duty under Section 5 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1025.1463 In the survey that was made by the Committee of typical parishes, we have a very serious indictment. It states:On average 75 per cent. of the working-class houses in the parishes surveyed were considered to be unfit for human habitation in their existing state.There is a further indictment in regard to the demolition of houses that are unfit for human habitation. The report says:It appears, therefore, that although 17 per cent. of the houses in rural counties ought to be dealt with under Section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1930, the actual lumber on which notices were served in 1935 was less than 1 per cent.On the repair and improvement of partially defective houses, the statement is made that there has been a great deal of delay because it was considered that, owing to the pecuniary circumstances of the owner, they could not take action. I am glad to read in the report that they make it plain, and desire it to be made more plain in the future, that that is not a relevant consideration. They go so far as to say that there has been an abuse of what rare known as informal approaches, and they state that the county councils have abused those informal approaches in such a way as to constitutean evasion of their plain duty.As to the water supply, to which reference has been made in the Debate, I may recall the fact that for three years I was a member of the Royal Commission on housing in industrial and rural areas. I would like to refer to what the Royal Commission said on this subject in order to see whether there has been any improvement, and if so what improvement. In 1917, the Royal Commission said:It is only in very rare cases indeed that water is brought into the cottage of farm workers. Sculleries supplied with water and drainage are so rare as to be practically negligible.Although I accept the statement made by the Minister with regard to water supply, when one reads the report one sees that the advance made has not been as great as his statement might imply. The report says that there is not even a proper water supply in cases where grants were made under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. Less than 2 per cent. of the working-class houses in rural areas have been dealt with each year, and the report rightly says:This is an extraordinary position.1464 With regard to sanitary conveniences, the report of the Royal Commission to which I have referred stated that:In the rural cottage there is seldom to be found any of the conveniences that are necessary for the ordinary carrying on of family life, such as water supplies, sculleries, wash-houses, coal sheds, baths or water closets.The report of the Advisory Committee shows a very deplorable condition of affairs to be obtaining in this respect even now. The report reads:The figures in Appendix II show that 48 per cent. of the houses surveyed had only dry closets, and that 29 per cent. had no sanitary conveniences at all. The report states that 'the lack of proper closet accommodation was startling, nearly one out of every three houses having none whatsoever, and I could find no reason for this other than neglect.' From the statistics collected by the Department of Health, it is clear that in rural counties even less is being done to require the provision of sanitary conveniences under Section 20 of the Act of 1925 than to require the provision of water supplies under Section 40 of the Act of 1919.The Advisory Committee proposes that there should be a separate water closet for each house. On the question of baths, the report of the Royal Commission stated:Except in rare instances in some of the houses built or renovated quite recently, baths are never provided.I remember that Sir William Younger, who was our most advanced leader in all these matters on the Royal Commission, made a great stir and commotion when he proposed to give local authorities power to introduce baths in all new houses. It was said that the rural workers would not know how to use them, and would put coal in the baths, to which the answer was ready, that the reason anyone put coals in the bath was that he was not given a coal cellar. In this case we have so far advanced that there is a proposal in the report that it should be a condition in the case of reconstruction, that there should be an inside water supply, water closet and bath, unless the Department is satisfied that it is not reasonably practicable to provide those conveniences. With regard to reconstruction, the report states that there has been a grave waste of public money because grants have been taken and there has not been a satisfactory reconstruction. On the question of housing in villages, the report says that: 1465Except in a few counties, little or nothing has been or is being done by county councils.On the housing of farm servants, it is pointed out that a large number of cottages originally provided on farms for farm workers are now let to persons other than farm workers, as though it is a good house wasted if it is occupied by a farm servant. I see that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) is in his place, and I will say that it is greatly to the credit of Sir William Younger that when he provided houses for his farm servants, and found that those houses were being let for summer occupation or otherwise and taken away from the farm servants, he took the farmers to the court rather than have the houses used in that way. On the housing of farm servants generally, the report says:We recognise that in urban slums there may be individual houses which are as bad as, if not worse than, any farm servants' cottages, but we are satisfied that in general no section of the population is compelled to live in such consistently bad housing conditions as farm servants.What are the reasons for this state of affairs? One reason, I think, is the dual control that has existed in regard to the houses of farm servants. The landlord is supposed to be responsible for structural repairs, the farmer for minor repairs, and the farm servant for internal painting and so on. The farm servant does not really know to whom he should go, and under the dual system he is bandied between the one and the other. The primary concern of the proprietor and also of the farmer has come to be good farm steading and outhouses. Dr. Dawson, the Medical Officer for Galloway, before the Royal Commission, said:The cot houses are about the last thing that are attended to by some proprietors.George Wintrop, County Sanitary Inspector for the Stewartry, Kirkcudbright, said:I could take you to farms where hundreds of pounds have been spent on the steading and not one penny on the cottages.There is ample evidence to show that often when a farm is being let the farmer who is looking it over, if satisfied about the outhouses and steading, does not even inspect the accommodation for the servants. I will quote one or two pieces of evidence. Dr. Dawson, when giving evidence before the Royal Commission, was asked: 1466When a new lease has got to be drawn up, or a new tenant comes in, you mean that the cottage is the last part of the whole equipment of the farm that gets attention?The answer was:Yes, the steading and the farm houses arc the first things that are seen to.Mr. J. H. Milne Home, appearing before the commission on behalf of the Scottish Land and Property Federation, was asked:Do you find that the tenant farmers, in taking new leases, are anxious to stipulate for good houses for their men?The answer was:Some are, but I am afraid a good many of them think more about the steading than the cottages. If I am going over a farm, I generally have to ask twice to see the cottages; they are much more anxious about the steading.I may also mention that Lord Lovat, himself a member of the Royal Commission, gave testimony that very often, when the farmer takes a farm, he looks round the cattle-sheds and the stables and if he finds everything in proper order, he does not like to ask too much, and perhaps does not visit the labourers' houses at all. That is not because the farmer is less humane than other members of society, or less desirous for the uplift of his workers, or less anxious to see that elevation of character which comes from good housing. He has inherited a system, and I believe that the effect of this report and of the interest which the Secretary of State may bring to bear upon this subject will be to alter the system, so that the farmer, in time, will have as much pride in showing visitors a new cottage as a new byre or barn or stable. Such a change will have an effect too on the farm servants. We read in this Advisory Committee's report that the Scottish Farm Servants Union maintained that there was no justification for a lower standard in rural areas. By giving them worthy houses, new ambitions and much that refines and ennobles character will be brought into their lives.
In regard to cost, in this great housing effort which has gone on since 1919, we in Scotland have not outrun our share of the subsidies devoted to this purpose for England and for Scotland. I put a question recently on the subject and I find that the subsidies paid in respect of houses from 1919 to 31st March, 1937, were for England £178,715,000 and for Scotland£23,540,000,a total of 1467 £202,255,000. If we take the eleven-eightieths principle, we find that Scotland's share would be, roughly, £27,750,000, but the actual subsidy which she has received up to the present is £23,540,000. I am not quoting these figures to raise controversy between England and Scotland. I know there are many different balance-sheets in that matter; but taking our subsidies at £23,000,000 and taking the cost of three warships, the "Nelson," the "Rodney" and the "Hood" I find that the cost of those ships represents almost exactly what has been spent in housing subsidies from 1919 to 31st March last. One thing more. We are passing an Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Bill. Higher wages and better housing ought to go hand in hand. They are both calculated to encourage worthy ambitions and aspirations. No doubt many hon. Members are familiar with the beautiful words of John Bright:The nation in every country dwells in the cottage. And unless the beauty of your legislation and the excellence of your statesmanship are impressed on the feelings and conditions of the people there, rely upon it, you have yet to learn the duties of government.We often say that a prosperous agriculture is the basis of the nation's prosperity. We seek the foundations of national prosperity in agriculture. Let us see that the foundations are well and truly laid. The nation that will make its first principle the securing of a worthy standard of life and of housing for its agricultural labourers, is the only nation that will build up a truly prosperous agriculture and industry and commerce.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I would like to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken with so much understanding and eloquence on the problem of housing and allied services in the countryside. We have learned to-day from the Secretary of State that last year 18,000 houses were built in Scotland, that this year the figure is 23,000 and that a further 14,000 have been approved. Although I have not been able to check the figures, I think I am safe in saying that at least go per cent. of these houses are in the towns. There has been a prolonged housing effort since the War. There have been many conferences, and there 1468 is now to be a joint council to deal with the subject. But all that effort, or almost all of it, has been concentrated on the urban areas. The Secretary of State has made some of the most moving speeches I have ever heard on this same problem of urban housing. A few nights ago he added some words on the rural aspect of the question, but Press comments, speeches and propaganda of various kinds have all tended to concentrate on conditions in the town. The state of the slums of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dundee has been placarded over the country. Scarcely a word appears in the Press or in speeches or in any form of propaganda about the equally distressing, shocking and scandalous slums which are to be found in every part of rural Scotland to-day.
Slum conditions in rural districts in Scotland are many times worse than they are in England. I have travelled a great deal about the countryside in England. It was my duty some years ago to visit country districts in England and I have lived in farm-workers' cottages, and I say there is nothing in England comparable to the terrible conditions of housing in our own countryside in Scotland. The last speaker quoted at length from reports. Will the Committee permit me to give my own experience which, for me, is more impressive than anything I have read in reports. Six weeks ago I visited two houses in a small village in Fife. If I describe one of them hon. Members may take it that the description applies equally to both. Imagine a house several feet below the road level, in size no bigger than the space between this bench and the bench opposite, with two miserably small windows, both broken and dirty. There was neither water, drainage nor light of any kind. There were holes in walls, in floor and in ceiling, and the room was so damp that the plaster was crumbling from the walls. The ceiling which I touched above the built-in bed fell away as my hand came upon it. Yet human beings were living there, a man, his wife and two children and another baby was expected in a few days time. Those people had been in that house for five years. The family in the other house had been there for 15 months and they had been paying the extortionate rent of 2s. a week for each of these awful hovels. I was never so ashamed of my 1469 native country as I was when I saw those conditions.
Let me give the sequel. Thanks to the generosity, sympathy and understanding of county council officials and the county councillor concerned, these people in a few weeks time were moved to new council houses. I visited them a week ago. It is not often given to us private Members to achieve some success or to see some result from our private efforts, and I have never felt such supreme satisfaction as when I saw those two families in their new dwellings. In their new homes, there was light, there was air, there was cheerfulness. Instead of a one-roomed hovel, I found four clean, fresh, well-kept rooms. The mother's face was shining with joy and the children were already gaining in health. I asked her how they were eating and she said they were eating so much that she could scarcely keep them. The change in those people was magnificent to see. I wish we could do that kind of thing a great deal oftener; but, alas, it is not the fortune of every slum-dweller in the countryside to get a change as quickly. There are thousands in Scotland living in conditions almost as bad as those I have described, with no prospect of improvement in their lot.
