HC Deb 22 July 1946 vol 425 cc1703-9

A local health authority may provide, or may improve or furnish, residential accommodation for officers employed by them for the purposes of any of their functions as a local health authority, or for officers employed by a voluntary organisation for the purposes of any services provided under Part III of this Act.—[Mr. Key.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Key

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

Clause 21 (3) enables living accommodation for people who are employed in connection with the health centres to be provided by the local authorities. We feel strongly that it is desirable that this power should be extended particularly to permit the provision of accommodation for the district nurse and the midwife serving in country areas. This does not, in reality, introduce any new principle, because there is at present a power of this character which belongs to the hospital authorities to provide accommodation for hospital staffs under Section 183 of the Public Health Act, 1936. We feel that it is very necessary, particularly in the country areas, that the power to provide this accommodation should be extended beyond the health centres.

Mr. Reid

I am very glad that the Minister of Health and his Parliamentary Secretary have, at last, been converted to the principle of the tied cottage, and I hope that he will have consultations on this subject with some of his colleagues. However, I am not sure that this is the best form of tied cottage. We have to look at the background and the situation in which we are today, where new houses are rare things. Now in so far as one gives powers to local authorities to plant their employees in nice new houses, these employees are given a preference. I have always thought, and I still think, that it is the right thing, when you have an employee of anybody, public or private, who has to live near his work that he should have a preference. Indeed, he should have a house provided in any case, but this Clause goes far beyond that. There was in, the. Bill originally a perfectly proper provision that accommodation, health centres, and so on, could be provided for employees. They had to live at their work, and it was right, but this goes further. It gives all local authority health servants a particular right to a house, or at least something that they will think is a right to a house. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can tell me whether other local authority servants have a similar right, because I can see a certain amount of dissatisfaction if one particular class of local authority servants have these rights and others do not. I can see equal ground for dissatisfaction if the local authority servants under this Bill get preferential treatment whereas the Minister's servants —the officers of the Regional Boards and so on—do not. I do not want to prevent anyone having a house except in so far as it prevents others, who are perhaps more deserving, from coming in first, but I venture to think that the Minister is introducing a little potential discord at this point as between servants of local authorities and servants of his own administrative bodies. Could he give me some information as to whether this power occurs elsewhere on a widespread scale, or whether this is something new?

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

I would like to join my right hon. and learned Friend in congratulating the Minister on adopting the principle of the tied cottage, though I feel that this particular form of tying has proceeded a very long way. According to the Clause you can not only provide a house, but you can "improve" or "furnish" a house, and the entire equivalent of a house can be put into an existing one. That needs a little explanation. After all, a house these days is a tremendously strong lure, and to hold out this lure in the form set out in this Clause seems a little unusual. It goes really even further than that, for at the end of the Clause we see the words: or for officers employed by a voluntary organisation for the purposes of any services provided under Part III of this Act. When we look at Part III, we can see that that stretches it pretty wide. What are the voluntary organisations to which this would apply? Does it include the leader of the St. John Ambulance or the Red Cross or the W.V.S. or the Women's Institute? The fact that these voluntary organisations are linked up may or may not be a good thing. I am inclined to think it is a good thing in principle, but when it comes to supplying furnishings and improving houses for officers of voluntary organisations who volunteer their services to assist in a State organisation, where are we? They will have relations, they will have friends. One may say, "I have a family of 12. I cannot possibly take on this job, although I am a thunderingly good specialist." Another may say, "I am a frightfully good worker in the W.V.S. but I have to house all my sister's children and, in order to do that, I must have a house which will accommodate them all." I may be exaggerating the case, but that is what the words on the Paper say.

Mr. Bevan

I may perhaps be able to shorten the discussions if I speak at once, because there are far meatier subjects coming later, on which hon. Gentlemen can exercise their imaginations. This is a perfectly innocent Amendment, and I am certain that if hon. Gentlemen press their questions too far, they will get themselves into trouble with their own colleagues. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman said that I was creating a new form of tied cottage. As I have explained in other places, the real defect of a tied cottage, consists in the fact of the absence of other accommodation in the area, and that difficulty we are in process of solving. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We are already building far more houses in the rural districts, with which this Clause is concerned, than hon. Members built in many years. I think hon. Members opposite had better not press their questions too far, because the purpose of these powers is particularly to provide cottages in the rural areas for district nurses or midwives. Now do hon. Gentlemen not want us to do that? The fact of the matter is that, if we are to provide people in scattered areas, where they have not proper access to hospital facilities, with a proper service, we must make available nurses and midwives. If we are to do that, we must provide them with accommodation.

To "improve" or "furnish," means that if you have hold of a cottage which may not be suitable in itself, you can make it suitable by improving it, and you can furnish it properly for the purposes which these people will be discharging. So far from there being any sinister purpose behind the Amendment, it is of the most benevolent intention. Furthermore, we are not even taking new powers, because these powers are already in existence. Local authorities, including county councils, at present have the power to house hospital staffs, and all we are really doing is transferring their powers to the National Health Service, and extending the powers in respect of the accommodation of additional services, which we are hoping to give to the rural population.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

The Minister must take note of the fact that these hungry Tories are ready to swallow any worm, no matter how miserable it may be; and if there is no worm, they will take a shark. I was up on my feet ——

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

Major Milner, on a point of Order. May I protest against the statement that we are hungry, notwithstanding the fact that today is the first day of bread rationing?

