Ministry of Health.

Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 15th May 1928.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £13,774,025, 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, 1929, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Health; including Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, Grants to Local Authorities, etc., in connection with Public Health Services, Grants-in-Aid in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Acts, certain Expenses in connection with the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, and certain Special Services."—[Note.—£7,000,000 has been voted on account.]

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

I do not think that I feel called upon to make any apologies to the Committee for the fact that this year, once again, the Estimates of the Ministry of Health show an increase over those presented last year of nearly £1,000,000. Hon. Members, if they will look at the second page of the Estimates, will see that out of a gross total of some £21,700,000 practically half, that is, a sum of £10,700,000, is provided for housing grants. That figure in itself shows an increase over the corresponding figure of last year by an amount of over £1,000,000, and, therefore, rather more than the total increase upon the whole Vote. The discrepancy between the two figures is, of course, accounted for by the slight increase in the appropriations-in-aid. As long as we think it necessary to go on paying a subsidy in order to stimulate house building, we shall go on adding to our commitments, and this figure, therefore, must necessarily increase. But while the housing shortage continues as acute as it still remains at present, I do not think the country will grudge the amount that is necessary to continue the building of new houses, although, of course, it will want to be satisfied that it is getting good value for its money.

In considering whether it is getting good value for its money, we must not lose sight of the fact that, whatever we may do in the future, we cannot get away from the commitments of the past. Our subsidies have been in the form of annual payments in respect of each house prolonged over a period of years which varies according to the particular Statute under which the houses have been built, and I think it is only right to remind the Committee, that, out of this large sum provided for in the Estimates this year for housing grants, nearly £7,000,000, or practically two-thirds of the total, is accounted for by payments in respect of house building under the Act of 1919. The number of houses built under that Act was restricted to a total of 176,000. It is estimated that in respect of those houses the capital cost to the Exchequer amounts to £178,000,000. It may be taken that the annual loss falling upon public funds in respect of each one of these houses amounts to about £45 a year, of which £39 10s. falls upon the Exchequer, and £5 10s. comes out of the rates.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Glasgow Shettleston

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that the Addison houses will cost the State a million pounds each.

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

No, Sir. I think the right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic is defective. My calculation is that they have cost the State rather over £1,000 each. What I was referring to at the moment was not the capital cost but the annual cost, which, of course, does not go on permanently but lasts whilst the period endures, at the end of which the subsidy ceases. I hope that, as the years go by, there may be some little reduction in this annual loss as it is found possible to reborrow capital at lower rates of interest, but, substantially speaking, I am afraid that we must expect that this vast burden will remain a charge upon public funds until the expiration of the 60 years provided for the repayment of the loans. Compared with these figures, the subsidies payable upon the houses built under the Acts of 1923 and 1924 appear almost trivial. These subsidies have been reduced by the Order that was made at the end of 1926. The cost to the Exchequer on the houses built under the Act of 1923 is only £4 per house, for a period of 20 years, whilst under the Act of 1924 the cost per house is £7 10s. for 40 years in the case of urban houses and £11 in the case of houses built in agricultural parishes, also for a term of 40 years.

The Committee will remember that when I recommended the House to approve of this reduction in the original rates of the subsidies upon these two classes of houses, I recommended it not on the ground that the country could not afford the larger subsidies, but on the ground that the subsidy itself was, in my judgment, keeping up the cost of houses, and as the great desideratum was to get cheaper buildings in order to bring houses within the reach of the poorer paid classes of the community, it was desirable that we should reduce the subsidy, with a view to bringing about a reduction in the cost. It is interesting to see what, in fact, has happened since that cut was made. I have compared the average prices of houses built during the last quarter of 1926, just before the reduction, with the cost of houses let under contract by the local authorities during the quarter ending the 31st March last, and I find that the reduction in the case of parlour houses is £76 per house and in the case of non-parlour houses £80 per house.

Photo of Mr Charles Duncan Mr Charles Duncan , Clay Cross

What percentage is that of the original cost?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

The cost of non-parlour houses has been reduced from an average of £448 to an average of £368 per house, a difference of £80. The capital equivalent of the reduction in the subsidy is £25 per house, but the Committee will see that the actual reduction that has taken place is not £25, the amount of the subsidy, but that it has gone up to the very much larger figures that I have quoted.

Photo of Mr Joseph Sullivan Mr Joseph Sullivan , Bothwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the number of houses built in each quarter?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

That is not the point that I am talking about. The Committee may naturally ask a very much more pertinent question, and that is whether the sizes of the houses in the two quarters are comparable I have investigated that matter and I find that there is a reduction in the average size of the houses, but as that reduction amounts in the case of non-parlour houses only to 3 per cent. and in the case of parlour houses only to 24 per cent., the Committee will see that it is not of very serious account and that, in fact, there has been a substantial reduction in the cost of building. I think it is clear from the figures 1 have quoted that local authorities to-day, after taking account of the reduction in the subsidy payable to them, are in a more favourable position than they were for building these houses before the cut was made, to the extent of over £50 per house.

It may be very natural to ask, in view of that fact, how it is that local authorities are not building to-day at the same rate as they were building before the reduction took place? I do not think it is very difficult to find an answer to that question. The announcement that the reduction was going to be made was accompanied by a statement that it would not come into operation for another nine months. As a matter of fact, it was not operative until the 1st October last, and what happened was that there was a terrific scramble all over the country to get as many houses as possible completed whilst the full rate of the subsidy remained in operation. That scramble culminated in September, the last month before the reduction took place, in the prodigious number of 52,000 houses being completed in that month alone. Those 52,000 houses in the ordinary course of events would have been spread over a period of three or four months; but since they were actually concentrated into that one month, it is very reasonable to expect that afterwards there should be some check or setback in the way of building, until the normal activities were resumed. In addition to that fact, one must remember that the months succeeding the reduction of the subsidy were the months of winter, when in any case the operations tended to slacken off. We must also add the fact that prices were crumbling all the time, and that local authorities, before they placed new and extensive contracts, would wish to make sure that they had reached the bottom of the market.

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Lastly, local authorities have been considering the new position. They have, I think, in many cases come to the conclusion that, as far as con-terns that class of house which many of them had been building, they had pretty well got, to the end of the needs of the kind of people who wanted that class of house, and that they would in future have to turn their attention rather to a different type of people, whose needs could be met by a house not quite as large as the majority of those which they had built in the first instance. I have never felt any anxiety whatever about this slump in house building which has taken place in the last few months. I have always regarded it as a purely temporary phase, and the latest figures which we have I think confirm my a priori expectation that another period of activity is likely to set in very shortly. Not only have the figures of houses completed steadily risen during each month of the present year, but the numbers under construction which, at the end of October last, had fallen to about 48,000, had risen again by the end of March to 55,000, and, in addition to that, there are some 91,000 houses now authorised, the construction of which has not yet been started.

Therefore, although we have undoubtedly seen a certain temporary slackening in the provision of new houses, I think we may confidently look forward to a considerable increase in the figures during the ensuing summer, and, while local authorities have naturally been anxious to know whether they could rely upon a continuance of the present subsidies at their present rates, I have, while unable to give a final reply until the time comes when, by Statute, I am obliged to review this question, been able to assure them that any houses which may be completed before 31st March of next year will be eligible for the subsidies as they now stand. I think, perhaps, the Committee may be interested to have the figures which show the general progress of housing in the country, and when I say the general progress, I am including in those figures not merely the State-assisted houses, but all houses, whether built with a State subsidy or without any subsidy at all. Since the Armistice there have been built, up to 31st March last, 1,102,000 houses, of which it may be taken that 412,000 have been built by local authorities, and the other 690,000 by private enterprise.

There is one other feature in the housing situation which, I think, ought not to be lost sight of. It is one of the main purposes of the Act of 1923 to encourage the ownership of small houses by their occupiers, and the Committee will remember that there were in that Act certain Amendments of the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act, and certain new Clauses, the effect of which was to give local authorities power to advance money to would-be purchasers of their houses to the extent of 90 per cent. of the value. I am glad to say that those powers have been very widely used throughout the country, and since the passing of the Act I find that loans and advances have been sanctioned for this purpose to local authorities amounting altogether to a total of £54,500,000. When you add to that the parallel activities of the building societies, of which I have not got the figures beyond 1926, but which between 1923 and 1926 advanced on mortgage for the purchase of small houses no less than £172,000,000, I think the Committee will realise that this process, by which occupiers are becoming the owners of their houses, is making very rapid progress in this country. I believe it will be generally felt, even on the benches opposite, that the practice of thrift in this particular form is a very valuable addition to the stability of the country, and, I would add, is a very notable demonstration of the moral qualities of our people.

The figures that I have been giving to the Committee relate in the main to the great centres of population, but, of course, there is a housing problem in the country which, in its way, is just as acute and just as important as the housing problem in the towns. I must admit that the progress of reconditioning old cottages in the country under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act has been, up to the present, disappointingly slow. I am convinced that that is not due to any defect in the Act. It is due to causes to which, perhaps, we did not give sufficient weight at the time the Act was passed. One has to remember that nothing is ever done in a hurry in the country. It takes an almost incredible time for the provisions of a new Act to reach the people who are most concerned. Even officials of the local authorities are to be found to-day in many cases surprisingly ignorant of the opportunities that are given them under that Act, and I am bound also to say that the fears I expressed when the Bill was before this House, that the conditions upon the houseowner were so onerous that they would prove far from attractive to him, have been entirely fulfilled, and in many cases it is found that quite a considerable amount of suggestion and stimulation is necessary in order to persuade owners to make application for grants to improve their cottages.

Then one has to consider, too, that even when you can get an application made, with the proposals for the improvement of the house, there follows a long period of argument, discussion and consideration, and when tenders are obtained, they again, have to be considered and discussed. I have found that in a certain number of cases local authorities have dismissed applications which appear, on the face of them, to be suitable under the Act, on the ground that, in the opinion of the authorities, the person making the application was quite able to bear the whole cost out of his own pocket. I need not say to the Committee that that is an entire misapprehension of the purposes of the Act. The local authority have not got to consider whether an applicant could or could not bear the cost out of his own pocket. What they have to consider is whether the improvement would be made if no grant were given, and if the answer to that question is in the negative, then they have no right to deprive the tenant of the cottage of the improvement which Parliament designed for his benefit, because they may think incidentally that somebody else is going to get some benefit out of it.

I am convinced in my own mind that the Act is a practical Measure, and that although it has been slow in its operation up to the present, by degrees, as it becomes better known, as people can see instances of how it has actually been worked, as they begin to appreciate the advantages which may be obtained under the Act for the tenant, we shall see applications come in, and work put in hand at an increasing rate. I have had some encouraging accounts from certain rural districts of the enthusiasm that has been aroused among sanitary engineers, sanitary inspectors, medical officers and architects of local authorities who have been hunting round their districts to find suitable subjects, and have taken what measures they can to persuade owners to take advantage of the Act. I think it is significant that, although in the first 12 months during which the Act was in force assistance was only actually promised in respect of 151 houses, in the last three months assistance has been promised in respect of 183 houses. Those figures, of course, are very small. At any rate, they do show that things are being hurried up, and that there is substantial room for it.

Photo of Miss Ellen Wilkinson Miss Ellen Wilkinson , Middlesbrough East

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he means by that statement that the whole purpose, or a large part of the purpose, of the Act is to bribe landlords to put cottages in a better condition, when they ate perfectly able to do without it?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

That is not the way I should put it. The purpose of the Act is to do what never yet has been done, and that is to provide reasonable, modern, sanitary, adequate, decent accommodation for agricultural labourers without putting up their rents. Success in carrying out that object, I believe, would confer a great benefit upon a class of people whose interests, I think, have been rather neglected in the past.

I turn from the country and come once again to the towns, because I want to say a few words about the question of slums, in which, I know, a great number of hon. Members are very deeply interested. Up to the present time, counting since the termination of the War, 87 local authorities have submitted 118 schemes of slum clearance, and 111 of those schemes have been confirmed. They propose to deal with the demolition of a total of about 14,000 houses. Really, when one thinks of the vast masses of people who to-day are compelled to live under slum conditions, one cannot help feeling impatience that up to now so little has been done to help. I want the Committee to bear this fact in mind. Any examination of this problem, any accounts that are given to us, or any observations which we can make for ourselves, of the conditions in slum areas reveal, I think, this as the central feature of the situation, that the worst, the most salient and most urgent, problem in connection with slums is the overcrowding of the people. In all accounts of what people are enduring in the slums we hear over and over again how families often containing adolescents or adults of both sexes are crowded together into one or two rooms, and that being the most prominent feature of the problem it is not only natural but right and proper that local authorities should have devoted their attention in the first place to building new houses rather than demolishing old ones.

The fact that this slow progress in slum clearance has taken place since the War must not be divorced from the tremendous activity that has been going on in the provision of new houses. Until it is possible to find some alternative accommodation for those who are over-crowded in the slums, it is impossible, seriously and practically, to tackle the slums themselves. With the rapidly increasing rate of new house building, local authorities have felt encouraged to take up the question of the slums once again and they have begun to survey their areas and to consider what parts of them they can endeavour to sweep away. The number of schemes submitted, which I have given to the Committee, small though it is, is nevertheless the largest that has ever been before the Ministry of Health in the whole history of this slum question.

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

No, since the War. These schemes are not completed. Some of them are not even started; but I take the whole of them as they appear at the Ministry of Health, and I say that never before have we had so many schemes actually authorised for carrying out as we have at the present moment. I think I ought to say this: that a very considerable amount of evidence reaches me at the Ministry of Health that local authorities are being deterred from embarking on schemes of slum clearance on a larger scale by their sense of the inequity and injustice of the present terms of compensation. Under existing Acts the property in an area which has been declared to be unhealthy is to he paid for on the basis that the bare site alone is to receive compensation, the pro- perty itself goes for nothing, although some of it perhaps may recently have had considerable sums spent upon it by the owner in response to a requisition by the local authority. There is another feature of the existing Acts which appears to be unfair to a good many people besides those who are actual owners of these properties, and that is that even the money that is paid for the site depends not on the value of the site but on the use to which the site is going to be put by the local authority when they obtain possession. That may receive approval in some quarters, but to me it has always seemed inequitable, and the Committee which was appointed by Dr. Addison to inquire into this question, of which I was Chairman, reported to that effect a good many years ago.

Photo of Mr Frederick Montague Mr Frederick Montague , Islington West

Are these one-roomed houses?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

It does not matter whether they are one-roomed houses or not. I am not defending the landlord of insanitary property, and I do not think any property owner would defend a landlord who deliberately keeps his property in an insanitary condition and unfit for human habitation. It is possible, in our indignation at the fault of individual landlords, to go much too far in general legislation, and the only result of that is that a reaction sets in, which is what was prophesied in our Report of 1921: the very terms of compensation actually operated to prevent nothing being done at all. These anomalies in existing legislation can only be put right by amending legislation, and that, of course, is not a subject which we can discuss this afternoon. I am afraid that even if they are put right the process of slum clearance will still be so complicated, so slow and so costly, that it is not going to present to us any very hopeful promise of that wholesale improvement in slum property which is what we must have if we are really to fulfil our moral obligations in this matter.

When I look around for any possible alternative method of dealing with slums I find some hope in this fact, that, whilst under all the schemes which have been submitted to us during the period of the 10 years since the War, only 14,000 houses are affected, that is only 1,400 houses per year, yet at the same time every year over 500,000 houses—in 1926 nearly 600,000 houses—were reconditioned and put into a fit sanitary and habitable condition in the various towns throughout the country. Surely that contrast between the rate at which you can improve slum property by dealing with it by the drastic method of slum clearance, or the less drastic but perhaps more practical method of slum improvement, may give us some hint as to the direction in which we might move if we really want to make speedy progress. It has this additional advantage, that if you can get a proportion of the houses in the slums improved—not all of them but a proportion of them—so that they give the tenant the necessary sanitary and decent conditions, even if they are without amenities, you can give the tenant a house in which he can bring up his family with a reasonable prospect of maintaining their health at a rent which lie can afford to pay, and in a locality which enables him to live near his work. I must not detain the Committee by speculating further on this subject.

Photo of Miss Ellen Wilkinson Miss Ellen Wilkinson , Middlesbrough East

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how the reconditioning of houses is going to deal with the immense overcrowding?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

I did not say that it would. The hon. Member must not imagine that I think we can deal with overcrowding by means of reconditioning. There are two problems to be considered. The first is that of overcrowding, and in any scheme for the improvement of slum areas, as apart from the clearance of slum areas, you must still find accommodation for the population, and the hon. Member will see that the problem is much smaller if you are going to house a proportion of the population in the old houses which are reconditioned than if you pull down all the old houses, in which case you will have to find new accommodation for the whole of the population.

Photo of Mr Frederick Montague Mr Frederick Montague , Islington West

Where is the rent to come from? They are Haying as much as they can at present.

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

I do not think I can go into the question of new legislation, but what I say is that the scheme, the idea I have in mind, would enable people who want to live in these houses, to go on living at rents which are approximate to the amounts they have paid in the past.

Mr. MONTAGUE rose

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

We cannot really have a discussion now. The Minister of Health is making his statement and there will be ample time to discuss it later.

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

That is one advantage of this plan as compared with a scheme which requires new houses to be erected at a distance from the man's work, and at a cost which requires them to pay two, three, four or five times the rent they have been paying. I think I must now pass from the question of houses. The Estimates show that there is also a small increase under each of the headings under which the Ministry of Health distributes Exchequer grants to local authorities in respect of certain services. There are four main public health services for which the Ministry of Health pays Exchequer grants. There is the treatment of tubercular disease, maternity and child welfare work, venereal disease, and the welfare of the blind. It may generally be said that the increases in each case are due to the normal development of the services, which goes on all the time, and which I hope rather more than replaces the increase in the population. Of course, the functions of the Ministry of Health, in respect to public health, are by no means exhausted when you have done with these four grant-aided services. I have always regarded the Ministry of Health as being a sort of general headquarters staff whose duty it is to watch carefully the campaign which is being continuously carried on throughout the country against disease of all kinds. It is their duty to see where it is gaining ground or where it is being pushed back; to collect information from all the sources open to them, to bring that information together, to draw any inferences that may be drawn from it and, again, to distribute that information throughout the country among public authorities and among all those carrying on the work of public health.

In pursuance of these functions, the Ministry of Health, from time to time, issues a series of reports upon medical subjects which I think I may say have materially influenced public thought upon the subject and have been found extremely valuable and helpful by all those who are carrying on the campaign. I have on previous occasions tried to put before the Committee in rather amateurish fashion, the situation with regard to particular diseases as it has appeared from the standpoint of the Ministry of Health. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to follow that course once more. I take first of all, cancer. I take it first because it is perhaps the largest single cause of mortality. The Committee are aware that a great deal of research has been carried on into the causes and treatment of cancer, both in this country and abroad. We have not yet been able to put our finger upon any facts or series of facts, which would allow us to say that we have solved the problem of cancer—very far from it—but all the time we are encroaching upon the field of the unknown.

All the time we are advancing our knowledge in one direction or another, and I would like to tell the Committee what part the Ministry of Health is playing in this constant pursuit of more accurate knowledge. In the first place, we have mapped out a sort of scientific survey of what can be done to-day in the effective treatment of cancer, taking each part of the body in turn, with our present skill and knowledge. We have then followed that up by a very careful and exhaustive inquiry into a large number of cases of cancer and the results of that inquiry have been examined by a Departmental Committee which was set up by the Ministry of Health about five years ago, and which has given most valuable assistance in formulating useful lines of inquiry and advising us as to what results have followed.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

Have they issued their report?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

They have issued a number of reports which have been widely circulated throughout the country. Then we have also done something to bring into prominence certain particular methods of treatment which we have ascertained from information derived both from abroad and at home, have proved particularly effective. These methods are methods of radiology, the use of radium itself and what is called radium emanation treatment; and by the application of our information upon these points, I think we may say that we are concentrating attention throughout the country upon the most promising lines of investigation. These methods are costly; they are not easily adopted by all authorities, but, we believe that, by proper organisation, more effective use can be made of the equipment which we actually have. I may say in conclusion upon this part of my subject, that throughout we are keeping in the closest touch with a great number of other agencies such as the British Empire Cancer Campaign, the public health authorities throughout the country, and the local cancer committees which are working in some of the great provincial cities. I think that whilst we cannot say we are even in sight of a cure or a method of prevention of this very terrible disease, yet nevertheless our feet are on the right path and that one day, no one can say when, we may actually turn the corner and find ourselves in the presence of the goal.

It is one of the sad reflections of the present day that as fast as we discover the means of curing old diseases, we also discover new diseases and one of these has attracted a great deal of attention during the past few years. The disease to which I refer is encephalitis lethargica, commonly known as sleepy sickness. I do not know whether it is really a new disease, or whether we have found out and identified a disease which previously existed. This is one of the cases in which central action is particularly necessary if we are to make progress, because this disease, fortunately, is not sufficiently common yet for any hospital or any private practitioner to have seen very many cases of it. We know, as a matter of fact, that during the last 10 years in which it has been known, there have been about 1,500 cases a year in this country and it is a very distressing disease because of the aftereffects which are so frequently observed in the mental and moral breakdown of the young people and in a sort of slow nervous degenerative process which goes on in older persons.