I am prepared to assert that in every rural district in Scotland, and I know a good part of my own country, at least 50 per cent. of these houses, by every test of hygiene and public health, are unfit for human habitation. I beg the Secretary of State to bend his great energy to this problem, even for a little time. There is scope for action in the countryside where there is little or none in the towns. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I will explain what I mean to my hon. Friends and I think they will agree. There is not in the countryside the same shortage of labour and material as exists in the town. In my own county of Fife, I am assured by all those who have authority to speak on the matter, that a great increase in housing work could be accomplished. There is nothing to prevent it, if we had the legislation which I would desire to see passed. There is also in the countryside the possibility of renovating old buildings which are sound in their foundations. That cannot be done in the towns. I believe that if the same energy were expended on the countryside as has been expended on the towns, we could 1470 double the amount of constructive work that is going on now.
During a recent Debate on the Adjournment my right hon. Friend, while he showed sympathy with our desire that the rural problem should be dealt with, and indeed indicated that he would do so, tended rather—as I felt on reflection after reading his speech next day—to include it, indeed to sink it, in the greater problem of housing as a whole, and particularly urban housing. I felt a little concerned lest the particular measures required for rural housing might be swamped by the larger action which the right hon. Gentleman would be forced to take in the towns. The Rural Housing Report which has been so much quoted to-day contains a dozen or more distinct proposals, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend one or two questions about them. Are these particular proposals to be considered one by one? Are we likely to have action upon any of them fairly soon? Some of the suggestions appear simple to carry out. Can we look for a statement that some of them have been carried through before the end of the Session? I do not see why not. Some of them are administrative measures which can well be put into effect in a month's time.
Before I leave this problem I want to mention the question of water and drainage supplies in the countryside. These two are essential elements in the constructive programme of housing. That is not only a view of mine; it is the considered opinion of every authority that has examined the problem. The Rural Housing Report tells us in the clearest manner:We have no doubt that the improvement of housing conditions in rural areas is being hindered through the want of water supplies, and we strongly recommend that the Department of Health should initiate measures at the earliest possible moment to bring about as far as possible the regional control and development of such water supplies.The Committee go on to say that they are "satisfied that generous Exchequer grants are necessary." Speaking of drainage, they say:If the improvements in rural housing which we envisage are carried out there will be a very large increase in the amount of water-borne sewage. Unless suitable steps are taken this may result in increased pollution of rivers and affect adversely the supply of water for agricultural purposes.This problem of water in the rural areas is a chronic problem and is of vital importance. A year ago in the Debate on 1471 this Vote I drew attention to this matter, and I make no apology for doing so again and for quoting the same facts. I quoted then from a report which had been prepared by the county councils of Scotland. The County Councils Association sent round a questionnaire asking the councils for a statement on their water supplies. All the counties replied, and I have here extracts from their answers. They form a shocking report, just as shocking as the one we have been referring to this evening. I will give one or two examples. This is the report from Aberdeen; it was made 12 months ago and something may have been done since then, but very little:We have several areas where there is difficulty owing to the shortage of supply. In the north end of the county there is a marked shortage of water for all purposes, including agriculture, but this problem can be solved, it is believed, only by the provision of a large regional scheme.A big grant has this year been given to Dumfries but 12 months ago the report from that county said:In our view about one-third of that area is so inadequately supplied with water that it is impossible in that area either to erect houses of the present-day sanitary standard or to improve many of the existing houses up to that standard.I hope that as a result of the grant Dumfries may get out of that unhappy condition. There are also reports from Inverness, Midlothian, Perth, Ross and Cromarty, Selkirk and others which I could quote. Of Inverness it is said:The lack of adequate grants for rural water supplies has been causing much concern in this county.Of Midlothian it is said:An application was made for a grant under the Rural Water Supplies Act … but the grant was refused. On account of the heavy cost of the scheme, without the assistance of a grant, it was not proceeded with.These conditions are typical of many counties in Scotland. Let me now give the case of the county, part of which I have the honour to represent. Fife is an outstanding case of under supplies of water, more pressing perhaps than any other part of Scotland. The report about Fife says:The bulk of the rural population still depends for water supply on wells, springs and burns—primitive sources of supply unprotected for the most part from contamination. Every drop of water has to be carried, often the best part of a mile.1472 Can you see the wife of the ploughman, the roadman, the carter walking anything from a quarter of a mile to a mile for a pail of water to wash the children at night and provide tea for her man when he returns home?Children educated in schools in the necessity for habits of cleanliness return home to houses where sinks, water closets and a sufficiency of hot water are unknown.The report goes on:Improvemeent of rural housing conditions is being severely handicapped through lack of a sufficiency of water. In the following villages there are numerous insanitary houses which are not fit to be occupied.This is from a county council which is sometimes described by hon. Members opposite as reactionary. It says in its own report that in these villages which number 17,there are numerous insanitary houses which are not fit to be occupied and which cannot be sufficiently renovated, nor can new houses be built to take their place since no adequate water supply exists.We have been discussing this afternoon the general question of nutrition. This report continues:Many dairy farms are adversely affected by lack of sufficient water supply.… For example, a keen dairy farmer with excellent premises at Kingsbarns, who is on the county list of accredited clean milk producers, regularly fails to produce during the summer months milk of the requisite standard of bacteriological purity for the sole reason that there is insufficient water even to work his milk coolers. Many similar examples could he quoted.The right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition is one of those who, like myself, believe that the future of Scotland partly lies in the greater development of its tourist industry. "Come to Scotland," we shout, and next year at the Empire Exhibition at Glasgow we shall be repeating that call. Fife is one of the places to which people go from other parts of the land. Here is what the County Council of Fife says:The summer months provide an important means of livelihood in the east of Fife and all the coast burghs benefit. There are several villages, however, which are admitted by visitors to be in every way desirable as holiday resorts except that modern sanitary arrangements are absent from the majority of the houses. Were proper water supplies to be made available for these villages the condition of decadence into which they are gradually falling would give way to a state of reasonable prosperity.I do not want to quote more. These are the conditions that I see every weekend. I see villages decaying steadily and 1473 at an increasing rate year by year, villages that once played a great part in the making and building of Scotland. Progressive people are running away; their wives will not stand it and the men cannot bear to see their women endure the drudgery, in many cases the slavery, which they now bear. In Fife the county council has faced the problem bravely. What they need is a big regional water scheme. A number of little schemes all over the county are all right for the time being, but in the dry season of two years ago they were not sufficient. Many burghs went short of water and had to go to great extremes to get it from other parts. The system of individual local supplies is unsatisfactory, and Fife has plumped for a big regional scheme. It will cost £190,000, which will mean imposing a rate of 5s. in the £ on the water districts. That rate on villages composed entirely of poor country folk will be an impossible burden. The tremendous cost is frightening people and giving encouragement to all the reactionary elements in the county to say, "You must not allow this costly scheme!" The net effect may be to overturn the decision of the county council and to prevent this great scheme going forward.
No, Sir. There is no grant. The effect of stopping this scheme will be to deprive thousands of decent country folk of the conditions which they ought to have and to condemn them for further years to the surroundings which I have described. I submit that the provision of water in such a case is as much a national responsibility as the provision of houses. An hon. Member opposite said that the State had spent some £23,000,000 on housing subsidies in Scotland since the War. I am told the present rate of subsidy for houses is £200,000 a year. All that is very right and proper; but what is done for water? The total grant for Scotland under the Act of 1934 was £137,000. What a paltry sum for the vast problem we are facing! We got none of that money in Fife, and neither did half the counties of which I have been speaking. Two million pounds would not be enough. A year ago I asked for such an amount, and I know that I was expressing the views of all my hon. Friends in Scotland who have any understanding of this problem. I beg my right 1474 hon. Friend to make a claim for that necessary sum with which to carry out this great national project.
Let me conclude. I am making an appeal for the peasantry of Scotland. As compared with the country folk, the townspeople are getting more than their due share of attention. Admittedly they are not getting all they ought to have, but of the total attention directed to the housing problem in Scotland, they are, in my opinion, getting more than their share, and the countryside is getting less than its share.
I am not attacking the towns. What I am saying is that of the energy and enthusiasm directed to the housing problem in Scotland too big a share has gone to the towns and too little to the countryside.
§ Mr. Westwood
Does the hon. Member not agree that that is due to the lack of initiative on the part of county councils dominated by the land-owning interests, who have been prepared to keep the peasantry in subjection and in these insanitary conditions?
I do not deny that that is part of the trouble, but there is more in it than that. The report on rural housing points out a number of other reasons, and I am asking for the special attention of the Scottish Office to their suggested remedies. The peasantry are the stock from which we draw a constant stream of strength for the towns, and it is upon that same stock that we depend ultimately for the defence of the country. We exude a whole lot of sentiment annually over the memory of Burns. On these occasions we exalt the peasantry of Scotland. It is a mockery to go on doing so while we allow them to live under their present conditions. The countryside ought to receive the immediate attention of the State. If we fail to maintain it we may undermine the whole structure of Scotland, and inflict harm upon the country, for which we shall be sorry in years to come.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Watson
I do not think it can be said that many bouquets have been handed to the Secretary of State this afternoon. I think I am right in saying that from both sides of the Committee we have had indications that the Secretary of State has his work cut out for him for many years to come. He has a pretty big job on hand if he is to remedy all the grievances which have been aired here this afternoon. I should like to begin by supporting in a way, but only in a way, the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart). He has drawn attention to the fact that the county of Fife is embarking upon a pretty big water scheme. He seemed to give the impression that the need for a water scheme was urgent over the whole county, but that is where I differ from him. The water shortage does not apply to the whole of the county of Fife, but only to that part of the county which is represented by the hon. Member himself.
§ Mr. Watson
But the hon. Member allowed the Committee to believe that this was a problem which affected the whole of the county of Fife. As a matter of fact, two of the old county districts, the Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline districts, are well supplied with water.
The hon. Member is perfectly right, but I was talking all the time of the rural parts of the county—his district, as he says, is well supplied —as being typical of the country parts in all Scotland.
