Orders of the Day — Supply. — [14TH Allotted Day.] – in the House of Commons on 30th June 1919.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,380,377, 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, l920, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board, including certain Special Services arising out of the War." [NOTE.—£ 655,000 has been voted on account.]
After the scene we have just witnessed, it is somewhat difficult to refer to Departmental matters. Nevertheless, it is one of the finest features of this House and of the race to which we belong that in the midst of crises we still manage composedly and doggedly to go with our daily work. I will endeavour on this occasion to live up to that reputation. In the first place, I have to remind the House that in consequence of the adjustment of matters with the Treasury, the Vote which we are considering to-day will hereafter be incorporated in the Vote for the Ministry of Health. Therefore, it will not be possible to take a final Resolution to-day on the Local Government Board Vote, as it appears as a part of the Ministry of Health accounts, to be presented later. I believe that the wish of the House will be met if I devote what I have to say to-day to the important question of housing. Therefore: I propose to pass lightly over the many other functions of the Local Government Board— more lightly than one would have done under other conditions. May I say that although the Local Government Board, as such, disappears in the course of a day or so, I hope that in making the last speech of the President of that Board one will not forget fully to realise that for fifty years it has been responsible for forwarding and promoting local government in this country, and that although it may be the fashion of some of its critics somewhat to belittle what it has done in some directions, I am sure the record of its progress as presented from time to time during those fifty years has thoroughly justified its existence. The House is well aware of the share of the Local Government Board in the work of the War, particularly its work in connection with the establishment and carrying on of tribunals.
There is one other part of its work, just completed, of which I would like to remind the House. In conjunction with a committee, it took charge of 200,000 or more Belgian refugees during the War, arranging for their lodgings, and so forth; and lately we have been responsible, with the assistance of a committee set up to deal with it, for repatriating, at our expense, 62,000 Belgian refugees. I am glad to say that the formal thanks of the Belgian Government were very deservedly tendered to the officers concerned for the self-denying and devoted work which they have carried on during the War in the interests of these unfortunate refugees.
Another point in connection with war services which I ought to mention is the assistance which has been given to our troops and invalided men by the Poor-Law infirmaries throughout the country. They have provided 75,000 beds for the service of the Army, and 22,000 of these were in the Metropolitan area. We hear a good deal sometimes of disparaging criticism of Poor Law authorities. I, for one, though I have been a liberal critic of our Poor Law system in many directions, and shall be, I have no doubt, again, do not mix up those criticisms with those who work that system. They have devoted themselves under difficulties to assisting our soldiers and in providing beds and accommodation throughout the whole of the War. Seventy-five thousand men were provided for the Army at the maximum point which was early this year.
Various other branches of war work have necessarily fallen upon the Local Government Board, particularly with regard to the relief of destitute aliens and the assistance which has been given by the Civil Liabilities Committee. That Committee has been enabled to devote over £6,000,000 to the assistance of individuals qualified to receive it.
I come to the work which we initiated more particularly in connection with demobilisation. One of the early fears which we had, and which has been justified to some extent by the event, was that as there were so many of our men serving overseas in countries where they were likely to be infected with tropical diseases, that those might be spread throughout the country. I shall have a word to say about two or three of them later on. In February I asked my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board to be chairman of an Inter-Departmental organisation of the Board, the War Office, Admiralty, and Air Board, to prevent the, spread of infectious diseases arising out of or during demobilisation. I am glad to say that in the main the methods which have been adopted have proved to be successful. It was also quite clear, with great masses of disabled men and a large number of men being discharged on demobilisation, that it was necessary to review the facilities at present afforded for the treatment of men affected with tuberculosis, which, in many cases I am afraid, has necessarily been aggravated by the hardships arising out of war. A Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for South Salford (Sir M. Barlow), composed between ourselves and the Ministry of Pensions, is at the present time going into this subject, and we hope to receive their recommendations as to the best and most effective steps to be taken in the course of a short time. I can say, so far as the number of soldiers affected with tuberculosis on the 1st of June is concerned, and those on the waiting list, the number are, in institutions on the 1st of June, 3,000, and waiting for treatment, 364.
Early in the year as unemployment became greater it was necessary to do what we could to speed up the provision of useful public works. I am quite sure that the House will agree that it is better that local authorities should get along even at a somewhat increased cost with necessary public works rather than that we should be spending large sums of money in unemployment donation week by week. At the beginning we, of course, moved slowly, but these records of applications will, I think, show what kind of progress has been made. The number of applications made to us in January was thirty-eight, February ninety-three, March 117, April 139, and May 218. That shows the greatly increased activity of local authorities in the preparation of public works and in the prosecution of them. As a matter of fact at the present time, including housing, there are public works in progress and under construction to the value nearly of £3,000,000.
The works now in operation and under construction amount to £3,000,000. Works for which the preliminaries have been completed and sanction given are equivalent to a further £17,000,000. There is the further figure where the necessary preliminaries are not yet completed, but where the authorities propose to proceed as soon as possible, and this includes £44,000,000 for housing, to which I shall refer later, and another £38,000,000 for other kinds of public work. In answer to the interjection of my hon. Friend, so far as the sanction for loans for this work during the last two or three months is concerned, the figures are: in March £950,000, in April £717,000, and in May £825,000. That marks the present rate of progress. As my hon. Friend is aware, you may have one or two schemes which cost £2,000,000 or £750,000, and perhaps a dozen schemes coming next which do not total as much. Progress is represented by the fact that in June the schemes in operation virtually amounted to the value of £3,000,000, and schemes for a further £17,000,000 have been sanctioned. I may say, with respect to the avoidance of unemployment, which is a very important consideration, that I can quite see that we may have to be very careful in the near future with regard to some works other than housing, because a shortage of labour will, I believe, be a limiting factor with regard to housing; and it will be inadvisable in the case of some great public undertakings, which may take years to complete, to lock up a great amount of labour which might be better employed in the meantime in erecting houses. So that we have to have regard to the other demands upon our labour programme, and more and more regard in surveying particular proposals which come before us.
The medical services of the Board which now become merged in the Ministry of Health are very diverse, and in respect of some of them my view is that we are only at the beginning. I said that a few months ago there was serious risk in connection with demobilisation lest certain diseases might be introduced and spread in this country, and we set up an Inter-Departmental Committee to deal with them. I may say that up to the present time we have had only nineteen cases of imported smallpox, all of which have been arrested, and several cases of malaria, dysentery, and so on, and they also have been prevented from spreading.
A good deal of attention has lately been drawn to rabies, and if we compare rabies and influenza the comparison will give us a new sense of proportion as to what those two things mean, although they occupy sometimes quite a disproportionate amount of space in the public papers. The House will remember what we did on Friday last. I may say that there have been fifty-four cases notified, and we made arrangements in various centres throughout the country where the anti-rabine vaccine could be obtained, and we are being advised in this matter by Sir David Semple, who has been a director of the Pasteur Institute in India. The first nineteen persons who were bitten we had to send to Paris to get the lymph, and subsequently twenty-four were treated in England. Out of the fifty-four, we have treated eleven with vaccine prepared in our own laboratories. I think it was rather a reflection upon us as a nation that we were dependent on supplies from our Allies in the early days. Of the whole fifty-four cases which have hitherto been notified and treated, none have as yet developed hydrophobia. Let us compare that disease, which is, of course, a horrible disease, and one which attracts a great deal of attention, to what we have lost through influenza. During the six months ending 31st of March last in England and Wales alone there were 136,000 deaths from influenza. I think that suggests that it is very necessary for us to spend money freely (if necessary) and energy in conducting research and reorganising our methods to combat the spread of a disease of this kind. I hope that in due time, when I come down to the House and ask for assistance in doing this kind of thing they will remember that in the last six months 136,000 of our people died from this one disease alone, or the conditions arising out of it. We have got together, in conjunction with the Medical Research Committee, a Standing Committee to conduct research and inquire into influenza and to endeavour to prevent the infection being brought into this country. I would not myself venture to hold out any sanguine hope as to what we may be able to do in the near future as a great deal of research and organised inquiry is necessary before you can speak with any hopefulness of this subject. Another topic, which I am sorry to say has been a good deal exaggerated and which was brought into prominence during the War, was the spread of venereal diseases. We have a number of critics as to the action we have taken and I should like to say something in justification. Under the Regulation issued in July, 1916, 75 per cent. of the cost of schemes for treatment of venereal diseases is paid by the State. There are at present 146 centres, of which some are exceedingly good. In London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leeds, Victoria University, Newcastle, Manchester, Salford, and Liverpool there are excellent centres, each treating more than 1,300 persons, but in a large number of these centres, in my opinion, we are not doing as well as we ought and as we will do in time, and we need not only 140 centres, we need 1,000 at the very least. The difficulty here is to obtain the staff and the people with the modern training arising out of the experiences of the War to carry them on. It, will only be gradually that we shall develop and train the personnel and organisation throughout the whole country to make the very best use of these centres. We have been blamed because we did not support compulsory notification. The view I take is that it was quite useless to require compulsory notification until we have completely organised, or substantially done so, throughout the country efficient and up-to-date methods for treatment, otherwise you simply drive people wholesale into very imperfect methods, and very largely you drive them into the arms of the quack. One of the very important things that we have yet to work out in detail is how to get the centre conducted on such lines that the people needing its assistance will readily come. The numbers have gone up. The attendances in 1917 were 205,000 and in 1918 488,000, but it is clear that we have got to aim at a centre where people will come in the earliest possible stages without fear that their coming will be known to other persons, feeling that they can do so freely and frankly, without any misgivings; otherwise you simply drive a great deal of this underground and to all sorts of methods of unsatisfactory treatment. It is no short cut to the treatment of this horrible disease to adopt methods of compulsory notification. It needs an elaborate development of our system of treatment on the best and most up- to-date lines, and being sure above all things that the centres are conducted humanely, with common sense, and in a way which will induce the people who need assistance to come early.
With regard to tuberculosis, my view, as I have said so many times, is, although we have increased the number of beds available by 1,500 during the last year, that our methods are still far from sufficient, and it is quite useless to expect that we shall ever successfully cope with a disease like tuberculosis until we have got an improved state of national housing. It is quite futile often to have people in sanatoria, and then send them back to some horrible dwelling where they cannot get proper ventilation.
We have proposals before us at present as to 3,300 additional beds. The grants made last year were £383,000 in respect of assistance for dealing with tuberculosis. If the hon. Member wants the number of persons I have not got the figures by me, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary (Major Astor) will give them when he replies later. Another branch of our work which we shall have to develop, and of which I may have the opportunity hereafter as Minister of Health of giving some account, is the spread of our maternity and child-welfare work. All these services are at the present time to a great extent in the experimental stage, and we need a great extension of our maternity and child-welfare centres, and this goes hand in hand with an improved nursing service and with an improved midwifery service, all of which takes time to develop, particularly with regard to the necessary personnel. Whichever of these topics we deal with, it is in my view quite useless to put before the House of Commons figures or projects. They all come down in the end to having the necessary trained assistance to do the work, and, in regard to practically the whole of these cases, the limiting factor is persons trained and competent to do the work. The latest development of all is in connection with the treatment of the blind. The Committee which has been working since 1917, with regional committees, has made a full survey of the blind population of the country, and of the in- stitutes where training is given, and just lately the Government sanctioned the provision of £125,000 this year, to which a Supplementary Estimate will be submitted to the House, to be distributed in assisting the blind in workshops, in homes, in hostels, for home teaching and for various miscellaneous services, in institutions that have been carefully examined and approved.
This is a brief outline of some of the medical and numerous other services performed by the Board, but I have omitted a great many more than I have mentioned. I would like to take the opportunity to speak at greater length on the question of housing and the difficulties of the position as we find it to-day, and I propose to do so quite frankly. The policy which we have adopted throughout has been to tell the House and the country exactly what the facts are, and I do not propose to dress them up to make them look better than they are nor to understate them. I think it is much better for all concerned that we should know, not what our promises are, but what the facts are. In this connection I should like to take the opportunity of referring to the history of this great scheme, because we have been, and I dare say we shall be, subjected to a good deal of criticism, some of it informed and some of it ill-informed. So I would like to ask the House to let me recall to them something of the history of this matter. Statements have been made— for example, the other day in another place, where my predecessor, Lord Downham, rather went out of his way, I think, to make reflections and animadversions upon myself, which I propose to ignore, but with regard to the facts of the case it may be well to refresh our minds. In July, 1917, the Government first issued a statement suggesting that we should give local authorities substantial financial assistance in regard to housing. In October, 1917, the Committee of Reconstruction, of which Lord Salisbury was chairman, presented me their Report. The Report was published later on, and the House will remember that a very important feature of the scheme as projected or recommended was that we should have established during the War throughout the country a number of officers under a housing commissioner who should help local authorities and others in the preparation of their plans, and in getting forward a survey of sites and so forth during the War, so as to be ready when Peace came for getting along with the building of houses, and on more than one occasion I myself took the opportunity to emphasise the importance of that recommendation.
Then in March, 1918—nine months, be it noticed, after the original Circular—the scheme of financial assistance to authorities was issued, and later on there was an important Memorandum by Lord Salisbury, Lord Crewe, and others, animadverting upon the scheme of assistance, and so forth. But it was a very generous offer which was made to the authorities, and I have recently, as the House is well aware, altered it, and I am proposing to say something as to why I altered it and what is the organisation we have set up in the Department as arising out of that and other alterations in the first place, when one was able to ascertain at the beginning of the year what the facts were we found them, I am afraid a. good deal different from the statements made by the Noble Lord in another place. He told us there that 900 authorities had expressed their willingness to forward schemes. That may have been so, but what I found on 21st January, when we got to the facts, was that there were in all 108 proposals as to sites, and fifty-two for housing schemes, many of which were out of date, and some of which were pre-war, and therefore we had to cut them down before we got anything to begin with. But after eighteen months of consideration— and that is why I am replying to the Noble Lord, and I think it is necessary that I should—after eighteen months of talk, I did not find a single house or site sanctioned from one end of the country to the other. We began from scratch, and had this statement not been made so publicly it would not have been necessary for me to state it.