We have instituted here again a very exhaustive inquiry into about 3,000 cases of sleepy sickness. It has been carried on by Dr. Parsons, one of the officers of my Department, and the results of that in- quiry show that only about 25 per cent. of the cases recover. About 35 per cent. die and the remaining 40 per cent. are more or less disabled, mentally or physically. The valuable part of the inquiry is that for the first time we know the proportions of those attacked by the disease who recover, who die and who are permanently injured. We know the different forms of injury which they sustain. We know how these things persist, and we get for the first time, some inkling of what may be the best way to treat it. This inquiry comes particularly opportunely at this moment, seeing that last year we passed the Mental Deficiency Act. In the light of the inquiry which I have mentioned, we may hope that the Mental Deficiency Act may be put into more effective use and we may understand better than we could without it, in what category to place the various people, children and otherwise, who have been afflicted with this disease and for whom we desire to make provision.

Photo of Mr Edwin Scrymgeour Mr Edwin Scrymgeour , Dundee

Does the result of the inquiry point to a similarity of circumstances in these cases, or is there a variety of circumstances, difficult to explain?

Photo of Mr Frank Lee Mr Frank Lee , Derbyshire North Eastern

May I also ask whether the inquiry covered a large area or was confined to a small space?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

The inquiry included a considerable variety of cases, and I think what we have to understand is that the treatment which would be desirable and effective for one class of case, might be quite wrong for another. Because of that, I think it is especially valuable that the Mental Deficiency Act is coming into operation. It will enable us to classify our cases, and treat them in the way which may be best adapted to each individual case. With regard to the other question, the inquiry was not confined to a small locality. You could not find that number of cases in a small locality. There are only 1,500 cases a year known to exist in the country, but this inquiry dealt with 3,000 cases gathered from all parts. From that new disease I turn to what is I suppose one of the oldest diseases that afflicts humanity—

Photo of Mr Robert Morrison Mr Robert Morrison , Tottenham North

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the other part of his subject, will he be good enough to say whether the opinion popularly held that sleepy sickness is not so prevalent to-day as it was three or four years ago, has any foundation, or whether he thinks the disease is on the increase?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

I think the popular impression is correct, that is to say, that the disease does not show any signs of material increase but rather tends to decrease; but, of course, sufficient remains to make it a very serious problem, especially in view of the fact, which I have explained, namely, that the after effects are frequently permanent, and that the persons so affected, therefore, remain a charge and a burden upon the community perhaps for the rest of their lives. I was going to refer to one of the oldest of all known diseases, namely, rheumatism. I do not know that it is not a recent discovery, that under this term rheumatism there are really two distinct groups of diseases. One of them is acute rheumatic fever, which so often attacks children and 'which, unhappily, is frequently associated with heart disease. The other is chronic rheumatism of the joints and muscles, which frequently disables industrial workers—and even politicians—and which undoubtedly not only causes an enormous amount of pain and suffering, but is also a terrible burden upon industry and upon the funds of the National Health Insurance scheme.

It is estimated that last year the approved societies spent upon sickness benefit and the cost of medical benefit for rheumatic insured persons, no less than £5,000,000, and in the same year 5,250,000 weeks' work were lost owing to the incidence of rheumatism among insured persons. We calculate that rheumatism accounts for nearly one-sixth of the whole of the industrial invalidity in the country. The Committee will see that this disease, familiar as it is to us by name, and often in our own persons, is really a very serious handicap to the nation and has reached proportions when, certainly, it has become necessary that very careful attention should he paid to it. With regard to the children, I am told that the treatment which affords them the best hope is one of prolonged rest in institutions, and the Ministry of Health during the past two or three years has tried to encourage the provision of hospital accommodation set apart specially for this purpose. To-day, for the first time, we have actually got from 400 to 500 beds specially earmarked for the treatment of acute rheumatism in children.

As regards the chronic rheumatism, the first thing that is required there is advice, because the causes of this rheumatism are many and various. It may, and very frequently does, spring from some local centre of infection. It may be the teeth that are wrong, it may be the tonsils, it may be the intestinal track. I heard only in the last 24 hours of a gentleman who read an account of the papers that were read at a Conference held, I think it was last week, at Bath, upon the subject of rheumatism, and reading there about these focal centres of infectivity. It suddenly occurred to him that possibly there might be some connection between the rheumatic pains from which he had suffered for years and the sore throats which had been a constant trouble to him over the same period. He went to see his doctor, and the doctor told him that he had septic.tonsils and that that was the cause of his rheumatism. That is only an illustration of how, in the absence of advice, people accept rheumatism as though it were a sort of act of Cod, which could not be prevented or for which nothing could be done, yet under the advice of the specialist it may be traced to some quite easily removable cause, and the suffering may be almost instantaneously relieved.

Of course, a great deal is being done to-day. In the case of the children, we have a school dental service which employs, I believe, something like 600 dentists and is treating about 1,000,000 children a year; and in the case of the older insured persons, we have the dental benefit to which approved societies are now devoting some £3,000,000 a year with results that, I hope, will show themselves in a lessened demand upon their funds in the future from rheumatism and the consequent incapacity to work. Diagnosis of the causes of rheumatism probably entails under present circumstances a difficult problem. At the present time, approved societies are paying about £250,000 a year to hospitals for treatment of their patients, and another £200,000 a year is being devoted to convalescent homes, in connection with which, in a few cases, there is now being developed spa treatment; but I think we feel that something more than this is required and that there are forms of treatment, especially those connected with radiant heat and light, which have shown very promising results experimentally, and which we should desire to see extended for the benefit of a larger part of the population.

The Red Cross Society is now trying to organise the setting up of an experimental clinic of this kind in London, and as soon as that is ready I propose, by Regulation, to authorise approved societies to make a contribution to that clinic and to obtain treatment for their members. I think the Committee will realise that the full development of a preventive and curative system in connection with rheumatism must mean the expenditure of very large sums of money. It may be that in the present financial state of the country it is not possible to carry on that development as rapidly as we could wish, but, at any rate, I think we are at last beginning to realise the nature of the disease with which we have to cope. We are beginning to realise the extent of it, the extent to which it is crippling our people, and as that knowledge becomes more widespread, I think we shall see a willingness to devote to the improvement of these conditions whatever money may be found to be necessary.

The Ministry of Health has now been established for nine years, and I think one may fairly say that, so far as one can measure the progress of the public health by the general vital statistics, the record of the Ministry of Health is not unsatisfactory. The general death-rate in those years has come down from 14 per 1,000 to 12.3, and the infant mortality rate has dropped from 89 to 70 per 1,0010 births. But there is one figure which shows no improvement, although it concerns a very vital subject, and that is the figure of maternal mortality. It seems to me a terrible thing to think that to-day, out of every 250 mothers, one dies in childbirth, and that that state of things has persisted for the last 20 years. And that is not really the full measure of the injury that is being done. One must not only remember what happens to the family when the mother is taken away, and there are young children left who never can have the care and the influence which a mother alone can exercise over them; one must think also of those other mothers, who do not die, but who emerge from their confinement permanently injured in their health, their nervous system perhaps shattered, unable really to fulfil the full duties of motherhood.

I feel that the time has come when a great new effort ought to be made to bring down these figures of maternal mortality and to preserve the health of these mothers. There are many things we do not know yet about the causes of maternal mortality, but we do know something. We know that these figures, which persist, as I say, steadily throughout the country, nevertheless, are not universal. There are places where we can find much lower figures. I think they will be found to be those places where there is the most careful ante-natal and post-natal supervision, and where the people themselves have had the greatest opportunity of learning what is necessary for them to preserve their health and the lives of their infants. The Ministry of Health is taking up this question very seriously. I think public attention has been largely directed to it through the publication of a report on the protection of motherhood, drawn up by Dame Janet Campbell, a distinguished officer of my Department.

I am now endeavouring to institute a new inquiry into the causes of maternal mortality. I am trying to enlist in that service the general practitioners throughout the country, as well as the local authorities; and the British Medical Association have assured me that they are deeply interested in the question and that they will use all their influence with their members to get them to give every assistance possible to my inquiry. Under this scheme a local medical officer of health will make inquiry into every case of maternal mortality which occurs, wherever it may be, throughout the country. They will make this inquiry on lines which will be laid down by a Committee at the Ministry of Health on the lines of that Cancer Committee which I have already quoted. Their returns will come in quarterly to that Committee. They will be there examined, the information will be classified, and the Committee will draw what conclusions they find it possible to draw from the information which they get; and all that information will then go back again to the local authorities, and will be made known to those who are responsible for the conduct of the infant welfare centres and the maternity hospitals.

Then there is another thing that I am doing. I am setting up a Committee to inquire into the whole position of midwives—into their status, into their training, into their remuneration—because, after all, the success or failure of any efforts which we may make to improve the conditions of childbirth in the country must largely depend upon the midwives, upon whom a great responsibility rests. Midwifery is a hard profession, an arduous profession, not a well-paid profession, and if we are to get the class of women that we want to enter that profession—educated, humane, sympathetic, earnest, enthusiastic—we must make the conditions of the profession such that we shall attract the right class of women. Let us make no mistake about it. Once again I must warn the Committee that all these efforts are going to mean money, and that we shall have to spend money in providing more accommodation, in making conditions better for the people who are carrying on the services, if we are really to make progress. If we can indicate with any confidence to the people of this country what are the precautions that it is necessary for us to take, if we are to remove this menace from our midst, I cannot believe that the national conscience would allow the lives of the mothers of this country to be sacrificed merely for the sake of a few extra thousand pounds.

5.0 p.m.

I am afraid I have taken up a good deal of time, but it is really impossible, even in an hour and a quarter, to review one-tenth of the problems with which we have to deal at the Ministry of Health, and I am very conscious that I must have omitted many subjects in which individual Members of this House feel a deep interest. I hope they will forgive me if I am not able to deal with them all, but, in the course of Debate, they will have an opportunity of putting any points to which they desire to call my attention, and my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who will speak later, will do his best to deal with them. I hope that what I have said has been sufficient to make the Committee feel that the Ministry of Health is a Department which is justifying its existence and which is justifying the title which was given to it when it was first established. From year to year, we are gradually increasing the demands which we have to make upon the national Exchequer, and yet our expenditure is but a small fraction of the money which the nation spends on its services as a whole. I do not anticipate that any criticism which may be directed against us this afternoon will be on the ground that we are spending too much money. Rather I should anticipate that it would be in the opposite direction. However that may be, we have to cut our coat according to our cloth, and I now submit the Estimates to the Committee, and I trust that they will approve them in the form in which they are presented.

Photo of Mr Edwin Scrymgeour Mr Edwin Scrymgeour , Dundee

May I ask a question?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

It is not usual to interrogate speakers the moment they have sat down, especially in Committee where hon. Members can speak several times. I have no doubt that the hon. Member's point will be raised in the course of discussion.

Photo of Mr Frank Briant Mr Frank Briant , Lambeth North

We have listened to an extremely interesting speech from the Minister of Health, a speech which was not a minute too long. Although we may differ from him on policy, we recognise the sincerity and zeal with which he is carrying out the services that come before his Department, and he is singularly fortunate in the co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman his Parliamentary Secretary. I cannot, however, share the optimism of the right hon. Gentleman. I am by nature an optimist, but I am bound to say that he leaves an impression on the Committee, which, I think, for the sake of truth, should be removed. One would almost imagine that the housing problem was being solved. It is neither solved, nor is it, at present, on the way to solution. The right hon. Gentleman has dispersed one of the great articles of pride of his Government. It is only a few months ago that they were telling us the number of houses built in one year. He tells us now that it is entirely due to the scramble just before the end of the present system. Indeed, a year ago, the Parlia- mentary Secretary said: "Therefore, there is no reason why anyone should have any anxiety that the number of houses in the approaching year will be less than the number for the last 12 months." Now, the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that it was due to a scramble. We are not to expect 200,000 houses a year, but that at least there will be some great diminution from that number.

It is extremely difficult to arrive at the real facts in connection with housing, but I regret that he did not give us the faintest idea of the number of houses that are required or of the number of people who are living in conditions which we should all agree are undesirable. I want to try to arrive at some figures at least. The figure, more or less official, is that at the Armistice there were 800,000 houses required. Since the Armistice 1,000,000 have been built. Nominally, there is a surplus of 200,000, but every Minister of Health has agreed that the normal increase in population and the deterioration of houses require at least 100,000 houses each year. That means that we are roughly still 600,000 or 700,000 houses short. Recent figures seem to show that, so far from 200,000 being likely to be built in the present year, only 100,000 will be built. It means that in the coming year we are not getting one over the requirements but only just keeping up to the requirements of the year. At the present rate of progress, we shall never catch up the requirements that have existed for so many years. That is only striving to get back to the standard of 1914, but anyone who knows that standard knows that the requirements then were very great indeed. There were slums then. I am very much interested to hear of the reconditioning of houses, but do not let us place too much trust in that. It means that the landlords put on another coat of whitewash and another piece of paper on the walls and calls that reconditioning. The actual conditions that make for ill-health still remain. With all your clinics and maternity centres, and welfare centres and research, the greatest need for health is good housing, and until you get good housing you will never get good health.

It is sometimes rather difficult to speak in this House personally, because the least accusation of what is called sob stuff is resented, but one cannot help appealing to personal knowledge to emphasise the facts of the case. I will try to draw an interesting figure from the right hon. Gentleman's own city, the city of Birmingham, a city of which he is rightly proud. It is only two or three days since the Lord Mayor of Birmingham stated that during the last nine years they had built about 19,000 houses, that there were on their books 28,000 people waiting for them, and of these 23,000 were living in shocking conditions. When can we hope that even Birmingham will be properly housed if that is the rate of progress up to now I am not dealing with figures and statistics that are more or less official. I believe that these semi-official figures understate rather than over-state the case. Every fresh experience in London makes me aware of houses that never possibly come under the immediate survey of the medical officer and yet are unfit for habitation. Take our experience in South London after the flood. I went to see 60 or 70 dwellings. Some were not overcrowded at all, but no one who knows the value of light and air would think that they were suitable habitations for any human being. Yet they were continuing and would have continued, and probably would never have appeared in any list of houses as unsuitable for human habitation.

I do not think that there is any exaggeration when I say that, at the present moment, there are 3,000,000 people living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions, and I want to know what we are going to do about it. Is there one of us who would dare to face an audience in London and tell the people what I believe to be the hateful truth, and say: "We know your conditions are such as to make health almost impossible, such as to make decency almost a miracle, such that you cannot have any of the amenities of life, such that it throws temptation on the young to go on the streets, and almost presses the men and women from the home into the public-house. We know all this, but we tell you, You are going to live and die where you are.' We hold out no hope of any other accommodation." It is true, but who would dare to state it to the millions of people of whom it is true? I believe from the bottom of my heart that that is the fact, and, faced with that fact, I do not think that this House can afford to go on with the present moderate rate of progress. It is all very well to talk about these things in figures, but, when you see the facts and know what it means to the individual human beings who have as much right to a decent life as we have, then I do not think that we have any right to be silent.

I have been familiar with this problem all my life, and yet during the last two months I have had more letters about houses than I have ever had before. Those who know me will not believe that I am saying this for the sake of creating false sentiment. It is a tragic fact. Let me give some illustrations from my personal experience. I was asked to go and see a woman who had been confined three days before. She was sitting up in an arm-chair, with four or five children laughing and playing round about her, when the poor woman wanted quiet and rest. There was no rest, because they had to sleep and cat and wash there. I said: "Why are you not upstairs?" She said: "Will you go up and see?" I went up, and in the room in which the baby was born three days before the wet was running down in streams. I went to another house, where there was a sick man whom I had known all his life since a lad, lying on his bed, the only bed available. He had to lie by the side of the coffin of his dead child. I went to another house. There was a young fellow very ill with pneumonia. Anyone knows the need of plenty of air, but there, in a tiny little room like a boxroom, three of them sleep. Let me read some cases, and I will only read the bare details with none of the horrors attached to them. I will just give four cases from my own district. "Father, mother, six children, the oldest 12, in one room." "Eight in one room." Another case: "Father, mother, three children, one room." There is a kind of tragic sarcasm about this: "One child under treatment for debility and enlarged glands; requires plenty of air." I have another case of a father, mother, and three children, the eldest of whom is 13, in one room; and yet another, in which a family, consisting of boys aged 21, 19 and 14, a girl of 15, and two children under 14, are occupying two small rooms. That must mean that grown-up children of both sexes are mixed up in these rooms if they are to sleep at all.

This is not sentiment; it is tragic truth, and I am not saying these things from a party point of view at all. I do not care what party improves the conditions, I would support them. But I do not think that we are facing the facts. There is no Act of Parliament which I regard as sufficient to meet the difficulties. After all, if it costs money, it is economic in the long run. We have to support hundreds and thousands of men and women because they are broken down owing to the housing conditions; we have to keep them; the community keeps them through the rates or taxes, and I feel very strongly that the House should face this question. I do not care much about parties; I am not much of a party politician, and I am of no earthly use to my own party, but I speak from real knowledge when I say that there is no subject to which this House can give closer and more devout attention than this question. I believe that many Members do not know the facts, and that, if they knew them, they would never go home quietly and say "All is well." Even the Minister of Transport last November said that he thought there were enough houses for those who required them. What can one expect from a right hon. and gallant Gentleman who is so absolutely ignorant of the beginning of this problem that he holds that view? It is simply that he does not know. It is not many months ago that this House had a long discussion on the Revised Prayer Book. I was not present, but I am told that the whole discussion was on a very high level, and that the Members were moved by real religious emotion and enthusiasm. I would add this, without any touch of irreverence, and certainly with no sneer at those with deep religious convictions, that the best proof of the real presence of the spirit of Christianity will be shown in our desire and intention to remove this scandal from our land.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Nelson and Colne

I should like to associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Member with reference to the speech of the Minister, to which we all listened with more than usual interest. We have also listened with more than usual interest to the very moving speech which has just been delivered. I have to confess that the Minister of Health baffles me; he is a baffling personality. When he speaks with great feeling on the question of maternal mortality and on disease-ridden homes, I feel at one with him. That is the Minister of Health whom I like; I am very fond of him in that capacity. But, unfortunately, there is another side to him, one that pays too much homage to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and listens too readily to the call for economy; and there is an aspect of the Minister which is even less attractive, and I have often used very hard words about it, and that is the Minister in his capacity of political oppressor. Of that side of his work we have heard little this afternoon. He has quite properly emphasised the primary work of his Department, and in so far as he is making new and special efforts to deal with the problem of maternal mortality, with the very great problem of rheumatism, and with any great problem of public health, he will have the support of all Members on these benches. We are glad to know that he is making new efforts to deal with the problems which have appeared very prominently before the public in recent months.

On the question of housing, however, naturally the Members of the Committee will think that I begin to part company with him. On the problem of slums, I agree with everything which he has said as to the extraordinary difficulty surrounding it. It is a very special problem, and yet it is one that cannot be solved, as the Minister pointed out, apart from the provision of an adequate supply of houses elsewhere. The solution of the slum problem depends, in the first instance, upon an increasing supply of new houses. I am not at all sure that it is possible, as the right hon. Gentleman thinks, to count the 600,000 houses which each year get a new coat of paint, or a new latch put on the back door, and which are regarded as reconditioned buildings. I am not inclined to believe that that kind of improvement is going to solve the problem, and I am a little anxious at the direction in which the right hon. Gentleman's mind is working. He could not, of course, refer to legislation to-day. Whether he adumbrated the shadow of a scheme I do not know, but I am inclined to the opinion that his mind is working in a direction which, I think, will be unfortunate.

I was perturbed, also, at his reference to the correspondence which has taken place in the "Times" with regard to the hardship of the slum landlord. I was not surprised at the cheers of approval which the right hon. Gentleman got from his supporters, because I have no doubt that there is more joy in the Tory camp over one slum landlord who is saved than over 99 slum tenants who are lost. It would be disastrous if what appears on the surface to be an injustice to the good landlord here and there were to be used as the basis of a scheme which would reduce the powers of the local authorities to deal effectively with the slums and the slum landlords. We have always been told from the other side that these hard cases will happen. If the hard case happens to be a slum landlord, ways and means apparently are to be found by legislation of assisting that hard case, but if the assisting of that hard case will in any degree prevent the radical treatment of the slum problem, it will be a very great mistake.

The real problem, and the major problem, is that of new houses. One feels that the housing functions of the Ministry of Health are becoming so mechanised, so normal a part of the work of the Department, that that old fervour which was behind the housing question earlier, is beginning to be dissipated, and we are settling down to a jog-trot of production, which, while it may satisfy some people, will not go sufficiently far to deal effectively with the whole housing situation. One of the elements of the problem of the slum is overcrowding. I am not suggesting that the overcrowded dwelling is a slum, but I am saying that overcrowding is an essential feature of the slum. The truth is that, because we are not getting on quickly enough with the building of new houses, we are, in the new housing schemes, actually taking the first step in the conversion of the new estates into slums, in so far as the slum problem is a problem of overcrowding. The City Engineer of Cardiff has said that, in that great city, one-half of the three-bedroom houses built by the corporation are tenanted by two families, and notwithstanding the erection of 6,000 houses since 1921, overcrowding in that city is worse than it was at the last census. That is a very serious situation, and if attention were to be concentrated on the slums, to the exclusion of the larger question of increasing the supply of new houses, it would be most unfortunate.

The right hon. Gentleman has definitely adopted the policy of a smaller subsidy, and it is interesting to reflect upon his words, which were vague generalisations. So far as I recollect,, no real evidence has been brought forward to prove that the reduction of the subsidy was not going to hamper the solution of the housing problem. We were told that things were going to look up, and more houses were going to be built. We were never given the actual figures, which show that, as compared with last year, the amount of house building taking place this very day is very much smaller than it was a year ago; and that if we take the last months of last year, and compare that with the last months of 1926, we find that the amount of housing actually under construction was about one-half. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to explain that away by saying that there was naturally a burst of activity in order to qualify for the subsidy before it was reduced. It was natural to suppose that local authorities would bring forward their schemes, and press them forward, so as to get the advantage of the larger subsidy, but 7i months have now elapsed since the new subsidies came into operation. The situation has become more or less stabilised, and yet to-day the amount of building does not compare with the amount which was taking place last year, and I should doubt whether it is as large as the amount which was taking place on this date two years ago.