§ Mr. Watson
The western part of the county has an adequate supply of water. The eastern part, which is represented by the hon. Member, is not well supplied with water. Personally, I support him in the plea he has made for financial assistance from the Government in carrying through that scheme, but I would draw his attention to the fact that there was a time when we in the west of Fife had the very same water problem as to-day they have in the east of Fife. The ratepayers had to face this problem of supplying themselves with water. They embarked on several schemes. The coming of the Admiralty dockyard to Rosyth compelled the Dunfermline district committee to face the 1476 problem of a huge water supply and later the ratepayers in the Kirkcaldy district had also to face up to the problem of supplying themselves with water. To-day the two schemes which were formerly under the control of the Dunfermline district committee and the Kirkcaldy district committee are under the county council, the old district committees having been wiped out, thanks to the Act of 1929. It is quite a good proposition that the eastern part of the county, which up to now has not attempted to provide itself with water, should be supplied with water. I agree with the hon. Member in his contention that there is no need for the eastern part of the county setting up a separate water supply. There is already under their control, between the Glendevon and Glenfarg schemes, a supply of water such as can give the whole of the county an adequate water supply, but here is the county council faced with having to spend £190,000 to provide water to the eastern part of the county.
I want to direct the attention of the hon. Member and of the Under-Secretary, who, I understand, is to reply, to the fact that the ratepayers in Dunfermline district and Kirkcaldy had been paying heavy water rates for many years past. I went several times to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour), when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, to ask for a reduction in the rate of interest paid by Fife County Council upon money borrowed for the provision of water supply in Kirkcaldy District. I was unsuccessful, although a considerable amount of the money was borrowed during the War or just afterwards, and the county council were paying over 6 per cent. upon it. The result, in the Kirkcaldy district particularly, was that the ratepayers were paying heavy water rates. I would not be in the least surprised to know that they are doing so even now.
If the payment of the £190,000 to be spent by Fife County Council is to be spread over the county ratepayers, then, on behalf of those who have provided themselves with water in the west of Fife, I join with the hon. Member in appealing to the Government to give some assistance to this scheme. We are entitled to have some assistance in that county. I remember being upon a deputation to the predecessor of the present Secretary of State for Scotland and urging upon him, 1477 at a time when unemployment was very acute, the need for going on with the scheme. It ought to have been gone on with a couple of years ago at the very least. At that time, neither on the ground of unemployment nor of the need of the county, was any indication given by the Government that they were prepared to give any support.
Another matter of public health in our county and in the area represented by the hon. Gentleman which requires the attention and assistance of the Government, is the scheme for the purification of the River Leven. It will cost the same county council over £70,000. There are, therefore, two huge schemes, mainly affecting the area represented by the hon. Gentleman, the carrying through of which will affect the whole of the ratepayers in the county.
We have heard a great deal about the places where overcrowding is most acute, and we have been led to believe that the greatest overcrowding is in the big cities. We are apt to come to the conclusion that we shall find our overcrowding problems in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. Let us look at the facts. The average of overcrowding for the whole of Scotland is 22.6 per cent. For Glasgow, it is 29.12, and for Edinburgh 17.17. The burgh in which I live, Cowdenbeath, is one of the small burghs in Scotland, but the overcrowding rate is 39.93. In another burgh which I represent here, Lochgelly, overcrowding is to the extent of 35.83 per cent. There is considerably more overcrowding in the small burghs than in the great cities of Scotland.
In the landward area in Fife, overcrowding is over the average for Scotland, being 26.21. That is a very serious state of affairs. The two burghs in my constituency are mining burghs which developed with the development of the coal industry in that area, but although the coal industry there is not extending, the need for new houses is becoming greater from day to day. The Census taken under the 1935 Act shows an appalling state of overcrowding in this area. The local authorities have been doing their best during recent years to rehouse the people, but in those burghs, and in others similarly situated, a considerable number of houses have had to be closed and demolished. For years the local authorities have been 1478 passing closing orders and closing houses as speedily as they could, and they have also been building houses as quickly as they could.
Recently there was an interesting situation in Cowdenbeath. At the beginning of this year we had our first real trouble with house building, when the officials of the town council had either to agree to give an increase of 2d. an hour to the bricklayers on the scheme or lose the services of the men. Contractors in neighbouring areas were prepared to pay the extra 2d. The town council of Cowdenbeath were compelled to pay the extra money to keep the men on the scheme, in order to complete the houses which were under construction. I suppose that the ratepayers will be required to foot the bill by-and-by. I have made several endeavours in this House and on deputations to the Department in Edinburgh to induce the Department to agree to the extra 2d. being paid to the bricklayers, but, so far as I know, the local ratepayers will have to pay the money, which has already been paid by the town council to get the houses completed.
The figures which I have given show the need for very big housing schemes to be undertaken in our area to relieve overcrowding, yet we are faced with the difficulties I have pointed out, and with many others with which I dare say most hon. Members are unfamiliar, such as some of the difficulties which the town councils have to face. The area in which I live has been completely undermined from end to end. I do not believe that there is one street in that burgh that has not suffered from subsidence. Houses have been wrecked, those owned by small proprietors as well as those owned by big proprietors. Even new houses built under some of our housing schemes have been almost hopelessly wrecked by undermining. It is a problem that gives very great concern to those who are responsible for seeing that the inhabitants of a town of that kind are properly housed. They have the greatest difficulty in getting sites within the burgh. In the burgh in which I live, the town council has had, as a precaution against undermining, to buy the coal under certain housing sites before the Department of Health would give them authority to go on with the building of houses; and the same situation has arisen in other parts 1479 of the country. These difficulties in themselves are sufficient to cause the local authorities very grave concern in regard to the building of houses.
A good deal has been said this afternoon about increased costs of housing, and what the local authorities are going to do in face of those increased costs. Some local authorities have already indicated what they are going to do, and I hope that the Under-Secretary, when he replies, will riot pooh-pooh this matter and say that up to now only two county councils and 10 burgh councils have refused to go on with housing schemes. I want to draw his attention to the fact that this refusal to go on with housing schemes has only just started, within the last few weeks, and it will not be long before scores of burgh authorities throughout Scotland, and other county councils, refuse to go on with the building of houses under the conditions which now prevail.
I have a letter here from the Town Clerk of the Burgh of Lochgelly giving some very interesting information with regard to the situation with which they are faced. I noticed that, in the answer given yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), Lochgelly was in the list of burghs that had refused to go on with housing schemes, and the town clerk in this letter gives the reasons for their refusal. He says that schedules were issued and offers were obtained from contractors, and that, on the basis of the lowest offers, adding the estimated cost of roads, architects' and measurers' fees, and legal expenses, the average cost of 80 houses—houses of four and five apartments—works out at £670. He goes on to say that, allowing for the Government subsidy of £6 15s. and the local authority's contribution of £3 5s., an average rent of over £33 per annum would be required from tenants. This, of course, is quite out of the question, an average of about £17 per annum being about all that the tenants concerned could be asked to pay.
In face of these facts, what is a local authority of this kind bound to do? In the interests of the ratepayers they are bound to tell the Government that they cannot go on with housing schemes until some other arrangement has been made. I listened attentively to the speech of the 1480 Secretary of State to-day, being anxious to get an indication of how he intended to meet that situation. If he wishes the House to believe that all is going to be well with this matter after he has come to an arrangement with the building contractors and the operatives, I venture to say he will be very seriously mistaken. He will find himself sadly mistaken if he thinks that this difficulty will be got over after he has had the findings of the committee which he has set up, representing the building contractors and the workmen, and their agreement to do certain things to speed up house-building in Scotland. It will take more than a new apprenticeship system, and more than working overtime, to get over the difficulty. I venture to say that it will not be got over until he takes control of the price of building materials in Scotland. He has already told us this afternoon that building materials and wages represent something like 40 per cent. of the increased costs. There is 60 per cent. for which he cannot account at all. He sets it down to scramble; 60 per cent. has gone in scramble. Is it likely that local authorities are going to encourage scramble among the building interests in Scotland?
The easiest way out for the local authorities is to say that they are going to build no more houses, but that is a very serious matter for the Secretary of State to face. He himself has told us that things are not well with Scotland from a building point of view, that more is required to be done; and, if he does not go ahead and take a drastic hold of the situation that has arisen in Scotland, he will not be able to come to the House 12 months hence and present as rosy a picture as I dare say he would like to present. When the right hon. Gentleman was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland, we were inclined to believe that we had a man who would make a name for himself as Secretary of State for Scotland before he left that office. He has not started yet, and the sooner he starts the better. The sooner he gets control of what is happening in connection with building in Scotland, and lets the building interests know it, if they are responsible for the increased costs, the better it will be.
There is only one alternative, and he has already told us more than once that he is not going to consider that alternative. The alternative is to increase the 1481 subsidy from £6 15s. to 9. The proposal has been put before him, but we have been told already that that road is blocked for years to come. The right hon. Gentleman told us, in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) some time ago, that he has considered the matter, and, if he remains in his present frame of mind, he intends to advise, for the three years following the termination of the present subsidy, that that subsidy should be continued for another three years; so that evidently the local authorities may make up their minds that there is going to be no increase of the subsidy. If there is going to be no increased subsidy to enable these houses to be built at a cost that will enable them to be let at rents within the capacity of the working classes to pay, no houses will be built.
On the other hand, you have not only the picture, so often described to us this afternoon, as presented in the report with regard to rural areas, but in burghal areas and in urban areas there is a condition of affairs that is a disgrace to our country. I hope that before long the Government will be taking a real hold of the problem, getting a drive on and dealing with the difficulties that stand in the way of getting houses and overcoming overcrowding. I hope something drastic is going to be done. Very few bouquets have been handed to the Secretary of State, but I hope that 12 months hence we shall be able to say that he has done something to justify his appointment.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) painted in glowing terms, and rightly, the effect of nutrition. His words were that it was going to eliminate disease. I do not think it required the Leader of the Liberal Opposition to tell us that these were terms of an ideal not capable of realisation, and certainly not capable of realisation at once. I think the right hon. Gentleman would admit that himself. One must walk before one can run. The report, and the speech of the Secretary of State, show not only that the Department has this question of nutrition very much at heart but that it has taken very sane and sensible steps in the right direction. The Government are to be congratulated on what they have already done in the cause of nutrition. 1482 The most interesting part of the report deals with the provision of milk for school children. That is just at its beginning, but they are moving in the right direction, and they are to be congratulated upon it.