That may be so, but I am giving the facts. If a Government finds out that the position is bad, it is only good sense to say so, and to try and alter it. What had to be done? Remember this is five months ago, and I am now trying to show what has got to be done before you can have a great number of houses in course of construction through out the country. We found that we had to begin from scratch. First, it was neces- sary to prepare a Bill for this House to see what powers we really required effectively to deal with housing, and the House has dealt very generously with the Bill which I had the honour to introduce. Then it was quite clear that, notwithstanding the reflections which had been made upon us the scheme of financial assistance previously held out was quite inadequate. It did not, in fact, invoke the response which was necessary, and it is really not the case, as the Noble Lord suggested, that if the Government can tear up one bargain, because it does not suit them it can tear up another. The bargain was not altered because it did not suit the Government, it was altered because it did not suit the local authorities. They were not, in fact, making proposals to build houses, and that is the only test which we are entitled to apply, and, therefore, we have to alter it. The scheme which the House has discussed in detail on other occasions was worked out in the Department, negotiated with the Treasury, and issued to the authorities in February. The next thing clearly that we had to undertake was the subdivision of the country into housing districts, to survey the transport facilities, and requirements of housing, to give assistance in the preparation of sites, plans, lay-outs, and so forth. The country has been divided into eleven, areas, and officers and others have been appointed to do the work. In this connection, let me say, the local authorities for some months wore, and still are, to some extent under a great disability because of the shortage of their skilled officers. They were still in the Army at the beginning of the year, and we had therefore to get schedules of the surveyors, architects, etc., as required, and get men released for the local authorities, and 4,200 local authority officers were in that way released. But I may say a good many more are wanted.
It is quite evident that the negotiations as to the value of sites, the preparation of schemes for the laying-out, the plans for the houses, the getting out of quantities, tenders, and all the rest of it, take a long time, and I should like to call the attention of the Committee to a parallel case. It is five months since January, and I will give the House in a moment a statement of affairs as they stand now compared with then. But I happened to be at the beginning of the Ministry of Munitions, having joined it on the first day, and I will remember how in; June, 1915, we surveyed the requirements as to filling, rifle production, central stations, and all the rest of it, and gradually the requirements of a great ammunition programme were developed. Gradually the stupendous character of the work of organisation, machinery, and all the rest of it, became impressed upon us, and we had with us the enthusiasm and assistance of the country. It was then the one business before the country so far as production went. Nevertheless, it was many months—well into 1916—before the fruits of our labours began to be apparent, and I ask Members to bear that parallel in mind when they protest that, starting in January, you do not produce 100,000 houses by June. The essential preliminary work, the enormous amount of spade work to be done in any great constructive effort takes weeks and months of time with the best will in the world. To-day I am glad that we find ourselves a good deal further on. On 21st June, instead of the 108 applications for sites, we had 2,538, and the number is rapidly increasing. It is increasing every week. The Committee is well aware that I issue to Members monthly now a statement of the number of schemes that are submitted, and what is happening.
Certainly; it is supplied as a White Paper. I will send my hon. Friend a copy with full details. It is quite official. I am glad to say we have already sanctioned—and the price has been agreed —12,000 acres for housing, which is sufficient, at 10 per acre, for 120,000 houses, and we have site applications before us which relate to a further 18,000. At the present time, the plans with full details, specifications, tenders and so forth represent 17,720 houses, but, of course, with regard to a great many of them, the other schemes in the same places are largely a duplication. For instance, I was speaking this morning to an officer of an authority where we have sanctioned forty-two. They have 240. The other 200 or thereabouts would be practically a reproduction of the forty-two. So that, although the house plans number only 17,000 which have been sanctioned, as a matter of fact the plans they involve are many times that number. For instance, in the city of Sheffield, where they are now building 653 houses, the scheme they are preparing involves some thousands of houses, of which I have no doubt a large number will be a reproduction practically of the plans of those already sanctioned.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many have been commenced?
The authorities who have begun building are shown in the list which I have here. It is a pretty long list, and I will issue it this evening as a White Paper, but I may say Sheffield has a building scheme of 653 houses; Birmingham has started a section of seventy-four, and Bristol a section of seventy-one. That does not mean that all the seventy-one are actually being constructed. In some cases the foundations are being laid and in some they are doing the streets and so on. But that is the scheme upon which work has been begun. In some cases they have begun the building of houses; some are still in the stage of streets and drains. There are a large number of cases—twenty or thirty—where they have begun—Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol, Yarmouth, Wolverhampton, Ipswich, Norwich, Bolton, Bath, and Middlesborough. There is the statement of the number of places where they have begun work, although, as I say, it is not necessarily bricks in all cases, but it may be streets and so on. But they have actually begun work. I confidently hope that in the coming weeks that list will not go on one sheet of paper, but will require two or three sheets. We see a great disposition now to get on rapidly.
Here let me say a word as to the cost of the houses. We have had, naturally, to contemplate the serious cost to the community through the present high prices of building materials, labour, and everything else, together with the uncertainty. I have here a list of the first representative groups of tenders for 1,100 or 1,200 houses, which give the individual prices. I do not think I ought to issue the names—I do not think that would be desirable—but I would say that the first group of sixteen houses is £526 per house; the next group, of 262 houses, 675 per house. Of these twenty-nine schemes, as regards three the cost per house of the accepted tender is below £500; in eight it is between £500 and £600; in nine, between £600 and £700: in seven, between £700 and £800; and in one case it is more than £800.
This does not include the cost of the land: it is simply for the building of the house and the necessary work in connection therewith.
Would the right hon. Gentleman state definitely the cost of the five and six-roomed houses?
I will ask my hon. Friend if he can give details when he replies. I am afraid I have not the figures in my hand.
I think that is included, but not the cost of the land. The average price is somewhere about £700 in those cases. I find several lately where the price is higher than that, and we must add on to that the cost of the land and other expenses. Of the 12,000 acres already acquired, I propose in our next monthly statement we issue as a White Paper to give the cost of the land per acre, and I think hon. Members will find, I am glad to say, that in general, at all events, local authorities have been quite fairly met by those who own the land, and they have been able to acquire it at reasonable rates. Still, those figures must have the cost of the land added. The Committee will see, therefore, that the total cost of the house, according to these figures, will be very high, and we are, I notice, exposed to some criticism. I propose, therefore, to tell the Committee what steps we are taking to try to minimise expenditure and check extravagance, but I think we have got to make up our minds, under existing circumstances, that we must pay prices something like this in order to get them. It means a considerable loss to the Exchequer, even if in course of time, as I hope they will, the rents approximate, to the fair cost of construction, and you can write off the war enhancement. Even then it will mean that the houses which are provided under this scheme will be provided at great cost. I think the House and country have made up their minds they want the houses and must have them, and, in view of all the facts of our time, they must be had even at that cost.
My hon. Friend and myself have been accused of antagonising local authorities. We are, I am sure, taking the same course with local authorities that we are taking with the Committee. We are telling them, as I am telling the Committee, what the facts are. The legislation under which local authorities proceed at the present time is exceedingly cumbrous. It makes it very difficult to get on rapidly, and, until the new Bill is on the Statute Book, we shall not be able, in many directions, at all events, to speed up the work. When that Bill is on the Statute Book with regard to the acquisition of land, and, more than all, the acquisition of houses, which can be adjusted or altered, we ought to be able to make rapid progress, but at the present time we are quite held up by the lack of power. Lord Downham accused us of having antagonised local authorities, but local authorities recognise the facts as well as we do. If the Minister of Health is on his trial, be it so. What is on trial is whether the State, by its machinery, central and local, can succeed in meeting the emergency of the shortage of houses. I have no doubt myself we shall succeed, but the fact that our whole system of Government, both central and local, in this matter is on trial is not open to question. We have said so without any qualification, both to the local authorities and to ourselves. Whether in England, Scotland, or Wales, I think they have not been offended by our telling them.
My view is that they are doing their beat to speed up the work and to recognise the urgency of the situation, and that they are quite willing to co-operate with us, to receive our assistance, and to help in any way that is practicable and expedient. Remember, we have done a good deal; indeed, I may say we have already short-circuited procedure as experience seemed to require, and I hope we shall short-circuit it still further. As the Commissioners in the country gather experience they will be able to take greater and greater responsibility, I hope, in connection with this matter. In this connection I would like very respectfully to acknowledge how much assistance we are getting from the group of Members who are co-operating with me in their constituencies in respect to housing. I myself have often thought that we have not yet in this House devised a system whereby the Government can get as much help as they might do out of Members of Parliament. I know many Members who are anxious to be of help. They are men of great influence in their district, and it would be a point to employ them, or, where employed, to employ them still further, to help to work out more effective systems and schemes. At the present time, in consequence of this Bill, and this attitude, large numbers of Members have offered to give us their assistance in the different districts to endeavour to overcome the difficulties incident to the local situation and to speed up the work of providing the houses,
So fan as the supply of materials is concerned there is, thanks to the Ministry of Supply, no shortage before us in the near future. We have plenty of bricks on hand, timber, cement, and so on, for the first 100,000 houses, with a fair supply of slates. One of the greatest difficulties at the present time is in regard to the removal of the material to where it is wanted. The difficulty of railway transport in respect of many of our building materials is very great indeed. There is no shortage of bricks, for reasons I have stated, but the Ministry of Supply tell me that in their view the success of the rapid and cheap distribution of this material depends more and more upon the transport facilities rather than upon the efforts of the brick makers themselves. We have 300,000,000 bricks manufactured to our order at the present time.
A number of experts are assisting Sir James Carmichael, the head of the Department, in going into proposals for standardisation. A large number of orders are being provisionally placed for standard parts. It is quite impossible, however, to expect to satisfy those who arc good enough to send us their suggestions in such large numbers. We get a large number of suggestions of a very varied kind. Sometimes we are not able to accept them—I am afraid quite often— and thus disappointment is caused. But that is inevitable! Those in charge of this affair endeavour to make the best of it. For all this, I am quite sure that these gentlemen who are doing this work for me are very often very alive to the adoption of new methods to increase standardisation, and we propose to make as rapid progress as we can. We are preparing to issue to the local authorities a schedule giving the prices of these building materials and the nearest railway station, with a schedule, too, of parts—an illustrated catalogue, and so forth. I remember we were confronted, in placing contracts for millions and millions at the Ministry of Munitions, with difficulty, and one longed very eagerly sometimes that one knew what these things ought to cost. Then it was, as an hon. Member reminded us the other day, that I got together a number of gentlemen who created in the early days of the Ministry of Munitions a Costings Department which saved the country vast sums of money. I think such a Department ought to be a standing feature of our public Departments which are responsible for similar expenditure.
For this purpose I have borrowed from Lord Inverforth, Sir Gilbert Garnsey, the head of the costings branch of the Ministry of Munitions, chairman of our Finance Committee, to advise me as to the financial aspect of the housing schemes. We have appointed, on the advice of this body, a finance officer to deal with the new schemes, to keep some check upon the estimates, and so forth, and we have appointed an accounting officer for the whole of the accounts of the Ministry of Health. Precautions recommended to me by Sir G. Garnsey and his colleagues are already being acted upon. I am quite sure, though I will do my best to carry out the recommendations of these various experts, we cannot by any means escape a large burden of expenditure. We propose to begin at this early day and to get a financial system which will, at all events, minimise extravagance. I may, however, say in this connection if we are to wait until every imaginable precaution has been taken, and until the last point of criticism has been reached, before we tell the authorities to go ahead, we shall be a long time about the housing. Therefore we must take some risk. We are doing everything we can to speed up the provision of these financial checks, for the Government recognise the need for getting on with the work. We must, therefore, take some risks in view of the existing emergency.
I find that a good many authorities have been without the very necessary expert staffs. There has been a good deal of hesitation as to the expenditure to be incurred. I have ventured to remind them, as I have reminded myself, by setting up a considerable organisation and headquarter staff, and Commissioners, that we are setting out to do something quite beyond anything the State has hitherto taken up. We propose to build, under the direct or indirect supervision of the State, either by the local authorities, by public utility societies, or otherwise, vast numbers of houses in the near future. It is a task twenty or thirty times greater than that hitherto undertaken by the local authorities in this country. Therefore it cannot be done without adequate assistance. I do not think any apology is needed on my part for encouraging local authorities to obtain the services of surveyors, architects, and others: because, unless we have adequate and proper paid staffs to do this work, we shall neither do it rapidly nor successfully. We have always been told when we employ people—certainly Ministers have been told—when they have sanctioned schemes to employ persons, "You arc creating more jobs, "or words to that effect. I cannot understand how we can do this great work without an adequate staff. I would like to give the House just one illustration of the necessity for a proper and competent staff.