We were told, as another excuse, that it was the months of winter, but the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that that is not an explanation, because if we compare the same winter months of the previous year with 1927 we find that there is still a great disparity between the amount of building that was being carried on in the winter months. Apparently, the cost of houses has fallen £80, and the reduction in the subsidy accounts for £25. I do not know whether he is going to claim that the whole of that reduction of £76 per house in the case of parlour houses and the reduction of £80 in the case of non-parlour houses is due to the reduction of the subsidy by £25. If he claims that, let us get rid of all subsidies, and then the cost of houses would be negligible! Another £80 off the cost of houses would be really worth having. In the case of houses built under the Act of 1923, the subsidy now stands at £50. If £25 reduction of subsidy yields this enormous saving of nearly £80, a £50 reduction would bring down the cost of houses to something like half the present level, and then, I think, we should see our way along the road to a complete solution of the question

As a matter of fact, it is not possible to argue that the reduction of the subsidy has directly reduced housing costs. Local authorities are not agreed about it. A month or two ago one of the local government journals made inquiries of representative local authorities in England and Wales as to the effect of subsidies on prices, and the returns from 78 authorities were as follows: 19 local authorities reported that the price of houses had fallen, and that it was as a consequence of the reduced subsidy, but 22 local authorities, though admitting that the price of houses had fallen, were very doubtful as to the reason. [Interruption.] In many cases, they attributed it to causes entirely outside the operations of the subsidy. Although the right hon. Gentleman says county council officers may be slow, I am not convinced that county borough and borough and urban district council officers are as slow as he tries to make out the county council officers are. In 22 cases they cannot say the reduced prices were due to the subsidy, and in some cases they say they were due to other causes. In 37 cases the local authorities reported that prices had not fallen. I think it was perfectly obvious that we were bound to have a fall in prices. If you first speed up house building and then there comes a slump in orders for houses, and building falls by a half, you naturally expect prices to fall. This was the method applied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) when he was Minister of Health. He said, "How can I get down the cost of houses?" and decided that he could do it by stopping orders for houses. When he refused to admit any more orders for houses it was not very long before the builders were clamouring for orders at any price so long as they could carry on and keep their workpeople in employment. Therefore, it was perfectly natural to assume that once the great burst of activity was over, and when new houses were not to get the new subsidy, that prices would fall. Whether prices are going to remain at their present rate if the volume of building increases remains to be seen. I am not at all satisfied that they will.

One word about the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, That seems to have been about as successful as the right hon. Gentleman's experiments with steel houses. That Act has virtually been a dead letter. The right hon. Gentleman spent a good deal of his time this afternoon in trying to explain away its failure. On this side of the House we thought it would fail, or, if it did not fail, that it would relieve the wrong kind of people, and from what the Minister has said it is clear that the test as to whether this large grant of public money for reconditioning rural cottages and rural buildings is paid or not depends not upon the capacity of people to pay but on whether they hold a pistol at the head of the local authority and say, "If you do not give me this public charity I shall not undertake the reconditioning of these buildings." I understand that is really the position. So far as I have been able to gather, it is the case that people who have become suddenly rich, for one reason or another, and are now trying to become part of the old nobility of the countryside, with disastrous results, have said: "Unless we get these grants, we are not going to undertake these improvements." I give the old country gentry the credit for not descending to that practice, but it is perfectly true that this subsidy does not necessarily go to the person who is in need of the money in order to improve his cottages but goes into the pockets of people who say, "Unless I get the money I am not going to undertake this duty." That is an unfortunate kind of subsidy. I am sorry more houses are not being reconditioned in the rural areas, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has had to come here to-day in sackcloth and ashes to explain that, after all, he was wrong and that we shall not get very much out of this, and to give at great length the reasons for his lack of success.

There is one very important aspect of the work of the Ministry of Health to which no reference at all was made by the Minister, and that is the administration of the Poor Law. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman is now in a somewhat difficult position. He started out in this Parliament as a Poor Law reformer. He was going to abolish the boards of guardians. He saw the absurdities, the iniquities, the injustices and the inadequacies of the Poor Law system, but, as I understand, he was diverted from his plan by—should I call them the backwoodsmen of his own party? Now, in this year 1928, he is trying to fasten down the Poor Law system to the principles of 1834. Instead of looking forward to 1934 he is looking backwards to 1834, and trying to drive boards of guardians into a perfectly inhuman administration of the Poor Law system. He has now had on the Statute Book for some time an Act which enables him to apply such pressure to boards of guardians that he may ultimately extinguish them altogether. Three boards of guardians are now appointed by him and are confirmed in their offices by him every six months, and their reports are published by him at the public expense. They must be taken as representing the right hon. Gentleman's policy and his point of view, because clearly he would not reappoint them every six months if they were not carrying out the administration of the Poor Law as he would have it carried out. The fact that for some reason quite unknown to me he spends money on publishing their reports seems to suggest that he is rather proud of them. The administration in Chester-le-street, in West Ham and in Bedwellty is an administration of the type which was common enough before the War, but I think it is one which we ought by now to have thrown aside.

I know what the answer of the right hon. Gentleman will be. Later to-night we shall have a long list of cases from West Ham, Chester-le-Street, Bedwellty and Bermondsey to prove how thoroughly unscrupulous and rascally people have been battening for years on public funds and living most extravagantly. I am going to admit that in the administration of those board of guardians there have been cases which I would not stand up in this House to defend. I have said so time and again. I have said about West Ham and Chester-le-Street that there were undoubtedly cases in which people have been given relief who ought not to have received relief, and who, perhaps, have had relief on a higher scale than they ought to have had; but that is no reply to the charge I make that for every case in which out-relief has been given improperly you can find amongst Tory boards of guardians a case, or perhaps two cases, or perhaps a hundred cases, in which relief has been denied to people to whom it ought to have been granted. That is the policy towards which the right hon. Gentleman is now drifting—not the fair treatment of the poor who are not in a position to maintain themselves, but the use of the Poor Law as an instrument of compulsion and as a lash upon those people to drive them off public funds. I say that that is punishing people for their poverty.

Documents emanating from the officers of the right hon. Gentleman show that the Minister's view of the situation is that there is now work for anybody who cares to take it. That is a preposterous assumption, but it runs like a thread through document after document I have seen which has been sent to boards of guardians: "You must get rid of all these people who are receiving relief; the economic situation is improving and they must go elsewhere to find the work which is available." Where is the work available? There are to-day a million people out of work. If we gave all those people work to-morrow, we should merely throw another million people out of work. To use the Poor Law as a lash with which to drive people outside the Poor Law system into a perfectly fruitless search for hypothetical jobs is not statesmanship but the height of public folly, and the right hon. Gentleman's administration of the Poor Law system is the thing which will be remembered against him beyond anything else. It is not merely his own nominees who are backed in the display of this mean, miserable spirit towards the poor, but other boards of guardians are being compelled to carry out the wishes, not of the people who sent them there but of the right hon. Gentleman's officials. The indignities to which the Poplar Board of Guardians are being subjected are such as to warrant them refusing to carry on, but that would please the right hon. Gentleman. Every de- cision taken by this board of guardians is looked at by the district auditor. Every decision has to be submitted to him. If an applicant is given 6d. more relief a week than the district auditor in his wisdom thinks is right, the case is put aside and there is a threat of surcharge or threat of a special audit as the case may be.

I understand that a very strong letter has been sent to another London board of guardians inviting them to alter their policy. I do not want to raise this question to-day, but I think it is deplorable that a document of this kind should be published in the Press before the board of guardians concerned have had an opportunity of considering it; and until they have had that opportunity I propose to say very little about it. Here we have a proposal made to a board of guardians which has never been surcharged and which has never been subject to a special audit., and they are invited in regard to their expenditure to go back to the pre-War years and adopt the old practice of refusing outdoor relief to large classes of persons and offer them the workhouse or Belmont as an alternative. Even if all the illegitimate cases were weeded out and only sound cases left, you would find it impossible to find accommodation in the large institutions which have been mentioned.

In some cases it has been suggested that the husband should be parted from the family and offered the workhouse. A suggestion of that kind is totally out of keeping with the real spirit of the modern Poor Law system. That system has had placed upon it a strain which it was never intended to meet, and it never could effectively meet the long strain of trade depression which we have experienced during the last seven years. The Poor Law system of the past, as far as the able-bodied were concerned, was based upon the assumption that the able-bodied person who was not in work was a rascal, or that there was some moral defect which wanted firm treatment rather than sympathy. The position of these poor people to-day is that, no matter what they do, they cannot alter the circumstances in which they are placed, and a large number of able-bodied men are unable to get work. Under these conditions it is not right that the Poor Law system should be administered in such a way as to place these people in the class of semi-criminals, and regard them as people to be treated harshly and unkindly, and who are to be given official warning that, unless they break up their families and go into the workhouse, nothing can be done for them.

When the Minister of Health was speaking about maternal mortality and the horrors of the slums and his pity for these people, it struck me that a very large number of the people who live in the slums where the women die in childbirth are the people who are being dealt with very harshly to-day. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to exercise towards the men who are down and out the same sympathy as he shows in the cases of infants left without mother and the sympathy which he is extending to the slum-dweller. A good many of the people in Bermondsey and elsewhere are slum-dwellers, and if they are worthy of decent houses in which to live; if the efforts of the State are to be directed to providing decent houses for de slum-dwellers, then the same kind of weight and authority ought to be put behind providing them with a modest livelihood when they are no longer required in the labour market. What the right hon. Gentleman does on one side he forgets to do on the other.

I welcome what the Minister of Health said about the prevention of disease and a further investigation into the causes of disease, but we cannot allow this opportunity to go by without placing on record our protest against the present method of administering the Poor Law and the treatment of the unemployed. The Poor Law problem is primarily the problem of the unemployed, and the sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman is ready to mete out to the mother and to the dwellers in the slums, we ask should be meted out to the able-bodied and to the families that have to live in the slums. We are not asking for an allowance of £10 a week for everybody, but we do contend that the people who are driven to rely on the Poor Law should be treated decently and humanely as people who are unfortunate, and not as semi-criminals desirous of defrauding the public funds of the local authority. They should be treated more as a body of people who are anxious to get work if it can be found.

I think the Government should accept a greater responsibility in regard to this problem, and they should do a great deal more in the direction of putting a means of livelihood into the hands of these poor people.

Photo of Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck , Nottingham South

I do not think the view which has been expressed by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) as to the character of the Minister of Health is one which is shared by any hon. Member of this House. At any rate most hon. Members on this side will agree that the right hon. Gentleman is a Minister of singular and extreme single-mindedness and honesty. I do not think a more single-minded Minister ever sat on the Treasury Bench. If there is one thing certain it is that when this Parliament comes to an end, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will be acclaimed by universal consent as one of the Ministers who has brought credit to his party and to the Government. I am not here to pay compliments to my right hon. Friend. I do not mean to say that he is not entitled to congratulations for the success of his housing programme in the fact that his Department have been able to build 1,000,000 houses. I think that is a great achievement, and the nation has reason to be proud of his work. I wish, however, to put in a caveat against complacency in this matter, because there is still an enormous amount to be done. The Bishop of Southwark wrote to the "Times" the other day, and stated that an enormous number of people in his diocese are living under perfectly disgraceful conditions. Mr. E. D. Simon wrote an article in one of the magazines in which he made the statement that there is more overcrowding now than there ever was before. We have just been reminded that the Mayor of Birmingham has stated that the corporation has received 29,000 applications for houses. At the present time an enormous number of people are living under overcrowded conditions in lodgings.

We have heard criticisms on this question from the Liberal party and the Labour party, but I have listened in vain for any practical or helpful suggestion. I suggest that the Minister of Health should aim at continuity of policy. What is most important is that we should arouse a feeling of confidence in the local authorities, and amongst everyone connected with housing, and we should encourage them to feel that if they push on with the business of housing the Government will not let them down. The Minister of Health has told us that he could not for the moment say that the local authorities could count on receiving the housing subsidy for a longer period than to 1st April next year. I submit that that is too short a time. We want a longer and a surer period for the people to get on with building work, and they should be assured of assistance for at least another two years. That is the only way in which we can possibly get the number of houses we need to relieve the slums and satisfy the ordinary increase of the population. I do not want to revive old controversies. I was one of those who opposed the dropping of the subsidy two years ago. One of the drawbacks of the housing policy of the local authorities is that they are suffering at the present moment from a state of uncertainty. They have had one reduction in the subsidy, and they are not certain that they will not have to suffer another reduction before long. If you want to make progress with housing, for goodness sake let us have continuity of policy and encourage that policy in every possible way.

6.0 p.m.

The slum policy adopted by the Government, I think, is rather disappointing. Speaking last week, the Prime Minister said that one of the chief items in the policy of the Conservative party was to deal with the slums. After listening to the speech of the Minister of Health this afternoon, I must confess that I found very little that was new in regard to the slum policy. We are told that the proper course to pursue is to extend the policy of reconditioning property. I wish to enter a protest against that policy, because many of the houses which it is proposed to recondition ought to be pulled down because they are reeking with vermin and disease, and the best policy to adopt is to sweep them away altogether. I do not believe that the policy of reconditioning the houses in slum areas will deal effectively with those areas. The suggestion has been made that the Government should help the individual landlord in some way to recondition his property. I think we might assist public utility societies of a charitable character, such as those which have been formed by the "Copec" and by the Church of England and other denominations, with funds, so that they could purchase the property and recondition it, and keep a watchful eye on the tenants. I do not think that the Government, so far, have realised the possibilities of useful action. I have been connected for some time with a society of a similar character in the North of England, which borrowed a considerable sum of money at a very low rate of interest in order to help the slum dwellers; but no sooner had we launched our scheme than we were left in the lurch by the Government and by the local authority, who both reduced their subsidies, so I speak rather feelingly on that question.

To turn to another subject, my right hon. Friend gave us a graphic account of the moral degradation caused by sleepy sickness, but there is another kind of moral degradation which particularly affects the younger portion of our community, and that is the moral degradation caused by long periods of idleness and unemployment. If I might venture to criticise the Ministry of Health and the Government generally, it would be in this direction, that we are not doing what we ought to do to counteract the evil effects of unemployment on the youth of the country.. There are thousands of young men who are being treated as a sort of shuttlecock between the Poor Law and the Unemployment Insurance Act. They lapse from Unemployment Insurance, are refused help from the board of guardians, and have nothing left to do but go on the roads. They may start with very good intentions, and may at first really seriously intend to try to get work but they very quickly lapse. They get taken up by older hands, and very soon end up by acquiring a serious distaste for work.

If the quantity of petty crime in this country were analysed it would, I am sure, be found that a great number of offences are committed by young people who have been driven by want and unemployment to the life of the tramp. I sit pretty regularly on the board of guardians for the county in which I live, and we find that nearly all the offences which are committed in our county are committed by young people of this kind. I do not think that we are performing our moral duty towards these young people. There are, I believe, no fewer than 10,000 men and 500 women on the road at the present time. The Minister, I believe, denies that there is an increase in the casuals of this country, but the fact remains that there is more overcrowding in our casual wards than ever there was before. The problem is not to be solved by our present method, which is to push these people from one casual ward to another. I am told that the policy of the Ministry is to lengthen the distance between the casual wards, so that they shall be at least 15 or 20 miles apart. I think that that is rather a brutal kind of policy, and it is a useless one, for after a man, on the diet of the casual ward, has walked 15 or 20 miles, what energy has he to take up work if he gets it?

What I plead for is a national policy; I plead for concerted action on behalf of the enormous army of casuals in this country. The Metropolitan Asylum Board is showing us the way to a more intelligent policy. They have established a shelter under the arches of Charing Cross Station, where they classify all the applicants for relief. The promising ones they send to their hostel in Gray's Inn Road, where they are kept for a fortnight, and serious efforts are made to find them employment. The intermediate classes are sent to the Church Army and the Salvation Army, and the hopeless cases are sent to the casual wards. Yorkshire is beginning an intelligent policy of concerted action. They have appointed a statutory committee representative of all the boards of guardians in Yorkshire with a view to adopting a. common policy. The common policy, so far, consists only of pooling their expenses, but what I plead for is that the Ministry, either by law or by persuasion, should get statutory committees appointed in every county all over the country. co-ordinating them one with another. so that there may be a co-ordinated policy regarding these people who drift from one place to another. It is a great mistake to think that reclamation is hopeless. There are societies of earnest and devoted men such as those who run the Colony of St. Francis in Dorset, and there is another society at Heckmondwike, in Yorkshire, which is devoting itself to this problem and is meeting with remarkable success. The old men, of course, are hopeless, but the younger men are hopeful propositions if only the problem is attacked in the right way. I would make an earnest plea that this should be one of the reforms to be kept in mind by the Government and taken up at the earliest possible opportunity. We are not doing our duty as a Christian people to our fellow-countrymen if we allow to be maintained much longer a policy which is degrading, unhelpful and contrary to the interests and welfare of the people.

Mrs. RUNCIMAN:

I should in any case have to ask for the indulgence of the Committee in venturing to address it for the first time, but I feel that I must do so specially in this case, as I propose to recall the attention of the Committee to the matter of housing, a subject which has so often been discussed in this Chamber, and with which hon. Members are, therefore, familiar. I cannot claim that I can bring forward anything very new on the subject, but this is a perennial problem, and it seems to me to be only right and necessary that we should review it from time to time, and consider what progress is being made, and whether the progress is in the right direction. I, therefore, venture to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant), whose personal experience makes his contributions to these Debates so valuable, and to consider the subject, perhaps, rather from a more general point of view.

It has always seemed to me to be a matter of regret that Parliament did not earlier recognise its national responsibility in the matter of housing. It was only when it concerned itself more and more with legislation directed to social welfare that it began to realise how intimately bound up with these questions was the condition of the homes of the people, either enhancing the value of these efforts or, in the case of people who were compelled to live under bad conditions, rendering them practically useless. Now that Members of all parties—for this is no party question—are united in recognising this as a great national problem, the task has become more difficult because of the unfortunate legacy of the War. We are not only faced with a great shortage of houses, but also with the fact that, during the long period of building inactivity, bad houses were con- tinually becoming worse, and good houses were continually becoming bad.

We are all, from our own experience, from cases of which we are told, and from reports which we read from time to time in the newspapers, painfully aware that tens of thousands of our fellow-countrymen are still living under conditions which are really intolerable, and we are still a very long way from being able to claim, as I hope one day we shall be able to claim, that in our country every decent, respectable family has a decent, respectable home. I think we are sometimes almost reluctant to allow ourselves to realise what it means to live in these insanitary dwellings in slum areas —places where bad structure, damp, and absence of sun and light not only make a healthy existence really impossible, but also sap all vitality and take all the joy out of existence. I often think of the task of the poor women whose duty it is to try to make a home under these conditions. They have not even the materials for keeping their houses clean, and any sort of comfortable and economical housekeeping is impossible owing to the lack of conveniences for storing food and so on.

When, in addition to this, the houses are overcrowded, their plight is indeed pitiable. Overcrowding, more than anything else, destroys all possibility of contented family life. It turns what ought to be a natural pleasure in its happy intimacies into a despairing and almost impossible struggle to preserve even the ordinary decencies of civilisation. In one of our big industrial towns recently, the medical officer of health reported that, in the case of 1,000 confinements which took place in different districts, in only 284 cases was a separate room available. In 12 cases, four other persons had to share the same room, and in another case five, while in yet another case even eight persons had no other accommodation. Over 400 of these houses were shared by two or more families. When every room is overcrowded, there are no means for meeting even the great emergencies of birth and death with decency or dignity.

All these bad conditions can only be cured in one way. The Minister of Health has already pointed this out that it is a very obvious way. It is extremely difficult. It is by providing other accom- modation. I was very interested in what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the clearance of slums. I hope he will allow me to say how much I realise what an honourable family record he has in this and other civic services, and I am glad to recognise the interest which he is showing in this great question. I gather from what he says that it is possible that at some future date some of the worst difficulties in relation to slums may be removed, but for the moment I am not so much concerned with what happens to the slums as with what happens to the slum dwellers. I quite realise that, in moving slum dwellers out of their slums, it is not only a question of finance or of bricks and mortar, but is also a psychological question. They are extremely unwilling to leave those miserable homes, and I think we must realise that devotion to a home does not depend in the least on the magnificence or even the comfort of that home. It is touching to see the devotion that is shown to what must. to us, seem only two or three miserable rooms, which, however, in the case of these poor people, enshrine the most poignant memories of the joys and sorrows of their family history. They cannot bear to leave their district.

Great efforts should always be made to deal sympathetically with these people, not to take them too far away, and, if possible, to see that they are accompanied by some of their neighbours, so that they do not lose touch with all their old associations. To meet this great problem of new housing, a very great effort has, of course, been made, and I am sure we all join in the satisfaction which the right hon. Gentleman must feel in the thought that now tens of thousands of our fellow-countrymen are being housed comfortably, with every modern convenience at their disposal. We rejoice also to realise that the standard of working-class accommodation is steadily rising owing to all this effort.

