Motion made, and Question proposed:
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £157,000 be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of Health for Scotland; including grants and other expenses in connection with housing, certain other grants to local authorities, &c., a grant in aid of the Highlands and Islands medical service; and other services.
§ 10 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
This Estimate arises from an Act passed last year. Older Members will remember that last year we passed an Act dealing with the re-distribution of industry and under which the Department of Health took over the obligations of the Commissioner for Special Areas (Scotland) under certain other Acts which were in force in Scotland. In the years before the war Scotland was, unfortunately, a distressed area and we had as the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition will remember because he took some active part in it, what was called the Special Areas legislation. When the Distribution of Industry Act was passed this legisla- 1104 tion was wound up as the need for it had gone. Everybody was pleased, not with the war, but because it had brought to an end the old "special areas" as they were called. It was felt then that legislation ought to be passed, that this country ought to plan, if it could, to see that none of these things recurred, and so those charges were passed to be paid by the Department of Health. They were operated by the Scottish Special Housing Association in regard to housing. The first £80,000 is in regard to housing, and the second £75,000 is in regard to water supply. It is for those reasons that this Supplementary Estimate is required by us to-night.
The other Estimate is a comparatively small one of £2,000. Everyone on this Committee will agree, I am sure, that that is small. I would remind hon. Members who may be inclined to criticise that this Supplementary Estimate is required in part for girls who have been working during the war as V.A.D. nurses, or in factories as nurses, and who want to continue this profession, only in hospitals. It is not fair to the girls to knock down their salaries to practically nothing. This £2,000 is for the wages of the girls and for maintenance, and also to enable us to provide teaching staff at the hospitals, and I trust the Committee will approve the expenditure.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I think all Members appreciate the short and lucid account which the hon. Gentleman has given to the Committee. I would like to ask a question about the Scottish Special Housing Association. What is that body doing now? I do not recollect the Under-secretary, when he was in Opposition, ever showing any particular enthusiasm for that body. But it may be that now, having entered the sombre portals of authority he has discovered something in this Association that may have escaped his notice before. I, too, have no special enthusiasm for this body, and it would be interesting to learn from the hon. Gentleman his impressions about it as he has now seen it from the inside. We gather that its purpose is to assist such local authorities as require assistance, to do such things as breaking builders'rings—an admirable purpose—but are they doing that? How many houses have they built during the last year, and what is their programme for this year?
§ Mr. McKinlay
I rise with some trepidation to point out to the Joint Under-secretary that I do not think that the Estimate he is asking for is sufficient for the purpose for which he requires it. I want to give the Committee a few reasons why. I am not surprised that we have already spent this money. It is nothing to what is coming. The Association have built a number of houses, and they are presumed to be the persons responsible. Two hundred houses were built and occupied by new tenants. In one, new ceilings 8 feet 6 inches high were fitted in the living room and in a bedroom. Money had to be paid for these alterations, and I think it is a waste of money trying to make uninhabitable houses habitable. Cupboards were taken out in one bedroom and put into another, which meant losing space. These houses, which were to Ministry of Works design were approved by the last Government, in which we had some members of our own Party.
In another house, coal fires were installed, entailing breaking down the wall of a separate bedroom and an exterior wall. I know something about prices in the building industry. Half-inch boarding was fitted on an outside wall. Remember, these were new houses. [An Hon. Member: "Where are they?"] They are scattered all over Lanarkshire and Dumbartonshire to Dundee. They were built by the Special Housing Association, to Ministry of Works' specification. In another, there was renewal of the piping system in the fireplace and the boiler, and the roof was covered with tar and felt. These houses were inhabited by the young married persons and homeless couples. They were new. There was an opening ceremony, if I remember correctly, and Press photographers were there. There has been an army of plumbers there ever since.
After the tenants had got in, it was discovered that red, rusty water was coming into the house. I could go on for some time enumerating these items. This sum of £80,000 is to meet the special expenses of that Association. Then they insulated the houses. Whoever heard of anyone insulating a floor at the top instead of the bottom. They waited until the damp came, and then they covered up with a bitumen solution. There is no item here making provision for compensation to people for furniture destroyed or to grant 1106 them remission in rents, because they have been paying rents for houses which they have been unable to occupy fully for over 18 months. This document from which I have been quoting is dated 26th June, 1945. I visited these houses last winter. The Under-Secretary visited them last winter as well, and he had to put rubber boots on inside the houses. This £80,000, I submit is wholly insufficient. I hope that the Under-Secretary is paying attention.
§ Mr. McKinlay
I am trying to be serious. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to assure us that the whole of that sum will not be absorbed by the Special Housing Association making these new houses habitable for the tenants, who have had to put up with all these things for the best part of a year.