In the last batch of schemes which I have had before mo the valuation of the land is shown. For the sites required the price asked was £59,000. The price ultimately agreed upon, after the advice of our expert valuers had been obtained, was £39,000. On a few transactions alone like that we are able, of course, to more than save all the salaries of the valuers for twelve months, and this transaction was one occupying not a very long time. We had also, I remember, some time ago a case before us which was clearly one of a proposal to build excessively. It would have told heavily on the rates, and the cost to the State would have been high. We were criticised because I preferred to employ a surveyor at a considerable salary rather than to go on at a cheap rate. This surveyor had other cases of a similar kind where the authority was not quite accustomed to deal with matters of the sort. This particular authority had never built any houses. I only say this in justification of my urging the local authorities to employ readily, and even, if need be, at a considerable cost, the necessary staff. I do not think we shall be able effectively to deal with this housing problem unless we can make the fullest possible use of powers in regard to unsatisfactory dwellings. These are the subject of further powers contained in a Bill now before Parliament, but of which it would not be in order for me to speak. Subject to the limitations of the powers which at present exist, and which I am afraid render the matter somewhat slow, I think that if one considers the amount of organising work in various directions, construction, material, and so on, we have not done so badly in five months. In saying this I do not want to suggest, or admit, that we are getting on fast enough. I hope that it will be long—I am quite sure it will be—before we have reached the limit of labour available. It will be due to no fault of ours if rapid progress is not made. Already there is evidence of that. We are sparing ourselves no effort, nor, I believe, are the local authorities sparing themselves any effort. We are confronted with a task of enormous difficulty, very technical, the successful execution of which needs the goodwill both of employers and trade unions concerned as well as the expert professions involved. Some time ago on another occasion I stated that it would be necessary in my view that some novel methods in the building trade should be devised with the concurrence of all parties for getting building done more quickly and introducing what is called diluted, or some form of auxiliary labour into the trade. We are fast approaching the time when the skilled members of the building trade will be practically fully employed, and when that time comes we shall scarcely have reached the maximum effort of our housing programme. Therefore in the appeal which I am asking the Minister of Labour to make to those concerned in the building trade in order to discuss with him and all parties concerned in a friendly spirit the adoption of new methods for the furtherance of this housing scheme, I think we are asking for something which is essential if these houses are to be provided.
Let us remember that those who will inhabit those houses will include amongst others those engaged in the building trade itself. We shall have to face new methods in a great national cause, and I hope that just as we did it in the War, so people will be willing to undertake it for this purpose in time of peace. I do not think there is any constructive work before the country at the present time which goes so near the removal of causes of unrest, and so near to removing the first prime causes of physical disability which it is the duty of the Minister of Health especially to deal with, than the improvement of the vast number of houses which are at present thoroughly insanitary, and the clearing away of many more which are a blot on our civilisation. With the provision we are making for the working classes—and I use that phrase in no narrow or limited sense—of better dwelling and better surroundings I hope we are doing something of which our country may hereafter be proud.
The statement to which we have just listened I would describe as interesting but not satisfactory, and I refer more particularly to that portion of the statement dealing with housing. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the consummation at last of a union between the Local Government Board and the Ministry of Health. I do not know which is the predominant partner, but whatever the case may be, we are very glad indeed to know that no new Department has been created. The Minister of Health is the head of the Local Government Board, and I hope the new process will not be accompanied by any long measure of administrative indigestion, but I am certain that with good will and good habits, regular methods, a proper application of work, and adequate hours of leisure, one of the usual cures of indigestion, assimilation will in due time take place.
We were all shocked to hear that in six months this country had suffered the loss of 136,000 lives. Many of these people were pulling their full weight, and they included young men and women in full activity. Influenza laid its fatal hand amongst us and the losses have been very great. We were very glad to hear that the Minister of Health has taken what I may describe as a safe, as well as an efficient, measure for the necessary research work into the causes of the ravages of this fatal disease, and we hope and trust that under providence these skilled men may be guided to some method whereby we may face the future with more confidence than we have done in the past.
I would like to make a suggestion which occurred to me when listening to my right hon. Friend with regard to the Ministry of Health. We all realise at all times how important it is that the health of the community should be one of our first and most important cares. As we all realise, the ravages of the War have made that more important than ever. My suggestion is that the right hon. Gentleman should take into careful consideration the possibility of, at least once a month, as Minister of Health, making a statement to the House as to the condition of the national health. I am sure that even statistics would be very useful, so that we should all know how the body corporate is faring in this matter of health. I throw that out as a suggestion. It might be very useful, and it can certainly do no harm. It would stimulate the local authorities the country over, because, say what you like, the House of Commons is the great sounding board of the nation, and things said here even when there is only a sparse attendance of Members have an influential effect far beyond what many people often think. Debates might arise on these questions, and any suggestion might be of real use in spreading information and knowledge as to the best way to meet many of these all too many preventable diseases.
With regard to the statement made by my right hon. Friend about housing, I have already said that it was not satisfactory, and I am sorry it is not more satisfactory. As hon. Members know, the Armistice was declared last November, and we are now at the end of June, and it cannot be charged that the Government at any time were not backed up by a large amount of goodwill and help. There was scarcely a single word of criticism and no obstruction can be charged against any hon. Member; in fact, the criticism was intended to help. There has been a change in the Local Government Board, but, whatever that may be, the responsibility of the Government remains the same, and it is not unfair for us to bring to the notice of the public what we think the position is to-day, and indicate as well as we can what it ought to have been. Notwithstanding all the propaganda and all the preparations based on that propaganda, I think I am right in saying that the Ministry of Health has not official information that one single house has yet been completed.
I am speaking of completed and inhabited houses. I hope there are many, but have any been officially reported? Supposing there are hundreds what difference does it really make when you look at the vastness of this problem. I do not believe there has been one officially reported as completed. What were the hopes held out on this point.
The First Lord of the Admiralty, when he was President of the Local Government Board, said to a deputation:
To let our men come home from water-logged trenches to something little better than a pigsty would be criminal on the part of ourselves.
They have been coming from all the horrors and the ravages of the War back to what is little better than a pigstye. Not only this but thousands of them cannot even get a pigstye to get into. I gave some figures in this House supplied to me by a gentleman in the City of London, who has given a large amount of time and care to finding out the wants of demobilised soldiers, and they were very striking. I think an hon. Friend of mine gave the right hon. Gentleman some further information upon this point. Will the Government face the situation? My right hon. Friend knows the unrest that exists in the country, and this is one of the prime causes of it, and very largely it might have been minimized—I do not press it further than that—if this had been done. If there had been encouragement and liberty given to private enterprise to make a start now, I am sure a proposal of that kind would meet with the approval of a large number of Members of this House. My right hon. Friend said this afternoon it is not schemes we want but houses. We are face to face with this extraordinary position. My right hon. Friend said that he thought at no distant date the number of unemployed skilled men in the building trade would be fully employed. Am I right, or how far am I wrong, when I say that at the present moment there are at least from 35,000 to 40,000 men in the building trade drawing unemployment pay?
They are not skilled men in the building trade—the carpenters, the joiners, and the masons—they include all the labourers of various kinds. The number of skilled men in the building trade unemployed is quite insignificant.
I ought to have used another word. I do not mean the joiners and carpenters: I mean men whose natural avocation is in the building trade.
Assuming that the number of unemployed in the building trade is between 35,000 and 40,000, it would be all the men drawing unemployment pay who described themselves as "previously employed in the building trade." I do not want to cast any reflection upon them, but a large proportion of them probably are men who have never had continuous employment in the building trade, but are men who can be partially used in the trade. They are scattered all over the country—I believe the largest number in any one place would be five or six—and the process of moving a few from each town to any one centre would be a very unwise one. Practically, there is no large reservoir of unemployed men in the building trade.
I am glad to hear what my hon. Friend has stated. I invited the interruption because it is so very much better to have the correction made at once rather than in a subsequent speech, though I hope the House will hear my hon. Friend, who has exceptional knowledge of the matter. Still, there are thousands of men in the building trade who are unemployed, and I know, with regard to many great building firms, that there are men waiting the chance of employment. I know that from my own personal information. Obviously, it is quite time that something was done about this unemployment benefit. Whatever the causes, the building trade is prevented from getting to work on this urgent vital problem, and one cause, undoubtedly, is the want of adequate dealing with this unemployment benefit question. There can be no question that it requires immediate and drastic handling. We have got very nearly half through the time when my right hon. Friend anticipated getting 100,000 houses, and there are only a few score at the most completed, and none officially known. I am quite sure that the right method, where you can, is to encourage private enterprise. Let the men who want to work, work. Next, there should be the greatest amount of encouragement given to public utility societies. Their work may not be quite as finished as that of the local authorities, but I am quite sure that through them you will get delivery of a large number of houses if you give them plenty of encouragement and adequate opportunities. I admit that I speak with limited knowledge, but I really look to the development of the public utility societies and to their doing as much as many of the great corporations are doing.
Let us just visualise what happens in the case of an ordinary public body. It has a committee. The report of the committee goes back to the corporation as a whole. There are constant communications with its officials as to whether the Regulations of the Ministry of Health are being complied with. Men on the committee are always raising sterile, technical points, and there are adjournments to another day, leaving the business half done. The public utility societies work quite differently. Give them the utmost encouragement, and I am sure that we shall be astonished by the result. You will get very few local authorities to look at the question of the adaptation of existing buildings. That is not the way in which their lofty minds work. They want to make garden cities or to have town-planning schemes, and things of that kind. No one, however, can go about in any urban centre, great or small, without seeing houses which could be adapted, at any rate to meet a temporary need. I am sure my hon. Friend (Sir T. Walters), whose knowledge on this question is certainly as great as that of anybody in this House, will agree with me. If emergency committees got to work, and there were she same ideas abroad with regard to the provision of houses as there was about the delivery of shells, I am sure that something could be done. There is a great lack of user of existing facilities and a really lamentable waiting upon the development of schemes. My right hon. Friend made a reference to the Ministry of Munitions, and said that it was a long time before they got to work. He pleaded, and rightly pleaded, for patience and consideration while they were elaborating these plans. We know, and are thankful to recognise and remember, that in 1916 munitions began to pour in, but the old organisations were working very hard all the time and delivering very large amounts. Something must have been happening, because our men held on during that time. That illustration, therefore, fails, because things were being delivered, but no houses are being delivered. So far we have only had plans. If I can do anything to help to stimulate local authorities—it must of course be very little that I. can do—my humble services are entirely at the disposal of my right hon. Friend. Take whatever organisations are around you and let them get to work. Put no obstacle in the way of any organisation. Meanwhile, let your great plans go on for the delivery of the local authority and State houses. It will be splendid when they come, but meanwhile get anything which is fit and proper for human beings to live in delivered as soon as you can.
I must congratulate the Minister of Health on the very excellent statement which he has put before the House, especially on those questions which concern the general health of this great community. I should like to express my admiration for the extraordinarily efficient and excellent way in which the health services of this country treated our wounded who were sent from abroad. Under our present voluntary system of hospitals it would have been quite impossible to have dealt with the enormous number of wounded and sick who came from overseas, but, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, 75,000 beds were provided by the Poor Law institutions, and the House will agree that our greatest thanks and admiration are due to the splendid organisation of those Poor Law infirmaries which were every bit as well equipped and admirably managed as any hospitals we have in the country. I should like to say one word upon a very important subject, and I am sure the Minister of Health will appreciate the importance of it when I say that the disease of tuberculosis is killing about 60,000 people in this country every year. It has been estimated that 1,000,000 people in Great Britain are at the present time affected with tuberculosis. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that tuberculosis is a preventable disease which ought not to be here, and I feel certain that with the advent of the Ministry of Health a much greater effort will be made to stamp out a disease which is causing so much poverty and misery. I am not finding any fault with the present Government for the treatment of tuberculosis, but I do feel with the Minister that a much more comprehensive scheme should be started, that much more generous treatment of those affected with tuberculosis should be given, and that facilities should be provided, free of all charge, at the national expense for those people who are affected, and to whom treatment should be given in the early stages. The House will agree that too prevent tuberculosis is much better than to try to cure it, and any money which this House could provide I am certain would be willingly provided if we could rid ourselves of a disease which really has no business in our midst. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government should undertake some great educational campaign, and that a lecturer should be appointed to instruct the public that these diseases ought not to be here. It is a social question as well as a medical one, and I think the House will agree with me when I say that tuberculosis causes more poverty than all the other diseases put together.
Another point I want to bring before the House is the question of our milk supply. Everyone agrees that the milk supply is as unsatisfactory as it is possible to be. Milk, in addition to various other contaminations, has been found to contain in about 20 per cent. of the samples submitted the germs of tuberculosis. This disease is conveyed to children, and in them you have the disease developed at the very beginning of their lives. What is the good of permitting children to be affected by tuberculosis when by the simple process of the control of the milk supply the disease could be eradicated? I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government should take complete control of the milk supply, and see that tuberculous dairy cows are not used for supplying milk for the people. I should like to suggest also to the right hon. Gentleman that, as a means of preventing disease, he should take his courage in both hands and set up a great National Institute of Health on similar lines to the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Rockefeller Institute in America. It would be well worth while spending millions of pounds in prevention rather than in cure. I am quite certain that this House would readily agree to the Government setting up a great national institute of that kind, where the very best scientific men in the country could work, and investigate the causes of the diseases by which we are afflicted. Another thing which I specially want to emphasise here is that the health of Great Britain and Ireland is in a very unsatisfactory condition. The Minister of Health has entered upon his duties at a very critical time. Before the War the health of the people was unsatisfactory, but the devastations and losses of war have, increased ill-health most acutely. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman appreciates the difficulties of the problem with which he is faced. He has a very difficult task before him, the task of improving the general health. I am perfectly certain he is the right man to undertake the work, and that by coordinating all the big Government Departments in one great endeavour to improve the general health he will be able to do much. I believe that the House will grant the money necessary for the purpose. The investigation of disease involves expenditure of an enormous amount of money, but I am confident that that money will be freely given, provided the right hon. Gentleman has the necessary facilities for stamping out the disease.