It has been pointed out already that we have not yet overtaken the shortage caused by the War. One must not be too precise about figures of that kind, but it seems safe to say we are still short by some 600,000 or 700,000 houses and in the reports of medical officers of health, most valuable and illuminating documents, there is evidence that the demand for these council houses is not yet satisfied. Certainly all who have personal experience still find many cases of comparatively well-to-do artisans living under horrible conditions, because they have not been able to find other houses. What seems to be much more serious in those reports is that, apparently, in spite of this great effort, there is very little diminution in overcrowding and very little improvement in regard to insanitary housing. I think we are forced to the conclusion that, although immense progress has been made in housing the better paid artisans, very little progress has been made in providing accommodation for the poorly paid and irregularly employed. Every house built must make some contribution to the problem. It must release some other house. And yet it is surprising how little effect seems to have been produced in these overcrowded conditions.

I gather from the right hon. Gentleman that we must not be unduly disturbed at the fact that building has fallen so very much during the early months of this year as compared with the similar months of last year. I gather that is only temporary, and that building will continue again at the old rate. It is true building costs have considerably gone down, but there are other things which are not satisfactory. Money is still dear, and it must be realised that the cost of money is sometimes almost as important as the cost of land. Rates are also high and we cannot expect relief in rents from a reduction of rates. The prospects, therefore, are not altogether hopeful with regard to the housing of the poor. I do not know whether some new Government scheme may not be necessary to meet this. I do not think we are prepared to take the view that we have simply to wait until building costs are so far reduced that it is possible to build houses at a rent which poor people can pay. It is very difficult to know in what direction immediate relief can be given. I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman speak of what had been done towards reconditioning houses. I am not sure that a general process of adaptation of existing buildings might not afford some relief—I do not mean only buildings that are now occupied or slum dwellings, but any houses that can be got for the purpose. We are all familiar in fashionable quarters with the conversion of houses into flats for the well-to-do, and there must be many districts where the same kind of process is going on. There may be great advantage in using well-built houses, even though they may be old, for this purpose. I should like to see something attempted on a really large scale. I am not sure, however, that legislation would not be required and I gather I should be out of order, if I attempted to specify what should be done in any detail.

It is a commonplace saying among a certain type of people that it is no use moving a slum dweller, because when he goes into a new house he makes it into a slum again. That is the kind of remark usually made by people who want an excuse for doing nothing. At the same time, there is a little truth in it. It is only natural. You cannot expect people who have been brought up generation after generation in squalor immediately to adapt themselves to modern conveniences and improvements. It is a very good plan to bring these people gradually to rather better houses where they at least have healthy surroundings, sun, light and air and all necessary conveniences. I am certain we must not be despondent about the attitude of the slum dweller towards better houses. On the lines we associate with the name of Octavia Hill a great deal is being and has been done.

I am not sure that even within the very wide powers of the Act of 1925 local authorities might not be stimulated to do more than they are doing, even if on a small scale. When the position is so desperate as it is in many of our towns, I should like to see local authorities urged to do more in a small way even to take two or three houses and put them in order and to relieve the most urgent cases. I do not know that they do all they might do in insisting on landlords carrying out repairs and, when the landlord fails, in doing it themselves, as they have a perfect right to do. In all these matters I should like to see them stimulated to some further action.

I do not know whether I might allude to another matter, which I do with some diffidence, and ask whether the provisions of Section 98 of the Act which deals with improvements might not be rather more strictly enforced. As I understand it, it was intended to provide re-housing accommodation for people who are dispossessed under improvement schemes unless such re-housing was not necessary. It is difficult to think re-housing is not necessary for anyone who is dispossessed under present conditions, and it happens in many cases that in a scheme for widening a road, or some such improvement, some little block of workmen's dwellings is swept away without any new provision being made. They are either housed in new buildings erected without reference to the particular scheme, or else there is a gift of money and they are allowed to find quarters for themselves, thus directly or indirectly adding to the existing congestion. I do not know if it is possible to do more, but my view, for what it is worth, is that there is no improvement scheme more important than the provision of housing. I believe there is throughout the country a great element of goodwill, which might be utilised to a greater extent.

I do not believe there is any subject on which it is more easy to arouse public sympathy and goodwill than housing. It is not used very largely because there is a great lack of information and guidance as to how to make it effective. I hope soon there will be a great extension of co-operative building on a large scale by employers of labour, such as has been already done by one large organisation in the case of miners' houses. Over 12,000 have been built by one large co-operative organisation. I do not see why that should not be extended to other employés, and, though I do not wish to say anything about rural housing, I should just like to mention what a boon it would be to many districts if the great railway companies would undertake, by some such co-operative scheme, the housing of their employés, which would relieve congestion in some of the small areas. I do not know whether it is possible for the Minister to contemplate the setting up of some sort of Advisory Committee or technical board which would freely give advice to people who would care to help but do not quite know how to do it. One hon. Member has already spoken of public utility societies. More would be formed and would do more work if only they realised how easy it was to make a real contribution to the problem. We all realise how many homes are ruined and destroyed by the vices and follies of mankind. We do not want to add to that number by failing to provide families who are victims of circumstances beyond their control with the first essentials of a united and happy life, that is, a decent and respectable home.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

It is a great privilege to voice on behalf of the Committee what I am sure they would all agree are very sincere and hearty congratulations on the very delightful, charming and able maiden speech we have just heard. One feels it is a great pleasure that the hon. Lady has come into the House in order to contribute to our discussions in this way. It has been the case of the rose not born to blush unseen and waste her sweetness, or her oratory, on the desert air outside. It was fitting that such a maiden speech should have been made on this subject, for I think we have been sometimes in danger of thinking that if the ladies join us in taking an active part in politics we should expect them to follow us along the same lines of thought, whereas it seems much more natural that they should think out the particular lines of policy in which they are naturally more interested, and should contribute particularly on those lines. That is the case with regard to housing. There is one point on which I should like to be able to set the hon. Lady and the Committee to some extent at rest. I suggest that she and the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant) have given us a rather exaggerated idea of the lack of houses that still remains. I do not wish in any way to under-state the situation, but we should not overstate it. The only sound basis on which you can go is the Census figures. On the figures of the two Censuses of 1911 and 1921 there was a definite shortage in 1921 of 304,000 houses in England and Wales. Since then it has been reckoned that, allowing one house per family, a very generous estimate, you require an increase in the number of houses every year of, roughly, 72,000.

With regard to the wastage of houses, the hon. Member for North Lambeth fell into the mistake of thinking you want something like 100,000 to 160,000 houses a year. It is a smaller number that you want to replace. Roughly speaking, 100 years is the life of a house, and 100 years ago there were not so many houses built or required. As a matter of fact, the number being built 80 or 60 years ago was 40,000 a year, and therefore for demolition you only require 40,000 a year. Altogether that makes the actual requirements every year about 120,000, and that is a generous estimate. At the rate of 120,000 a year since 1921, that means that you have a further need of 840,000 houses in England and Wales. If you add to that the shortage in the 1921 Census of 304,000, it means that at the present moment you have a shortage of 1,144,450 houses against the number of houses that have been built. I ask the Committee to realise that. We have heard to-day that the number of houses built since the Armistice is over 1,100,000. In other words, our shortage is actually, on the 1911 basis, only about 40,000 houses. We are making up that shortage slowly. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mrs. Runciman), I think, suggested that we are only marking time; at any rate, one or two Members have suggested that we are only building at a rate equal to our current requirements. That is not the case.

Photo of Miss Ellen Wilkinson Miss Ellen Wilkinson , Middlesbrough East

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman really mean by those figures that we should keep to the 1911 standard of houses?

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

I am very glad that the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) takes up my point. I definitely said that on the only sure basis, that is the 1911 census basis, our shortage is this amount. Our shortage is 45,000, if we come back to the position of the 1911 census, but the actual position is really better than the rate in 1911. Anyhow, in the greater part of England we shall have reached by the middle of next year, if not by the end of this year, a position which will be above the basis of the 1911 census. I entirely agree with the view of several speakers, including my Noble Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck), that we are in danger of a spirit of self-sufficiency. We are in danger sometimes of belittling the need of the slum areas. It is not done in this House, because I do not think we belittle anything, but outside, in general life, I think you will find that the vast majority of the people of all classes, and of all parties, are inclined to belittle the position of overcrowding. I want to get at the actual facts. I do not think that the actual facts are, that the position is getting worse with regard to overcrowding. The figures given by the London County Council, for instance, show some slight improvement. Certainly, you can go to particular areas—we have had one or two mentioned to-day —where you have conditions that are worse. This is bound to arise when you have the conditions of housing so congested that you have not the margin of empties that is essential in order to enable the people who change their localities with the change of industry or change of employment to be accommodated. I think that you will find to-day that generally the position of overcrowding has slightly improved but that it is still bad. In London over 16 per cent. of the people are living in crowded conditions. Even in my own county, one of the best, there is an overcrowded condition of nearly 4 per cent., and in England and Wales generally something like 10 per cent. of the people are living in an overcrowded condition. That is a very serious position.

What is being done? It has been said by one or two critics of the right hon. Gentleman that he has exaggerated the value of the reconditioning of houses. I do not think that for one moment he suggested reconditioning was going to take the place of the improvements that we require to see brought about. But when people speak in an airy kind of way of clearing away houses that are in the slum areas, they often forget that there are other conditions which have to be improved. That does not settle the overcrowding. Undoubtedly, much could be done to improve the dilapidated state of houses if people would make use of existing authorities and laws. A great deal could be done in that connection. I think, however, there is danger in that policy. I remember that many years ago I spoke rather despondently about it as a policy. If you adopt reconditioning instead of rebuilding, and instead of clearance, you only postpone the evil day. Obviously, houses, like everything else in the world, have only a definite limited life. If you spend large sums of money in reconditioning you are only prolonging their life for five, 10 or 20 years. It may be a very valuable thing to do, and, I think, in the present state of affairs, it is a valuable thing to do, because there is only a limited amount of money to go round, and we are in a tight corner still with regard to housing. But it is not an economic way of dealing with the problem to go on spending vast sums of money on reconditioning houses when they get towards the end of their life. On the other hand, slum clearance is not an economic way, as a general rule, of dealing with the housing problem, because if you clear away a whole site you will be clearing away a large amount of property that may still be of use.

A good deal could be done if powers were given—and that is a matter which I cannot discuss further to-day—to the local authority to buy up an area before it reached the end of its stage of being habitable, and treating it largely by reconditioning. I believe that with a patchwork scheme of that sort a considerable improvement could be effected. I was in Birmingham the other day especially inquiring into the work of that admirable society, the Copec House Improvement Society, to which some reference has been made to-day. There you have that kind of patchwork, and you meet the problem face to face. This society takes these houses, which are back-to-back houses, and in the style that, unfortunately, was adopted by so many of our big cities in the middle of the last century—I think there are 44,000 of these houses in Birmingham—this society, recognising the necessity of making the best of a bad job, buys up the houses in a whole court, and treats them as a whole. By supplying conveniences, lavatories, wash-basins and so on, and by reconditioning the houses, they are able to bring about a great improvement. The buying and reconditioning of these houses is carried out at an average cost of £100 a house. That, I think, is a very useful way of dealing with the question. No one would think of embarking upon a scheme to clear away 44,000 houses in one city, and, therefore, an improvement scheme of this kind is very valuable.

I hope that in regard to the question of compensation we shall have a scheme brought forward before long to set the matter right. It is of no use, it seems to me, trying to set one of these minor matters right at a time. What we really want is a comprehensive scheme dealing with slum clearance. Such a scheme must involve legislation, and I am sure we shall look forward to having a Bill brought in for that purpose. In that connection, obviously, we must deal with the scheme on a big scale. Unfortunately, we have such extensive slums in the city of Birmingham and in other cities, and even in the small places, that we cannot deal with them as a whole at the present time. We must deal with the whole problem, and the whole problem would involve the distribution, as well as the quantity and quality, of the houses. This was the view we took when I was privileged to accompany a deputation of the various housing societies to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health during the winter months. It was the object of our deputation to ask for a thorough inquiry in order to get powers to deal with this terrible problem of overcrowding and the housing of the poorer classes. The reply we received was, that we must treat this problem as a whole, and that the cure of this evil depends largely upon distribution. For that reason we must wait until that matter has been inquired into by the Regional Town, Planning Committee that has been set up for Greater London. That seemed to me to be a right and reasonable reply, but we must not forget that the problem is still urgent. When we realise to what extent we can look forward to some relief in the matter of the redistribution, of the population we shall be able to tackle this problem as a whole. Meanwhile, I wish to add my words to those of other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend upon the extraordinarily fine work of the Department over which it is his privilege and honour to preside, and upon the delightful and clear speech we have heard from him to-day.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Glasgow Shettleston

We are accustomed to receive from the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) very valuable information on the question of housing, but I was amazed to hear him say to-day, if I heard him aright, that he estimated the shortage of houses at the present moment in England and Wales at 45,000.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

On the 1911 Census basis.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Glasgow Shettleston

Whatever may be the basis and whatever may be the excuse, or the reason, I was merely desirous of knowing if I had heard him aright when he said that he estimated the housing shortage at 45,000.

Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

On the 1911 basis. That is in addition to all the other requirements.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Glasgow Shettleston

I merely want to correct the false impression that such a statement, coming from a Member of this House who has been recognised to some extent as an authority, would create. I heard one hon. Member state that in Birmingham alone there was a known shortage of 28,000 houses. In the presence of the Minister of Health, no one would dare to over-estimate the requirements of Birmingham in regard to houses. I happen to have in my hand a note to the effect that the medical officer of health for Manchester estimates that there is a shortage of houses in Manchester by 20,000, so that we have figures in regard to those two cities which reveal a shortage of 48,000, which exceeds the figure which the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans comforts himself upon, as being the figure for the whole of England and Wales.

I was more delighted with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mrs. Runciman). The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans has already had the privilege of tendering to the hon. Member the congratulations of the House, and it is not necessary that I should do more than associate myself and my Friends with those congratulations. I was inclined to describe her speech not so much as a maiden speech but a matronly speech. It showed that this House has been blessed with a new Member who will bring to the consideration of this and similar social problems a great stock of human sympathy which is sure to be beneficial to the nation. We all hope, and no one more than I do, taking some little interest in the particular question of housing, that the hon. Member for St. Ives will favour the House very frequently with her wisdom and her advice. I am sure that the hon. Member is too well-informed with regard to the affairs of this House to expect that.I agree whole-heartedly with everything that is uttered from the Liberal Benches, and she will not be surprised to know that while I willingly and cheerfully go a long way with her on the question of housing, I must reluctantly part with her before the end of the journey.

I was struck to-day by a remark made privately by one of my colleagues, that soon it will be difficult to get up a controversy on the question of housing, because we all seem to be in hearty agreement. I have always noticed that when we are discussing the slum question, you can get the most hearty and unanimous agreement in all sections of the House. That is not very difficult to explain. The reason is largely an economic one. There is no profit in slums; there is no great vested capitalist interest to defend the slums. Everyone is in favour of Socialism in slums. Even the owner of a slum does not put up a very strong fight against the activities of the local authorities provided always that full effect is given to the provisions of the various Acts of Parliament which ensure that he will get rid of the burden on most reasonable terms. I want in this connection to emphasise a remark that was made by the Minister of Health, but I hope he will not think that I have suddenly come round to his point of view on this intricate subject. The right hon. Gentleman reminded the House that there was a, considerable difference between the slum problem and the problem of overcrowding.

Overcrowding is not necessarily a slum problem. Reference has been made by more than one speaker to slum areas. It is true that we usually have overcrowding associated with slums, but when we clear slums we clear the area. It is a mistake to think that it is only in the slum areas or even that it is largely in the slum areas that there is overcrowding. The medical officer of health whose figures I have quoted in regard to the housing shortage has pointed out that there is considerable overcrowding in Manchester as a result of the shortage of houses. If the House ran away with the idea that by clearing out a certain number of slums in Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere, you are thereby necessarily solving the problem of overcrowding, it would be very seriously mistaken. It is this overcrowding, mainly, and not slumdom per se, that damages public health and gives us the enormity of disease which every section of the House deplores.

I mention these facts to remind the House of the necessity of keeping our minds fixed on the question of providing new houses. Last year, the Minister of Health went round the country boasting of the progress we had made. He has repeated his figure this afternoon, that wonderful million, but I noted that in no section of the House did it produce that dramatic effect or that show of interest that was displayed everywhere when he mentioned the magic figure 12 months ago. One speaker has pointed out that there is nothing remarkable in the building of one million houses since the War. The popular estimate—I am not now talking a the estimate made by the man in the street, but the estimate made by people who are more or less authorities on the subject—is that the annual requirements of England and Wales in new houses, to repair the annual decay of property and to meet the increase of population, is 100,000. Therefore, you have only met since the War the annual requirements and you have done nothing to remove the shortage of houses by the erection of one million houses. Of these million houses, the Minister has told us that 600,000—I think I am quoting his figures correctly—were built without the aid of a, subsidy and that 400,000—I am speaking in round figures—is the number of subsidised houses that have been erected.

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Ladywood

The figures which the right hon. Member is quoting are the figures of houses built by local authorities and by private enterprise, respectively. The figures of the local authorities are all subsidy figures and the figures of the private enterprise building are partly subsidy and partly non-subsidy houses.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Glasgow Shettleston

I do not want to mislead the Committee or to misquote the right hon. Gentleman. I had not the figures in mind at the moment. The point I want to make is that the right hon. Gentleman is not entirely justified in adding to the contribution towards the solution of this problem the houses built without the aid of the subsidy. The housing problem is a problem of poverty; it is a problem of the poor; it is a problem of the people who cannot afford to pay an economic rent for a healthy house out of the wages which they receive to-day under the competitive system. If every family in this country could afford to buy a house, there would be no housing problem. There have always been people who could build houses, engineers who could plan estates and architects who could design. We have never had a shortage of the raw material, the human material for the erection of houses. The shortage has been in the wealth in possession of the people who require the houses. When we look at the question from that point of view, we must see at once that the houses built outside the subsidy are larger houses than the houses built within the subsidy. If they were not larger houses and if they met the requirements of the Acts of 1923 and 1924, shrewd business people would come forward and claim the subsidy. If there is anything at all in the argument, and I think there is a great deal in it, that the Acts of 1923 and 1924 did not provide houses at rents which the people could pay, how can it be reasonable to believe that houses bigger and larger than those built under the Acts of 1923 and 1924 are houses that are going to reach the working classes? The right hon. Gentleman in his enthusiasm to produce a dramatic situation, has, I fear, used for his purpose houses that do not go very far to meet the requirements of the people who are most in need of housing.

The hon. Member for St. Ives said, and an hon. Member opposite repeated the statement, that something would have to be done to bring the rents of houses within the reach of people who are waiting in tens of thousands and probably in hundreds of thousands for healthy houses. The Minister of Health has done considerable service to the nation in assisting to solve the housing problem, but in his latest campaign he has, unintentionally, done considerable injury. There can be no greater injury done to housing progress in this country than for a responsible Minister to go round and to leave the impression on the public mind that we have now reached a stage where all is well, that the million houses which have been built have revolutionised the whole situation and that there is no need for the enthusiasm and no need for the same rate of expenditure as existed three or four years ago. That is, unintentionally, injurious to the cause of housing and will, I am sure, be deplored by the right hon. Gentleman before he is much older.

7.0 p.m.

I submit that nothing was required to provide new houses except to leave the 1924 Act alone. The right hon. Gentleman, in his policy of saving money to the taxpayers, reduced the subsidy. The rate of building has declined, and with all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, his excuses for the slump in building were not very convincing, even to his own part of the House. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood) pointed out, very aptly, that if reducing the subsidy was going to reduce building costs to so great an extent, the sooner we got rid of the subsidy, the better. There is a very convincing argument which shows that the right hon. Gentleman and his Government never believed in the argument which they submitted to the House. The housing shortage is greatest in Scotland and the housing costs are dearer there, yet Scotland was left out of the reduction of subsidy altogether. In England and Wales the subsidy was reduced with the avowed object of reducing housing costs, so we were told by the Minister of Health, but the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman is a member allowed the subsidy to remain at the old rate in Scotland, where housing was dearer and housing was scarcer. I do not know what spite he took against Scotland, that the blessings of the reduced subsidy, which was to reduce housing costs, were not, granted to that Birmingham-forgotten country. Evidently, the Government do not believe in their own policy or they would have applied to Scotland what the right hon. Gentleman said was regarded as a benefit to England and Wales. He tried to justify it by saying that housing costs had come down. They had, he said, come down by £70 or £80 as a consequence of the reduction he made in the subsidy. Strange to say, they also came down in Scotland, where there was no reduction in the subsidy, so that it is quite possible to bring down the cost of building without bringing clown the cost of the subsidy. Member after Member has asked, "What can we do to help these people to get houses?" When I was negotiating with the interested parties in regard to the provisions of the Act of 1924, it will be fresh in the minds of many Members that I met the various interested sections, the local authorities, the manufacturers, the builders, the operatives and others. I want to repeat here a claim which I have already made in this House—that one of the biggest contributions I made to housing was the creation of an organisation in the building industry that was able, within two or three years, to give us 200,000 houses per annum. That was a wonderful contribution, if I may be allowed to say so, because when I put the figure at 90,000, as being the total likely to accrue from the provisions I was submitting to the House, my figure was ridiculed as the figure of a dreamer by people who are to-day boasting that we can have, not 90,000 a year, but actually 200,000 houses a year in England and Wales alone.