I want to deal with the vital statistics, first in relation to infant mortality. The figures repay a good deal of study, because it seems to me that, even with what has been done already, in particular the Bill to improve maternity conditions, much still remains to be done. I am certain that the various causes of death of infant children have the full consideration of the Minister. There is far too large a proportion of deaths caused by bronchitis and pneumonia, and by those afflictions of childhood affecting the limbs, and so on, which often lead to death in the first year of a child's life. Instruction would be very helpful to enable parents to diagnose and start treatment earlier. One has only to go to an orthopaedic hospital to realise what can be done if the various crippling, natural ailments of childhood in certain cases are attended to at once. I should like to know what steps are proposed to be taken. It is when we come to the next stage, between one and five year old, that I want to emphasise what I have to say even to a greater extent. I would point out the very rapid decrease in the mortality rate after the children have gone to school. Between one and five it is 7.6 per 1,000; between 5 and 9, 2.1; and between 12 and 14, 1.4—a very remarkable fall. It may well be said that, as children grow, they get stronger, and one would expect the death rate to be higher under 5, but I do not think that explains the whole story. A very great improvement might be made in those figures if more was done. One sentence in the report deserves the attention of the Committee:The need for increased medical supervision of children between the ages of one and five is considerable.I cannot help thinking that proper examination and attention, which they cannot in many cases have until they go to school is one of the causes of the drop in mortality after the children reach school age. I would, therefore, suggest very careful consideration of the question of schools for the younger children—nursery schools—as being one of the ways in which instruction could be given and special care taken at the early age. Once the child has gone to school, though we 1483 may not be entirely satisfied with all that has been done, we have cause for great thankfulness for what the Government have already done. It is at the ages between one and five that more might be done, and I am certain that it has my right hon. Friend's consideration. I agree also that it is a very important age when they leave school, and there, I think, medical supervision would be of very great help in the years following 15, particularly with boys.
Great interest has been shown on all sides of the Committee in the matter of housing. I think it is every bit as important to look after the quality as the quantity of your houses. It would be wrong to shut one's eyes to the fact that very often, owing to the speed with which houses have been put up, their stability and soundness have not been looked to in the way they should be. It would be a dreadful comment on the rapidity of our building; programme if 20 or 30 years hence we were faced with the problem what to do with the houses that have been pat up in the present housing schemes. It is of vital importance that the question of quality should be given first place. Several hon. Members opposite have referred to the increase of costs. If the Defence programme has to some extent held up the building programme, that is a thing that we have to face. I speak, as many Members of the Committee do, with the experience of having seen something of what happened in the last War. It is worth while paying a premium to ensure our safety and protection from the destruction of these houses, which would follow so rapidly if we were attacked and attacked particularly in the way in which some towns in Spain we have been reading about lately have been attacked. It is worth while, and must be faced up to, having to pay something not only in cash, but in inconvenience in order to protect ourselves from the danger, which we all hope will not overtake this country. Therefore, it is only to be expected that certain inconvenience would result from the Defence programme, but if you believe in that Defence programme, and that it is essential to the national safety, one of the prices that you will have to pay is a slowing up of the building programme.
I think the Committee will agree that this Debate has been conducted on all 1484 sides very largely from the point of view of friendly criticism, and I would like to finish on this note. That very fact shows to what a large extent the Secretary of State has succeeded in meeting the proper requirements of national health in Scotland. None of us is satisfied, least of all the Secretary of State himself, but we must admit that very active steps have been taken by the Secretary of State, and that the results are already showing, and will show more and more from year to year.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I associate myself with what has been said, not only on this side of the Committee but elsewhere, as to the urgent necessity of going forward as far as possible with the housing programme, but that ground has been covered so adequately in the Debate already that I do not propose to take up the time of the Committee in dealing with it. I intervene only for a very few minutes in order to draw attention to the unsatisfactory position of many persons who are seriously blind. I am aware that in the country as a whole, and to a very large extent on the benches on all sides of this House, there is an opinion that we are doing the right thing by people who are blind, that we have the Blind Persons Act, and that in our treatment of the blind we are looking after them in a fairly decent manner. But I cannot help feeling that to some extent we are conscious of being lured into this matter by a false belief in what is being done. I happen to know that in Edinburgh alone there are people whose blindness is of a very serious character and who cannot possibly get any work because of their affliction and are denied the benefits of the Blind Persons Act. Because they are not certified as blind, they do not get the relief to which large numbers of people believe they are entitled.
I hold in my hand a document containing the names of no fewer than 100 persons in Edinburgh alone who were struck off the list of blind persons in the year 1931, and who, since that date, have not had the benefits that our provisions for the blind give. I do not pretend for one moment that I know personally all these people—I certainly do not—and I do not claim in consequence that I know that all of them, or how many of them, are really seriously affected in that way. 1485 But I do know that there was a time when all these persons were considered as blind, and that they were all held to be so seriously blind that they could not earn their own living, and they are not doing so to-day. From the information which reaches me, I have no doubt that some of these persons at any rate—perhaps a considerable number of them—are at the present time unable to earn their own living, and unable to get money by their own exertions for their own upkeep, and yet they do not get the benefits which this Committee imagine are being given to the blind persons in Scotland because of some technical de-certification that took place in the year 1931. I see that the Secretary of State has just come into the Chamber, and I will repeat that I am speaking of blind persons. The Secretary of State knows quite well that I have had correspondence with him on this subject. I am just coming to the operative part of my speech. I ask that the Secretary of State should re-investigate the standards of blindness, and that opportunity should be given to persons who claim that they are prevented by their infirmity from earning their own living to present their case, and if they can prove that their affliction is of such a character that they are quite unable to earn their own living, and that they are incapacitated from all the ordinary walks of life, he should see that such a standard is made available that in all these cases they will be classified as blind persons.
This is a difficult question, and I quite understand the difficulty in which the Secretary of State is placed. He has to take the evidence of his doctors, but I cannot help thinking that, as the system works at present, a number of persons who ought legitimately to be classed as blind are excluded, and I have evidence that that is the case in the city of Edinburgh, of which I have the honour to represent a part, and I hope that the Secretary of State will, through his Under-Secretary when he comes to reply, give me some hope that some re-investigation into this very important matter will take place.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Sir R. W. Smith
I would like to draw attention to one or two remarks in the report of the Department of Health, the first of which is the paragraph on page 13 where it suggests that without proper housing and proper food a healthy, happy 1486 life is impossible. I admit that that very probably seems to be the position in the country, and that the question of housing requires to be dealt with fully. The picture which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State gave us to-day of the position in Scotland is far from satisfactory, and it is quite clear from what he said that no one is more aware of the fact than he is, and the point is to find out how that difficuly can be dealt with and remedied as soon as possible. I want to draw attention for a minute or two to the question of proper feeding, without which you cannot have a satisfactory health condition. It is true to say that the Department do all they can in every sphere to see that we have proper food for our people. I do not profess to be a worker among the people in the country, but I have been told that in the last few years the tendency of parents to feed their children on tinned food has been much more common than it used to be in the old days. By education and otherwise we ought to emphasise the necessity of mothers feeding not only their children but also their young people on fresh food.
I disagree to a certain extent with what the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) said about refrigerators for the storage of food. The refrigerator is an artificial means of preservation and I would much prefer the use of fresh food. The use of tinned food is, of course, worse than the use of preserved food, but I think the artificial way of keeping food in a refrigerator would be a bad thing to encourage, in general. The right hon. Member shakes his head. The use of the ordinary open-air larder is not so serious a matter as it would be if a refrigerator was not kept properly clean inside, because the refrigerator is sealed, the doors are kept shut, and therefore there cannot be proper ventilation. If the refrigerators were not kept properly they would prove of disadvantage to the people. Therefore, I press the necessity of encouraging people to use fresh food, fresh meat and vegetables, because it is admitted that fresh food is always the best.
On this subject I would draw attention to a statement on page 77 of the report, where two medical inspectors of school children, reporting on the question of malnutrition, said that it was not a question of want of food, but the unsuitability 1487 of the food provided which was the reason for the malnutrition. In regard to Wig-town, the Medical Officer said that too much starchy food and too much tinned food were one cause of malnutrition. The point to which I wish specially to draw attention is the question of milk. In regard to the supply of milk I have always said that if you are going to give children milk you should see that it is pure and free from all forms of disease, and that you should make sure that you are not doing something against the welfare of the children. I raised the point when the right hen. Gentleman who sits opposite was on the Government Bench, and I asked him for the figures of the number of children in Glasgow suffering from tuberculosis which could be traced to milk. I arc not quite certain of the figures, but I think that between 1,000 and 2,000 children were suffering from tuberculosis in one form or another which was said to have been due to impure milk. At that time I said that it was much better to give children pasteurised milk, rather than fresh milk, because you do away with certain germs by proper pasteurisation.
On this point I would draw attention to what is said on page 49 of the report. It is often said that if you pasteurise milk, you do away with some of its best nourishing qualities, but the report says:There were no striking differences in the results produced by raw milk and by pasteurised milk.That is a very strong statement. It shows that the giving of pasteurised milk to children products a result practically as satisfactory as that produced by giving fresh milk. Pasteurised milk does remove some of the germs which are so dangerous to the health and the life of young children. Let me say one further word on the question of nutrition. I have been very unhappy as to whether we are dealing with the question of the nutrition of children on proper lines. As the representative of an agricultural constituency, it may seem strange that I should appear even to protest against the giving of milk to children, but my position is that I will not support anything which is deleterious to the health of the children, even if the scheme is going to be beneficial to the farmers. If we are going to feed the people of this country 1488 properly, we must examine scientifically the whole question of nutrition. What is the good of taking so many children in a school and feeding them on raw milk or pasteurised milk and then saying: "Look at the effect on these children. By giving them milk we have increased their weight and their height." What is the good of comparing those children with children to whom you have given nothing in the way of special nourishment. If you are going to deal with the question of nutrition in a proper manner by experiments on children, you ought to feed a certain number of children on one form of milk diet, fresh milk or pasteurised, and feed an equal number of children on some other form of diet.
§ Sir R. W. Smith
It is not stated in the report. I am sorry if I am mistaken, but I have not seen any statement in the report as to what form the feeding of the children took.
§ Mr. Elliot
In the original experiment in the seven towns where it was carried out in Scotland, the diet given to the other children was in the form of biscuits of equal calories value to the milk diet. That was also the case, I think, in the original experiment upon which the whole thing was founded.
§ Sir R. W. Smith
Biscuits seem to be a poor substitute for milk. I do not know what form the biscuits took. It is, however, a rather strange experiment to use biscuits.