I would remind the hon. Member that it is not in order in Supply to discuss matters which require legislation.
I am very sorry that I have transgressed the Rules of the House. I shall learn very soon not to do that. But I have nothing further to say except to support the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, and to repeat my confidence that the House will willingly supply the necessary finance for the splendid work ho has in hand.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition observed that the housing question was in a profoundly unsatisfactory position. To a certain extent I agree with him. It is unsatisfactory. The summer is flitting by, and so many local authorities have not yet taken any effective action. But for that I do not think it possible to blame the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Vote, and who is now the Minister of Health. I am satisfied, on the contrary, that since he has held office he has applied whip and spur, and he is still doing his very best. If there is any blame to be attached to anyone I think it is to the House of Commons—not only this House, but the last. There was very great levity on this subject towards the end of the last Parliament. Many Members took not the slightest interest in the question, and even at the beginning of this Session the Government were allowed to wait six or seven weeks before they introduced their scheme. I think we must take blame to ourselves in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman opposite told us the proper thing was to encourage public utility societies and private enterprise. It is all very well for him to say that now, but my recollection goes back some considerable time, and I can remember a period when no attempt was made by the party he leads to encourage private enterprise, and, indeed, any proposal to do that met with strenuous opposition from them.
That is certainly not correct. Ever since these Debates have been taking place in the House I have been an upholder of the development of public utility societies.
If I misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman I am sorry. My recollection goes back to the last Parliament. I do not, however, wish to take up more time with regard to the housing question. I want to say something about tuberculosis. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board stated that there could be no improvement in this question until there was a general improvement in the health of the country. If we are to wait until there is such a general improvement in the health of the country, if we are to wait until the sanatorium benefits have reduced the amount of tuberculosis in the country, I am afraid we shall have to wait a very long time. I complain that the Government is not doing what it should do to improve the very unsatisfactory treatment which we are affording to the discharged soldiers who are suffering from tuberculosis. Let me give a typical instance. The East Midlands Disablement Committee has formulated a definite scheme. It came to the conclusion that the only way to treat tuberculous discharged soldiers is by concurrent training, and for that they have a definite scheme, and they have their eye upon a definite place which they wish to acquire. They came up to London to see the Pensions Minister, who, however, handed them over to the Local Government Board. They went to the Local Government Board, and were told that that body could do nothing, because there was a Committee inquiring into the subject. It is very wrong to put the attacking of this important subject off simply because there is a Committee inquiring into it. Here you have the East Midlands Disablement Committee with a definite scheme. Surely we know enough about this subject to go forward and encourage local committees where they have definite schemes, and to give them grants. What are we waiting for? We know perfectly well that the sanatorium benefit by itself is perfectly useless. It is all very well for persons well to do, but to the poor man who has to go back to crowded surroundings and insanitary homes it is of very little use. Where you graft on to the sanatorium benefit a system whereby training and treatment can be given in pleasant and healthful surroundings, where you can give a person work at his own trade or in an allied trade, under such circumstances that is the very best treatment of tuberculosis that has been discovered up to the present, and I hope that the Local Government Board will somehow or another manage to get from the Treasury permission to give grants to local committees when they ask for assistance for their schemes.
The next thing I want to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend is the inadequacy of the grants given to widows and children on out-relief. There was a Debate on this subject at the beginning of the Session, and on all sides there was universal condemnation of the system whereby miserable doles were given to widows and children on the ground that it was really only adding to unemployment, misery and destitution in the country. It is a system whereby the wretched mother works herself to death, and, while she is doing that, with these miserable doles, she cannot give her children adequate nourishment. The Leader of the Opposition said that this House of Commons, however empty and however dull the Debates might be, did serve as a sounding board for the nation. I am thankful to say that our Debate on that occasion has done a considerable amount of good, because boards of guardians have—and I am thankful for it, I do not know whether or not it is a deathbed repentance—they have at all events effected a very great improvement in the out-relief grants to women and children. I have here instances where women are now given 10s. a week, where with one child they get 16s. 6d. per week, and with two children 21s. In a place in the North of England a board of guardians is now giving 8s. per head. But I desire to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's notice the fact that there are still boards of guardians who are in this respect scandalously and shamelessly neglecting their duty. I have the case of a board in the South-East of England whose out-relief averages, for woman and child, only 3s. 4½d.per week. I have another instance in the West of England where in 1914 the out-relief to widows and children was Is. 7d., and in September, 1918, it had risen to 2s. 9d. per person, and what is more amazing is that the inspector actually congratulated the board of guardians, and said that 2s. 9d. per week adequately represented the cost of living in the country. Is there any means of bringing pressure to bear on these backward boards of guardians to cease this system of the semi-starvation of women and children. I am told that the Local Government Board is conducting an investigation into the system of out-relief. There is a very strong feeling in the country that that investigation should be conducted only by women inspectors. A question was asked of the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, and the reply was given that the investigation was being conducted only by women. There is evidence to prove that it is not so. The investigation in some instances is being conducted by the general inspectors.
That is plainly wrong, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees that it is wrong. An investigation of that character is of a somewhat intimate kind; it has to go into the woman's physical condition, her underclothing, her bed clothing, and all that kind of thing. There is one more subject I would like to bring to my right hon. Friend's attention, that is the increase in the number of children in the workhouse. I can remember the Debates on the Local Government Board Vote for a considerable number of years, and on every occasion this subject has been brought forward. The President of the Local Government Board has promised that no time should be lost in bringing the children out of the workhouse. Notwithstanding that fact, it is deplorable to see that there is actually an increase for last year in the number of children in the workhouse. Whereas in December, 1917, there were 9,932, in December, 1918, there were 10,389. Of course it is only the unprogressive boards who still keep their children in the workhouse. That makes it all the harder on the children, because one may be pretty certain that where the board is unprogressive there the conditions of the children are worse. What is to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from fixing a date—a date has already been fixed, but no notice has been taken of it—for telling boards of guardians that on that date they must have the children out of the workhouse. I feel very strongly upon this question, and for a long time the House has felt strongly upon it. I am sure the President will be giving expression to the strong humanitarian instincts of this House if he does take my suggestion and tells the boards of guardians that on such a date they must have the children out of the workhouse.
Everyone who has seen the right hon. Gentleman at work on the Housing Bill Committee and on the Ministry of Health Committee has no doubt as to the sincerity and keenness with which he has attacked the subject of housing and all the other health questions. He is deserving of a good deal of sympathy, because when he came into power he was the inheritor of a scheme that was foredoomed to failure. Like most Ministers, he had some hesitation in immediately throwing over that scheme. The scheme whch Lord Downham initiated was one which, for better for worse, did not attract the local authorities. Under that scheme 75per cent. of the expenditure on housing was guaranteed by the Government. The 75 per cent. did not limit the actual amount which the local body would have to spend. It meant that the remaining 25 per cent. might represent ½d. or 5d. in the £. The average local council was speculating as to what it really meant. They were so terrified that this 25 per cent. might mean 1d., 5d., or even 6d. in the £ on the rates that they did nothing. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman had the courage to throw over that scheme and adopt one which limited the definite cost to each local authority to a penny rate. That has given them the heart to come forward with schemes, which, although some what tardy and belated, and in some cases extremely slow, are nevertheless going to do something for England in the next six or nine months. Unfortunately, my own constituency is one in which every day of my life I am assailed by discharge soldiers demanding the houses they were promised. I am not unreasonable. I know the enormous difficulties. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has had to start from scratch, and that he cannot build houses in the same way as mushrooms grow. You have to provide materials and labour and get the schemes through. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain if the houses were jerrybuilt. He must take moderate care, and that he is taking. Undoubtedly we have to face enormous cost. The increased cost of labour and of material will make the cost of houses enormous compared to what it has been in the past. Yet I do not hesitate to say that there is no greater economy for the nation than to spend money on adequate housing. The cost to the nation of bad housing is a harvest of tuberculous disease, and anæmic children, who sometimes become charges on the State. Very often before full manhood or womanhood is attained such persons have become sickly and unable to do a full day's work. In the end it is economy to spend money on houses.
I trust there will be no false economy in making adequate provision for discharged soldiers who are tuberculous. Only two days ago I visited a young discharged soldier within a few hundred yards of this House. He was in an advanced stage of the disease and in a highly infective state. He was lying in the room where the whole family had to have their meals. From the point of view of economy alone it is worth almost any money to take that young man away from that home where he is infecting the rest of the family and, perhaps, preparing the way for a series of tubercular men and women who are going to find their way into our sanatoria and hospitals. No expenditure is too great in the endeavour to secure that there shall be adequate provision for the reception of tuberculous soldiers. Another point with which I believe the right hon. Gentleman has full sympathy, but for which he has not made adequate provision, is the question of publicity. I can quite understand that the hands of the Department are full and that it does not see its way to launch a large campaign of publicity, but there are few Departments of the Ministry of Health to which I attach so much importance in the future as the Publicity Department. We have learned during the War of the enormous work that can be done by advertising. We called our people to enlist by putting advertisements on every notice board. We taught them to invest in War Loan by advertising, and some of us who have been elected have not been unmindful of the advantages of advertising also. If there is much to be done in the way of education it is not going to be done by a limited number of circulars, but by bold advertising with posters, which, in a few lines, give the salient points connected with disease, and which point out the advantages of air, water, and cleanliness. Perhaps the most effectual way would be to have illustrations of large photographs of some of the germs of disease, which would be sufficiently horrifying to make the people realise what they are losing by want of air and want of cleanliness. I am quite sure that you could educate an enormous number of people if they had constantly before their eyes striking advertisements and if you did not mind issuing them by the million. We did issue by the million advertisements to secure investments in War Loan. You should be equally generous in your literature on a matter which is as important to the nation as even War Loan.
There should be a series of leaflets, not drawn up in a technical way, but with short lines and striking headlines. In the course of ten or fifteen years that would educate the nation in health matters in a way in which it has not been educated before. We have to deal with all health matters, with very little regard to what we called economy in the past. We have to face that question particularly in regard to the employment of the necessary staff. The right hon. Gentleman hinted that there would be a lack of technical advisers and medical staff in the future. I believe that in the past we have not recognised the proper worth to the nation of the trained medical adviser, the expert, and the man who gives his life to research. We have underpaid the nurse, and from the nurse upwards there is not a sufficient number of technical advisers. It is a travesty of government and of the nation's appreciation of the real needs that a man by singing a comic song can get in a month as much as a great physician can get in twelve month. We have not yet appreciated what are the most valuable things. One of the first things we have to do is to pay our tuberculosis officers at a proper rate to enable the work to become a profession to which a man can give his life at an adequate rate of pay. We could make the pay of the nurses better, and especially the pay of the research department, so that we shall attract the best young men and women into matters of this kind. I am sure the House is beginning to realise the disastrous payment we have had to make for our neglect of health in the past. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend should be the first Minister of Health, for whatever I may think of him in connection with some subjects I am sure that his desire is that England in the future shall have the health service she has not had in the past. I hope we shall never have to fight again, and especially that we shall never see hundreds of thousands of men discarded as useless, not through their own fault, but owing to the nation's neglect of those things that were necessary for the health of the nation.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) that the provision of houses so long promised is of the utmost importance. There is no question of its supreme importance at the present moment. But it is no use the right hon. Gentleman or members of this Committee or the country at large imagining that these is any short cut to the solution of the present housing shortage. We may pass Bills in this House, we may issue regulations, appoint inspectors, architects, commissioners, and all the rest of it, but, although those are things we have got to do, they do not immediately solve the housing question. You have a problem before you that will need all kind of emergency measures, some of them most drastic. All sorts of new policies will have to be devised, and every kind of ingenuity will have to be exercised in the Department and by those interested if we are going to get the houses. I may put it in a few words. You want to build a large number of houses, and it pays no one to build them. That is the proposition. You talk about private enterprise and about the obstacles in the way of private enterprise. What obstacles are in the way? Who is preventing anybody from building? Do hon. Members know any builder who wants to build, and can they tell me of any official or any Department who wants to stop him? If they can, I will get that official by the throat by the morning. No one is standing in the way. Any people who are prepared to build can have all the resources and all the facilities at the disposal of the State if they like to commence to build to-morrow. But if they did commence to build tomorrow they would build something on which they would lose a lot of money. They would build something on which they would not get even a 2 per cent. return for their money.
That is the proposition we are up against, and we shall never solve the housing question, we shall never get the houses that people want until that difficulty has been bridged over and private enterprise can obtain an economic rent and the ordinary laws of supply and demand get to work. That is the only solution of the housing question, and if my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) or the Chief Whips can devise some method by which you can, in fact, get private enterprise to work again at an economic rent, you will not want a Housing Department or Commissioners or Government architects or anyone else. The thing will right itself. We have an emergency problem to deal with. How are we dealing with it? We have to look round and say, "If private enterprise will not do it and we must have the houses, who is to do it?" Obviously, the State. Do those who object to the method of getting the local authorities to do the work wish the State to set to work to build the houses? if anyone will definitely make the proposition that some Department of the State should set to work to build a million houses and set up a gigantic organisation of that kind, let them get up and show how it can be done. If the State is not to do it directly it must do it indirectly. How else can the State work indirectly except through the local authorities? By a process of ordinary reasoning you bring yourself to that position. The State must carry out the emergency housing principally through the local authorities. How are they to do that? By giving the local authorities, if possible, assistance, by doing all they can to stimulate them, if necessary, and, finally, to do more than stimulate them—to compel them. The only form of legitimate criticism that we can bring to bear upon the Department now is this: Have you done in the past and are you in the present doing everything you can to persuade and even to compel the local authorities to carry out this emergency matter?