In the course of those negotiations we came to an agreement about this subsidy. I think it is a very important thing for the Committee to know. The local authorities felt that they would require a greater subsidy than the £9 a year and the larger figure for the rural areas if they were to provide houses at rents approximating to those paid by the workers for houses before the War. What we aimed at was to raise the standard. We recognised that the wages of the workers determined what they could pay in rent. We recognised that in pre-War days they were paying for houses that we did not want to perpetuate, as much out of their wages as they could afford, and we wanted to provide by State assistance an amount that would enable them to get better houses than the standard in pre-War days, at the rents that were paid in pre-War days. The local authorities, with an intimate knowledge of finance, pointed out that it would be impossible with a subsidy of £9 10s. and with the cost of building as it was then. Time after time, in the course of negotiations, I pointed out that the cost of building was bound to come down. I pledged the word of the Government—as I was entitled to do—and I say that my pledge places moral obligations upon the present Government, because if this nation is bound by pledges given by one Government to a foreign country, then surely the same thing applies when you are dealing with your own people.

I begged the local authorities to put all their enthusiasm into the question of reducing building costs. I made the same appeal to the manufacturers, to the operatives, the builders and the contractors. I pointed out the national importance of getting houses at rents which the people could afford to pay, and I made this promise. I said to the local authorities, "When you bring down the cost of building, the first saving on that will go to the reduction of rents. If you find it difficult to-day with the £9 and £4 10s. to give people a house at rents they can afford to pay, and if you put your efforts into the work and bring down these building costs, the first saving will go to the people. When the aim of the Act has been attained, and we have got rents that the people can afford to pay, then any further saving will go to the local authorities. I recognise, and the Govment recognise, that £4 10s. per house is a big drain on your local rates, but let us all work harmoniously together and get down the rents and then get down the burden on the rates, and the State will only come in after rents have been reduced to approximately the rents of pre-War houses of the same class of people and after the local rates have been entirely freed from the burden of the housing subsidy."

What does the right hon. Gentleman do? The very first £1 to be saved on building costs he claims for the Treasury. There is no talk at all about relieving the rents of the people or the local rates. Let the Committee remember that these people who refuse to relieve the local rates on this most important question of housing are the people who are talking of relieving the local rates on industry. Cannot you see the hypocrisy and the humbug of the whole thing? There is no better way of relieving the burdens of a locality than by relieving it, through housing, of ill-health and disease in that locality. You want to improve housing and put your people in healthy houses. You will be doing much more by that to fit your locality to fight its battles in the competitive system than by any policy of trying to reduce the rates on machinery and workshops. Therefore, I say that the Government's policy is a violation of a solemn pledge given to the local authorities and to the people in the building industry, the operatives, the employers, and the manufacturers altogether. It is a violation of the solemn pledge given to them that if they would organise their forces by co-operative measures and by mass production, and reduce the cost of houses, then the tenants in the distressed areas should get the first benefit in rents, and that the next should go to the local authorities, and only when these had been supplied should the rich taxpayers of this country ask to have their contributions to the housing problem reduced.

Another point is this. I want to remind the Committee that when Members talk about the rents that the workers can pay, they always take rents in relation to wages. While it is true that the cost of building has come down in recent years, can anyone deny that wages also have come down? I am not going to say that they have come down more or less than has been the reduction in costs, but I want to put this point to the Committee. In so far as wages have come down during the same period, they have cancelled the reduction that has taken place in the cost of building houses, and they have put these healthy houses as far as ever beyond the reach of the working classes. I welcome to-day what I regard as the awakening enthusiasm of this House, apart from the Front Bench, for a speeding-up in the erection of healthy houses in every part of the country. They will be the best national asset and the very foundation of health. Health is the very foundation of your industries, and I hope that even this Government will reconsider their ways and come to the decision that the restoration of the housing subsidy to the standard at which it was placed by the Act of 1924 would be one of the finest national benefits that could be conferred on the country.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I wish to occupy a few moments on the question raised by the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant), and the hon. Lady the Member for St. Ives (Mrs. Runciman), namely, the slum question. I welcome the speech of the Minister this afternoon and his remarks on this particular question because it does show that he, at any rate, is fully alive to the position of the problem which we have to face. I wish to say something of a personal nature—and I am sure the Committee will excuse me. I want to explain why I am speaking on this subject. I have taken great interest in this question of slum clearance for many years. It is not a post-War question at all. It was just as urgent in pre-War days as it is to-day. I was a member of a local authority and we had a committee which dealt entirely with this question of house inspection. It was the duty of that committee to report on various defects in the houses and to make suggestions for these defects to be put right. I do welcome the remarks of the Minister respecting the question of dealing with reconditioning, because we found in our inspections that.it was possible to make many of these houses, which might have been termed slum dwellings, into decent dwelling places by spending a few pounds and reconditioning and putting into the houses decent sanitary arrangements.

In many of those houses, what was really the matter was the lack of a decent and an adequate water supply and decent sanitary conditions. By having these put into them, we made what would otherwise have been termed slum dwellings into something like decent dwellings for the people. Even in those days the cost of this reconditioning work was very heavy indeed in proportion to the rents received for that type of property. I am sure we all of us know that we have in these particular areas not only good landlords and bad landlords to deal with, but good tenants and bad tenants also, We found in the course of our visitations in what were described as slum streets there were houses that could indeed be described as unfit for human habitation, and next door to them we would find houses that were, as far as conditions and cleanliness were concerned, quite equal to any houses in other parts of the town which were considered quite a good class of property. Why? Simply because the tenants of those latter houses as well as the landlords were doing their duty in a decent fashion. We also found that many of the owners of these houses were very small capitalists indeed. in pre-War days it was the custom for the thrifty workman or the small tradesman to invest his little savings in house property. The term "as safe as houses" was, indeed, believed in in those days. Many of those people having invested their money in houses, found it very difficult to do the reconditioning necessary, particularly if they were so unfortunate as to have a tenant who had not been over-careful in the way he dealt with the house and its fitments.

Of course, in the post-War period, many other features have been added to the problems. The fact of there having been a lack of housing accommodation has tended to overcrowding, and overcrowding has accentuated the position as regards houses getting into bad repair. This is what I found in my own visitations. Where a house, which had been built for a family, is now being occupied by three, four or even, in some cases, as many as eight families living in the rooms, you find that they are using for such purposes rooms which were never intended to be rooms where cooking, washing and other things should take place. The fire is possibly a room-grate and not a cooking-grate at all. In using such rooms for cooking purposes and boiling water, they soon destroy not only the fireplace itself but the furnishings of that fireplace, so that Where you get this overcrowding, a decent house is soon turned into a place which could be described as uninhabitable. Therefore, the problem has been much accentuated by the question of overcrowding. Again, there is the enormous cost of repairs which has had to be faced since the war period. There seems to be no branch of work in which the costs have gone up so much as in the cost of repairing houses, and in the cost of the materials which are required. These are great problems which have to be faced. We must remember that many of the small owners have not much capital to spend upon their property. I was connected with a Trust which had some property. We tried to do our duty by seeing that it was kept in a proper state of repair, and for three years, during which money was being spent on repair work, I can assure the Committee that there was nothing in the shape of any net rent coming from it. This is all right for people who can afford to wait, but small property owners have been compelled to get rid of these houses as quickly as possible, and they have got into the hands of certain syndicates who are exploiting this type of property for all they are worth. That is a difficulty which has to be faced. I am grateful to the Minister for his reference to the reconditioning of houses. From my own experience, I am convinced that there are many thousands of houses which by reconditioning could be made fit places to live in.

This brings me to a question with which I think we ought to deal; the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned it to-day, and I am glad that he did so. It is the question concerning Section 46 of the Housing Act, 1925. It has been the cause of a good deal of the slowing up in the policy of slum clearances. Speaking as a member of a local authority, I know that local authorities are indeed averse to putting into operation the Act of 1925 because of this Section. It was a legacy from the Act of 1919, and I believe it is one of those troubles you always get when you legislate by reference. I do not think this House would have allowed this Section of the Act of 1925 to go through if they had known what they were doing. It is distinctly unfair to the landlord who is doing his duty by his tenant. He spends money in keeping this property in repair, but because it happens to be in a district where other people are not doing their duty in the same way the area is scheduled to be demolished, and the person who owns the house in good repair gets nothing more than the site value and no more than the person who has neglected his duty and has allowed his property to get into an unfit state. I am glad that the Minister holds the view that this is distinctly unfair to the owner of such property, and I hope something will be done to remedy this great injustice. These people should have an opportunity of stating their case before the area is scheduled. At the present moment they have none.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his housing policy. In spite of the mild criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), and it was very mild indeed coming from that source, I am sure most hon. Members will congratulate the Minister of Health on the wonderful success of his housing policy. We of the Conservative party are proud of the Minister of Health. He has the finest team of any Department in the Government, and if we had as little trouble in defending the actions of other Ministers as we have the Minister of Health our task would not be a very difficult one in the country. The real cause of the success of the housing policy has been the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has encouraged private enterprise. This has brought down the cost of housing. I am speaking from actual experience. I was a member of an authority which had to deal with the provision of houses, and I know the difficulties we had during the time of the Addison scheme and the enormous costs which were run up at that time; a burden which we shall have to bear for some time to come. We said then that if private enterprise had been given the chance, and if local authorities had been allowed to build the type of houses which they knew were the right type for the district, we should not have had these enormous costs which will be a burden on local authorities for some time to come. The figures of the number of houses built by private enterprise which have been quoted are 690,000, and half of that number were built without a subsidy at all.

My opinion is that the real solution of the problem lies in cutting down the cost of building, so that houses can be let at a reasonable rent. I am told that in one district in the West Riding of Yorkshire the local authority has been able to build houses to let at something between 5s. and 6s. per week. If that can be done there, it can be done in other parts of the country, and on such a, level as that we shall get to real grips with the problem. The number of people who are prepared to buy houses is becoming very limited now. The supply has been pretty well met, and, although an encouragement of the owner-occupier is the best policy to pursue, still there is a limit to that, even with the generous assistance of the Government scheme. We shall have to provide houses to let at a reasonable rental, and, as it has been shown in Yorkshire that they can be built and let at a reasonable price, it is up to other local authorities to study the methods of this particular authority and try to emulate their example. I agree that if you have the people decently housed you are going a long way towards solving many of our social problems, but at the same time we must not forget this fact, that good houses have been spoilt by bad tenants, and we have something more to do than merely provide good houses. We have to see that the tenants are educated in the way of dealing with these houses in a right and proper manner. Where you have an owner-occupier you have absolutely no difficulty at all. The difficulty occurs where you have a type of person as a tenant who does not do his duty by the property. Hon. Members above the gangway speak as though the fault is always on the one side. That is not a proper attitude to take up. You must look at the problem in a common-sense way and realise that there is a duty to be done by two parties; by the owner of the property and also by the tenant. The local authority has the duty of seeing that the houses are kept in a condition to meet the local regulations, and you cannot expect them to do much more. I welcome the statement of the Minister of Health and the fact that he realises the seriousness of this problem and the necessity of doing something to put it right.

Photo of Mr George Thorne Mr George Thorne , Wolverhampton East

The Committee has listened with great pleasure to two speeches from these benches, and I do not propose to traverse again the line which has been so finely followed in those two speeches. I want to strike a somewhat different note. In recent years, in this Chamber I have often felt the handicap which comes from advancing years as compared with my younger and more vigorous colleagues, but on this occasion I am rather finding the advantage of it, because I have made a somewhat recent discovery, that I am sometimes able to take a more optimistic view of the future than some of my younger comrades, and I have realised that the basis for that view is that the longer you are able to look back the further you are able to look forward. Experience is a great aid to vision; and it is in that direction that I want to speak for a moment. This is no new subject to me. I am an old municipal man, and in the days gone by was far more identified with this particular class of work than I am to-day. In the latter part of the last century I was a member of my own town Health Committee, and at the beginning of the present century I was promoted to be its chairman. In that capacity, consequently, I had some practical association with health questions and with the housing question.

While we have been considering the matter before us to-day I have been contrasting the present with the past, and I do not find it discouraging. I have in my hand a statement made by the sanitary inspector for my own town, one who was with me when I was chairman of the health committee, and the story he tells of the progress which has been made in our town alone during the last quarter of a century, although it is not what we should like it to have been, is sufficient to give hope and encouragement for the future. What strikes me most is the fact that while I found a quarter of a century ago a great reluctance to undertake any expenditure in the direction of slum clearances, and housing, and developments in regard to health, to-day, although our local and national burdens are infinitely greater than they were then, there is a tendency much stronger, both locally and nationally, to make expenditure in this direction. In that, I find great hope for the future. In another direction I find hope—for I like to look on the hopeful side as far as it is possible. I are not so impressed by the suggestions made in certain quarters of the House about the dangers which come from the removal of the so-called slum dwellers. If the slum dwellers do take shim habits with them it is not so much their fault as the fault of the nation and the houses in which they have been brought up from their early days. But they are not doing it to the extent that has been indicated to-day. An actual statement of fact may be a little more helpful than a good deal of theory. Let me quote from words which were recently spoken by the permanent manager of the housing department of my own town. He was speaking in Birmingham, and he said: The Corporation have many things to encourage them in their policy, because in Wolverhampton very recently they have undertaken a great slum clearance. The percentage of rent arrears of the ex-slum tenants in the new houses was low, and it was wonderful to see what some of these people had done with their gardens on the new estate. In some cases the gardens were on the most unpromising sites, and what they had achieved was a revelation. If the young people from the congested areas could he transferred to the new estates, the outlook would be still better. To me, that is a much more encouraging outlook for the transfer of the so-called slum-dwellers to better conditions than that which has been suggested in certain quarters of the House. I believe that environment has a great influence on character, and I am not surprised that so many of our fellow citizens are stunted in bodily health and outlook by the conditions under which they have been compelled to live. Directly they are moved to better conditions, to fresh air and sunlight, they show what is in them and develop in the direction we desire. I feel that the slum question is one of the most important which the country has to face, and I am delighted to see indications that the country is determined to face it. I do not know whether the feeling is experienced by other Members of this House, but when I see the conditions in our great cities, where little ones are compelled to live without light and without sunshine, I feel as though I would like to see, written before them in letters of living light: It is not the will of your Father which is in Heaven that one of these little ones should perish. I realise, from the conditions in which they live that many of them must inevitably perish unless we provide for them better conditions. I am encouraged in my hope for the future by what has taken place in the last century. A right hon. Friend of mine who spoke a little while ago seemed to think that the Minister of Health had suggested that all was well. I tried to follow the Minister's speech, and I did not gather that impression from it. I gathered from him that he realised that there was a great deal more to be done, but that he was hampered and hindered by lack of money. He repeated the warning that what was necessary would involve a large expenditure of money. It will, and we on this side recognise that to the full. We want that large expenditure of money to be made. I am not satisfied with the warning that it will cost money. I want the Government to give a lead in the direction of providing that money. I have greater hopes now of that happening than I ever had before. What happened in this Chamber last Thursday gives greater hope in regard to the matter now under discussion. The distinguished brother of the Minister of Health spoke on behalf of the Government in reference to the proposal for the abolition of war from the face of the earth, and his speech gave me gladness and encouragement. If we can get ri[...] of war we can soon get rid of slums. The way to get rid of those things which are holding back the wel- fare and happiness of the people is to get rid of the curse which has destroyed the world's welfare during all the long years that are past.

I look forward to the time—and it has been brought within practical politics by the proposals which have come from America—when we can abolish war and all the munitions of war. Then we shall have money at our disposal to spend in the directions in which we ought to be spending money. We talk of waste in relation to education and health, but that seems to me to be an utter inversion. The best economy is to spend in those directions, and in those directions I would be lavish. I want to turn the scale of expenditure of war and the scale of expenditure on health and education the other way round. In that way we can give our children a better chance for the future. I am hopeful that the Minister of Health has a similar outlook. He is an old municipal man, and he has been brought into direct contact with all the troubles to which we are referring. He is not theorising; his information is first-hand, and I appeal to him to go beyond the warning which he has given us to-day and to stir up his Government to provide the money which is necessary in our towns and cities to develop slum clearances. That is one of the most vital needs in connection with the welfare of our people. There is no greater blot on our civilisation than the existence of the conditions under which so many of our people have to live. I do not want to look at this matter from a party standpoint. I would like the Government to realise that the whole House would be with them in whatever movement they can make and in whatever money they propose to spend, to get rid of slum dwellings and give the children a better chance. If they do that, they will do one of the biggest things possible for the welfare of the people and in attempting it, they must be assured of the support of the House and of the country.

Photo of Dr Thomas Watts Dr Thomas Watts , Manchester, Withington

May I, in the first place, associate myself with previous speakers in congratulating the Minister of Health on the very lucid, interesting and informative speech in which he introduced the Estimates. Ever since the right hon. Gentleman was at the head of the Ministry he has shown not only a know- ledge of administration but a knowledge of medicine and a mastery of scientific fact quite unusual in a layman. When I heard him enunciate the activities of the Ministry, the thought was borne in upon me that the Ministry of Health is becoming unwieldy. The time is fast approaching, if it has not already approached, when the Ministry should be reorganised. It should have taken from it services such as housing, rent restriction, rating and valuation, and control of boards of guardians, except so far as that control relates to medical attendance on poor people. All these services should be transferred to another Department. For example, we might appropriately transfer most of the duties I have mentioned to the Home Office, and on the other hand, we might take from the Home Office the medical service in connection with the Factory Acts, which would be more appropriately controlled by the Ministry of Health. Then we should have co-ordinated under that Ministry all the purely health services of the country.

This Debate has turned almost entirely on the question of housing, and I do not propose to refer to that subject, but there are two points mentioned by the Minister in his speech on which I should like some assurance. One is the question of tuberculosis and the other is the serious increase in small-pox during the last two or three years. We are still spending some millions a year on the upkeep of sanatoria, but, however useful sanatoria may be from a preventive point of view, or as a means of segregating tubercular people, they are, from a curative point of view, I am afraid, of little, if any, use. I understand that the cost of maintaining a person in a sanatorium is £2 9s. 3d. a week. I think we might usefully devote some portion of the money available to investigating other methods Which, in the opinion of several medical Members of this House, offer a much better prospect of cures. We might devote some of the money to investigating and keeping going certain methods which are being allowed to languish and which may eventually die from want of funds.

Photo of Mr Edwin Scrymgeour Mr Edwin Scrymgeour , Dundee

Does the hon. Member find from actual evidence that sanatorium work is not producing results commensurate with the expenditure on it?

Photo of Dr Thomas Watts Dr Thomas Watts , Manchester, Withington

From a curative point of view most decidedly. In fact, the sanatoria method can only show 14 per cent. of cures. which is very low, whereas other methods can show 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of cures. The other point which I wish to mention is the serious increase in small-pox and the question of vaccination. I know that to mention vaccination to some hon. Members opposite is like holding a red rag to a bull. On this subject, as on many others which they do not understand, they hold and express very dogmatic opinions. I am not going into the arguments as to the merits or demerits of vaccination—I should be out of order if I did so—but it is acknowledged to be the only agency which is of any use in controlling epidemics of small-pox.

Photo of Mr John Bromley Mr John Bromley , Barrow-in-Furness

All the hon. Member's profession do not agree on that matter.

Photo of Dr Thomas Watts Dr Thomas Watts , Manchester, Withington

What has happened in the last few years? The vaccination law at present on the Statute Book lays down that the parent or guardian of any child must, when the child is six months old, either produce a certificate of successful vaccination, or a certificate of conscientious objection to vaccination. I am not complaining here of the conscientious objection, and I am not suggesting that this provision should be done away with, though personally I think it should. But for some time past a great number of people have not only not had the children vaccinated, but have not taken the trouble to make a conscientious objection. The result is that the law in this respect is practically a dead letter.

Photo of Dr Thomas Watts Dr Thomas Watts , Manchester, Withington

The hon. Member may say that, but he has probably never experienced an epidemic of small-pox, and, if an epidemic of small-pox did break out in his neighbourhood, probably the first thing he would do would be to rush off to be vaccinated. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] He may be a conscientious objector, but I have known conscientious objectors who have willingly submitted to having a child vaccinated rather than that the child should be prevented from going to America. I want to point this out to the Minister, in the hope that something may be done, because those of us who know small-pox and are acquainted with its history know and realise that previous epidemics have always been preceded by sporadic outbreaks of a mild character, after a number of which they have suddenly burst forth into a virulent epidemic of smallpox and carried away thousands of people and crippled and blinded thousands of others. It is a very real danger that I anticipate if vaccination is not going to be more general in this country. This is the only country in the civilised world where vaccination is not carried out.

Photo of Mr Thomas Groves Mr Thomas Groves , West Ham Stratford

Does the hon. Member know that they have abolished it in Holland?

Photo of Dr Thomas Watts Dr Thomas Watts , Manchester, Withington

Holland carries it out more efficiently than we do in this country.

Photo of Mr Thomas Groves Mr Thomas Groves , West Ham Stratford

They have abolished compulsory vaccination in Holland.

Photo of Dr Thomas Watts Dr Thomas Watts , Manchester, Withington

; I had an example of the difference between the way in which we carry it out and the way in which foreign countries carry it out only last Autumn, when I went with a delegation from the Commercial Committee of this House to Brazil. We were freed from all troubles with regard to passports and Customs examinations, but the Brazilian Ambassador told us before we went: "There is one obligation from which I cannot free you and that is the obligation to be re-vaccinated," and we were all compelled to be revaccinated before leaving this country. Surely that is an example of the way in which other countries deal with this question. However, I am not going to be led into an argument on the merits or demerits of vaccination; I merely wish to draw the attention of the Ministry to this lax observance of the present law, in the hope that something may be done. I hope that whoever replies for the Ministry will give us some assurance that they intend in the future to carry out, both in the letter and in the spirit, the present Vaccination Act.