§ Mr. Elliot
Let us get the point clear. What was given was calculated on the exact equivalent of nourishment.
§ Sir R. W. Smith
I do not see how it is possible to arrive at an exact equivalent as between biscuits and milk. If there had been an exact equivalent, then the children who were fed on biscuits would have equally improved. It could not have been an equivalent. One must have been a poorer form of nourishment than the other. If better results were shown in the case of the milk diet, then surely the inference is that the other food was not as good. That seems to me to be only logical. In the report we do not see any reference to fresh meat or fresh fruit and vegetables. If experiments are to 1489 be carried on there ought to be two or three different groups subject to feeding, in order to find out the results. I stand here representing an agricultural constituency and, as I have said before, I will not support anything which I consider will not be for the benefit of the health of the children of the country simply because it is going to benefit the dairy farmers. If the farmers of this country produce clean milk which will last at least 12 or 14 hours after the housewife buys it, they will not find great difficulty in getting the housewife to go back to milk. What has driven them away from it is that it is not fresh when they buy it. They buy it one night and the next morning it is no longer fresh and they have had to turn to some form of bottled milk. I am glad there is to be an investigation.
§ 9.26 p.m.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
I sympathise very much with the desire of the previous speaker in his efforts on behalf of fresh food and clean refrigerators, but I would like to draw his attention, and the attention of many Members opposite, to the fact that the question of public health in Scotland is not only a problem of housing and of choosing the right foodstuffs but it is a problem of ever increasing poverty made by the present Government. I listened with a feeling of amazement to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill), and I could not help feeling when listening to his legal mind that we had, perhaps in a small degree, at least one reason for the state of affairs in Scotland to-day when we remember that the hon. and learned Member happens to be a junior counsel for a particular Scottish Department. Even the Secretary of State for Scotland must in his report, in his adoption of a virtuous indignation against the conditions in Scotland, as the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh pointed out, share the responsibility for the conditions that exist. The hon. and learned Member said that the Government and the Secretary of State were doing all that they possibly could, but that we must creep before we walk. I am willing to accept his view that the Government are creeping. It is a creeping Government.
The hon. and learned Member congratulated the Secretary of State on what he has done on this question of 1490 nutrition. I want to give the Committee, not quotations from the rural housing report, but some facts which in Scottish language meet well that old saying that:Facts are chiels that winna ding.In December the Secretary of State for Scotland was asked what was the total number of school children in Glasgow receiving free meals as necessitous cases for the first six months of 1936. The Minister replied that the average daily number during the period was 8,996. When I asked the Minister in a supplementary question if it were a fact that in all these cases these children had to be proved definitely to be suffering from malnutrition, he agreed that that was the case. So that in December, under a National Government and a Scottish Secretary of State, we had in Glasgow an increased figure on the previous year of children definitely and medically proved to be suffering from malnutrition, and this in the second city of the Empire. Then I asked the Minister if he could tell me the total number of school children in Maryhill, in one constituency in one city, definitely stated to be suffering from malnutrition and receiving free meals. The figure was 607 for 1935, and 710 for 1936. Again we had the fact displayed—and I am glad the Minister agrees with me—that under the rule of his Department and Government there was an increase of necessitous children in Glasgow.
§ Mr. Elliot
Not at all. Owing to the greater care we are giving, and greater skill in administration, more children who might otherwise be suffering from malnutrition are being detected, and the malnutrition is being arrested.
He must recognise that in 1936 his replies definitely showed that more children in Glasgow were certified as suffering from malnutrition in accordance with the same scale that the medical practitioners applied in 1935.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member is omitting altogether the continually improving standards which, under the National Government, are being applied.
The right hon. Gentleman is missing the point completely. Recognising that he has been here almost all day and that it is now late and, as an industrial worker, knowing the effects of being kept for a long time on one particular job, I will forgive him his mistakes. I have here another reply from the Department, and I am most anxious that hon. Members should recognise that these figures are the figures of the Minister himself. In 1935, the maternal deaths in Glasgow were 155, and in Greenock 11, representing 7 and 6.5 per thousand. This is the highest rate in the whole of Great Britain.
Now I come to a reply given to me by the Under-Secretary of State. I am giving these facts so that hon. Members opposite will recognise that the first thing to do with regard to the public health of Scotland and of Glasgow is to see that the people, whether it is by unemployment relief, by Poor Law relief or by wages, get sufficient money to enable them to buy the necessities of life for themselves and their children. Here is the report of an examination which took place under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health. The number of school children medically examined in Glasgow during 1935–36, that is during the systematic routine inspection, was 54,882. The medical staff comprises 16 whole-time and one part-time medical officer, and the number of children who were found to have irremedial defects was 2,359, while 44,331 had defects which were more or less readily remedial. It means that 44,000, plus another 2,200 children in Glasgow, were suffering in bodily health owing to the conditions under which they are living in that city, conditions which have been brought about by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. And in righteous indignation the right hon. Gentleman says that we must not take another 17 years to deal with this particular problem. So much for the congratulations of the hon. Member for North Edinburgh on the subject of nutrition. An hon. Member suggested that we should give the parents instruction. We are going to give working-class parents instruction on how to build up the youth of Scotland. They do not need it. Having constantly to strive against their conditions working class mothers know more about the upbringing of their 1492 children than the wives of hon. Members on the other side of the Committee.
Working class mothers do not receive their education on how to bring up their children from text books but from practical experience, and all that they need to build up healthy bodies in their families is the money to buy the necessary food for their children. I am going to give figures of the Minister himself to show that poverty amongst working-class people in Scotland has materially increased, despite the continual cry about our prosperity. In reply to one of my questions, the right hon. Gentleman said that in Scotland in 1935 the amount of outdoor relief for able-bodied poor was £2,500,000, and for the ordinary poor,£3,300,000 I am giving round figures. The total amount of Poor Law relief was £5,911,285. In 1936 the outdoor and indoor relief given in Scotland increased to £6,500,000. So that in one year's administration of the National Government the amount of Poor Law relief in Scotland had gone up more than £400,000.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) said that the Secretary of State had not made a name for himself in the administration of his Department. I must indignantly repudiate that suggestion. When the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Agriculture he certainly made a name for himself by the hotchpotch schemes which he imposed on the agricultural industry. I was an interested spectator when the right hon. Gentleman again made a name for himself by being the most recumbent figure in the House during the all-night Debate on the Special Areas when we were asking for certain areas to be termed Special Areas and for something to be done on behalf of the second city of the Empire and the industrial capital of Scotland. He is making a name for himself again in this case, because the figures, his own figures, show that in one city in Scotland the Poor Law relief has increased in one year 1935 to 1936, from £3,473,000 to £3,626,000. That is the extent of the increase in poverty. No one will deny that an increase in Poor Law relief means an increase in poverty. The amount of Poor Law relief paid in Edinburgh, which includes the town of Leith, the 1493 constituency of the Minister of Labour, shows an increase amounting to £60,000 in one year. The figures show that the public assistance relief to indoor and outdoor in Glasgow during the year 1932–33 was £2,200,000. Therefore, under the right hon. Gentleman and the National Government the increase in Glasgow of the outdoor and indoor relief has been more than £1,000,000.
One last word with reference to the second city of the Empire. The Under-Secretary of State on the 8th of this month told us that the number of old age pensioners receiving relief from the -Glasgow public assistance committee on 15th May, 1933, was 10,118, and on 15th May, 1936, 13,428. In three years again under the present Government's control there was an increase of more than 3,000 old age pensioners in Glasgow applying at the Poor Law relief door for some assistance towards their miserable pensions. How can we discuss these questions in an atmosphere such as this? How can the Minister assume a virtuous indignation when he knows perfectly well that those conditions are operating, not only in Glasgow, but in nearly every constituency and town right throughout Scotland?
I do not want to take more time than was agreed upon by the Scottish Members, but I want to say to the Minister, quite frankly, that I think I have proved definitely that he has no reason to be pleased with himself. I have attempted to show that we cannot have any certainty of a decent standard of health among the people of Scotland while such poverty is raging in their midst. I do not want to be termed a sentimentalist or to use any language that will give hon. Members opposite the opportunity of using their often repeated and time-worn cynical sneers; I want to deal with hard and indisputable facts. The Minister must recognise, from his own admissions on Poor Law relief, that unemployment in Scotland is still affecting the health of the people, and that he cannot in these circumstances have any guarantee, even by the building of decent houses, of the health of the people of Scotland while they have not the necessary finance to pay the rents of the houses that are being built.
The right hon. Gentleman stated that to increase the subsidy was no cure, and 1494 he said that there would be an element of scramble. Does he, standing to-day in the House of Commons, think the Secretary, of State for Scotland and his Department are so weak—or are they so hesitant to interfere with private builders —that they cannot see to it that the element of scramble will not enter into housing schemes in Scotland in the future? I should think he has the power and the authority to do it and that all that is required is the willingness to go to these builders, not only with regard to the cost of material, as my hon. Friend suggested, but to tell them that if the element of scramble enters into any of these schemes, they will take all legitimate action that they can against them as a responsible Government Department.
In conclusion, may I ask the Minister, who has already admitted that he is not pleased with what has taken place, and who has already assumed indignation at the, fact that authorities in Scotland are not participating in housing schemes as they should, to recognise that while Glasgow and other cities in Scotland are forced by the Government to meet a problem of local relief and unemployment, both of which ought to be national responsibilities, they will not be able to face the housing problem in an adequate and efficient manner? I ask the Government, who have handed out millions of pounds in subsidies to the interests of many hon. Members who sit on those benches, who have given the shipping interests millions of pounds, who have given the factors and the landlords of this country millions of pounds, who say to the great industrialists, "You shall only pay 3d. for every shilling in rates that the ordinary worker pays," who have been so generous with their doles to their own particular friends—I ask them, for the sake of decent public policy and of the health of a country which is now a standing disgrace, so far as its conditions are concerned, both to the Government and to Great Britain as a whole, to see to it that in the future his Department will say to the other representatives in the Government that Scotland has played an important part in the affairs of Great Britain and that Scotland is going to receive better treatment in the future than she has received in the past from the National Government.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Lovat-Fraser
I hope I shall speak with that modesty which becomes an English Member intervening in a Scottish Debate, but I shall be very short. I wish to express support for what was said by the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) about the importance of dental treatment. One is reminded of Burns' "The hell of all diseases":A curse upon thy venomed stangWhich shoots my tortured gums alang.It is only within the last two years that scientists have told us that dental trouble is not only painful, but that it is the source of many other bodily complaints of which in the past it was never suspected. I press upon the Scottish Office the importance of dealing with it, and especially would I press upon their attention the Hebridean Islands. At one time I used to spend a good deal of time in those remote islands, and there one found that dental trouble was a common complaint among the people, who, as the result of circumstances, had no opportunity of getting to a dentist, so that they had to endure this trouble in patience. I used to take with me when I went to those islands a supply of Genasprin tabloids, and on several occasions I was able to give much needed relief to the people whom I met there. I remember one dear old lady who for two weeks was pressing me to allow her to cancel my bill as a result of the relief which I had given to her neuralgia.