§ Commander Galbraith
I wish to put one question, in connection with the grants for the training of nurses. The Under-secretary spoke very eloquently of the need of nurses in Scotland, and we are all very much aware how short we are of members of the nursing profession. Is this £2,000 merely a token figure, or is it supposed to be sufficient to meet the provision of additional nurses for the remainder of the present financial year?
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
A point which I want to raise with the Under-Secretary is with regard to this Special Housing Association. Is it to be the policy of the Scottish Office to force this association to do work in areas where the work could better be done by the people themselves? The case I have in mind is one in which, recently, the Joint Under-Secretary, along with members of the Glasgow Corporation, decided to build a number of houses in the Glasgow area. Everyone knows that before the Special Housing Association can build any houses in Glasgow, it has to compete with the corporation itself and the contractors, both for the local labour supply and for priorities in materials. If it is the purpose of the Special Housing Association to do work and help councils when they are having difficulty, why does the Scottish Office 1107 bring it into a city where the work can be done far better than the Association can do it?
Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison
In the Housing Vote reference is made to a grant of £2,000 to the Second Scottish National Housing Company. The Committee is not very well acquainted with that body. Perhaps the Joint Under-secretary would say a word on its constitution and what work it has undertaken.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
If the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) is correct in assuming that the £80,000 is for the repair of these Association houses, is my hon. Friend satisfied that £80,000 is sufficient to repair these perfectly appalling houses, which have caused indescribable hardship and inconvenience to the tenants from the moment they were built until to-day, and whether he does not think that the only possible solution is to scrap these houses and build completely new houses for the tenants?
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
Since there is reference in the Vote to a grant in aid of the Highlands and Islands medical service, I would like to ask my hon. Friend what changes, if any—
§ Mr. MacMillan
I can assure my hon. Friend it is in the Estimate. We are so accustomed to the Highlands and Islands being ignored, that I tend to agree with something which I can translate from the rugged English of the infantry as follows "I am not unduly perturbed by your difficulty, Jock." I am all right.
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The item to which the hon. Member refers occurs under another Sub-head.
§ Mr. Buchanan
My hon. Friend is reading from the heading. If he will turn to the next page, he will see that there is no Supplementary Estimate to cover that item. It does not relate to the particular headings under discussion.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I am interested in the Scottish Special Housing Association. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will bring his astute and original mind to bear on its history. I shall not attempt to blame the present Government for that Association. They did not inaugurate it; they have inherited it and also some lessons that go with it. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) indicated quite clearly some of the lessons. Perhaps I may be permitted to take the matter a little further. What is the Scottish Special Housing Association Ltd.? I can tell one or two things which are perhaps not within the knowledge of the Committee. I am told on the authority of the City Treasurer of Edinburgh that they built seven houses in Edinburgh, and that all these are occupied by officials of the Association—a practical contribution, no doubt, but a limited one, to the urgent housing needs of the city of Edinburgh.
I notice that when Government Departments want important officials to conduct their business, they have little respect for Governmental institutions. After much advertising for a secretary and manager for the Scottish Housing Association, they secured a very distinguished and able man. He did not remain with them for long. He did not have to go to the employment exchange for another job. He left to join the Association of Paint Manufacturers. This Committee is being asked to pay for an unfortunate experiment in State erection of houses. We have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite how scandalous this experiment has been, and that it has produced houses, which although not three years old are untenantable—that the Under-Secretary has to use waterproof boots to enter them. It is a scandal arising out of the attempt by a collectivist organisation to build houses. The truth is that Governments cannot build houses, nor can local authorities; official associations cannot build houses. That is an unsuitable economic tool for the purpose you have got in mind. I want the Under-Secretary to bring to bear an original mind and a mind which is not likely to be overburdened by the fact 1109 that nine-tenths of the gentlemen with whom he sits are not Scotsmen. I hope he will assert that character which is his inalienable right, because Government and local authority have alike failed where they have tried. The shortage of houses is due to the fact that you are attempting to build houses with a device which is as useful for the purpose as a shovel would be to stir a cup of tea. This Vote is the first instalment of many proofs of that fact which this Committee will receive, if we continue to build by other than free enterprise.
§ Mr. MacMillan
May I refer to a point of Order, raised earlier, Major Milner? I would like, with your permission, to have some explanation of what is included under the Supplementary Estimate.
§ The Chairman
The heading to which the hon. Member has referred is the heading in the original Estimate, and the items in the Supplementary Estimate to the original Estimate are set out below. The subject of the Highlands and Islands is not among these items. The question, therefore, does not arise.
§ Mr. MacMillan
With respect, I would have thought that the question does arise. In the original Estimate no provision has been made for this matter.
§ The Chairman
That question does not arise here. The only matters before the Committee are the five items set out in the Supplementary Estimate.