I wish we had commenced to do the thing twelve months before we did. We ought to have been getting all these ar- rangements made at the beginning of last year, but we did not do it, and the proposition before us now is, How can we get the local authorities, not simply to prepare plans, but to build houses and deliver the goods? In order to achieve that we shall have to put forth much more vigorous efforts than we have done up to the present. A great deal of work is being done by the local authorities. A large number of them have not only bought land, but are preparing schemes and letting contracts. I am glad to say Sheffield was the first to begin to lay bricks. It always leads the van in everything, even in its Parlimentary representatives, and if other Members would do what I did at Sheffield and get their towns to set to work, that would be very profitable. If every man in the House who gets up and criticises the procedure of the Department would go home for a week and sit in constant session with his local authority, and get it to prepare plans and invite contracts and get schemes, he would be doing good service. If any man says he cannot get the Department to consent, I will throw him out a challenge. Let him bring up to London a scheme, carefully prepared by competent people, and bring me resolutions and the necessary authority from his council, and I will go with him to the Board and between us we will compel the authorities here to approve of them. I know it can be done, because I have done it already. This is the proposition we are up against—getting the local authorities actually to work with the least possible delay. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will frown on me, but I think if he were to set to work now and himself appoint in every part of the country some co-opted members to local authorities who are not getting on with housing schemes, he would be performing useful work. If any authority whose housing committee is so slack and so incompetent that it will not get a scheme within the next few weeks, I suggest that the Minister should send someone—let him send me if he cannot send anyone else—to the district, and I will pick half a dozen men. Let them be co-opted and put on the local authority, and let them get a scheme through, if no one else will. For the moment local authorities are the only people to do it. The only way to get it done is to see that each local authority, without loss of time and without red tape, gets its scheme out invites tenders, and starts to work to build. I see no reason why in the next three months every local authority in the country should not have a scheme approved and tenders accepted.
My right hon. Friend who criticised wanted to know how many houses were actually finished. If I have a million houses to build the thing I am after is not getting a hundred done in the next two or three weeks, but to take care to spend my time in setting to work people to build not a hundred, but two or three hundred thousand, and it is far better to see that the preliminary stages are commenced for a large number than to worry yourself about getting one authority to prepare small schemes. You must get up something with a momentum about it. You must get a number of authorities at work and a number of people building and then you will get a number of houses. I have worried Sir James Carmichael almost to death from time to time. I have no more right to go in than any other Member of the House. Because I once presided over a Housing Committee, there is no reason why I should go in and argue with the officials of the Board. Still I do it, and they seem quite pleased to see me. I have been in there a great many times, and I have seen the whole details of the work, and I believe they are going to deliver the goods. I believe local authorities who are in earnest will get a large programme of building work carried on quickly, but there are a large number of local authorities who are not in earnest, and a number of men who will not get to work, and I do not think the Minister can get the houses unless those local authorities are made to wake up, either by gentle means or by means the reverse of gentle. I am speaking to the country at large when I say private enterprise cannot and will not do it at present, and local authorities must do it, and unless every local authority sets to work within the next few weeks we shall have-such a crisis in housing matters as will aggravate the condition of people's minds almost to the verge of revolution. Moral blame will attach to those who have any influence with local authorities if they do not do their utmost to stir them up.
Public utility societies are a splendid method of getting houses. I have a fairly large professional clientéle, the result of a practice I used to have, and I have been persuading everyone I have any influence with, who has a large business, to form a public utility society, and I have been spending all my leisure time in helping them to form them, and I believe that movement is only in its infancy. I want public utility societies not only for employers, but for workmen's clubs and for groups of men in various avocations in life. I want them to form these clubs all over the country—trade unions, co-operative societies, men's meetings, brotherhoods and sisterhoods to form them. If those who have not much influence with local authorities could get their constituents or their workpeople or anyone else they know in a district where they are short of houses to form these public utility societies—and if no one else will form them I will; my services are without any kind of charge and are entirely at their disposal—you can then create the machinery that ought to produce 50,000 houses before the end of the year. But do not make any mistake about it. There is not a short cut to it. There is no ready solution. There is no cut-and-dried scheme which will get all the houses you want—neither Liberals, Tories nor Coalition, nor anyone else's suggestion. It is only by the most laborious, patient and continuous effort in every direction that you will get, not only an adequate housing scheme, but the real building of the houses.
I am sure anything my hon. Friend says about houses has considerable force and influence with members of the Committee in view of the very special experience he has had from time to time on this matter, in addition to his own personal experience. But while it is true to say that unless you urge local authorities and public utility societies to get active you will not have 50,000 houses by the end of the year, that does not solve the very large immediate problem to which, in my view, the Government is not addressing its mind as it might do. And even if you finally get all you want in the next couple of years of new houses built so many to the acre, I am not the least sure that the people who are going to occupy those houses are the people you are trying to find houses for, and that you will not have, as you have had always in connection with every scheme of that nature, migration of people from one class of house to a better class of house, and the people who really want houses scrambling for those that remain. I had reported to me the other day a new housing scheme in one of the London Metropolitan areas. It is a very ambitious scheme in many ways. The houses are being laid out very few to the acre and of very considerable size, and I know people in that neighbourhood who are at present paying very much larger rents and are in a very much better social position who are staking out their claims for these new houses that are going to be built, though they themselves reside in perfectly excellent houses with every kind of sanitary accommodation. So, after all, this Committee must not run away with the idea that, however many housing schemes we may get our local authorities to put through, we are really after all doing more than touching the fringe of a very large subject. My hon. Friend threw out a perfectly friendly challenge, whether anyone could devise a scheme which would supply houses quickly. When he said that I dare say he had at the back of his mind the fact that in a debate of this kind we are not entitled to discuss matters which require legislation. Otherwise it would have been perfectly easy to make a fairly competent reply, because there is certain legislation which, if passed, would contribute more in a single month to the building of houses than all the schemes which have ever been prepared by any local authority in any part of the country. One reason why you cannot get good and sufficient houses depends very largely upon systems which are still in existence and which this House has not attempted yet with success to overthrow.
I want to say a few words about the provision made by the Local Government Board of accommodation for tuberculosis cases. I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned 3,300 extra beds. I should like him to say a little more on that point, particularly in view of the complaint that is common knowledge to every Member with regard to the impossibility in many cases of discharged soldiers affected by tuberculosis getting into a sanatorium or any other kind of treatment. It has been mentioned in this House that although it was illegal to accept a man for the Army if he was suffering from tuberculosis, particularly if he had been certified by his medical officer as tubercular, that up to the Armistice there had been between 50,000 and 60,000 men discharged from the Army and Navy suffering from tuberculosis, meaning a very large addition to the number of men on the panel through the national health insurance requiring this treatment. I am perfectly certain that every one of us is agreed that provision should be made for such men, and I should have liked to hear from my right hon. Friend—perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with it when he replies—how far the new Ministry of Health proposes to deal with that matter, and how far they are prepared to go in furnishing more and better accommodation for the treatment of these men. It is a pressing subject. If we examine the figures of death rates from consumption we shall find the most remarkable figures in connection with the national health insurance since they began their operation. Everyone will be appalled at the enormous cost in money to the nation in the treatment of those cases, and the very poor, inadequate and meagre results that have been achieved. I am sure my right hon. Friend, and particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, who is interested very much in this question, will give it his progressive attention.
The chief point I want to raise is the question as to whether the Local Government Board cannot do something in connection with the immediate problem of housing without waiting for the schemes of the housing committees. The problem is expressed quite briefly in letters written by the wives of discharged men, and by discharged men themselves. I have many letters, but I will only give one or two examples as affecting not only London but all parts of the country. Here is a letter from a woman:
My husband works at Woolwich Arsenal. He was not fit for the Army. My son is in Egypt. We are in two rooms and I have twelve children. The landlord gave us notice last November and since then I have walked for miles but cannot get a house. I almost smuggle my children in and out as my landlord does not know how many I have got. We are three storeys high, and I have to carry the water up and down and I have no convenience whatever. Nine of my children are under fourteen years of age.
Here is another letter:
I am the wife of a demobilised soldier. I was obliged to give up my little house and go home to my mother and father. My husband had his heel blown away and has two silver screws in it, but as we cannot get a house he has to walk over half an hour each night and morning before he gets to the tram. When you try for a house they say 'It is sold,' or 'Have you any children?' and as I have three little ones I cannot get any sort of place. There are five of us now in one room.
A third letter is from a man:
I was taken a prisoner of war on the 20th October, 1914. I have a wife and four children and have to live in one room. Our eldest daughter is fourteen years of age, and I think it is a disgrace to humanity to have her sleep in the one room with me.
My right hon. Friend probably knows the material of these letters as well as I do, and probably every other Member is familiar with similar cases; therefore, I will not weary the Committee by giving more examples. None of the schemes that are being provided by the local authorities give any immediate provision for these conditions. We are celebrating in this country to-day the signing of Peace, yet in the country 400,000 discharged men, at least, are without work and well over 100,000 of their families are without real and decent housing accommodation. You cannot celebrate Peace with these kind of things in your mind. There is no use in this House blinking the facts. There is no use in this House going through its political life in blinkers. In London the situation is acute, and I want to ask my right Friend whether the Local Government Board cannot do something immediately without waiting for the schemes of the Committees to deal with this immediate and pressing problem themselves. Let me make a few suggestions which I think could be carried through. The first suggestion is that the Government should release all the houses that they hold, have them cleansed and place them at the service of soldiers and their families for at any rate a minimum period of two years.
Does the hon. Member mean the houses occupied by Government Staffs and Departments?
Yes. In the neighbourhood where I reside there is a long row of houses which were occupied for a very long time by members of the Army Service-Corps waiting for demobilisation. If the War Office had had any sense they would have demobilised them months ago, but for six months they were hobbling about the street, no use to anybody and a nuisance to themselves. These houses are unoccupied. They are not particularly clean as a reult of being unoccupied, and at the mercy of everybody. An ordinary tenant who is looking for a house is not likely to take that kind of house. They require cleaning and painting to make them habitable for a certain social standard; but the Government could go in with the authority which they have or which they could easily take. They have taken all kinds of authority during the War for saving life and this is another form of saving life. Let the Government go into these streets, take over these houses and turn them into service for the families of these soldiers, many of whom have lost their houses because they went to the War. Let them fix a minimum time limit and I am certain that by so doing you would provide accommodation for a large section of the community in London. My second suggestion is that the Government should requisition all houses that owners refuse to let and give soldiers and their families, again the first preference. There are a great many of these. There is any amount of property in London that cannot be let.
If the hon. Member will come down and stay a night with me I will show him to-morrow morning.
Will the hon. Member explain what power the Local Government Board has, without legislation, to requisition houses?
I know that this can be done without legislation. It could be done by Regulation under the authority of the Local Government Board. They still have powers under the Defence of the Realm Act, which is not extinct. Greater powers have been taken by the Local Government Board to do much less than this, and I suggest that for the immediate problem before us they should take powers and achieve the things which I am suggesting.
I think the hon. Member had better not proceed with that line of argument.
We have sought legal opinion on this very point, and we are advised that we have no power under the Defence of the Realm Regulations to do what the hon. Member suggests..
It is curious that when you seek legal opinion upon that point you are told that you cannot do it. You have been able to do all sorts of things before, and how, in the name of common sense, you have not power to do it now I cannot understand. It is strange to me how legal opinion changes. It cannot have changed since the signing of Peace. It is a very poor opinion.
That may be so, but it is clear now that the Local Government Board have not the power. Therefore, I must rule that line of argument out of order.
I was not intending to pursue the subject, but I must express my opinion as to the poorness of the legal opinion that the Local Government Board cannot do, without legislation, a thing which is perfectly obvious to any man should be done. In any case, the Housing Bill which is now going through the House of Lords will enable my right hon. Friend to take these powers.
Therefore, I will hand on to my right hon. Friend the remainder of my suggestions with great pleasure, so that they may be taken up. Although the forms of the House prevent one pursuing the subject, the suggestions are worth something from the point of view of dealing with the immediate problem. I should like to know precisely what is to happen to the Local Government Board in its relations to the Ministry of Health. Is the staff to be changed in any way? Are the permanent officials of the Local Government Board simply being transferred to the Ministry of Health, or, if not, which of the permanent officials of the Local Government Board are going to the Ministry of Health, and which are going elsewhere? What division is going to be made in the functions of the Local Government Board and the Ministry of Health? Is a hard-and-fast line to be drawn in the Ministry of Health or is there to be a margin in which the Departments overlap? I should like to know where we are to raise questions in future on the various Votes? There is only one other point which I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was the distinction he drew between the mortality in the recent epidemic of influenza and the present mortality in the case of rabies. Can my right hon. Friend tell us how far his Department and his experts have made investigations into the ravages of influenza? It always appeared to me that a recurrent disease of that kind, which has produced such disastrous results, claims the most serious attention, not only of medical men, but of the Government itself. I do not know whether the epidemic which was described as influenza, from which we in this country have suffered severely, and from which other countries of Europe have also suffered severely, was really influenza or something specifically arising out of the War. If my right hon. Friend could tell us whether anything has been done in the way of research in that direction, it would be extremely useful, because probably next to child mortality the mortality from influenza, which is a recurring epidemic, has become one of the worst plagues in the country.