The other matter that I wanted to refer to was the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah). I could never hope to rival the eloquence with which he expressed his views to the Committee, but with every word that he said I was in entire agreement. I have no patience with those who sneer at us who wish to retain the beauty and the amenities of our country. I have seen some of the great capitals of Europe —Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, Rome, Athens, Constantinople—but I have not seen any city finer than the capital of my native land. I should be wasting the time of the Committee if I repeated what was said by the hon. Member for Bilston, but I wish to say that I entirely agree with his remarks.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
At Question Time yesterday, I heard the Under-Secretary of State, in reply to a question by the hon. 1496 Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), read a rather long list of county councils and town councils that had decided not to proceed with building. I hope no hon. Member will give any support to the local authorities which are not going to proceed with the building of houses. Whatever may be the needs of the Exchequer, and however much the local authorities may desire to have an increased subsidy, let me say frankly that if they stop building houses for the common people, it will not be the Government or the local authorities that will suffer, but the poor, who are housed in such shocking conditions. In my opinion, many of the local authorities which are taking this step are not taking it because they need an increased subsidy. Many of them have for a long time been famous for their lack of desire to go on with housing.
§ Mr. Watson
Will the hon. Member explain to the Committee how tenants who are to occupy the houses built by the local authorities can afford to pay a rent of £30 a year?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I will answer the hon. Member's question. By means of the local rates. I would sooner have the rates of the local authorities increased than have people living in slums. In any case, the local rates will have to pay. If people live in slums, the health rate goes up as surely as night follows day. If towns stop building houses, they will not escape an increase in the rates, because the health rate will be bound to rise. That has been the experience in Glasgow. It is the duty of the local authorities to go on building houses, and to use their powers to force the Government to do the business which they were elected to do. Most of the towns in the list which I heard read out are supporters of the Government, and I regret the decision that they have made.
I would like to say a few words on the position in Glasgow. The question of housing in Glasgow seems to have no end. It is raised again and again. At one time we are told that building labour is scarce and cannot be obtained, and at another time we are told that there is a shortage of materials. Every time the matter is raised there seems to be a cast-iron case against building houses. The problem in Glasgow is acute. One has to remember that the figures which are 1497 quoted are for Glasgow as a whole, and that if one took out part of Glasgow, say, my division, the figures would be extremely high. In my division, the population is more than the population of Clydebank. The figures for Glasgow as a whole do not present a true picture of the position in Glasgow. The problem is becoming more and more acute in a hundred and one directions. For instance, in the centre of the city, or near it, there used to be big houses, but now they are divided into five, six, seven or eight apartments, and the greater part of them are to-day the worst sort of slums. Some of the persons who own these tenement houses treat the poor tenants in a shocking way.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do something about this problem of overcrowding. This week I have written no fewer than seven letters to the director of housing in Glasgow asking him to try to do something to get people houses. I know of one case of six people living in one room in an eight-apartment house, one of the children having tuberculosis. There is terrible hardship. Some of the people have been waiting from three to six years, and still cannot get a house. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) has pleaded for the country as against the town. I want to see the problem of rural housing solved, but I hope that we can solve it without putting it into opposition with the problem in my native city. But those problems need to be solved. I make no apology for again raising the question of housing in the city of Glasgow. I do not blame the city town council; all I am saying is that we cannot allow these people to go on suffering as they are; they cannot go on waiting always. This ghastly position has gone on since 1919, and very little has been done. I trust that the Secretary of State will tackle this problem.
There is another small matter to which I wish to refer, and although I do not ask for an answer to-night, I would like the Secretary of State to look into it. When the Unemployment Assistance Regulations went through the House, we did not allow any meals that were provided by the education authority or the local authority to count in the assessment of income under the Regulations. That was the decision of the House. It is estimated that about 90 per cent. or 95 1498 per cent. of the able-bodied unemployed in Scotland have been taken over by the Unemployment Assistance Board, but there are two other categories, those who have not been taken over and the sick poor. In the case of these people, it is a mere accident as to whether they are chargeable to the local authority or to the national authority. No matter on what side of the House hon. Members may sit, I think they will agree that these people should not be treated differently because of an accident. If a man is on Poor Law relief or able-bodied relief, he and his wife and children ought not to receive different treatment on that account. As far as I know, local authorities are counting in for relief purposes the cost of meals and taking it off the unemployed.
I had recently a case brought to my notice in which a man on unemployment assistance was receiving 38s. a week. He became ill and he went on to Poor Law relief while he was ill, but although the amount of his relief should have gone up instead of down in those circumstances, he was reduced to 35s. 6d. a week, because the local authority in Glasgow counted in the cost of free meals supplied to his children. The right hon. Gentleman has the power to make recommendations. Can he not see his way to recommend to the Poor Law authorities that the cost of supplying free meals to children should not be taken into account in the assessment of relief? I would like to develop the question of malnutrition and under-feeding in relation to scales of relief, but I will not do so on this occasion. But I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to tackle in the immediate future the problem of housing. The conditions in my district are appalling. No one who has seen them could help feeling for the poor people who have to live in such circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman has vigour and comparative youth on his side and I hope he will bend his energies to finding a solution of this problem.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
The Committee to-day has listened to a well-sustained Debate covering many of the subjects embraced in the Vote which is under consideration. The discussion of these matters has been made easier for hon. Members by the very valuable and full report of the Department of Health, signed by the late 1499 John Highton. I desire first to associate myself with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) on the valuable work of that very able and efficient civil servant. If he had been spared, his energy and enthusiasm, especially in connection with housing, would have been a real asset to; Scotland. He was one of Scotland's civil servants whom we could ill afford to lose at a time when we are deeding with a problem of this kind.
The report of the Department which has come into our hands earlier than usual this year, covers a multitude of subjects, and while, as I say, this Debate has dealt with many of those subjects, the; main theme running through it has been that of Scotland's housing problem. The total Vote which the Committee is being asked to pass for the health ser-vices of Scotland is £3,598,501. There is one question which must be asked by every Member of the Committee and by the general public in relation to a sum of this magnitude: Are we getting the full benefit of this expenditure? I am going to suggest that expenditure on the health services should be directed towards the elimination or the reduction to a minimum of preventible disease. You may spend money, as is provided for in these Estimates, on hospitals, medical services and other health measures, but much, if not most of it, is spent on remedying the defects resulting from ill-nourished people living in unfit and overcrowded houses—in many instances horribly unfit and grossly overcrowded houses.
In this eighth annual report of the Department, we get some of the grim realities associated with overcrowding in Scotland. We know that civil servants in preparing a report of this kind for the consideration of the Secretary of State have sometimes to be careful in their choice of adjectives when describing conditions, but I notice on page 21 they say:The figures in Appendix VI show how grim some of these black spots are.The word "grim" is inadequate to describe the housing conditions in Scotland. They are horrible. They are hellish. That is a very strong word to use in this Committee, but it is justified by the conditions revealed in the report. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) referred to the conditions in Glasgow, and particularly in his own constituency. 1500 Many other Members have referred to letters received by them about these conditions. I have had letters, too, but I have had the even worse experience of being approached in my own house, as the housing convener in my district, by poor people whom I could not help. I was in the sad position of being unable to help those poor souls, not through any fault of mine, or any fault of the local authority, but because of the horrible conditions which were our heritage from those who had failed in their duty in the past in dealing with this problem. I have had letters describing conditions as bad as those indicated in this report. This report is written for us by civil servants who are sometimes spoken of as being very cool and calculating and as having no hearts. That is not true. I have had, I think, more association with them in dealing with housing and health problems in Scotland, than almost any hon. Member here with the exception of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary and their predecessors in office. I have always found them not only human, but ever-ready to meet those who were willing to argue a case with them and to place the difficulties of the local authorities before them. I have always found them ready to help as far as they could in administrative work. What do they say in this report?The degree of overcrowding in some of the houses covered by the survey was extreme. For example, a single room was occupied by 11 persons consisting of husband, wife, five sons aged 24, 22, 14, 11 and 8 years and four daughters aged 17, 13, 9 and 6 years.Eleven persons in a single apartment. It is a tribute to the class to which I belong that they can be as moral as they are under these altogether indefensible conditions. The report refers to another apartment, sub-let, which was occupied by 10 persons. One of the problems that local authorities have to face is that, because of the high rents that must be charged owing to the high costs of building houses and the inadequate subsidies provided, once our people are taken out of the slums and put into decent houses they are compelled in many instances to sub-let in order to enable them to pay the rent which is demanded by the local authority. The report further states:A number of single-roomed houses were each occupied by two families. A two-apartment house was reported as being 1501 occupied by two brothers with their wives and families, numbering in all 18 persons.And we are supposed to be civilised. The Secretary of State is taking credit to himself for the work he has been doing. It is altogether inadequate. There is not room for much credit to anyone who has been responsible for dealing with this problem when we have to read of cases like this in the Annual Report of the Department of Health. If we take these individual cases we have nothing to be proud of in the housing conditions of Scotland. We have everything to make us depressed, and we are justified in describing conditions such as these as being neither more nor less than hellish. On page 141 of the report is the appendix dealing with overcrowding, and it discloses an alarming state of affairs. Taking Glasgow as a whole, 29.12 per cent. of the population is overcrowded. In Coatbridge, which is the worst of the large burghs, worse even than Clydebank, the percentage is 44.79; Port Glasgow, 42.14; and Clydebank, 40.91. When we come to the small burghs, we have Cowdenbeath at the head with 39.93 per cent. overcrowded, and Lochgelly 35.83. The figures go down until we come to Roxburgh which has 2.58 per cent. These figures are alarming. They mean that an extra drive has to be put on in dealing with the problem of housing.
