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Orders of the Day — Housing and Town Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 5th May 1919.

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Photo of Sir William Cheyne Sir William Cheyne , Combined Scottish Universities

With all that has been said about the necessity of building a large number of houses and doing it quickly I quite agree, and I shall not enter into that question at all. I should like, however, to make a few remarks from the health side, and that leads me to the question—what do you mean by housing for the purposes of health, and more especially the question where are you going to put your houses? At first sight you would almost think that the essential difficulty is overcrowding, and I know that has a good deal to do with the sickness which follows. But that does not seem to be the essential point from a health point of view. No doubt for full health you require a certain amount of cubic space, and you run the risk of spreading disease if you have overcrowding, but still if you remedy that, and leave the other conditions alone you would not gain your end.

Another point of view is sanitation. You provide good sanitary arrangements and proper sanitary drinking water and so forth, and still you find matters are not as you expected. I think it will be generally admitted that towns are not the only places where you have one-roomed tenements and overcrowding to a very great extent. We know that in the villages there are similar bad conditions, but the mortality in towns and villages differs very much indeed. The average rate of mortality in children is from forty to sixty per 1,000, while the average town mor- tality in industrial towns is between 120 to 140 per 1,000. In industrial towns you do not reduce the mortality materially with your model buildings. If you leave the industrial towns and take the towns which are not typically industrial they approximate more to the country mortality than to the industrial towns, although in those towns I fancy there is a good deal of overcrowding.

Take, for instance, Bournemouth, where you have a mortality of seventy-two per 1,000. Bath has a mortality of fifty-nine per 1,000, while the rate in St. Albans is fifty-two per 1,000, Tunbridge Wells seventy-nine, and so on. In another set of statistics in France the matter was investigated in 1912, and it was found that towns of 5,000 had a mortality of 111 per 1,000, while in the smaller places the mortality was fifty-seven per 1,000. Consequently, besides all the things that have been mentioned it is a very interesting point to consider what is probably the cause of this mortality in addition. I am not saying that bad sanitation and overcrowding will do no harm, but what is it that is the chief cause of this very great difference between rural and urban districts? The general opinion come to is that it is due to smoke and not merely to the particles of smoke, but it is the obnoxious elements in the smoke that causes the trouble. To prove that there are obnoxious elements in smoke you have only got to try and grow plants in the crowded parts, and you will find that nothing will grow there as it ought to do. Even if you look in those districts at the stones they are wasting away, not by the weather, but very often to a great extent by the chemical substances and solid materials which fall from the smoke. You can form some idea as to the extent of the injury done by these obnoxious elements in smoke by their effect on growing vegetables, and what happens to the vegetable world will naturally happen to some extent in the animal world. We know that persons who are largely exposed to the inhalations of these solid particles develop trouble in the lungs. There is the disease known as stonemasons' phthisis, in which the lungs become full of particles which set up a change resembling a tuberculous disease. Then we have miners' lungs. We have only to examine the lungs of town inhabitants to see that they are black and hard with dense particles; and the great prevalence of lung diseases in children in the towns is often the cause of disease, and these particles have a good deal to do with the illness.

I also found a very interesting statement as to the calculated amount of solid particles that fall in various towns. In Greater London, including the suburbs, it has been stated that 440 tons of solid material fall from the smoke in the course of a year. In Glasgow it amounts to 1,332 tons per square mile, and in Coatbridge 1,939 tons per square mile. One can easily imagine that that, apart from the chemical substances contained in it, must cause a great deal of trouble. The point I wish to bring forward is that the very first thing you should consider in your housing scheme is that you must get your houses away from such a deadly state of matters as is present in our industrial towns. If you clear the slums and build other houses in the slum areas, you will not make any material difference from a health point of view, and either the houses must be put up in the country or the factories must be taken out of the towns. I presume that the easiest thing to do is to take the houses into the country; and as regards the areas in the immediate vicinity of the factories, they should be used for open spaces or warehouses. I want to emphasise that one point, namely, that in your housing schemes you must bear in mind that the position of the house will be more important from the point of view of health than any other condition.