I desire to say a few words on the question of tuberculous soldiers. I have the honour to be the acting-chairman of the Committee to which reference has been made. It has been suggested that delay has been caused by the setting up of this Committee. I hope that that is not so. But if it has been so, it will not be caused any longer, because the Report, I think, will be out of our hands this week or early next week, and I hope that those to whom it is addressed will take our recommendations to heart, and put them into operation as soon as possible, and I hope that we shall have an early opportunity of discussing them in this House. No one can deny the urgency of the problem, so far as the soldier afflicted with tuberculosis is concerned. That urgency distinguishes it from the ordinary problem of tuberculosis for this reason: We all feel for patriotic reasons that any able-bodied man who has unfortunately caught tuberculosis in the trenches in defence of the country has a special claim upon the help of the community. Many of those oases, unfortunately, are not diagnosed sufficiently at the time, and the early stages of tuberculosis, as we all know, are the most curative. The matter should be taken in hand at once, and such soldiers would have by means of the State provision the help of the pensions, which you have not got in case of the ordinary civil population.
An hon. Member has referred to the difficulty about sanatorium accommodation. No one can deny that there has been a lack of sanatorium accommodation for tuberculous soldiers. At the same time it is necessary to bear in mind the circum- stances in which that lack of accommodation arose. There were in course of construction when the War started sanatoria which had immediately to be stopped. There was hospital accommodation which had to be commandeered by the War Office and while I admit as freely as anyone the cases in which sanatorium accommodation has been deficient I do think we have to bear in mind the circumstances in which that deficiency arose, and certainly in some cases that deficiency was inevitable. But I am glad to say that it is now being rectified, so far as I have any means of knowing, as fast as possible. I do not want to anticipate what the Committee of which I have the honour to be chairman will have to say on that subject, and therefore I do not want to go into the matter in more detail. But I do want to assure the Committee, that while the deficiency certainly arose and has been considerable it has been due largely to causes produced by the War itself, and as far as I can ascertain it is being rectified very rapidly. The figure of 70,000 tuberculous soldiers has been mentioned. The figure given to us is not so large as that and I hope therefore that possibly the mattter is overstated.
With regard to what was said by the Noble Lord as to treatment, training, and the development of curative work in sanatoria, everybody who has studied this problem will agree entirely. What I think is wanted even more than that, particularly in the case of the tuberculous soldier, is a further step by the State. We often hear it said that work on farms is the ideal thing for those who are suffering from tuberculosis. I do not believe it. Agricultural work is of all kinds very often the hardest, and not work for those suffering from tuberculosis, even when they have got back to a reasonable standard of health. What we want is something more than that, something more than mere training and treatment in sanatoria. We want to look forward to what is to happen to the soldier. Suppose he has been put in a sanatorium and has had curative treatment and curative training, suppose he has learned to exercise himself by means of light gardening, etc., and that he has got back to a certain standard of health, what is to be his future? This is a question which the House will have to consider at a very early date. Is he to go back to his old surroundings, his insanitary housing, and his unsatisfactory conditions generally? If so, the help which he has obtained will be lost, and he will lose all that he has gained. What is to happen to the man after he has gone through the sanatorium?
In the first place, you have got to get the good will of the men themselves. That is the great problem. Are they willing to do the best they can, not only to secure their own health, but to secure the health of their families? Are they willing to give up a certain amount of the amenities of life to come and reside in a village community under the best possible health conditions with some medical supervision and so on? Because, if they are, we will see to it that some such provision is made for them. That is not a mere dream. It has already been attempted at sanatoria, such as the famous sanatorium near Cambridge. That was an ordinary sanatorium to start with. But, in addition, the far-sighted committee who run that sanatorium have bought up all the cottages in the village, and when a man has passed through the sanatoria and got up to a certain standard of health he is placed in one of those cottages. His family is brought to that cottage. He is started in various kinds of village industries, whether light agricultural work, market gardening, poultry-keeping, carpentry, or even tailoring or boot-making, and so on, all under the best possible conditions of health, with open windows, and all carried on under medical supervision. If we make some arrangement of that kind I believe it will be the best way of dealing with the problem. I hope that the Committee will forgive me for getting away a little bit from the point of criticism that has been raised, but I am glad to take this opportunity of saying something of the plans which, in ray view, are the only plans that are likely to deal with this problem of the tuberculous soldier in a proper manner. But that can only be carried through with the help of the man himself. I am glad to hear from various centres that the goodwill of the men had been allowed, and if we can carry them with us I believe that there is a great future for a scheme of this kind.
The subject which we are discussing this afternoon is one of great importance. It is one which concerns the welfare not only of a large section of the community of the present period but also of the community that is to come. I welcome and support with all the power of which I am capable the proper consideration that its to be extended to those wounded men who are coming back and to those who are receiving the legacy of the fight which has been fought and of the work that they have done for us. We must also remember the heroes of the great industrial warfare, and not forget, either, the little children who have been the shuttlecock between four or five or six Departments of this great country. We remember also the treatment of those men and women who have stayed at home and have had to live so largely on foods which were diluted and adulterated, and in the majority of cases were deficient in substances so vitally essential in these days of speed, when the very utmost of nerve is required, even in the ordinary walks of life. Therefore, there is. I consider, the very proper question of dealing with all these matters, and I suggest that it is vitally essential that the necessary work should be taken into consideration not only by the municipalities but also by the new Ministry of Health. Full attention should be given by the municipalities and the local medical officers of health to these questions, now that peace has been signed, so that it shall be possible to build up the stamina of the people, who at present in our great industrial centres work under conditions which are not always the best, and that adequate steps shall be taken to deal with the care of the children. I assert that little or nothing has been said about the children. It has been under the consideration of the Minister of Education and it has been under other Departments, but I know to-day by my connection with the special schools committees of different sections of our great industrial centres that there is not 10 per cent. accommodation for all these poor little ones, who should receive special medical care. I suggest that in the new Ministry this question should have dominating consideration.
I am perfectly aware that no special qualification is required to become a critic. I therefore tender to the hon. Member who represents the Ministry of Health one or two suggestions. There should be suggestions of an educational character to the municipal authorities. There should also be a reclamation of powers which are now lying dormant on the Statute Book. The Ministry of Health has power to guide the physical recreation, culture and treatment of the people. When I recall the method and type of recreation and amusement in our great industrial centres—I cannot speak with any great knowledge of the agricultural districts—I realise they are not of the kind which makes for the best physical efficiency. These things cannot toe done by financial considerations only, but they can be done by educational facilities. Some of us have taken a little part in events across the water, when we had the honour of wearing the King's uniform, and had something to do with the gathering together of men for the Army. We know that physical training and culture are essential to make men physically fit. These men are coming back to work, and it is vital that physical culture and recreation should be taken into consideration, and that the new Ministry of Health should use its influence with local authorities so that it will be possible for these men, who have knowledge of the splendid usefulness of physical culture and outdoor recreation, to retain something of their physical efficiency.
Something has been said about the housing question. There are many ways in which the Minister of Health could influence the speeding up of house building. I will mention one or two. There is the cornering of certain classes of building materials by great corporations already formed or being formed. I affirm that the Ministry has power, by means of certain Statutes to make it impossible or difficult for those industries to run up the price of materials. The other day I asked the price of a five or six-roomed house. I have the honour to be connected with a great industrial undertaking which very public-spiritedly is building houses to-day, and it has been a. tremendous surprise to many of us to find that a five-roomed cottage, which in pre-war days cost £120 to £140 for building, to-day cannot be built under the closest scrutiny for less than £350 or £400. I would suggest that the Minister of Health bring to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that many of our great industrial firms might do useful work in the provision of houses if an arrangement was made whereby a portion of the excess profits tax of 40 per cent. could be used for the building of houses, the money so invested to bring in a return of not more than 1 per cent., and the houses not to be tied to the employés of the firm, but to be offered broadcast.
Many of us are with great pleasure taking a hand in the raising of money for the Victory Loan. It is our duty no less than was that of donning the King's uniform. But I would bring to the notice of the Minister of Health the fact that when we are getting money at 4 per cent. and 5 per cent. we are making it very difficult for the municipalities to get money on a serviceable and economic basis; therefore I suggest that there should be co-operation and co-ordination with the Exchequer in regard to the financing of housing schemes.
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down on the many thoughtful and practical points he has brought before us. There is no doubt that research work is very much needed. We require research, for instance, so that we may know that the food-supply to the people is of the healthiest and most nutritious kind. In only one regard was I disappointed with the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, and that was because he did not tell us what the cost of land was in connection with housing. From the figures I have had, my own impression is that the cost of the land is really only a very small proportion—I think certainly not more than 10 per cent of the total cost of the houses. I made this calculation from some figures which were supplied by the papers sent round to me and, I suppose, to other Members. I think it very important that the public should know as soon as possible what proportion land bears of the cost of housing. The President of the Local Government Board did not appear to be quite clear whether the estimate also included the cost of sewerage and paving, and so forth. As his statement was indefinite, I trust that in his reply he will be able to tell us something of a more practical nature. I rose more particularly to emphasise the point raised by the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) with regard to children who are still kept within the precincts of workhouses. I think it very important that children should not be kept within the precincts of workhouses, and I would like to call attention especially to the fact that, by their own Order, the Local Government Board have demanded or required that the children should be excluded from such precincts. It would not cost so very much to make this effective, and any little amount so expended would be money well spent, for it means that the children will have a better opportunity of growing into good and useful citizens. Money thus spent is the most profitable of investments. The number now kept within the precincts of workhouses is10,389. That is a reduction on the number for 1918, but it is an increase on the number within the precincts in 1917, which was 9,932. Something might be done in this matter by directing that, as far as possible, boards of guardians should co-operate with local housing authorities, so that in their scheme they may provide more suitable accommodation for children who would otherwise have to be in the workhouse. It means a great deal to these children. They require special care and to be as far as possible in surroundings similar to those of other children. When within the precincts of the workhouse they cannot be properly looked after. I hope, therefore, that in his reply the President of the Local Government Board will let the Committee know whether he will take steps, now the War is over, to ensure that children hitherto kept in the workhouse are to be provided for by means of homes outside the workhouse boundaries.
It will be convenient, perhaps, if I deal now with points raised during the discussion. I have taken part in many Debates in connection with the vote of the Local Government Board both before and during the War. I do not think I can remember a single occasion when there has been so generally a friendly attitude on the part of the House as a whole. It is, probably, partly because hon. Members do not wish on an occasion like this, on the last day when we appear here as officially connected with the Local Government Board, to strike anything like a note of hostility or criticism. It is also, I think, because of a recognition of the fact that we are already trying to deal with the points which have been raised. I am very grateful for the friendly and suggestive notes of the speeches delivered. With many of the points made I will not deal now at great length, for they are connected with future policy. We are none the less grateful for the suggestions made. One point referred to publicity; another was connected with milk. We are going into the regulations which will have to be brought out. This is the last day of the official existence of the Local Government Board. To-morrow my right hon. Friend will come to the House as the first Minister of Health, head of a Department of which so much is hoped and from which so much is expected, which starts with so much good will, which embarks upon its official career with a real vision of what, as it hopes, it may be in future. The reorganisation of the centre is only the first step in putting into operation and making into actualities those visions which most of us have before us. The next step will be some form of reconstruction at the periphery.
The Minister will have to decide what form of machinery he will use in carrying out administration and the various proposals which he will ask the House to pass. I desire to go a little into this matter, because it has, I think, really been at the back of the minds of most hon. Members who have taken part in this discussion. Hon. Members know as well as I do that the Central Department operates through local and popularly elected bodies. My right hon. Friend, when he had to deal with the housing problem, had to decide whether or not he would use the existing form of machinery and the old system of local government, or whether he would go in for some new machinery which would possibly be very effective at the start, though I am very doubtful whether hon. Members, who have perhaps been suggesting that we ought to have done more, would in fact later on—say, next year—have been grateful to my right hon. Friend if he had changed the whole of the existing machinery and gone in for what would have been nothing but a glorified form of bureaucracy. I realise perfectly well that if we use our existing machinery that we are not likely to move as rapidly at the start as if we did it all from Whitehall. That is quite possible, but let us not forget that mere efficiency of administration and organisation is not the only thing we are out for. Do not let us forget that we fought against a country which had brought national administrative efficiency to a high point. We do not want to give up our old system of local government and of local administration, which, with all its shortcomings, has great advantages in delegating responsibility and training character. We do not want to give up the whole of that in order to set up a system of bureaucracy comparable to the German system.
Therefore, do not let us forget when we are criticising shortcomings or delays, that my right hon. Friend had to consider in connection with housing, as in connection with health, whether he would rely upon the old-fashioned system of local government, or whether he would embark upon a new system of bureaucracy. There were some people who were in favour of a new form of bureaucracy. I do not believe that it would be in the national interest if we adopted that form of organisation. It is quite true that both the President and myself have said, and I repeat it now, that our existing form of local government is on its trial, and if by any chance it were to break down, then the advocates of bureaucracy might get the opportunity of sweeping aside and taking away the powers from local and popularly-elected bodies, dealing with housing and everything else, and setting up in their place a new system, or what I may call some form of bureaucracy. It is because of that I sincerely hope and believe that the local authorities will fully come up to the needs of the situation, and will be able to deal with housing and that we shall realise that we can trust them in the future in the development of our health services. That is what we had in mind in dealing with housing, and when we said that our system of local government is on its trial. The functions of the Central Department and of the local authorities are quite clearly divided. This House gives certain powers to the local authorities to do certain things, and a minimum standard is set. I do not mean that in the past the Department has always been careful enough in setting standards and in giving grants and in seeing that there was real value for the money used. Under the Housing Bill we are giving local authorities very real and enormous power. An hon. Member opposite spoke of our inability to deal with some suggestions under the Defence of the Realm Act. My right hon. Friend and I would have liked to have done so but it was not legal. We have taken power in the new Housing Bill to deal with the problem in the manner my hon. Friend suggests. I am sure the hon. Member for East Edinburgh does not mistrust our system of local administration.