Mr. Gallacher

The Tories are very hungry for office. They cannot understand why they are out, but they will get accustomed to it. They cannot realise what the elector has done. I was going to say right at the beginning, if I had been successful in catching your eye, Major Milner, that this is not the same as a tied cottage. It is one thing to give the local authority or the Regional Board the right to house officials; it is another and en- tirely different thing to give them the right to evict if the officials happen to leave the job. There is nothing in this Clause that gives them the right to throw these people out. Any doctor or dentist may take a job with the National Health Service and may be given a house. He may then decide to contract out, and someone else will take his place. It will be the duty of the local authority to find a house for that new man. The difficulty under Tory rule was that people could not get houses, and were condemned to live under the most unspeakable conditions, but now the housing problem is to be solved—[Laughter]. There is no question about that. There is no danger of any Tory getting up a petition on the housing question.

4.30 p.m.

The Chairman

That is not the question under discussion.

Mr. Gallacher

The solving of the housing problem, and the building of houses, will make it possible for local authorities to house those engaged in the National Health Service. This is not a question of a tied cottage. We shall oppose the tied cottage at every opportunity, no matter from what direction the proposal is put forward.

Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

I must confess that I came here to bless this Clause. I had my mind specially on the word "improve." I thought it admirable that the right hon. Gentleman should go in for reconditioning on his own, when he is preventing all of us from reconditioning farm workers' cottages.

Mr. Bevan

No one is stopping reconditioning. We do not want to subsidise it, that is all.

Mr. Eccles

Reconditioning is the cheapest way of getting a good cottage for many farm workers. Surely, the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is wrong? The intention of the Minister is to make these houses service houses. If he does not do that, he will have an infinite number of houses to build, because every time anyone leaves the employment of a local authority and says' he wishes to stay in the house which has been provided, the whole thing will have to be done over again. Is not the intention only to let to those in the employment of the local authority, and if they leave that employment, they must give up the cottage?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I certainly did not intend anything sinister. What I am trying to get at is a closer definition, as this Clause is so very wide and vague. There is the point which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) about the employee who loses his job and does not continue to work for the local authority. Are not the words "a voluntary organisation" a little wide? I should have thought that could be defined a little more closely. We do not wish to see a multiplicity of voluntary organisations, although there are different types of organisation for different types of work. There is an admirable one which we could all name.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Member is surely trying to find something that is not there. I respectfully suggest that he should examine the Bill. The local health authority must submit to the Minister the kind of voluntary organisation it proposes to use. Houses can be provided only for the officers of those voluntary organisations. Hon. Members on the other side of the Committee have pressed for the employment of these voluntary organisations, somewhat to the discomfort of hon. Members on this side. Therefore, I should advise the hon. Member not to press that part of the problem too far.


If the words in the new Clause come under the general definition, that entirely meets the point.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

The Minister accused my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) of trying to find things which were not in the Clause. Let me assure him that I am doing nothing of the kind in the point which I wish to raise. It should be made clear that these houses should only be let to persons employed by the local authority, large or small. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) seems to see something sinister in the fears expressed by hon. Members on this side of the Committee. There is nothing of the kind.

I know of a case where a local health service is being very much inconvenienced by this kind of thing. It is true that it is in Scotland, but that does not prevent me raising the matter now, because a similar Health Bill will probably be introduced next Session in respect of Scotland. In this case a hoes: was taken by a local nursing association from a landlord—I suppose that will please hon. Members opposite—simply in order to help to carry on the work of the association. The nurse to whom it was originally let, obtained another similar post in another part of Scotland. She sublet the house. It is true that the local nursing association was not as vigilant as it might have been, but I am putting this forward as a kind of case which might arise. The local nursing association allowed the new nurse to take on the house which had been occupied by the former nurse on a subletting. Things went on all right for six months, or a year, and then the local nurse, still in her job provided by the local authority—and as it happens she had another house of her own in another part of Scotland—decided to give notice to the nurse formerly employed by the local authority. The whole case is now under decision by the court. That is the kind of thing we wish to avoid in the future. I ask the Minister to say in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) whether or not the houses will be devoted solely by the local health authorities to the purposes of providing for those employed by them, and that in no case will such a position as I have endeavoured to outline, arise.

Mr. Bevan

I could not possibly give such an undertaking. It is really a matter for the local health authority concerned. As the scheme will start from April, 1948, I hope that, with the valuable assistance of hon. Members opposite, the housing situation will have been alleviated, and that these difficulties will not arise, In any case, I could not give such an undertaking, because it would impose frightful limitations on the local health authority. It might be impossible to get a person out of a house immediately, and there might be another house which the authority could use temporarily for that purpose. We do not want to put local authorities into straitjackets. We want to enable them to get on with the work.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.