§ Mr. Gallacher
It has been interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman condemn the attempt of the associations to build houses or to build anything else. I hope he will apply that condemnation to the companies who call themselves limited companies and the big monopoly companies, and get rid of them all, and then maybe the people will get a chance to obtain homes and happiness for themselves. The fact remains that the local authorities have the responsibility for putting right the harm that has been done, and the money should be given to the local authorities and not to the Government.
The point I wish to make is in connection with nursing. There is no question that is of greater moment to the people of Scotland from the point of view of health than nursing. We have in Scot- 1110 land the highest incidence of tuberculosis compared with any other part of the country, and I want to know if this Estimate of £2,000 covers a scheme of training which the Scottish Office introduced in connection with tuberculosis—a scheme of training that was to a large extent valueless. It was a voluntary nursing scheme whereby nurses went voluntarily into the sanatoria for three months, and at the end of that period they could either carry on or leave. In many of the sanatoria which I visited I found that when the nurses came in the small staff had the added work of training them and getting them to understand the job, and at the end of three months when they did understand the job they finished and went out. I do not suppose that scheme is still being carried on.
§ Mr. Buchanan
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, this £2,000 does not cover that. It covers a limited number of people who are known as sister tutors.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I understand that it has nothing to do with the whole field of nursing and that it is for a particular type of nursing. I know that otherwise the sum involved would be much greater. I would like to know whether the hon. Gentleman knows whether the scheme of three months in the sanatorium is still being carried on. Anything which will develop nursing in Scotland would be of the greatest value.
Mr. Timmins (Bothwell)
I would ask my hon. Friend whether before spending any money in trying to improve certain houses in Western Scotland, he would consider pulling them down and replacing them with some other houses.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)
Uninformed views have been expressed about the Scottish Housing Association. I want to speak on the rather intriguing point made by the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) who wanted to know why the Association found it necessary to do certain things. I would like to take that matter a little further, because the views behind the speech seemed to be that local authorities should place in their houses people who have the greatest need. I welcome that suggestion, and I hope it may be expanded to private house factors and others, so that in every case 1111 where a private concern has built houses it should submit the newly-built houses to be occupied by people with the greatest needs.
With regard to the remarks which have been bandied about as to the type of house built by the Scottish Housing Association, the houses were built over a period when there was great need for them and when people were taken from one part of the country to another to do vital work during the war. The material of which these houses were built was not up to the standard which the Association desired, but in view of the desirability of building the houses as quickly as possible the houses were allowed to go up.
§ Mr. Robertson
The Association has a great contribution to make towards satisfying the housing needs of the people of Scotland, which wants something like 10,000 houses a year. I am surprised that hon. Members should not encourage this Association to go on to deal with this very vital problem and assist local authorities, where necessary and important to do so.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I have been asked a number of questions on this Estimate. I would like to deal first with the question originally raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). This is a small payment for a very limited body of tutor nurses and of women who train as nurses at the end of their war work. A special need arose, and we felt that some maintenance grant as well as the training ought to be provided, and the Committee may take it that it in no way covers a very wide field. In answer to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), this Estimate does not cover the question of tuberculosis. Perhaps the hon. Member will raise it with me privately, as I cannot be expected to cover every field of activity in my speech to-night. I depend a great deal on advice and help from hon. Members in this Committee and if the hon. Member feels that there is an issue here, I shall not be averse from examining that issue.
§ Mr. Buchanan
My hon. Friend is a very active Member but he must learn to conduct himself in the same way as he would like a member of Edinburgh Town Council to conduct himself. I turn to the general question of the Housing Association. I anticipate it will be raised to-morrow when, I understand, we are to have a housing Debate. I think that in fairness to the critics it would be better to discuss it to-morrow. I do not want to burke the issue, and rather than deal with it in a limited manner, I would prefer to cover the whole ambit of it and face up to the criticisms then.
The hon. Member for Pollok and the hon. Member for West Fife raised the matter with me in very pungent letters and I think one of them, at least, may be fortunate enough to catch the Speaker's eye and raise the issue tomorrow and then I would deal with the whole question of the Housing Association.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
What the Minister is really saying is that he proposes at the end of to-morrow's Debate to reply to criticism. What I did ask him to do to-night was to make some criticism.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The hon. Member is an adroit Parliamentarian and in my more simple days, I was indebted to him for much help and assistance, having regard to my lack of knowledge on these matters. So far as I am concerned, I am in rather an awkward position in regard to this matter of the Housing Association as I do not want to debate it on a Supplementary Estimate. To say that my relationship with the Association is altogether happy would be wrong, and to say that I am antagonistic to the body would be equally wrong. I have to face the facts. I will look at them to see how I can fit the Association in to the housing programme of Scotland and to the 1113 beliefs I have held all my life. To-morrow I intend to say a word about this.