The alternative to the existing system is what I have described as bureaucracy. In the long run, I am in favour of using popularly elected local authorities and putting the responsibility upon them, and giving the people in each area the opportunity of exercising the pressure of public opinion, to sec that the powers given are carried out, and if they are not then the people have the power to change their representatives. Hon. Members will find that the next elections in the municipalities in November will turn very largely on the adequacy or the inadequacy of the provision being made for local housing. I have been round a good many neighbourhoods, and I have found public opinion taking a very keen interest in this subject, and Councillors will find, when they go to their constituents in November, that whether they are returned or not will depend very largely on the steps they are taking now, and will have taken throughout the summer, to provide for the needs of the area.
That is one of the great advantages of a system of publicity, and of giving complete information to the House, and to the country, as has been done by my right hon. Friend, so that particular areas can see what is being done in comparable districts, and they will very soon draw the moral. In the past—I say it quite frankly, and I say it now because it bears on the next point—there has not been sufficient contact between the Central Department and the authorities at the periphery. I am not going to say that the institutional provision which is now available for the treatment of tuberculosis is adequate, either in numbers or in quality. My right hon. Friend hopes to have much closer contact existing between the centre and the different authorities. I believe good authorities who are carrying out their obligations will welcome inspection. The other cry which we hear periodically against "officials from London" comes usually from bad local authorities who do not like any inspection, but even in their case inspection is most beneficial. They dislike us and abuse us, but go ahead. As to this question of tuberculosis, which has been very rightly brought forward, I was asked for figures, and, first of all, let me deal with soldiers. The total number discharged in the United Kingdom was 35,000, and we have now in the institutions undergoing treatment about 10 per cent. of that number, or something like 3,000. There are, I think, 300 on the waiting list, and it is enough for me to say there is a large number of civilians waiting for treatment. We are doing all we can to stimulate the local authorities. Hon. Members will realise the difficulty of providing fresh institutions during the War, when all men were taken off building. The Army has vacated some buildings, but has brought back men suffering from wounds to this country. Therefore it has not been possible to get hold of as many institutions for the treatment of tuberculosis as we might otherwise have done. I think the War Office is fully justified in beginning by emptying the hospitals in France rather than emptying institutions in this country, because they have the feeling that it would be better to bring the wounded men home.
As regards the number of deaths from tuberculosis, in 1914 the total was 38,600 and in 1917 43,100. We must not take those figures too rigidly. I believe our diagnosis is improving, and we have got to make allowance for that; but the figures show that there is no diminution. This is a disease which depends on the whole social conditions of the people, such as malnutrition, bad housing, inadequate attention in childhood, and all of those affect the magnitude of the problem of tuberculosis among adults. I am perfectly certain that the co-ordination at the centre which we are going to get under the new Ministry of Health will assist us enormously, without any fresh legislation, in dealing with this disease. In the past we have had too many different Departments running different policies and different ideas as to how the disease should be treated. I do not want to go now into the question of the future development of policy. I am not sure that it might not be out of order to discuss the future policy of the Ministry of Health on the last Vote for the Local Government Board. We expect in the course of ten days or a fortnight to receive the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee which has been going into this question. Generally speaking, our policy is, more accommodation and better accommodation for those suffering from this disease. When I say "better accommodation," I mean more attractive accommodation. The tuberculosis patient suffers fearfully from boredom. I know, as I have been in. a sanatorium, and I believe the development of workshops to provide occupation will tend enormously to improve the physiological effect on the people concerned will be most beneficial. There is only one other thing I want to say in connection with this, and that is that in our interests it would not be wise to isolate either any special disease or any special class of treatment. We have gone on the lines that it is far better to make provision for treating the population as a whole, and not to provide special machinery for tuberculous ex-soldiers, for instance. We are told periodically that we ought to deal more energetically, or with different machinery, with different diseases, but we had much better graft it on to our existing machinery. The whole tendency is against specialising for any particular disease, making our local authorities and our local medical officers competent to deal with the various problems as they arise, and not to keep them in watertight compartments.
During the discussion to-day hon. Members have very rightly concentrated in the main on the problem of housing. The Leader of the Opposition made, I think, the most critical of all the speeches which we have heard during the day, and most of them were extraordinarily friendly in character, and I want to reply to some of the points which he made, although I regret that he is not now present. He said it was no use my right, hon. Friend attempting to shirk responsibility for the lack of houses at the present time, and that the responsibility for the present shortage must rest upon the Government as a whole, his point being that, whoever was President of the Local Government Board, it was the same Government that had made certain promises, whose members had made certain pledges, and that, therefore, the Government—and by Government I "think he meant the Prime Minister—must shoulder the responsibility. He said it was quite true that when my right hon. Friend came into office, early this year, not only were there no sites or houses approved, but there was no information; but, he said, my right hon. Friend's predecessor was a member of the same Government, and he quoted speeches from a previous President of the Local Government Board, showing that in his time the housing problem had been one of urgency. In fact, everybody who has studied the housing problem knows very well that it was urgent before the War, and that previous Presidents of the Local Government Board are just as much to blame as the existing holder of the office in that they did not collect the necessary information. Why is there delay now? It is because the local authorities have not made a survey of their areas and are not able to give us the information which we require and which they require. As a matter of fact, the President, whose words the Leader of the Liberal party quoted with such approval, was a member of the previous Government under Mr. Asquith when he said it, and if it means anything it means that Mr. Asquith's Government must share the responsibility with this Government and with the one before. I only want to bring out quite clearly that if there is any responsibility it does not rest upon this Government or this President, but it has got to be shared by all the predecessors, both in the way of Prime Ministers and of Presidents of the Local Government Board, and 1 believe, as a matter of fact, that their responsibility on the whole is greater, because they were not as hard pressed for time. I believe what my right hon. Friend has done during his few months of office does not compare with, but absolutely outclasses and outdistances all previous efforts made. The next point which the Leader of the Liberal party made was that private enterprise ought to be encouraged. He said most emphatically that private enterprise ought to have dealt with the housing problem. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean? The House knows that there is no control now, and does he suggest that control ought to be re-established, or that the Government ought to give financial assistance to private builders? Is that the official policy of the unofficial Members of the Liberal party? I do not quite follow what the right hon. Gentleman meant when he said that private enterprise ought to be encouraged. The Government have done nothing to discourage private enterprise. What has discouraged private enterprise is the high cost of building. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the Government should control wages and try and reduce wages?
The Local Government Board have made contracts about bricks, favourable contracts which reduce the price of bricks, and they have earmarked and set aside a certain portion of these bricks for private enterprise. The Government are doing all they can to encourage private enterprise, and it is merely the uncertainty and the high cost which is holding private enterprise back. Builders do not see a possibility of building houses and being able to let them at a commercial paying rent to the working classes, and that is why private enterprise has not done anything during the last few months. The Leader of the Liberal party's next proposal was that there ought to be emergency committees set up to deal, I do not know what with—empty houses or houses which might be adapted. But surely he would not suggest that this should be dealt with without powers? We have not got the powers. We cannot do it under D.O.R.A., and it is no good talking about setting up emergency committees to deal with things under emergency powers which do not exist. My right hon. Friend has done the only thing possible. He has come to Parliament with a Bill containing the powers which he wants to give the local authorities to deal with all these different aspects, whether of slum clearances, taking over interests in housing, taking over houses, or acquiring land. That is the only course which he could have adopted. It is the only constitutional and legal way, and my right hon. Friend is in fact carrying out, as far as he can, and has carried out, all the suggestions which have been made this afternoon in connection with housing. Where we have not had powers we have come to Parliament to ask for the powers, and it is idle to criticise us for not having done that which we could not do under our existing powers. We have done the only thing which we could do, namely, we have asked Parliament to give us the powers to deal adequately and drastically with the housing problem.
One or two hon. Members raised the question of costs. The figures which my right hon. Friend quoted for the cost of putting up houses were, roughly, from something below £500 to something above £700. That very wide variation is due to several causes. First of all, the cost of labour varies considerably from area to area—much more than many hon. Members might consider. Secondly, it depends very much upon the propinquity of brickfields, upon the distances which material has to be taken, upon the material required for housing—bricks, slates, cement, are heavy, and it adds considerably to the cost of putting up a house if that material has to be borne a long distance. Then another factor was difference in type of houses. We do not want to stereotype the type of house. We do not want to cover England with half a million houses all of exactly the same character. We are encouraging local initiative, local taste, and the use of local material. But there are also two types of houses concerned. At the one end you have got your living room and a parlour and three or four bedrooms, a scullery, and a bathroom. Then you have got another type of house, which has got three bedrooms instead of four, which has got a living room but no parlour, and which has got a scullery and a bath. There are very few instances where only two bedrooms are being put in. Those differences, I think, would account for the considerable difference between £500 and £700—the different type of house and the different cost of labour and material in different areas. We estimate that the cost of roads and sewers is, roughly, about £50 to £60 per house. The question of land has been raised by several hon. Members, and landowners are being criticised to a considerable extent, but it is only fair to say that by agreement local authorities have acquired sufficient land for something like 200,000 houses or more —I forget offhand the exact number, but anyway far more sites have been acquired and approved than we can deal with at the present moment. By using the valuers of the Inland Revenue, the costs have been reduced, in a considerable number of cases, an average of something like 30 per cent., and we are encouraging and asking local authorities before entering into negotiations to get the advice of the land valuers as to the prices which they ought to pay for the land. The House knows perfectly well that there is a Bill dealing with land acquisition, but this is not a suitable occasion for me to discuss that.
There will be another opportunity when my hon. Friend can raise that, but in considering the cost of houses and the amounts to be charged for rent, do not let us forget the change in the value of money. We are rather apt to take it for granted that, although the cost of almost everything else must necessarily go up, and is going up, and will remain up, if not at its present figure, but certainly will never go back to prewar figures, people are too apt to begin discussing the housing problem as if the pre-war rents and cost of building must be maintained. The same factors operate in housing, and because they operate in housing they will operate in rents, as operate in cost of living generally. An hon. Friend opposite raised one or two points. He asked what was to be done with the staff. As he knows, the Ministry of Health is being created, roughly speaking, by amalgamating the Local Government Board and the English Insurance Commission. On the whole, the existing staff will stay on, but a few are retiring on pension. The majority are staying on. Eleven assistant secretaries are being appointed dealing with different groups of subjects in the Department, and my right hon. Friend is also getting ready to give to other departments certain non-health functions as authorised under the Bill setting up the Ministry of Health. As regards influenza, the Medical Research Committee did predict that there would be another wave of influenza. A special committee has been set up, and is investigating this very important and very difficult subject. They have been sitting constantly, meeting regularly, and have been able to suggest various courses which have helped to mitigate this disease, which has not been limited to any country or to any section of the community or any type of people. It has swept over the world. It comes-periodically as a sort of plague.
I think that the last time of speaking on behalf of the Local Government Board I may pay a tribute to the enormous amount of good work that has been done by the Local Government Board. Many of us have criticised the Local Government Board in the past. We have criticised previous Ministers. It is because of that that we want to take this opportunity of acknowledging, and acknowledging freely and without reservation, the real amount of good work which has been done by that Department. We are setting out, as I said just now, with a new vision. I really believe that local authorities are also going to get that new vision, that they are going to share it, that they are going to realise that their duties are not only local, but national. All hon. Members will, I hope, make the local authorities with whom they have influence, with whom they are connected, realise that we are dependent on them more and more to build up the new country which we all want to see, and that their duties and responsibilities are not only to the inhabitants of their areas, but to the citizens of the whole country. I really believe there is a growing determination among local authorities to look perhaps a little bit further with a wider horizon than some of them have done in the past. There are local authorities with whom anybody might well be proud to be associated, who have given a splendid lead in the way of local patriotism and the development of local conditions. If local authorities as a whole, as I hope, will have the same vision, the same patriotism, the same determination to use the powers Parliament has given them in the past, is giving them now, and wants to give them in the future, then I believe we shall have a reorganisation of conditions and services and reconstruction in the best sense, because it will be based upon individual responsibility and upon common recognition by the members elected by the citizens of each area that they are not only citizens of that area but citizens of, and responsible to, the country as a whole.
The hon. Member who has just sat down has reminded the Committee that this is the last day of the existence of the Local Government Board, and we are here, so to speak, both to bury Cæsar and to praise him, and I think that it is only right that all Members who take part in this Debate should pay a tribute to the energy displayed during the War, and since the War, by the extremely hard-worked officials of the Local Government Board, who have shown in the national emergency caused by war conditions the most unstinting efforts in supporting the Minister and the wishes of Parliament in all questions of public health, housing, and the like, which have come before them. I rose to say one word on certain administrative questions in connection with housing. I think the right hon. Gentleman, in his opening speech, was quite right when he said that, although he becomes Minister of Health, housing is the very foundation, and is in the forefront, of the administrative work he has to carry out. Parliament, I hope, soon will have passed the Housing Bill. It will then be up to his administrative talents to see that it is put into practice, and put into practice in the widest and fullest possible manner. Now there are two administrative lines of action which, I think, will be required at once and in the future. The Department must do something to help local authorities to get the necessary cash to carry on the schemes. At the present moment the order has gone out that only local authorities whose rateable value is under £200,000 can expect to get money from the Public Works Loan Commissioners, while the remainder have to go to the open market, and many are failing to get the money, and will fail, because at present they have to face the justified and the very necessary competition of the Victory Loan, and all the new industries who are wanting money, and the savings of the people are not forthcoming unless there is a real driving force from the central Government behind local authorities to help them to get the necessary money. I do think the President of the Local Government Board could do a great deal by approaching banks and the big insurance companies and the like, call a round-table conference if necessary, and urge them in the interests of the whole country to advance the necessary money to the local authorities to get on with their housing schemes.