Photo of Mr Jack Lawson Mr Jack Lawson , Chester-le-Street

The Minister of Health gave us to-day a refreshingly human view of the health conditions of the country, but I wish that he had devoted an equal amount of time, in the same calm and even spirit, to a review of the Poor Law. The hon. Member for Withington (Dr. Watts) has drawn attention to the fact that the Minister of Health has such a large amount of duties and such colossal responsibilities laid upon him that it is almost impossible to deal with them here on a Supply day, but I suppose that the Poor Law will be one of the subjects that is reserved for the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply. I suppose he will get the usual amount of fun out of the Poor Law, because, as far as he and the Minister of Health are concerned, it sometimes seems to me that that subject has almost been reduced to a matter of hilarity for them instead of being a matter of great gravity. It is no light matter, when you have a population of something like 1,250,000 under the Poor Law, as we have to-day, and, further, some 250,000 more people under it to-day than there were four years ago. I think it is a matter which at least ought to have had some consideration from the Minister of Health, and I say that in spite of the very able speech which he made upon other matters.

It is all the more important because the Poor Law has been altered to some extent by the right hon. Gentleman's Default Act. There are those who now think that in certain areas, because of the operation of the Default Act, all is well. I venture to say that if that Default Act operates for many years, there is going to be a rude awakening, and things will happen which even those who are most hostile to the Labour party in this House will regret. The right hon. Gentleman appoints three guardians, and he says that they are in the same position as elected guardians. Indeed, Mr. Speaker rules, when one is putting questions on this subject, that the right hon. Gentleman is right in his explanation of the legal status of these appointed guardians; so it amounts to this, that no local criticism of the guardians can be effective, and the right hon. Gentleman himself seems to take it that it is his duty under any circumstances to defend these guardians. I have risen to-night With a view to giving point to that decision by adducing a particular instance which, while it is a matter of detail, is, I submit, a very grave and serious matter, pointing to very had administration.

Hon. Members will remember that I have had to raise, in the form of ques- tions, the case of a child who died in a diphtheria hospital, concerning whom the doctor who had attended the case made some very serious statements. I did not want to make this a matter of questions in this House. I felt that it was so serious that there was ground for a public inquiry to be made without any shadow of a desire by anyone to make political capital out of it. Therefore, when I had read of the remarks of the doctor and that a deputation had been appointed by the Isolation Board, I went myself, without any warning, to the deputation and went with them to investigate the circumstances. We got a report, and I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman and said that I thought this was a serious matter and that there should be a public inquiry into it. I also said that I would give him our report in advance if he wished, and any help that I could give in eliciting the truth about this matter.

I have here a Press report of the case, which is that of a child six years of age, named Mary Race, who had contracted diphtheria, was taken to a hospital, and there died. There was a time when diphtheria was a very serious matter, but medical gentlemen here will know that it is now nothing like so serious as it was some 20 years ago. [Interruption.] All that I know as a layman is that 20 years ago I saw an epidemic, and I saw children strangled slowly, with hardly any help for them; but about seven or eight years ago one of my own children had diphtheria, and I saw antitoxin administered immediately, and from being a very bad case I saw the effects of it disappear. I know that the local authority of Chester-le-Street are very insistent that all the medical men in that district shall have the means with which to deal immediately with diphtheria. This child of which I am speaking died of diphtheria, and questions were asked at the isolation board meeting. The newspaper report states: Dr. Unal, in reply to questions, said that the child was debilitated and emaciated, and had no resisting power to the disease. It. had not the ordinary strength of a child of its years, and died six days after admission.Alderman Mole: It was starved to death before it came in.Dr. Unal: Not actually starved to death, but its resistance was seriously weakened.Mr. B. Lambert: The fact that the child was emaciated showed that it was starved.Dr. Unal: Well, that is so.The Matron (Miss McNichol) said she understood that the father had been out of work for three years and that the family had been getting 20s. a week in relief. … The mother had told her that she herself had often had to go without food. I put these facts and the report into the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, and I asked him to have an inquiry. I submit that those facts are very grave indeed, that the statement of the doctor was very serious, and that if such a matter were to pass without public comment and without effective action on the part of the Minister, however serious and sympathetic he may be in reference to housing, when it comes to dealing with fundamental matters of this kind it appears that he is prepared merely to defend those whom he has appointed. I asked him to appoint someone to make an inquiry, and he has written me to this effect: Dear Mr. Lawson,I am sorry that my inquiries into the case of Mary Race were not sufficient to give you a complete answer on Thursday last. You will like to know at the earliest opportunity that the further inquiries which have been made confirmed the view on which the first part of my answer was based.The report which I have now received from a Medical Officer of the Ministry establishes that John Race and his three surviving children are well nourished and in robust health. Though Mary was not so robust as her brother and sisters, the family doctor associated her condition with an attack of pneumonia in infancy and is satisfied that when he saw her on 14th March and again on 15th March she showed no signs of malnutrition. Mr. Race and his sister assert that the child was well nourished up to the date of the onset of the illness. In these circumstances there is no reason to believe that her death was brought about or accelerated by lack of nourishment. 8.0 p.m.

As I shall show this Committee, that letter is the best possible thing that the Department can produce—and I do not say this without consideration—when it finds itself in the position that it has to defend its own appointed guardians under any circumstances. The clerk to the hospital board wrote to me to this effect: Dear Mr. Lawson,At a meeting of the Hospital Board held yesterday (Tuesday) in the course of the Acting Medical Officer's report, he mentioned the fact that a doctor from the Ministry of Health (Dr. Fulton) had visited him at his home (Gateshead) and asked for certain particulars with regard to the child, Mary Race. The Medical Officer stated that he inquired about the child in a casual No word was received by the Chairman or I as to the intended interview, although Dr. Fulton did write to Dr. Unal for an appointment. I am instructed by the Board to inform you that they strongly protest against the action of the Ministry in sending down a district representative to make inquiries without acquainting the Board on the matter, and I am to ask for you to make a note of this when the question is again raised by you. It amounts to this: The representative of the Ministry went down; he did not interview the members of the deputation who were there; he did not call the responsible authorities together in a proper and public manner and ask for information, but he visited them in what is said to be a casual way. He gives us the information that the family doctor said that Mary Race was not suffering from malnutrition. But the doctor in the hospital, who is the responsible man, makes the very grave statement that she was emaciated and debilitated and had not the resisting power that she ought to have had for a child of her years. There is no word in the report about the medical officer of the isolation hospital. There is just a word in the report of the evidence which suited the Ministry of Health. They say that Mr. Race said that the child was not ill-fed. Parents usually do say that, and a. poor man who was faced with an officer of the Ministry of Health was perhaps afraid that the guardians' relief to his family would be stopped, and was not going to give away anything that he could help. But the doctor saw the sister. He did not see the mother because he could not, as she is now in a convalescent home suffering herself from malnutrition. I saw her, along with the deputation, and it was obvious that the woman had been hungering herself for the sake of the family.

John Race, they say, is well-nourished and robust. He was four and a-half years in the War and he was wounded in the arm. He gets no unemployment benefit, he gets no Poor Law relief, and yet he is said to be well-nourished and robust on nothing a week. The three children are robust and well-nourished on 2s. a week each, which is the scale allowed; it is 12s. a week for the woman and 2s. for each child. In another report, it is said that there is not such a thing as a scale, and I challenge the Minister to investigate that statement. Everybody in Chester-le-Street knows that the scale is 12s. for a woman and 2s. for a child. There are a few exceptions which prove the rule—12s. for a woman, 2s. for each child, and nothing at all for an able-bodied man. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that £1 a week for the mother and the children is enough to keep them in decency? Is he prepared to defend that, because that is what the report defends? Public opinion would deal with the elected guardians; but public opinion has no effect upon the present guardians. They are so strong that they resent criticism.

I have been questioned about speeches that I have made. They seem to think that no criticism should be possible because of the position they have been put into by the Minister. Here is an able-bodied man who served the nation in the days when it was said that King and country would never forget him, and he is to have nothing at all. Is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health prepared to defend that, and the allowance of £1 a week to the wife and family? The Committee has been very generous with me in dealing with this matter, but I ought to read a report of the deputation who visited this house. It was not one of the houses of the kind which was spoken of so eloquently by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mrs. Runciman) and by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. The woman is a north-country woman who bakes all her own bread. She had six loaves in front of the fire. It was a. Thursday, and the woman said: "We do not get our relief of £1 till tomorrow, but the grocer kindly let us have this flour to-day, and these six loaves will finish next Wednesday." The loaves would be finished on the next Wednesday, two days before the relief ticket was given. She explained exactly how they laid the money out, and I have here the report of the deputation, showing how well the money was spent. This report says: Report on deputation's visit to Mr. John Race, of 25. Steel's Yard, Chester-le-Street.A deputation appointed by the Chester-le-Street Joint Hospital Board, namely, the Chairman (Mr. Kay), the Vice-Chairman (Mr. Cook) and the Clerk (Mr. Howe) who were accompanied by Mr. Lawson, M.P. for Chester-le-Street, visited the home of Mr. John Race, of 25 Steel's Yard, Low Cliare. Chester-le-Street, on the 12th April, 1928. A child of Mr. Race's, named Mary Race, six years of age, died in the Isolation Hospital, Chester-le-Street, from diphtheria, on the 24th March, 1928, nine days after admission. Dr. Unal (for Dr. Philipson the medical officer to the Board) reported on the death of the child, stated that it was debilitated and emaciated.The deputation were received by Mrs. Race, and they found the home very clean and tidy, but the children were poorly clothed. The family consists of John Race (husband), 36 years old; Susannah Race (mother), 31 years old; Lucy Race (12), Catherine (8), William (4), and Sarah (2). The eldest girl, Lucy, is at present in the Northern Counties Home for Deaf and Dumb Children, where she has been for four years. The father, John Race, served in the Army during the last War for four years and five months, and was wounded in the arm, but has no pension. He has not worked for three years, and was in receipt of unemployment benefit of 33s. per week in respect of himself, his wife, and at that time, five children, out of which he had to pay 2s. a week towards the maintenance of his girl, Lucy, in the institution above named. The unemployment benefit came to an end about six months ago, and then Mr. Race made application to the local guardians for relief, the family at home at that time being the father, mother and four children. He was granted relief to the amount of 20s. per week, namely, 12s. for the wife and 2s. for each child (but nothing for the husband). This relief was given in the nature of a food voucher. These articles would be consumed by the Wednesday and the family would have nothing coming in until they got the voucher for the next supplies on the Friday. The main diet of the family appeared to consist of bread and potatoes. Mrs. Race stated that they had meat only once a week, and that was on a Sunday when her mother usually sent her a piece along to her house.Mrs. Race at the present time appeared to be in a very delicate state of health, which she stated was due to the fact that she did not get sufficient to cat, as her main concern was for her children. Since then the mother has been sent to a convalescent home. There is a real chapter from one of the homes of the people who have been talked about today. If the Members of this Committee could have seen that family and that woman, I am very sure they would have said that, because of the efforts she had made to feed her bairns though she went hungry herself, there ought to be a V.C. for domestic heroism as well as for military heroism. I stand by what I know. I stand by the statement of the doctor in the Isolation Hospital, because he attended the child during those fateful days, and he is the best authority on the subject. If the Minister of Health is prepared to endorse an administration of that kind, then I say it is a shameful thing, and I will treat the rest of their professions as hypocrisy.

Dr. VERNON DAVIES:

It does not lie with me to deal with the case which has just been stated to the Committee by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). He has presented a very sad tale, but, with all sympathy and respect, I would point out that it is a one-sided tale, and I would like to draw his attention to the specific fact that the child was in hospital for six days before she died, that she probably had received the serum, and presumably had had a certain amount of nourishment during the six days. I think it is a very serious statement to make on the Floor of this House that the Minister of Health is prepared to send a responsible medical officer to make an inquiry into a case, and that that medical officer has practically perjured himself for the sake of bolstering up the Ministry of Health. I do not think a medical officer of the Ministry of Health would do such a thing. I would like to ask the Committee not to forget the very salient fact that this deputation consisted of people who were ex-guardians, who had been turned out of their job for maladministration, and that therefore they were not particularly well disposed towards the Minister of Health.

Photo of Mr Jack Lawson Mr Jack Lawson , Chester-le-Street

They tried to avoid anything of that kind. I have given the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health the report of the Hospital Board.

Dr. DAVIES:

The main point to-day is the Estimates of the Minister of Health, and I would like to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Dr. Watts) in what he said as to the enormous complexity of the work of the Ministry at the present time, and how little we can criticise in one Supply day. The greater part of this Debate has been taken up with housing and slums, with occasional departures into Poor Law administration. Very little has been said on the question of health; yet that is fundamentally the duty of the Minister of Health. The whole Committee recognised that in his very interesting speech, which covered only a very small part of the ground for which he is responsible, the Minister dealt with the subject in a very admirable and sympathetic manner. There are one or two points to which I should like to refer, for I think that a false impression may have been created about them. I had to do the same last year. The Minister spoke about cancer, and the progress that has been made in the ancillary treatment of that disease, referring particularly to radium treatment; and he seemed to give the impression that the Ministry of Health were anxious to help the radiologists to deal with cancer, and that they were very hopeful for the results. I want to impress upon the Committee and upon the country that the only safe thing for cancer is early and complete operation. Unfortunately, it occasionally happens that we get cases. which are late and inoperable, and then, perhaps, radium treatment may prolong the life of the patient, or perhaps give him a little more ease but, whatever you do, do not get into your head the idea that radium will cure cancer. It cannot do it at the present time. It is only a help, and I am afraid that the rather hopeful tone of the Minister of Health may create a wrong impression in the country, and thus prevent some of these poor people from seeking medical advice in the early stages, when something can be done.

I am glad that the Minister dealt with rheumatism. This question has come to the fore lately, and all who read the address of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health at the recent conference at Bath were very much impressed. It proves that the Minister has in his Department a full knowledge of rheumatism and of its bad economic, social and physical effects, and if a proper course is not followed out by the Ministry, we cannot say that it is the fault of the medical department, but of the Ministry itself for not putting into action the advice given by Sir George Newman. The Minister said that there were from 400 to 500 beds in the country earmarked for the treatment of rheumatism in children. That number is almost ludicrous, when we know that with young children, the large majority of those who get rheumatic fever or acute rheumatism, develop heart disease, and that it is essential that they should be given absolute rest for a long time, unless they are to be helpless invalids or die at an early age; and it seems pitiable that, in the whole of this great country, with the thousands of free beds that there are in the Poor Law institutions, something cannot be done to see that these poor children can be taken to hospital, and kept there until they are fit for a more or less useful life. We must also remember that these heart affections do not come only as the result of acute rheumatic fever. They come with other manifestations of rheumatism, like tonsilitis and St. Vitus' dance, and it is important that these children should have medical attention and prolonged rest in hospital, if they are to be saved from really advanced heart disease.

The question of maternity always rouses the sympathy of the Committee, and we are certain that the Minister is fully alive to the importance of this subject, but I am not sure that we are using the material which we have at hand to the best advantage. We hear of a shortage of midwives, but it must be borne in mind that the midwife's life is a very difficult one—a very hard life, and poorly paid, and yet I have known of many cases where midwives, who are thoroughly trained cannot get a sufficient amount of work, for the reason that the better class patients now go to nursing homes, and the poorer class patients go to Poor Law hospitals. I know more than one midwife who is seriously concerned as to how she is going to earn her livelihood, on account of these claims at both ends taking away the patients which she had previously. That is a point which the Minister will have to bear in mind, especially if he is going to increase the number of midwives. The life of a successful midwife is an appalling life. She is perhaps up six nights out of seven, because the more competent, the more tactful and sympathetic she is, the bigger is her practice, and you will find one woman who is nearly worked to death with confinements in certain industrial districts, while others are not doing anything like so much. It is a very difficult question, and not at all easy of solution.

Another question which I wish to bring before the Committee is that of milk. A great campaign is going on in the country, by which everybody is advised to drink more milk, and everything is being done to show people the advantages of milk, and of course the Ministry are doing all in their power, in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, to impress these claims on the public. We are being reminded that milk is a perfect food, that it is rich in vitamins, and that it is the only suitable nourishment for young children or suckling babies; it is also a very useful food for adults, and we are doing all that we can to see that this country produces good, pure milk at a cheap price. This food is so valuable that it has been called one of the "protective" foods, the other being green vegetables, because it does not matter how unsuitable or peculiar the diet of an individual may be, or however much a food crank he may be, provided he includes milk and green vegetables in his diet, he will not go far wrong. The same remark applies to poor people, who are not perhaps as careful as they might be. They may not have the money to buy coal, and so they buy cooked food, fish and chips and some of those other very nice mixtures which are so common in some of the industrial districts. They are very unsuitable from a dietetic point of view, but if they are supplemented by milk and green vegetables, no harm is done. The use of milk as a food is limited to some extent by its price. As a rule, ordinary pure milk is too expensive for people living in very poor districts, and they have tinned or condensed milk, of which such a large quantity is imported into this country; and the Minister of Health is perfectly satisfied that he is doing his duty to the babies of this country by labelling that milk "Unfit for babies," though knowing very well that it is given to babies solely on account of its cheapness.

It is essential that the Minister should see that the campaign for the production of pure and cheap milk should be brought to a successful conclusion. Unfortunately, milk is very readily adulterated, CE is easily contaminated during its production, and it readily conveys infection or disease. The State has interfered very considerably in the production and distribution of milk. There is a Milk and Dairies Act, and a Sale of Milk (Regulations) Bill. The Government have taken the power to look after the health of the cow, in order to see that it is free from tuberculosis, or, otherwise, to destroy it. There are several other Regulations regarding the use of cowsheds for milking and for the cleansing of utensils and for doing all that can be achieved by Regulations for the production of clean milk for the population. This has been encouraged to a large extent by local organisations arranging clean milk campaigns. I was very much interested to notice that whereas in 1919 there was only one clean milk campaign, in 1927 there were 58 campaigns, showing that the public themselves are beginning to recognise the importance of clean milk.

I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Scotland in his place, because I would remind the House of a very important test of the value of more milk for children which was carried out in Scottish schools. A previous test had been carried out by the Medical Research Council. The House will perhaps be interested to know that in the Scottish experiment it was found that the addition of three-quarters of a pint of milk per school day to the diet of children between five and six years old, of an extra pint per day for children between eight and nine years old, and a pint and a quarter additional for those betwen 13 and 14 years of age increased the average height 1.4 inches and the average weight 3.6 lbs. over children in the group which had not had the additional milk. That is definite evidence that the addition of even this small extra quantity of milk daily to the diet of schoolchildren has a very definite effect upon the growth and weight of the children. I wish to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland upon this experiment, and I hope that a little later we shall be able to follow that example in backward England.

Milk being so important a food, one would have thought great care would be taken to see that it was not adulterated, and one of the duties of the Ministry of Health is the administration of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act. In going through the last three reports and returns on this aspect of the work of the Ministry I have been surprised to note, in the first place, how very carelessly those reports have been drawn up. In the figures of percentages mistakes are by no means uncommon. It is a case of "those damned dots." 1.11 is put down as 11.1, and what ought to have been 11 per cent. is called 1.1 per cent. Over and over again in the records you will find "those damned dots" in the wrong place, which must be a reflection upon the officials of the Ministry of Health. [Interruption.] It is a Parliamentary expression, which, I think has been used before in this House. The House will be surprised to learn that an examination of the records of the last three years shows that in 50 per cent. of the counties of England there was adulteration in more than 10 per cent. of the samples of milk examined in the year 1925. In Wales there was adulteration in 69.2 per cent, of the samples, in English boroughs 42.2 per cent., in Welsh boroughs 33.3 per cent. In some cases we find the number of samples found to be adulterated was between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. In Darlington Borough in 1926 the figure was 32.4 per cent., in Salisbury Borough 39.5 per cent., in Hereford Borough 30.5 per cent. In Nottingham County it was 54.8 per cent., in Buckingham 53.6 per cent. For one county the figure was 100 per cent—every milk sample analysed in that county was adulterated. That was the County of Brecon, in the year 1925. In view of that widespread adulteration one would have thought an examination of samples in Brecon the next year would have revealed a great change. There was a change—not a single sample was examined! It is a disgrace that there should be in the Ministry of Health a record showing that in one county in Wales, unfortunately, 100 per cent. of the samples of milk examined were adulterated, and that in the succeeding year not a single sample should have been analysed, and that no explanation of this state of affairs should be forthcoming. It is a great shame that this state of things should be allowed to continue. We do not know whether it is the farmer or the purveyor of milk who is to blame, but the adulteration is introduced somewhere. I would point out to the House that this adulteration is not limited to the poor districts—[Interruption]—and is not due to wet weather, as suggested by an hon. Member, because these samples are taken all the year round, and I believe it is now illegal for milk to be forwarded in a churn the lid of which is not locked.

Let me give examples of the milk adulteration which goes on in our seaside and residential towns: In 1925 in Folkestone 8.8 per cent, of the samples examined were adulterated, in Ramsgate 15.8 per cent., in Brighton 18.1, in Eastbourne 13.9. Those are health resorts along the South coast where one might expect the people would get pure milk. We find the same thing in some of the inland resorts: In Tunbridge Wells 10.2 per cent. of the samples examined were adulterated, in Canterbury 23.3 per cent. and in York 21.1 per cent. These figures seem incredible. That being the state of affairs in seaside places, one would expect they would be even worse in our industrial towns, but the truth is that in the London boroughs the examination of milk samples revealed some of the best results in the whole country. In several of the London boroughs no adulteration at all was found and in the whole of the metropolitan boroughs taken together only just over 3 per cent, of the samples taken were found to be adulterated, which is a wonderful record. If we can get milk of that quality in London, why cannot people living along the South coast get it? If we go to the industrial districts or Lancashire we, find that in Ashton, a cotton town, in Bury, a cotton town, and in Accrington, a cotton town, there was not a single case of milk adulteration in 1925 or 1926, and taking the bulk of the towns there it will be found that the adulteration figure is below 10 per cent. We get this peculiar condition, that in the boroughs generally speaking the milk adulteration is lower than in the counties.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that in the counties the administration of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act is usually carried out by the police authorities, and they act by a sort of rule-of-thumb method. They decide that a certain number of cases must be taken each year and they say to the local authorities "Will you carry out your inspection; we had 20 samples taken last year and we will have 10 or 15 taken this year." The whole thing has gone on under a sort of rule-of-thumb method, and the people have not recognised the value of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act.