The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) asked why the Maycrete houses have been built. It would be very difficult to place the blame here or there, but I will give the facts as I see them. I had no responsibility for the building of these houses. One might have thought from the speeches that I had, but they had all been built when I took office. They were built in the middle of the war. Mr. Thomas Johnston was the Secretary for Scotland, and in fairness to him, I must say he has seen Scotland as I have seen it, and its need for houses. He had little material and little labour. These houses were offered to him as a way out of the dilemma, since he could build them with a minimum of labour and material. He being a reformer, he did what most of us would have done—he went in for the adventure. I would sooner see a Secretary of State for Scotland make a mistake in an adventure than not make any attempt at all. The right hon. Gentleman went into it and the Scottish Housing Association ought not to be allowed to take all the blame. They have done good work, and all along they said they were not the best of houses. On the other hand, we were anxious to improve the Scottish housing position, and we asked them to go ahead. There has also been some criticism about the Ministry of Works. They built some houses directly, and so far as I am aware there has been no real material complaint against them. I was not satisfied when I took office and I confess I have expressed my views about the matter in a forthright manner. But looking at the facts I confess I do not blame the late Secretary of State. He took a decision which in all the circumstances, I am sure I should have taken had I been in his position. It is a tragic story.
With reference to the position of the tenants I have examined this issue with a good deal of sympathy. Certain formulae have already been examined and discussions started. I am not quite satisfied that the tenants are being properly treated in all the matters concerned. It may well be that they were adequately treated in the matter of rent, but there are other questions. There may have been damage to furniture, the family might be forced to stay away, and 1114 for these reasons I have been looking at the question of compensation. Only to-day my officials discussed with Treasury officials whether something could be done. I hope in a few weeks' time if hon. Members will put questions, to be in a position not to announce a solution of this problem, which is beyond me and would require someone cleverer than I am, to solve, but to announce something that will partially satisfy the tenants. This Housing Association question will be considered in the light of future events. I propose to give it reconsideration and see how I can improve the Association. I do not intend to disband the Association, but I intend to improve it. It has had valuable experience, and a machine like that should not be smashed, but should be remodelled. I propose to try to fit it in with what I think are the national requirements. I make this last plea to Members. There has been the case of this unfortunate house which has been built. Do not let us stop in the adventure of house building because of that. It has been an unfortunate thing, but if Scotland is to solve its housing problem, a great and human problem, risks will have to be taken. I hope nobody will be blamed because he has the courage to take them.
§ Mr. Scollan
On a point of Order. It will not be in Order to discuss Scottish Office policy on the housing Debate to-morrow.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Oh, yes. Hon. Members will find I am replying to it to-morrow. For the guidance of hon. Members, the Motion to-morrow will be so wide—and quite fairly so—as not to limit anybody in saying anything on housing.
About Glasgow, let me say this. Again, this raises a danger of going outside this Estimate. It does not really come within the discussion of the estimate. I will try to keep within it as best I can.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Yes. I will do my best to keep in Order. The Housing Association cannot build houses in Edinburgh. I wish the hon. Gentleman, the Member for South Edinburgh, who is so distinguished a citizen, would know a little more about his city. These are the facts. The Housing Association cannot build houses in Edinburgh. But one of the purposes of the Association is to build demonstration houses. If you want to build demonstration houses you must have a site people can get to. Demonstration houses were built in Edinburgh because, taking Scotland as a whole, it was the most central site they could get for that purpose. That is the answer.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The facts are that the Association cannot build a single house in Edinburgh. The Housing Association are limited to building to a definite form, and Edinburgh does not comply with that. The hon. Member condemns this Association—
§ Mr. Buchanan
I thought the hon. Member did. I will not proceed with that if I took him up wrongly. About the position at Glasgow, the Association cannot build houses without the consent of the local authority in the district in which they wish to build. If Glasgow does not want this Association all Glasgow has to say is "No." In recent negotiations, Glasgow, which, whatever the faults there, is active in housing, discussed with this Housing Association another contract I should not be in order in discussing here, and are going to allow the building of houses in the city. The corporation have accepted that point of view. I hope the Association's relations with Glasgow will improve. I think they can be mutually helpful in solving the housing problem.
Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison
May I inquire about the Second Scottish National Housing Company and whether it is different from the Scottish Special Housing Association?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Its functions are now finished and it now manages houses built under what we might call the Baldwin régime—steel houses. The Special Housing Association was formed at a later stage and I have given instructions to this Special Housing Association that the two associations ought at once to unite, because there is now no reason why two bodies should be functioning separately. Discussions are now going on to allow the two bodies to function together.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding, £157,000 be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of Health for Scotland; including grants and other expenses in connection with housing, certain other grants to local authorities, etc., a grant in aid of the Highlands and Islands medical service; and other services.