Finance is a very real problem as looked at by the local authorities in connection with these housing schemes, and the next very real problem is the question of labour. The Local Government Board has got to go out into the open on the question of labour and tell labour generally throughout the country that it is absolutely vital to the speedy provision of an adequate number of workmen's houses to see that pre-war restrictions upon output are really got rid of and the houses are provided, and I do hope the President of the Local Government Board, and any who speak upon this question, will do their utmost, not in any way hostile to labour, but to urge upon them, in the interests of the working men who now are overcrowded in houses, during the next three years to put their backs into the work and lay as many bricks in a day as they possibly can. But there is another point. I do hope the President of the Local Government Board will not put his faith on bricks alone. As he knows, I am a very keen advocate of concrete. I really believe you can build quicker, better, and cheaper with concrete, if only the necessary research work is done, than with the old house of bricks with tiles on the top of it. I am perfectly certain you have not developed in this country the concrete building as it ought to be developed. People say it is ugly, but it is not so ugly as yellow bricks. Ugliness depends on design and how you use your material. You can have good architecture in every conceivable sort of material, just as every conceivable sort of material can be used for an ugly building. It is a question of art. Do not let prejudice against concrete deter the Local Government Board and local authorities from pressing forward progressively in the use of concrete. I think the land bogey has been very much exaggerated. I think there is real good will on the part of the great number of landlords in this country, and that they are only too anxious to see better housing conditions.
I want to turn from housing to other points connected with the administration of the right hon. Gentleman. The first is the Poor Law question. The Poor Law remains to-day as we have known it all too long, and I do hope next Session the right hon. Gentleman will really bring in a Bill for Poor Law reform which has been so long obstructed by his predecessor, Mr. John Burns. I do hope that, when he does that, he will finally, once and for ever, destroy those unsightly edifices, the general mixed workhouses, throughout the country. It is no good taking them away from boards of guardians and putting them on to other authorities. The only thing you can do to improve the Poor Law is to pull down the workhouses and break up the administration of the Poor Law. I have always opposed the transference of Poor Law functions to county councils, which are overburdened at present, and I do hope he will not adopt the Webb scheme in that respect. I am perfectly certain that for out-relief in a parish and all these things you must continue the administration you have now, namely, an ad hoc authority for the purpose. I know a great many hon. Members do not share that view, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to face this question, as he must, both administratively and in regard to preparing a Bill, will bear that in mind. Meanwhile, administratively, he can do much. He can prepare the country and prepare the boards of guardians, and urge them now to take up the work of reducing the evils that still exist under the Poor Law, and in the whole modern methods of dealing with vagrancy, aged poor, and pauper children in these institutions.
Finally, I want to say a word with regard to the fight against tuberculosis. The figures we have been given to-day show, no doubt partly owing to the War, very largely owing to the congestion and overcrowding in houses, that, in spite of the Insurance Act, in spite of what has been done during the last few years to make the country realise the great danger of tuberculosis, we are not really gaining ground on it yet. The big fight is still in front of us.
It is really still very largely a fight for education. You want to educate the vast masses to remember that to sleep in large numbers in a room with the windows shut at night is bad for health, and that if there is tuberculosis it only aggravates it and makes it more difficult to cure. The other great thing is propaganda—that anybody who has any tubercular affection should be treated at the earliest possible moment. The third thing is that we require to go more to the root causes, mainly the milk supply, and to deal drastically with them. There is a certain amount of hereditary disease, and it is very difficult to get rid of it. It can only be eradicated by getting at the children when young. I do say that disease spreads even with adults when there is contagion, and healthy children are undoubtedly impregnated by it. So the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of next year, has a great task before him of carrying on a war against phthisis, giving us a sane and wise measure of Poor Law reform, getting the boards of guardians thoroughly efficient and up to date, progressive in spirit and in fact. He has the gigantic task of carrying out his administrative duties under the Housing Bill. In all these three great tasks I wish him every success, and as the Local Government Board is dying to-day let us pay respectful tribute to its memory and hope that the Ministry of Health will be better.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has just told us that this is the last occasion—unless something unexpected happens in another place— that we shall have of dealing with the Housing and Town Planning Bill. I wish that Bill every success, but I do say again—for the last time I suppose—that I wish this Bill had been called by a different title. I wish it had been called the National Housing Bill. I wish—
We are not dealing with legislation at the moment. We are only, on the Vote, concerned with administration.
Then, in connection with the Housing and Town Planning Bill, I want to ask the President of the Local Government Board, for the last time, for one or two answers to one or two questions about this Bill. We have heard that a number of houses are to be built, some of brick and some of concrete—it really does not matter how the houses are built so long as they are built. I want to know this: When they are built, who will be allowed to inhabit them? We have been told that local authorities have in hand 500 houses. Suppose, say, an urban district authority in Middlesex builds 500 houses; can these be inhabited by the curate, the stockbroker, and the small professional man, as well as the artisan and other members of the ordinary working classes, as we call them, or is the habitation of these houses to be confined alone to what we know as the working classes? I have tried over and over again to get a definition of who are the working classes. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has acknowledged that he has failed to give it. He cannot give it.
The last answer of the right hon. Gentleman was to the following effect:
The Housing Acts do not contain any definition of a person of the working classes which is of general application.
That leaves the matter in an unsatisfactory state. But I would impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that there really is an urgent need for housing for the middle classes as well as the working classes—perhaps greater! After all, though this matter, according to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary, has been left to the local authorities themselves to decide, certain pressure can be brought to bear by the Local Government Board or the Health Ministry—whichever it is—on the local authorities to tell them that a number of houses are to be built for middle-class men as well as for men of the working classes, and that in their scheme
they have to take into consideration the need of all classes of the community because this is a national housing scheme.
I do not often agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench (Sir D. Maclean), but I do say I think it is a very great pity that private enterprise in building has been discouraged. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Sir T. Walters) spoke as a great authority. Ho went on to tell us that, as a matter of fact, there was nothing against the private builder being able to go ahead and build houses at once. I wish that was true. But a little while ago the Local Government Board sent to local authorities some memoranda. I read these very carefully, and came to the conclusion that if building was not going to be done for a local authority by a builder that particular builder had little or no chance of getting any building material. If any other Member of this Committee has studied these memoranda, as I have done, I imagine he will come to the same conclusion: that is, that the Local Government Board, or the Government, or the Ministry of Supply—whichever the official Department may be—has collared all the building materials at present—perhaps quite rightly—and that they are going to deal them out to the various local authorities as they get their schemes ready, and that at the present time the private builder has little or no chance at all if he wants to start off on his own. It is a poor outlook for the middle-class man who has to come down to a very small house, which may be well-built and fairly comfort able, but the accommodation of five rooms or so is small. But it is the best he has to hope for a few years, for he cannot, as he could before the War, hope to get a private builder to put up a house for him.
There is one other suggestion I should like to make to the President of the Local Government Board. There are in London a great number of empty houses at the present time—largely in Kensington. These are too large for those who had them before the War, and they will possibly never be inhabited again as they were then ! Why not turn these large houses into flats straight away? The right hon. Gentleman told me the other day that the local authorities had power to do this on their own. They may have power—
No; what I said was, they would have power under the Housing Bill now before Parliament when it became law. They have not got power now.
Well, I take it for granted that the present Bill will become an Act in the course of a few days, and that the local authorities will then have this power. But the local authorities want gingering up to get this thing done. It is not showy work. It is much more showy to take the larger schemes and to build cottages and houses than to turn these big houses into flats for middle-class families at reasonable rents. The owner at present would let the houses if he could, but he cannot. Nor can he live in them with the three or four families necessary. But it is desirable, if possible, that these places should be converted into three flats at £50 or £60 a year rent, and I suggest that course. When this Act becomes law, the right hon. Gentleman ought to do his best to move the local authorities to take up this branch of the question and to convert these big empty houses into flats. I trust he will be able to give me an assurance that the houses that are to be built by the local authorities for the working classes will be available for small professional men. Though these may not be, technically, working men, they require houses quite as badly as the others.
I desire to draw the attention of the new Minister to an aspect of this question of housing which has not been discussed. It is all very well to talk about houses of four and five rooms. I want to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will exercise his mind on the question of the canal boats, which are registered as dwelling-houses? We have about 8,000 canal boats on our canals. I happen to represent a district which is associated with the registration of these boats. Canal boats are registered with cabins not five feet high and the floor space not measuring 7 feet square for two adults and two children. It would seem unnecessary to argue that this is not suitable accommodation for four persons. I suggest that new regulations should be provided covering this question so that these small boats, which ply between London and forty and fifty miles distant, shall not be used for dwelling houses, because it is utterly impossible for the decencies, to say nothing of the amenities of life, to be observed in cabins the size I have given. The local authorities do their best under the circumstances. They have appointed inspectors. Very many inspections are, I believe, made—something like 35,000 per year. A considerable amount is a pure waste of money because, however vigilant the inspection may be, what can be done? The health of the community, and disease, has been freely discussed here, and in this connection serious attention should be given to the facts I have mentioned, and the fact that in these boats sixteen cubic feet capacity is allowed for an adult against 400 cubic feet required under the Public Health Act. It is apparent that these miserably small cabins are not suitable for dwelling purposes, and the time has now arrived when the captain or the owner should be called upon to provide housing accommodation for his family like other people. The time has arrived, too, when he should earn a wage which should enable him to do so. and when the education, health, and upbringing of his children shall be consistent with common decency and the ideas of the twentieth century. I am advised by the inspectors that while the boat may be registered for two adults and two children there is nothing to prevent it, as often happens, being used by more than two adults. Having regard to these facts I trust the new Minister will exercise his mind upon the matter, and endeavour to do something to prevent what, to my mind, is a great scandal in connection with these canal boats.
We have had a very interesting speech from the hon. Gentleman opposite, who has given us a good example of Tory democracy. There is, however, one point of view I would like to put, and it is the question of concrete buildings. I know a certain amount about reinforced concrete buildings, and you can make some very artistic designs with it. These little four or five-roomed houses, with two living rooms and two or three bedrooms should not be made too permanent, and ought only to be a temporary measure, because the democracy very soon will want something better. There ought to be separate nurseries for the children and more bedrooms. In twenty or thirty years' time we hope to-have the country so different, and people-will be living on such a different plane, that they will require better houses. The Tory democracy idea in this respect will not pass. It is easy to criticise, but I have not risen to make criticisms except with regard to one aspect of the Ministry of Health, which I may say I wish every success. There is an idea in the country—I hope it is wrong—that the Ministry of Health will be largely manned by a great many doctors who have been through the Army and, owing to demobilisation, are now surplus. I believe they are going to wear uniforms and have far-reaching powers to inspect houses and children when they like, and the drainage arrangements, and order whatever steps they think necessary. It will be a tremendous mistake if anything of that kind is permitted.
I have heard some of the officers who are going to man this office talk about it themselves. I hope there will be no interference of that kind with the people in that way. Then with regard to the Army huts. Have they been used as much as they could in this emergency for housing people who have not anywhere to go at all? I hear of dealers buying up these huts at low prices and placing them on the market. Could they not have been earmarked specially for housing schemes, and why do they all go to commercial purposes. It seems to me that that might have been done. We have been told that there are no emergency powers to enable the Government to take over these empty houses until the Housing Bill was passed, but I cannot accept that view. If places were wanted for officials during the War or billets for soldiers on coast defences, empty houses, large or small, were taken over very quickly without hesitation. It has been said that this cannot be done under the Defence of the Realm Act. I am afraid the public outside who want houses, and especially the men coming back from the War will not stand this kind of treatment, and they will feel that the Government ought to have been a little more considerate in regard to their interests.
I would like to make two suggestions. It gives one great hope to see the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in that position, because particularly I bracket his name with milk legislation, and I hope this means that we are going to have some real legislation on this subject. I have had the great difficulty, or rather my wife has, of getting milk for the children in sealed bottles, and the milk is still being served round in tins that get the dust in. I believe bottled milk would have a good effect upon the health of the children, and if the hon. and gallant Member will take up this matter I am sure he will have the whole of the womanhood of the country behind him.
The right hon. Gentleman knows the great danger of the spread of disease from the Continent. We have all read of the growth of disease in Poland and Western Russia. I believe that spotted typhus is on the increase and cholera is particularly bad. I put down two questions on this subject which have been answered with great courtesy, but I am afraid that the medical facilities for quarantine and inspection of ships will not be sufficient during the coming summer. There is a danger of one of the gravest outbreaks of plague in Central Europe that we have yet known, and although our precautions in this country are great I think we ought to take special steps to see it is not carried over here to this country. At present it is mostly our enemies, and. some of our Allies who are suffering from this disease, but it might spread to this country unless it is taken in hand at once.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down seemed to think that these houses would be unpopular in the future. That may be so, but the point is that they are going to be exceedingly popular at the present time. They are going to be all the more popular if we can get some sort of light and leading on the very important question of lodgings. In my Constituency these houses are going to be let for quite a small rent. At the present time the prices being paid for lodgings are enormous, and if a man is going to get one of these houses at a very small rent largely owing to the assistance of the State, and he is going to-be allowed to take in one or more lodgers who pay high prices, I do not think it will be fair. I do not think we should provide houses for people at a small rent so that they can make money out of it by letting them to lodgers.