The administration of the Act dealing with adulteration is used in such a way as to save the purchasers' pockets, and it is not regarded from the point of view of health. I think that is a great mistake. The function of the Ministry of Health should be not to save the pockets of the people but to look after the health of the people. It is clear from such records as I have read out showing such an enormous amount of adulteration that the Ministry of Health have apparently done nothing, and I think that must be put into the balance against the progress recorded by the Department. I suggest that the administration of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act with regard to foodstuffs and milk should be taken out of the hands of the police and put into the hands of the local health authority.

In answer to a question which I put yesterday in the House, I was told by my right hon. Friend that in some counties the police did co-operate with the local health authorities, but if this question was put into the hands of the local health authorities their sanitary inspector should be instructed to take samples any day, particularly on Sunday, which is a great day for adulteration because the officials are not working. If you put this question into the hands of local authorities and the local farmers and purveyors knew that the inspectors would be about, and might at any time take a sample, I think we should soon have a very rapid and great improvement in the quality of the milk. When we bear in mind that milk is an essential and important food for children and adults, I think the Minister of Health should pay special attention next year to the defects which undoubtedly have existed in the administration of this Act, in order to see if he cannot get for the poor people a good clean, healthy, and unadulterated milk supply.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

Some of my hon. Friends have already given notice that we intend to confine our efforts tonight to the problem of housing and the slum question. We regard this not merely as a practical question of first-class importance, but as a question which is vital to public health. I want to put one or two questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. We have heard a great deal about estimates in this Debate, and I wish to speak upon that subject. I want to confine myself entirely to making out a case for the primary need, if we are to solve this problem, of having a new survey of the whole question which until now has never been made on an appropriate scale. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans. (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) has given us some remarkable figures, but with all deference to him I say that, whether the figures come from experts or whether they are Departmental Estimates, the plain truth as to the number of houses required to-day is that nobody knows how many are wanted.

That may seem a rather startling statement, seeing that since the War we have built 1,000,000 houses, and 700,000 of that total have been built with public assistance. We have mortgaged the future to the extent of £7,000,000 for the next 60 years! I am fortified in that statement by a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) in 1924 when he said that there was no data available in the archives of the Ministry of Health giving the real measure of this problem. It is considered to be enough to take the census register, and from the census returns to give a number of figures relating to the population. The usual course adopted is to take into account the number of houses returned as inhabited by the Commissioners for Inland Revenue and then go into a general estimate of what used to be done in 1911 and what ought to be the case in 1921.

There are many other considerations which ought to be taken into account, and the first one is the problem of the low-paid worker and the slum-dweller. The first question we have to settle is: What standard do we want? For the purposes of my argument I will set up a standard, which stands four square and is contained in the four key words, "person, room, family, and dwelling." If you are going to lay down that every family shall have a separate dwelling, then all that has been said to-day has no relevance to the problem which is confronting us. Many hon. Members regret that the deputation which was recently received by the Prime Minister in regard to the appointment of a Royal Commission met with a refusal. I do not think there is much force in that contention, because a Royal Commission generally means delay. There was a Royal Commission in 1917 for Scottish housing, and there was one in 1884 which dealt with England and Wales, and I admit that there was a big move in housing after those Commissions. Whether or not we commit ourselves to a Royal Commission, one thing is vitally needed, and that is that we should attempt to make a survey of the whole problem and try to find a real standard for our housing problem.

I have put down a few questions which have arisen in my own mind as to the questions which will have to be asked if we are to know what is the extent of this problem. In the first place, we ought to know how many men, women, boys, and girls there are and where they are. From the point of view of housing that is as important as anything else. We also want to know how many houses there are; at present we only know approximately. We ought to know how many houses are occupied and how many are not occupied. We ought to make clear what constitutes a house, whether it is a one-room building, whether it contains two, four, or five rooms, or whether the term includes a bathroom and a scullery. We ought to ask what is the size of the rooms, how many there are, how many square feet they contain, and how many cubic feet they are in content.

We ought to go further and ask ourselves how many groups of persons there are which we call families. The housing of the family is one of the vital questions that have to be answered, if we are going to say how many houses we want and where we want them. Further, we should ask ourselves how many groups of rooms are there for this number of families, and do our groups of rooms fit our groups of families? Then we should understand that the problem is not merely one of the homogeneous family, but of several groups inside the family, based on sex—of parents, and boys, and girls, and young people. We should ask ourselves whether these houses that we have now have separate entrances, water supplies, sanitary arrangements, food stores and so on, and we should ask, lastly, in this group of questions, are these dwellings where the people are, and do they allow a margin for movement? We should also ask what the rents are.

We have some figures, but not by any means the number really required for a proper examination for the purpose of an estimate, if we are to solve this problem for the low-paid worker and handle that part of the problem which none of the Acts passed since the War, or, indeed, before the War, ever attempted to solve. We ought to ask ourselves, will the rent fit the wages? Then, with these questions in mind, we ought to set ourselves to the task involved in the standard I have ventured to put before the Committee to-night. It is the task of providing, after allowing a proper margin for the movement of population, a sufficient number of separate dwellings of a desired standard, with adequate accommodation and proper conveniences, at a rent, or by some other arrangement within the wage of, and in a position near to the work of, the people for whom we desire to provide the houses. When we set ourselves that task on that standard, and ask whether this has ever been done, and whether it can be done, we shall realise how much more we have to do in the provision of houses in the next 10 years, and what a gigantic problem there is in the slogan, "Abolish the slums."

I want to ask the Minister two questions. Has the Ministry, in the first place, with these questions in mind, made any estimate of the number of slum dwellings which are slum dwellings as regards structure; and, secondly, has the Ministry any real estimate of the slum dwellings which are slum dwellings by reason of overcrowding? These two questions may overlap, but the problems, as the Minister will know, are distinct, and I should like to know whether there are any figures in the Ministry which will enable an estimate to be made of this problem from these two points of view. It is quite obvious that, while most of the officials of our local authorities are giving attention to the slum problem, yet the other problem is a very important one. I regret that we have not the Report of the Ministry for this year, but I hope we shall have it in time for the next Debate, and that it will be called for again on a future Supply day, because there is no more vital subject than the health and housing of the people, and I am sure the whole House would desire to hear the Minister making another statement with regard to those parts of his estimate which he had not been able to cover to-day.

In the London County Council area, according to the last report that we have, there are 12 schemes in hand. In Liverpool, in 11 years, they have had schemes to deal with 5,700 unfit houses, and anyone who knows anything about Liverpool knows that that is but a small fringe of the real slum problem there, whether from the point of view of bad or of overcrowded houses. In Scotland, 3S local authorities are at present engaged in slum clearance affecting 12,000 houses, and, while I am on that point, I should like to say that we have evidence about the slum mind and the slum dweller. It is perfectly true that there is such a thing as the slum mind, and, when slum dwellers are moved to better houses, they often turn those houses into slums. But it is not true according to the evidence that we have of the facts. I should like to give the Committee the facts in regard to 350 houses that were visited without notice by an inspector of the Scottish Board of Health. All of them were occupied by tenants removed from slum-cleared areas. The inspector reported that the proportion of bad tenants in the different schemes varied considerably, but, taking the schemes visited as a whole, he found that the proportion of really bad tenants did not exceed 12 per cent. Of the 350 houses visited, 62 per cent. were well kept, while 26 per cent, were only in fair condition as regards cleanliness, and 12 per cent. were definitely very dirty, and were obviously kept by very careless tenants, who did not appear to be making any attempt to live up to the new accommodation provided. Then follows this very remarkable passage: In certain of the smaller schemes the percentage of good tenants was found to be remarkably high, between 80 and 90 per cent. of the houses visited in these schemes being very satisfactory. That, I think, is worth a good deal of theorising about the inability of the people to live up to the new dwellings when they have been moved from their old slum quarters which they have occupied, alas, too long.

It will be noted that in Scotland there were five new schemes for improvements the year before last, but I only desire to compare these figures and those given to-day with last year's Report, winch gave for England and Wales 78 local authorities with 104 schemes for improvements. By March, 1927, there were 93 schemes confirmed, and we were told by the Minister to-day that 111 have now been confirmed. That shows the need for a survey of the whole conditions. If the Ministry cannot give us a survey-of the whole housing problem of the nation, can they not, in view of the Prime Minister's recent statement that the abolition of the slums would be one of the first tasks of the Ministry, undertake to make an exact survey of the slum areas of the land—the overcrowded and the badly housed areas of the land? The case of the slums is of vital importance. The deficiency of houses has in recent years forced this problem into the background, but now the grim reality is standing out, the public conscience is awake, the public sentiment has been touched, and, when the Report of this Debate is read to-morrow, I am quite sure that there will be a further awakening. I would ask the Minister, when he is considering, as he will consider, what has been said in this Debate, not to turn, as Ministers after previous Debates have turned, a deaf ear to the suggestion that there should be an exact estimate with these factors in mind, because it seems useless to expect a solution of the problem unless we know the facts. When we get the facts we can apply the feeling of the mind, the conscience and the heart of the nation to those facts.

There is another thing that I want to say about the slum problem. There are those who take the view that slum problems can only be tackled on a national scale, and that we shall have facing us inside a quarter of a century a housing rate, especially for the slums, comparable with the education rate based on the law of 1870. I will not, however, make that point to-night. What I wish to do to-night is to call the Minister's attention to a little book which bears a title taken from one of his own speeches. It is called "A Silent Revolution." It is written by that very able housing expert, Mr. Harold Bellman, who has done very much to forward the valuable work of the building societies. In that little book Mr. Bellman says this of slum pro- perty, and I venture to call the attention of the Minister to the passage if he has not already noticed it. It is on page 57. The author asks these questions: Is it completely beyond the wit of men to devise a practical scheme whereby even the poorer classes can be helped? Must they be eternally dependent upon others, and be denied the opportunity of helping themselves? If their wage precludes them from purchasing a house, does it completely exclude the possibility that the more respectable workers in this particular stratum who are compelled to live in the congested areas might purchase—by building society or similar methods—a flat in a model dwelling? Would it be possible for new and model dwellings to be erected at the public expense, and the agreed purchase price of a flat to be provided by a building society, subject to effective guarantees from the local authority in lieu of the ordinary margin of security, the weekly rental payments of the dweller being applied to the repayment of the purchase and to the extension of his stake in the security? That is at least a suggestion which has not been before made in the House, and I call attention to it in the hope that the Ministry may give some consideration to it. Slums are not merely a crime against man but a crime against his Maker. It was John Ruskin who said: God is in the poorest man's cottage. It is advisable that He should be well housed.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

I am sure the Committee has listened to the speech that has just been delivered with great sympathy and appreciation of its sincerity and will realise that it is not because in any section of the Committee there is any lack of appreciation of the gravity of This great problem of the slums of our cities that I turn to a somewhat different subject. No one can have heard the speech of the Minister without being struck by its earnestness and its sincerity and without being aware that he really hoped, as he said at the conclusion of his speech, that the Ministry, which is now only nine years old, if it had not already realised its ambition, would at any rate come to be recognised as being correctly named the Ministry of Health—the health of the people. I quite agree that it has done much to justify its title, but he mentioned some very disquieting facts. He told us there had been progress in respect of some of the principal prevalent diseases, but he told us also there had been no diminution in maternal mortality. That remains at present at one in 250 births. He told us further—and I am sure the Committee was very glad to notice it—that the Ministry intended to make it the subject of a very special and searching investigation. I am anxious that that investigation should not leave out, from any motives of so-called modesty or anything of that kind, any of the vital subjects that concern this.question of maternal mortality.

9.0 p.m.

There is no question that extremely and unreasonably frequent births, under miserable conditions, must be a contributory cause to that maternal mortality. I am certain also that the subject on which I asked a question recently, the subject of deaths due to attempted abortion, is also a very material contributory cause to that great maternal mortality. I should like to read a question I put to the Minister on 26th April. I asked if his Department had any statistics of the number of deaths of women in pregnancy from septic peritonitis, and whether he proposed to take any steps to safeguard them against the onset of this condition at maternity welfare centres. His reply was that three years ago—the fact that these statistics are not even up-to-date seems very fully to justify the policy of a full inquiry into the question—there were 84 deaths from septic peritonitis and other similar causes. I asked him,, on that, whether he was not aware that septic peritonitis almost always supervenes on attempted abortion. I believe, besides that, there is another question which has a, very close bearing on it, and that is the prevalence of venereal disease.

On the main question of the undue frequency of births under the most adverse conditions, I took to the Minister in July, 1925, a, deputation of Members of the House to ask that the very restrictive Regulations made with regard to welfare centres and ante-natal centres, should be relaxed, our object being that the medical officers in charge should have unfettered discretion to give or to withhold, according to the medical condition of the case before him, information with regard to birth control. Within a couple of days the Minister asked me to see him and told me he proposed to modify the Regulations, and he gave me a copy. I do not find that there is anything stated to be private in this, and therefore I should like to call attention to the essential alterations he proposed. The second part of the formula as it now reads is as follows: It is not the function of an ante-natal centre to give advice in regard to birth control, and exceptional cases where the avoidance of pregnancy seems desirable on medical grounds should be referred for particular advice to a private practitioner or a hospital. That was then proposed to be altered in this way: Where, however, in any particular case the avoidance of future pregnancy seems desirable on medical grounds, it is open to the medical officer of the centre, if he or she thinks it necessary, to explain to the mother how and where the appropriate information or advice can be obtained. I did not, nor did other hon. Members who were interested in the question, regard that as satisfactory. I could not see why, if it was left to the discretion of the medical officer, male or female, to deal with such a question, he should be instructed practically to withhold the advice, but to send the patient somewhere else, either to a wholly unsuitable place, namely one of our general hospitals, or to a special medical adviser, which in the case of a poor woman is really derisory advice—advice which they cannot possibly follow. They have gone to a place maintained by public funds for the express purpose of giving advice on this question. They are denied that advice and are referred elsewhere, where they either cannot obtain it or have not the money that is necessary in order to obtain it. No alteration whatever was made in these regulations. In April, 1926, the question was again raised in another place by Lord Buckmaster, in one of the most eloquent and moving speeches I have ever heard or read. There was a long debate, which occupied all the afternoon. The Archbishop of Canterbury particularly, who had previously gone very closely into the question, made a long speech which was sympathetic but was definitely adverse to Lord Buck-master's Resolution, which was that these restrictions upon medical officers should be removed entirely. I would just call the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Archbishop—I know that I must not quote textually from what he said, but I am entitled to say this—that the regulation I have quoted did not, he believed, express the mind and views of the Ministry of health, and that it was very unfortunately worded. He expressed the hope, although he was supporting the Government in their view of the case, that this regulation would be revised. I call the attention of the Committee—

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

It appears to me that the hon. Member is proceeding to answer a speech that was made in another place.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

I have no such intention, Mr. Hope. I was only wishing to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that this question had been debated, but I will leave that subject if that is your Ruling. I would say this, that the Resolution asked for then was passed in another place, in spite of the opposition of the Government, by 57 to 44. It was passed on its merits by people who, at any rate, were perfectly open-minded on this subject, but nothing has been done since. Doubt was cast, and has often been cast, not only there but elsewhere, upon the cases of extreme hardship. They were quoted in that Debate, and they are frequently quoted in this connection. I will give to the Committee, not the cases that were then quoted, but the most recent cases that have come to my notice—cases that have been brought to the notice of the birth control clinics at Walworth and in the East End of London during the past year. I will read the briefest possible epitome of two or three cases from the Walworth centre: Wife, aged 41, husband a firewood cutter during the winter at 24s. a week, unemployed in the summer, 19 pregnancies, including three miscarriages. Of the 16 children born alive, only eight have survived. Does any hon. Member of this Committee say that that is the proper method of increasing the population or of getting a population who will not only be a misery to themselves but a misery to all to whom they belong, a great burden upon the State, and an added burden to the growing expenses of the Ministry of Health? I will quote another case: Wife, 35, husband a disabled soldier, neuræsthenic, and unable to work, receives a pension of 19s. a week eked out by parish relief. The patient has had nine pregnancies, of which eight children survived, and the ninth has been a miscarriage. There eight out of the nine survived, but can anyone say that under those conditions, and with a husband in that state, it is desirable that this information should be withheld by officers in charge of the welfare and ante-natal centres which are supported by Government money?

Photo of Mr Francis Blundell Mr Francis Blundell , Ormskirk

Has my hon. Friend any information that knowledge was lacking in those cases?

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

The best proof of that is that, far from going to the welfare centre, where they could not get the information, they went to the Walworth birth control clinic, where they knew that they could get the information. That is the answer.

Photo of Mr Francis Blundell Mr Francis Blundell , Ormskirk

So they did get the information?

An HON. MEMBER:

Too late.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

My point is not only that it is too late, as the hon. Member says, but that it is not right to support institutions with public money that deny information which is necessary in certain cases on medical grounds and drive these people to the very few voluntarily supported clinics which deal with this matter. To show that it is not exclusively a question of one district, I will quote one case, and only one, from East London: Wife aged 35, husband a labourer, nine children, of whom three were still-born, while those living are very sickly. As I have said, nothing has been done to alter these conditions. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will not tell us that there is no restraint placed upon these doctors. The Regulations I have read show clearly that that is not so. As a matter of fact, it is clearly understood that unless they send their patients to get information elsewhere there is a very great risk of the Government assistance to these clinics being withheld.

This question is very closely connected with the question of venereal disease, and before I sit down I want to put one or two pointed questions to my right hon. Friend. I noticed that in regard to a maternity case that was quoted the other day it was stated that, owing to venereal disease, of three children born, the first was blind and the second was going blind. The third was then about to be born. I ask the Minister if he will tell us what is the position in regard to venereal disease and particularly in regard to gonorrhœa, which is the special disease which brings these births of blind children. I am told that although there in some diminution in syphilis, gonorrhœa is on the increase. I noticed when the Edinburgh Bill was before the House the other day that Edinburgh is one of the local authorities which is carrying out the existing system, the official system of the Minister of Health, which is confined to dealing with the disease after it has taken hold, and refuses in regard to this particular disease to apply any preventive measures or to allow the civil population access to preventive measures. In both the Army and the Navy admirable results have followed from these preventive measures. I find that in Edinburgh they seem to have arrived at a static condition. The number of defaulters from clinics is stated to have been practically level for three years, and the number of people applying at the clinics is practically level also. The same, I am told, is the experience in Glasgow and several other of our great centres. I want to know whether the Minister can say now, as was said by the Minister in 1925, in answer to a deputation of the combined societies—the Social Hygiene Council and the Society for the Prevention of Venereal Disease—that the recommendation of the report, now six years old, shall be given effect to. When we went as a deputation to the Minister in 1925 he said this: We have before us the fact that, undoubtedly, the prevalence of the disease is diminishing. I want to know how this policy of cure but no prevention in regard to the civil population as a whole is going on. I want to know in connection with this question of birth control whether we have any assurance that the prevalence of venereally affected mothers and fathers is any less than it was before the present very costly system was adopted. Can the Minister justify, in view of the present state of things, the continued refusal to put into operation the specific recommendations of the Committee which was appointed in 1923 expressly to go into this question. That Committee reported as follows: We think that the law should be altered so as to permit—

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

On a point of Order. Will not this require legislation?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

I think it will, and if the hon. Member develops that point he will be out of order. It was only his very last sentence that laid him open to a point of Order.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

Two or three statements which the hon. Member made previously also bore on the same point, and some of us hotly contest them and do not regard them as fair statements.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The hon. Member, I take it, has quoted from a document which suggests legislation. If he uses that as part of his argument, he will be out of order.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

I was not using it as an argument. I was merely referring to it as a point in connection with the executive policy of the Minister of Health, and I was asking whether he can give as an assurance that the present policy is bearing fruits as satisfactory as in 1925. There is a rigid opposition on the part of those who advise the Minister of Health, and we might use the term Ministry, generally, to making any movement whatever in the direction of giving the civil population an opportunity of using preventive measures. I cannot develop that point further than to press the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us the facts. The Minister of Health gave us information with regard to cancer, rheumatism and sleepy sickness, but in regard to a disease which is, on the whole, responsible for more misery, not only in this generation, but prospectively in future generations, than any other, he did not tell us how the policy of the Ministry of Health was getting on. We want to be assured. I want to know whether he can tell us, as the Minister told us in 1925, that the prevalence of venereal disease is diminishing.

I would conclude by pressing upon the Minister that it is not reasonable and that it is not right to allow his policy to be governed purely by the opinion of one religious sect or another. He is the Minister of Health and he is responsible for the health of the people, and the only policy which can possibly justify the expenditure of public money which, as he pointed out, is increasing year by year and has increased this year by £1,000,000, is to adopt in the case of every disease preventive or curative measures, and to encourage the use of those measures, above all in regard to the question of maternity, and not on account of any religious prejudice to deny to mothers in the condition which I have so briefly indicated, the knowledge of which people in better-off circumstances, richer people, have command, and which his Department, supported with public money, is denying to the poor to whom it is the most essential.