Let me quote some other figures for the purpose of dealing with the rise in the cost of building houses. Appendix V of the report gives us the size of the houses that are required to deal with overcrowding. In the burghs the total number of houses required is 123,457. The number of the three-apartment houses required is 60,313; of four-apartment houses, 52,125; and of five-apartment houses, 11,019. I would specially draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the fact that it will require more four-and five-apartment houses to deal with the problem than three-apartment houses. It costs far more money to build four-and five-apartment houses than three-apartment houses. I am going to argue for the same principle being applied to the subsidy in dealing with this problem as that laid down in the Act of 1935. In that Act the subsidy is based on the principle of units displaced from unfit houses. The principle is sound, and the local authorities are entitled in dealing with this problem to get larger grants for the 1502 building of four-apartment houses than of three-apartment houses, and still larger grants for building five-apartment houses than either four-or three-apartment houses. I submit that we cannot solve this problem unless we consider water supplies and drainage along with housing.
A Memorial was prepared by the County Councils Association. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) made a special reference to the water problem in East Fife. East Fife did not face up to this problem at the right time. I well remember going to a conference called for the purpose of trying to get a unified scheme for Fife at which Kirkcaldy, Dumfermline, Cowden beath and some other authorities were all in favour of a pooling scheme, but the; East Fife authorities voted against I[...] Burghs of 1,200 inhabitants had an equal voting power with a borough of 40,000, and it was the small burghs which prevented or made it more difficult for the Department to carry through any scheme merely of pooling water resources. There is adequate water for the county of Fife and the burgh of Kirkcaldy provided the supplies are distributed in the right way and the necessary finance is provided to enable new pipe lines to be laid. On page 3 of the Memorial it is stated:The improvements effected and contemplated in rural housing, the large extensions of dairying, with the methods adopted for the treatment of milk, call and will continue to call for large increases in the supply of water for domestic, sanitary and dairy purposes in rural areas.It goes on to point out:The grant of £137,500 allocated to Scotland under the Rural Water Supplies Act, 1934, was wholly inadequate.In the Estimates we are considering there is actually a reduction of £36,000 in the amount for assisting rural water supplies in Scotland. If the first grant of £137,000 was wholly inadequate, surely the sum we are discussing to-day, £36,000 less than last year, is wholly inadequate. The Memorial goes on:It seems inconsistent that the Government should give 100 per cent. grants for roads"—and they do that in some parts of Scotland—and substantial grants for transport development"—and they do that—and also grants to encourage housing"—1503 and they do that—and yet should deny adequate financial assistance to essential requirements of public health such as water and drainage schemes.In the rural areas we cannot complete desirable housing schemes unless there is an adequate water supply, or provide the sanitary arrangements for decent housing without a proper drainage scheme. Therefore, we have to consider water, drainage and housing as one common unit. Further, the Memorial says:The introduction of adequate water supplies in rural villages and areas must necessarily be followed in many cases and over considerable areas by drainage schemes. Without extraneous aid "—in other words, without financial assistance from the Government—such schemes cannot be carried out except at costs beyond the capacity of the inhabitants of these areas to bear.That memorial was submitted to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I wonder whether we shall hear to-night what action is to be taken to enable the rural authorities, particularly, to deal with housing. As has been pointed out by many speakers, the problem of housing in Scotland is now aggravated by the rising costs and the miserably inadequate subsidy provided by the Government. It is rather interesting to note some of the arguments adduced by the Secretary of State. He evidently had forgotten that a varying subsidy is provided at the present time. It is £6 15s. for a house built to deal with overcrowding. In the argument I am using I do not give the biggest figure. The higher figure was given in the interjection I made. I am taking an ordinary three-apartment house. The local authorities in Scotland are provided with £12 10s. a year for the purpose of dealing with a family that has been taken from an unfit house.
Under the rebate scheme operated by many local authorities and approved by the Department, it is the families who are overcrowded that have to pay the lower rents. In most cases they are the large, young families, that are living in overcrowded conditions. Under the rebate scheme it is they who will have the cheap or low rate. Let me give a typical illustration. There is a standard rate of £16 for a three-apartment house in the burgh of which I happen to be housing convener. In the case of the 1504 rebate scheme, where there happens to be a small family of four or five persons, with no one working in the house but the father, or with the father himself unemployed, instead of there being an all-in rent, including rates, of 4s. 6d., it may be reduced to as low a figure as 4s. 3d. per week, including rates. The point I want to make is that by dealing with overcrowding in that way we have lost money, because we have been dealing with young families which have been transferred because of their overcrowded conditions.
On the question of the rise in the cost of materials, let me give a typical case. About five months ago, estimates were opened for a certain scheme of three-apartment, flatted type of house, for £352. The estimates have been challenged by the Department, because of the rise in cost and the local authority has been compelled to cut out many of the improvements that we were desirous of effecting. We tried to give effect to the aesthetic side of the lay-out, and to provide the best type of house in Scotland. I challenge the statement that was made from the other side of the Committee that municipal housing schemes are not worthy of approval—I mean the recent ones. I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) is not present at the moment, but I suggest that when he is travelling North of Aberdeen he should stop for a matter of two hours at Kirkcaldy and see what has been done in King Street, with its 4¼ acres of playing fields, its streets made to go round trees so that these might not be cut down, and its sites set aside for shops and church, the whole thing on town land. We are entitled to be proud of some of the newer municipal schemes, made possible because we have had greater freedom in the planning and the lay-out, and even in expenditure, in trying to improve the amenities in housing.
We have been brought up against a snag now. We have been forced to forego some of the improvements, because of the rise in the cost of materials. We have found that a three-apartment house which cost about £352 six months ago, costs £400 now. That is an increase, in the case of the three-apartment house, of £48. In the case of the four-apartment house, the estimate six months ago was £401, and the latest estimate opened is £476—an increase of £75; while in the 1505 case of the five-apartment house the earlier estimate was £435, and the present estimate is £491. These are the estimates just approved of by the Department, after we have cut down some of those improvements that we were desirous of introducing. One of the officials of the Department suggested that we should cut out a cornice, the argument being that it was not to the advantage of the house, and only meant a place for harbouring dust. I do not want to speak too harshly of the official who made that suggestion, because I have had to meet him in connection with these matters, and shall have to meet him again, but I am going to ask him and the Secretary of State to go and see the cornice, when he will find that it does not harbour any dust, but is an improvement. Because, however, it meant a saving of £6 per house, and because we wanted to get on with building, we have cut it out. Despite all that, we have these increases of £48, £75 and £56 respectively for the three, four, and five apartment houses, and we are now, as I have already pointed out, only allowed £6 15s. for each house, whether it be of three, four, or five apartments.
The situation which faces the local authorities is a serious one. We have been told, in answer to a question, that 10 local authorities have intimated that they are ceasing building, but surely the Secretary of State for Scotland is not very well informed when he mentions only those 10 authorities. What is the reason for their intimating that they cannot proceed? Already some of these authorities are facing up to their full financial responsibility, and some of them have already paid, and will be paying this year, 8½d. in the £ on their rates for dealing with housing alone. Consequently, something must be done to help them. I have a whole list of others here, of which evidently the Department knows nothing, but who have intimated that they are going to stop building, and if I had time I could quote from half-a-dozen Press cuttings referring to other authorities, not mentioned in the list given to me in this House, which have determined to stop building. In particular, the local authority of St. Andrews have been advised by their medical officer that they have a great problem to deal with in regard to housing, but he cannot advise them to go on with the programme 1506 because of the rise in costs and the inadequate subsidy provided by the Government.
With these facts before us, surely the Committee must recognise that a case has been made out by Members on this side, supported by Members on the other side, for reconsideration as regards this problem of subsidy. The rise in costs makes it absolutely impossible for many of these authorities, with the best will in the world, to go on with their housing programmes unless they face up to two things. Either they must increase their rates, and then those people who do not live in municipal houses will be the first to complain if they have to be burdened too heavily in connection with rates; or they must charge rents which it would be absolutely impossible for members of the working class to pay. In these circumstances seeing that, if the Government will not face up to their responsibility in either checking costs or providing a more adequate subsidy based on, shall I say, £7 for a three-apartment house, £9 for a four-apartment house and £11 for a five-apartment house, and enable us to face our problem, while you have received an intimation from local authorities that 5,000 houses are already held up, in the near future that 5,000 will become 7,000 or 8,000, and the problem will become even greater than it is at present.
I wanted to submit a typical balance sheet which would convince the Committee of the need for an increased sum, but my time has gone. I plead with the Secretary of State to do everything possible to carry through housing more speedily because, when all is said and done, a real health service can only be of value if it is centred round healthy, happy homes inhabited by people living in decent conditions, which cannot be said of at least 25 per cent. of Scotland's population.
§ 10.37 p.m.
I wish it were possible to reply fully to all the interesting speeches that have been made. The variety of subjects that can be discussed on this Vote is very great, and some of them are of the first importance in our social polity. It will not be possible to cover the whole of the ground in the course of a single speech, and if I were 1507 to attempt to give anything like a comprehensive reply to this Debate, my remarks would consist of very little more than a rather disjointed acknowledgment of the great number of arguments and suggestions that have been advanced. The Debate has shown that the subject which is uppermost in the minds of most Members, and on which they most wish for further information, is that of housing. As to the other subjects that have been raised, particularly those of water supplies, rent rebates, medical and maternity services, child welfare and the very important subject of nutrition, everything that has been said will be carefully examined to-morrow by the Department.
I do not think I could reply properly to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the subject of milk prices without going a long way beyond this Vote, or without discussing legislation, and any administrative action that could be taken through the agency of the Milk Marketing Board would really have to be discussed on the Vote for the Department of Agriculture. As far as the Department of Health is concerned, we have previously drawn the attention of local authorities to the need for providing the fullest supplies of milk in maternity and child welfare centres, and we shall probably be issuing before very long another memorandum dealing more comprehensively with this very important subject.
I am sure the Committee will wish me to say how glad we are to see the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) looking so well after his recent serious illness. I hope that the voyage that he has had to the Western Isles has greatly benefited his health. He will be glad to know that the hospital at Stornoway will not be delayed through the pressure of other building work and we shall certainly take note of his desire to have a greater quantity of fresh eggs supplied.
I think that the reason why practically every hon. Member has devoted some part of his speech, and in many cases the whole of his speech, to the subject of housing, is that, while the great majority of services for which the Department of Health is responsible, are progressing perhaps not quite as fast as we should like, 1508 but with fairly steady improvement and with reasonable continuity, in housing we are at the present time going through a period of some difficulty, and for that reason hon. Members are naturally anxious to have a full understanding of the present position.
Let me first of all dispose of one or two more particular questions which I have been asked. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) wished to know whether the Housing Association, which it is proposed to set up in the Special Areas, will be able to build houses for purposes other than those of slum clearance and of overcrowding. There is no reason why it should not be so, but I think it will, as a rule, wish to attract the State subsidies which are payable for these purposes and not other purposes, and it will wish to assist the local authorities with these most urgent aspects of the housing problem. I quite appreciate the position in Whitburn, which I shall, if I have enough time left, perhaps refer to again in the course of my more general arguments. The hon. Gentleman also wished to know our attitude towards direct labour. We think that that is a matter which ought entirely to be decided by the local authorities. We have never made any objection to it, and in some cases we have even encouraged them in the employment of it. I have not been able to ascertain exactly, since the hon. Gentleman spoke, the detailed grounds for the Department's criticism of the tenders presented them by Queensferry, but I can assure him that it was certainly not on the ground that they were employing direct labour.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) wished to know whether we were doing anything to attain a higher standard in architecture in our housing schemes. That has been one of our principal efforts during the last two or three years. We do make a practice, when a housing plan is submitted to us, to press upon the local authority the need for employing a really good architect. We generally recommend to them several names of architects to choose from, and we are most careful to do everything we can to try and restrain drab and unimaginative housing schemes. I do not know whether my hon. Friend seemed to think that the houses now being built were still as bad as they ever have been. I think that he might per- 1509 haps change his opinion if he would go and look at the new flats which are being erected in the city of Aberdeen, or the very fine new housing scheme which is now going on in Westquarter in Stirlingshire, or if he would even pay attention in my own constituency to plans at Johnstone for a new scheme which has been designed by the architect who made the plans for the new building on the Calton Hill.
I have also been asked a number of questions by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and others on the subject of the Sub-Committee's Report on Rural Housing. This subject was very largely covered by my right hon. Friend not long ago in a Debate on the Adjournment. It would not be easy to discuss many of the sub-committee's recommendations without referring to possible future legislation, but we regard the report as a valuable one and do not intend to shelve it. Indeed, the Department has already written to the Association of County Councils drawing their attention to the recommendations of the report, and suggesting a meeting, and their committee are meeting to-morrow to consider our letter.
Until now in the purely agricultural districts housing improvement has mainly depended upon the work carried out under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. As I think my right hon. Friend said, since the Act was brought in 23,000 houses have been reconditioned in the rural parts of Scotland, which is more than double the number reconditioned in England. That is a not inconsiderable number. I ought perhaps to say that while we accept the opinion of the subcommittee that many county councils ought to have adopted a higher standard for getting the grant under the Act, we cannot altogether accept their view, which has been quoted by the right hon. Baronet and others, that this expenditure has been a gross waste of public money. A great deal of good has been done, but the progress which has been made under the Act, although it has been valuable, has been slow and partial. It has not taken place at a uniform rate in the agricultural parts of Scotland, and there are still a very large number of agricultural workers, possibly the majority, living under conditions which show very 1510 little improvement on those which obtained two or three generations ago. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) thought the blame for this state of affairs rested on the landowners. The hon. Member has never really loved them as much as he ought to do.
Then the hon. Member blames the county councillors. The hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Welsh) with more modesty but with equal injustice blamed the poets, to whose distinguished brotherhood he himself belongs. I do not think it is altogether fair to say that the poets of Scotland have eulogised these bad housing conditions and have failed to condemn them. The hon. Member's speech brought to my mind a verse in Robert Burn's poem, "The Vision.":There lanely by the ingle-cheekI sat and eyed the spewing reek,That fill'd, wi' hoast-provoking smeek,The auld clay biggin';An' heard the restless rattons squeak,About the riggin'.There are many houses in rural Scotland now like that. We must know numerous cases of agricultural families who are living in very old-fashioned two-roomed houses, without damp-proof courses, without any sanitary conveniences, houses which are badly in need of repairs and which ought either to be demolished if they are incapable of improvement, or improved at the earliest possible moment. No one ought to under-estimate the urgency of this problem. I hope that there will not be any rivalry in this matter between town and country. No one ought to under-rate—and I hope that I have not under-rated—the urgency of the rural housing problem, but when I am told that the agricultural workers are compelled to live under much worse housing conditions than any other section of the community I sometimes wish that those who are responsible for these statements would spend a day going round the constituency of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), where he might find in street after street house after house with families of six and seven living in one room, all compelled to sleep on a single brown mattress, rain coming through the roof, wind through the walls, 1511 rats through the floor, incurably infested with vermin, where a family is compelled to share with 30 or 40 other persons a single water closet, which is out of order and over-flowing. I do not know that there are common instances of rural houses which could merit that description. But I do not want to start a controversy in the matter, and I am not going to award a prize to the constituency which can produce the worst housing conditions.
The hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) reminded us that he was a member of the Royal Commission on Scottish Housing which reported in 1917. This commission recommended that in order to cure the evil housing conditions of Scotland 120,000 houses would be required to put right the worst conditions, and 260,000 would be needed to solve the problem altogether. Since then we have built almost exactly that number. Why is it then that we are still so far from having solved our housing problem? Perhaps one reason is that the standards taken by the Commission were probably not so high as we have now adopted. Another reason is that a great number of the houses which were built under the various subsidies since that date were not always given to those persons whose need for a new house was greatest. Many of them were given to people whose need was not so great as that of others and who might possibly even have afforded to pay for an unsubsidised house. Until the passing of the Slum Clearance Act in 1930 there were only about 11,000 houses built for the purpose of replacing unfit dwellings.
If you take 1929, in which there was much building activity, 2,000 houses were built to replace slums, and against that 11,000 subsidised houses were built for general purposes. After the 1930 Act was passed the number of slum clearance houses gradually increased, not for the first year or two, but in 1933 it rose to nearly 5,000, compared with about 6,000 for general purposes. In the next year, 1934, it rose to about 8,000 and in 1935 to 15,000, compared with 2,000 for general purposes. That was after the passing of the 1933 Act, which abolished all the general subsidies in order to make local authorities concentrate their whole activities on the problem of slum clearance. I was rather surprised to hear the 1512 right hon. Gentleman say that we had aggravated the problem by passing the Act of 1933. Our object was to concentrate activity on the most urgent aspect of our housing needs, and that has been its precise effect. In the four years, 1933 to 1936 inclusive, no fewer than 43,000 houses have been built in Scotland for the purpose of slum clearance alone, compared with about 11,000 before the 1930 Act was passed, and about 19,000 houses before 1933. While we remember how much remains to be done do not let us underestimate the magnitude of that achievement. It shows a far greater rate of progress than was ever contemplated before on the most pressing and urgent part of the problem. Since then we have had the 1935 Overcrowding Act, which, as hon. Members know, was intended to be complementary to, and not in substitution of, the slum clearance programme which was already proceeding.
It might perhaps be argued, although I do not accept the view, that it might have been better to proceed with slum clearance alone a little further, as after all overcrowding is to be found in the slums, and in removing slums you are incidentally doing a great deal to remove overcrowding. But we decided to try and push on with both at once, and our progress has been very considerable. We have now more houses under construction than ever before. Our difficulty is not that there has been a great falling off in the number of working-class houses but that there has not been the expansion which we hoped to have since 1935 and which is necessary in order to cure the conditions in the industrial parts of Scotland within a reasonable period of time. That is our difficulty, and the cause of it is that when we contemplated the expansion of municipal building, the prospect was that trade recovery and the great expansion in all other forms of building would have been accompanied by an equal increase in the supply of labour. I have not time to deal with that matter as I should like, but in reply to the right hon. Member's questions about costs he will see that the main reason for this increase in costs is the existence of an acute labour shortage.
Hon. Members have talked about my right hon. Friend's phrase, "conditions of scramble," which accounted for £60 out of the £100 rise in building costs. I think they rather misinterpreted the 1513 phrase. It did not mean a scramble for some advantage. What my right hon. Friend meant was what hon. Members have been doing in the Committee all afternoon; scrambling to cram a great deal of stuff into a short time. The position in the industrial districts is that building firms can scarcely cope with the amount of work they already have in hand, and they are very uncertain of their ability to carry out new contracts. They cannot undertake new contracts except at prices which will cover a risk of failure to carry them out. That is the whole cause of the problem. The only remedy I can see is that which we are now pursuing, trying to get an increase in the supply of labour, which we hope we
§ shall be able to do with the good will of the building unions. I think we can at least take comfort in this, that public opinion in Scotland, the public conscience of Scotland, is fully alive to the urgency of the matter, and that we shall be able, with the co-operation and help of the building unions and building employers and local authorities, to put an end to conditions which have been intolerable for a long time in our history.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,348,401, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 84; Noes, 118.1515
|Division No. 237.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Ridley, G.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Riley, B.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Ritson, J.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hopkin, D.||Rowson, G.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Jagger, J.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Barr, J.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Silkin, L.|
|Batey, J.||John, W.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Broad, F. A.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Buchanan, G.||Kelly, W. T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Stephen, C.|
|Cove, W. G.||Kirby, B. V.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Daggar, G.||Kirkwood, D.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Dalton, H.||Latham, G.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Lawson, J. J.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Day, H.||Leonard, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dobbie, W.||Leslie, J. R.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Ede, J. C.||Logan, D. G.||Westwood, J.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McEntee, V. La T.||White, H. Graham|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Gallacher, W.||Maxton, J.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Milner, Major J.||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Paling, W.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Parkinson, J. A.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Price, M. P.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Pritt, D. N.||Mr. Groves and Mr. Mathers.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||De Chair, S. S.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Denville, Alfred||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Dodd, J. S.||Higgs, W. F.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Donner, P. W.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Eastwood, J. F.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Eckersley, P. T.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)|
|Brown, Rt.-Hon. E. (Leith)||Errington, E.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)|
|Bull, B. B.||Everard, W. L.||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Fleming, E. L.||Lindsay, K. M.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.|
|Channon, H.||Ganzoni, Sir J.||Lyons, A. M.|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Goldie, N. B.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Grant-Ferris, R.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Grimston, R. V.||Markham, S. F.|
|Crooks, J. S.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Crockshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Guy, J. C. M.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Hannah, I. C.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Remer, J. R.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Titcfield, Marquess of|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Rowlands, G.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Munre, P.||Salmon, Sir I.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Samuel, M. R. A.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Scott, Lord William||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G. A.||Selley, H. R.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)||Wise, A. R.|
|Procter, Major H. A.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Southby, Commander A. R. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Read, A. C. (Exeter)||Spens, W. P.||Mr. James Stuart and Captain|
|Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Waterhouse.|
|Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Tinker rose——
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.