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Leicester West

Like the last speaker, I propose to devote my few remarks to this very important question of maternal mortality. I was very glad to hear the statement made by the Minister of Health that this question is to receive the careful attention of the Government. In that connection I was glad to note that the Prime Minister, in a recent speech, announced that steps to deal radically with this question of material mortality would be amongst the principal business of the next Parliament. I cannot help noticing, in passing, that this recognition synchronises with the passing through this House of the Women's Suffrage Measure. I say that not in criticism of the Government but merely to draw attention to the fact that with the passage of the Bill for the enfranchisement of women questions which are of the most profound importance to women are naturally coming to the front. It will be a very valuable thing if, just as the first suffrage Bill for women coincided with a tremendous reduction in infant mortality, the passage of the full measure of enfranchisement for women synchronises with a reduction in the death rate of mothers in childbirth.

I would like to ask, however, what steps the Government have already taken to classify the maternity death rate? Have they any figures which would indicate under which of three heads many of the deaths take place. First, there is the head of carelessness, either on the part of the patient, the doctor, the midwife or the nurse; secondly, there is the question of death due to poverty, malnutrition or inability to supply what is necessary to bring the child healthfully into the world; and, thirdly, there is the question of how many of the women died owing to the fact that those women ought never to have had a child at all. That brings me to a question which has been referred to by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), the administrative power of the Minister to refuse to allow the doctors in the clinics, supported out of public money, to give birth control information. There is one aspect of this question on which I cannot conceive that there can be any difference of opinion. I cannot conceive that there can be any people who, knowing the facts, would refuse to the doctors the right to give information in the kind of cases that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Barnstaple, where it could be clearly demonstrated that if the woman is to have a child that child is almost certain to be diseased or defective, or the woman herself is going to be gravely injured and her life imperilled by bringing a child into the world. It is inconceivable that there can be any body of opinion that will hold that that woman ought not to be informed of the steps which it is possible for her to take to prevent conception.

No doubt, it will be said that once you open the door to information of this kind you open it to many cases other than those of that nature. The question of birth control is a grave and serious one. It is a very difficult and delicate question, upon which there are many different opinions. There are the opinions of those who think it is right, and that such opinions should be propagated. There are those who think it is purely a matter of individual choice, and there are those who think that birth control is morally wrong. In my view, it is not the business of this Committee to deal with that aspect of the question at all. But I am convinced that you cannot found morality upon ignorance. Any attempt to do so in this 20th century is foredoomed to failure.

We have the fact at the present time that women belonging to one class have already this knowledge. We have also the fact, which must be patent to everyone who has studied this question, that women in large numbers in all classes are determined to have this information. Women are not babies to be put off from something they are determined to have by having their attention attracted to something else. I for one feel quite certain that, if the information which they desire be not given to them scientifically and reverently, as it can be done, by those who are the appointed officers of the State, they will get it in other ways less correct and very likely much more injurious. When that undesirable form of information has been disseminated among women it will be very difficult to eradicate it. You will find doctors, who possess the right knowledge, up against a grave problem in trying to alter what has taken shape in the minds and been passed from one to another among the poorer women of this country. To-day is the time when women are asking for this knowledge to be given to them, the correct knowledge, the best available medical knowledge, by the persons who are in a position to give it In view of these facts, the Ministry will be making a grave mistake if they do not see that the time has come to-day to reconsider their original decision and to provide that what rich women can all of them easily obtain from their private practitioners can also be available to poor women from the channels from which alone they are able to obtain information. When that takes place, those who take the view that any practice of this kind is undesirable will be able to inculcate the doctrines which they believe to be right. You cannot check knowledge by withholding it at its fountain source. You only drive it into undesirable channels and give it a wrong colour from the start.

Photo of Mr Francis Blundell Mr Francis Blundell , Ormskirk

I rise only for a few minutes to express the very strongest dissent from the views just expressed by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrencce) and also by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto). This unsavoury subject is brought forward on every possible occasion in this House on some pretext or another. On this occasion, the pretext has been the fact that the percentage of maternal mortality has not been reduced during the last few years. No Member of the House can but regret the fact that there has been no reduction in this mortality, but there is not the slightest shadow of evidence that the failure of deaths from this cause to diminish has been due to the failure of the ante-natal clinics to give information about birth control. It is just a peg on which to hang a highly controversial argument. My hon. Friend appealed to the Ministry of Health not to be governed by the opinions of religious sects. I have no doubt whatever that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member opposite were referring to the religion to which I have the honour to belong, the Catholic religion, but,, in opposing these views, I am confident that I am not only speaking for my co-religionists, but for a great body of opinion in this country who do not belong to my Church. A large proportion of the Church of England and of various Nonconformist bodies hold the same views as we do and object to this propaganda put forward by a certain section of the community.

There is one point that is not brought out by those who advocate the teaching of this practice in public centres, and that is that they have not yet arrived at any conclusion among themselves as to what advice they are going to give to the unfortunate persons who seek it. As one who is strongly opposed to this practice and to the giving of advice on this unsavoury subject, I have made it my business to read a good deal of literature on birth control, and I have never found any method advocated by one section of propagandists which is not strongly combated by some other section who are equally anxious to have this teaching given. My hon. Friend brought up the old argument of the burden on the State. That is a very unhappy argument to bring forward. If you carry it to its logical conclusion, it means that those who have not a certain amount of wealth will, if he and his friends have their way, have to obtain a certificate from some State body as to how many children they are to have the right to produce. If you carry out to its logical conclusion, too, the argument of people who advocate a further extension of interference with human liberty you get to the sterilisation of the unfit, and, I suppose, will have to pass some examination before some State body to decide whether you are to be allowed to have any children at all.

Photo of Sir Basil Peto Sir Basil Peto , Barnstaple

I did not refer to the burden on the State of any conceivable number of healthy children, but to the burden on the State of the mentally and physically unfit, the blind, and the other diseased children that ought never to have been born.

Photo of Mr Francis Blundell Mr Francis Blundell , Ormskirk

I hope I did not misunderstand my hon. Friend, but I think in one case he cited, as the reason why the father should not be allowed to have a family, the fact that he was earning only 24s. a week. Now I come to the question of the need for this teaching. I assert that there is no young couple in this country who get married who are not flooded with all sorts of information on this subject. They receive literature from those interested in the sale of appliances, and literature from the societies to which my hon. Friend refers. I do not believe there is any married couple in this country who are not overwhelmed with information on this subject. Great sums of money are being spent by the societies which promote this practice and there are travelling vans all over the place. There is no shadow of substance in the allegation that people who desire to use these methods cannot obtain such information as is available from one or other of these sources. The birth controllers rather mask one side of the objections to their proposals by always saying that this information at ante-natal clinics should be given only to married women. I wonder if they have read a report of the medical officer of health for Birmingham in 1926. If they have done so, although that gentleman is himself a professed advocate of birth control, I think they will get information there which will cause them to have doubts before they advocate the teaching of these practices in public clinics.

Finally, I wonder what my hon. Friend would say if it was suggested by the Government that the teaching of the tenets of Communism should be made compulsory in public elementary schools. My hon. Friend would be one of the first to protest against the teaching of Communism in schools supported by State money. In the same way a large portion of the community is absolutely opposed to the teaching of this practice, which they believe to be morally wrong and a danger to the State and to the family, being supported by public money.

Photo of Mr Thomas Groves Mr Thomas Groves , West Ham Stratford

I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

I desire to call attention to the inadequate consideration given by the Government to the housing conditions of the people of the country, and to bring back the Debate to the point from which it started. I regret that I cannot follow hon. Members in the cheerful subject of birth control. Hon. Members who represent the West Ham area would be failing in their duty if they did not call the attention of the Committee to the actual work of the appointed guardians for West Ham. There has already been a reference to the appointed guardians in Chester-le-Street, and I understand the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is going to reply to the points which have been raised. I should like to ask him whether he has given his approval to what is a new departure on the part of the appointed guardians for West Ham in their pernicious and cruel treatment of people in receipt of outdoor relief. I have criticised time after time the action of the appointed guardians in curtailing the amount of money that is given, not the actual amount of the relief, but reducing the amount of money and giving the relief in kind. When people are in the-position of being in arrears with their rent, and you adopt this policy, you make it much more difficult for them to live.

It has been assumed that those who are now in control of the West Ham area are against the development of the cooperative movement because of their political faith. They did what they could locally to develop the growth of the small shopkeeper. I do not blame them; I believe in fair play. But the new West Ham Guardians now order people who get their relief in kind to purchase the goods at the local co-operative stores and, of course, as hon. Members know dividends accrue to purchasers, so that at the end of the quarter if a purchaser has spent £10 he gets back 10 times 1s. 3d., as the dividend is about 1s. 3d. in the £. The-people who are in receipt of Poor Law-relief in kind and are instructed to obtain their purchases at the local co-operative stores go to the relieving officer and the amount of money which they draw in dividends from the local co-operative stores is deducted from their relief. I hope the Minister will give this matter his attention, and his condemnation. This is a new departure on the part of the appointed guardians and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has not discovered and stopped it before now. I have two cases here—I do not propose to give names because it would mean that they would get into the local newspapers—showing the policy of the appointed guardians with regard to unmarried mothers. I have listened in this House to splendid speeches by hon. Members opposite on the question of the treatment of the unmarried mother and I have been pleased to see a tendency for a wider and broader view of the question.

The position of the unmarried mother should, I think, be considered by the appointed West Ham Guardians from the moral aspect and not from the pauper aspect. I am not putting forward these two cases for propaganda purposes, but I should be pleased to hand the details to the right hon. Gentleman privately. One case is that of a woman who has five children. She is unmarried. I know how foolish all this is, and bow easy it is to sit in judgment upon that woman. The man has died and the maintenance and care of these five young children is thrown upon the woman. Will the Minister of Health believe me when I say that when she applied to the present West Ham Board of Guardians for food they told her that she must be treated as a single woman and must enter the workhouse if she desired to be sustained. The other is the ease of a woman who lived with a man without getting married, and the inevitable result was that they had three children. The man has fallen upon evil days, he is physically ill, and he is now in the local infirmary. The woman is left With' these three children and without the man who is generally known as the bread winner. She went down to the relieving officer and received the same reply as the woman in the first case. She was told that if she wanted relief she would have to be treated as a single woman and must go into what is called the central home. I am not putting forward these cases from any propaganda point of view but because I want the Minister of Health to say to the West Ham Guardians, or any other set of men who approached this problem in this way, that they must treat these people in a more Christian and humane manner so that we shall not be obliged to bring details such as this before the attention of the House of Commons.

Photo of Mr Francis Broad Mr Francis Broad , Edmonton

Why blame the guardian? It is the Minister who is responsible?

Photo of Mr Thomas Groves Mr Thomas Groves , West Ham Stratford

The Minister has appointed three so-called English gentlemen, and they have good salaries for carrying out their work. We who live on the spot see these things going on and when we call his attention to them I hope he will appreciate our point of view and deal with it in the best way he can. If he cannot, it is his duty to tell the House and we shall take whatever steps we can—that is, we shall move a reduction of £200 instead of £100. For two years I have been questioning the Minister of Health with regard to housing in the borough of West Ham, and I have pleasant memories of the Parliamentary Secretary stating that if West Ham made certain overtures, the Ministry of Health would meet us. We have made certain tentative proposals but our trouble is that we have no vacant land on which to build, and it is all nonsense to say that we should have been constructing dwellings in West Ham. In the past six years, with as much attention being paid to the matter as we could possibly give in the circumstances, we have only been able to build 152 flats while 162 houses have been built by private enterprise. The combined activities of the corporation and of private enterprise in West Ham, in six years have only produced in round figures about 300 houses. I do not like to use anything but serious remarks in dealing with a serious subject but one might say that in West Ham we are not housed, we are warehoused.

I was interested in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle), who made so much use of the census of 1921, but if that census is examined, it will be found that according to it, West Ham was the most populous area in Essex. The average density of population in Essex in June 1921, was 1.5 persons per acre, but in West Ham it was 64.2 persons per acre; in Leyton, 49.5; in East Ham, 43.1 and in Walthamstow 29.8. I am sure the Committee will be surprised to know that it is recorded in the census of 1921 that in one ward of West Ham, the population was 135 persons per acre. In West Ham a very large number of people have taken advantage of the Acquisition of Small Dwellings Act, and have purchased their own dwellings but that Act does not and cannot apply to the really poorly paid men in our area. That Act, beneficial as it is, can only apply to the better paid artisans. It is no cure and very little contribution to a solution of the housing problem. The mere transference of the ownership of a house contributes little to the prevention of overcrowding or to the mitigation of slum conditions. From 1911 to 1921 the number of families in West Ham increased by 6,903, or 11.2 per cent. and the number of dwellings only increased by 1,859 or 4 per cent. I know that this does not apply particularly to the present Minister but it applies to the Government and the country. The fact is that this country did very little during that ten years to cope with the problem and we have got so far behind that it seems impossible in these great industrial areas to deal with the problem at all.

In West Ham the number of families occupying one room per family, is 4,691 or 6.8 of the population, and that represents nearly 10,000 persons. I think what I am going to state ought to cause consternation to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary because I am sure they have not read it in the census or if they have read it, have forgotten it. Of the families I have mentioned, there was one family of 11 living in one room; one a family of nine, one a family of eight, nine families of seven, 30 families of six, 99 families of five, 306 families of four and 990 of three. I will not attempt to read all the figures relating to this question because I know other Members desire to speak but I would refer hon. Members to the book which I have here, which was produced under the ægis of the West Ham Insurance Committee in 1924. It is a recent documnt and I commend it to the attention of the Minister. The reason why I have moved this reduction in the vote is because the Ministry of Health and the Government have done next to nothing to relieve the congestion and deal with the housing conditions in our borough. There are plenty of areas there that could be dealt with by the Government. I took the trouble to look up definitions of the word "slum" and strangely enough I could hardly find two that agreed. I notice that the doctors have come back since I began to speak and the dictionaries disagree on this point as much as the doctors disagree on vaccination. Collins' Dictionary defines a slum as a back street of a city; one full of a poor, dirty and vicious population. According to that definition there would not be many slums in West Ham, I am pleased to say. We may be poor but we are not vicious. Pitman's Phonetic Dictionary gives the best definition: A wretchedly poor quarter in a town. West Ham is full of quarters that are wretchedly poor. I would call the Minister's attention to the obvious results of bad housing. It increases infantile mortality and it increases disease. I would also call the attention of the Minister to the obvious results of the lack of sustenance for the people due to the methods of the present West Ham Guardians. I make no apology for taking up the time from now until ten o'clock in refreshing the Minister's memory on this matter.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The hon. Member having mentioned ten o'clock, I must remind him of certain assurances which he gave before he was called.

Photo of Mr Thomas Groves Mr Thomas Groves , West Ham Stratford

I will keep within those bounds. I have sat here since four o'clock, patiently waiting to get in a few words, and while I respect the desire of other hon. Members to speak, I hope they will respect my desire to speak on this matter. I conclude by appealing to the Minister to realise the effect of the methods of the present guardians on the lives of the children. I beg him to do what he can, if he will, to fall in with the appeals of the social workers of West Ham, and to use his full powers to approach and appeal to the people whom he has appointed to be more humane in the treatment that they mete out to the poor in the borough, or else I fear we shall have to be sterner and more drastic in our treatment of him in this House and not so respectful in our appeals to him.

Photo of Mr Henry Haslam Mr Henry Haslam , Horncastle

I desire to oppose the reduction of the Vote which has just been moved, and, in doing so, I should like in particular to refer to the milk supply. However much this article of diet, which at one time nourished most of us, has been displaced in our later years by other liquids, of different colour and complexion and perhaps effect, I do not think any of us will deny its great importance from a national point of view. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) has called attention to its importance to the consumer, and whether we look at it from the point of view of the general consumer or from that of the children or that of the sick, whether rich or poor, I think we are all agreed on that. Milk, however, is important not only to the consumer, but to the producer. Milk is one of the few products in which the producer may be said to have a certain amount of shelter from foreign competition, although that must be considerably modified when we remember the amount of the skimmed and tinned article which is now imported. The hon. Member for Royton discussed the subject of adulteration and pointed out how unsatisfactory in this respect was the supply of milk in the towns of the South Coast of England. I would venture to point out, to those thinking of their Whitsuntide holiday, that there are in Lincolnshire seaside resorts in which the purity of the milk is rivalled only by the purity and the bracing quality of the air. The week-end visitor there need not fear that dreadful sin, which the hon. Member referred to, of Sunday adulteration. That is indeed a case of which it cannot be said, "The better the day, the better the deed."

10.0 p.m.

I wish to call attention to the Milk and Dairies Order, which is an instrument designed by the Minister of Health to improve the milk supply in regard to its purity and cleanliness. I would like, in the first place, to say how much I appreciate the wisdom of the Minister in leaving such a large discretion to the local authorities in the administration of this Order. It may indeed have been tempting in many cases to make hard and fast rules and regulations, but when we consider the diversity of the various country districts of England, when we consider how much they differ in climatic conditions and many other ways, I think it must be generally admitted that it is wise to allow very considerable discretion. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, to give us some information as to whether that part of the Order dealing with the ventilation and the lighting of cowsheds is working satisfactorily. Those regulations were left almost entirely to the discretion of the rural district councils, and, as far as I know, in my district they have administered this portion of the Order very fairly.

There is also the question of the water supply. I am well aware that when one discusses water supply in connection with dairies there is always the possibility of a certain amount of hilarity, but when we think that cleanliness in the supply of milk is a necessity, if there is to be a good pint of milk placed on the doorstep of everybody, I am sure the importance of a good water supply will he recognised. Here, again, however, this subject must be treated with very considerable discretion. There are numbers of small cow-keepers in country districts where the water supply may not be all that we might desire, but where, nevertheless, it would be quite unreasonable to say that they should not he allowed to keep cows. I should also like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has any evidence that the keeping of cows in the open air, winter and summer, day and night, which is beginning to be practised in certain parts of the South of England, has been shown to have any connection with tuberculosis, and whether it has caused any diminution of tuberculosis in cattle.

There are two classes of people which were liable to suffer when this Order was first introduced, of which one was the farmer who had a small number of cows to supply milk for himself, for his men, and possibly for his neighbours and smallholders. Such a farmer might have been living in a very out-of-the-way district, and his act in supplying milk for his men and his neighbours could not rightly be called an act of commerce it was rather an act of neighbourliness. I should like to say how much I appreciated the issue by the Minister of Circular No. 757, which dealt with this subject and gave advice to the local authorities. I should like, however, to call attention to Section 7 of this Order, which states: In cases where a few cows only are kept, primarily to meet the needs of the household, but a small quantity of the milk produced is sold to employés and neighbours, the general principles of sanitation and cleanliness of method which the Order incorporates must be observed if the consumers are to enjoy the same measure of protection as the Order affords to other sections of the community. I quite agree that the people who are supplied in this way have a right to the same protection as other members of the community, but I would like to point out that the same degree of purity and clean liness is not quite necessary in the case of those people who have the supply immediately at hand as in the case of the consumer in the town where the milk has to travel a long distance. Purity or impurity of the milk depends on the amount of bacterial infection which it receives at the source, and that bacterial infection increases and multiplies to an enormous extent with time, especially if the temperature is high. A sample of milk which has a small infection when originally produced if consumed immediately within an hour of production, is very much cleaner and purer than the same sample if it has to wait a certain number of hours, especially in warm weather. Therefore, it is not reasonable that such rigid conditions as to cleanliness and purity should be laid down for a farmer who is in some isolated district supplying himself and his friends. Later on in that Section, I am glad to see that a test is proposed which would meet the case in this respect, because it says: In any case of doubt as to the adequacy of premises the hygienic quality of the milk produced as disclosed by the examination of samples should give some guidance as to the action necessary. I should like to call the attention of the Minister to that particular point, and to ask him if, in the administration of this Order, he has had reason to suppose that any hardship has been caused to the farmers and consumers in that position. There is also the question of the smallholder. I am sure that those of us who are desirous of seeing the smallholders hold their own and being further established would say that it is very important that the conditions should be such as to allow them to keep a cow or two. I believe that many rural district councils allow a man to keep one cow, and some to keep two cows, without being regarded as supplying milk for sale.

I should like to ask the Minister as to the general effects of this Order. I should like to ask if he has found evidence of cleaner milk, of lower bacterial content, of fewer diseases attributable to milk, and evidence in regard to epidemic diseases. I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee, but I had intended to say a word about the question of foreign imported skimmed milk, because I think that is a most serious subject. This article is entirely deficient in one of the most important parts of milk, namely, the cream. It is an article which is unsuited to infants, and I should like to ask the Minister whether not only the label but the wrapper should not be so marked as to make it quite clear to the mother, when she buys this article of diet, that it is unsuitable for infants. [Laughter.] I must confess that I find it most difficult to understand the hilarity of hon. Members opposite on such a very important question, which concerns the welfare of the working class, not only in the towns but in the rural districts. This condensed milk is very largely used as an article of diet, partly because it is very convenient to have a tin on the shelf, but it is most important, from the point of view of the health of the children of this country, that the mothers should be educated to the importance of fresh milk for their children and to the deleterious nature of this substance when used for infants. Finally, I would venture to say a word about that part of the milk that is left out of this article, namely, the cream, and in particular about its preservation by boric acid. There is a certain body of scientific thought which has not accepted the view that boric acid is so deleterious to the health of the people as the Minister was led to suppose. The position has now been reached when, in place of cream preserved by a small quantity of boric acid, there is sold in this country an increasing quantity of artificial cream made by machinery, which it would seem must lack many qualities and substances, such as vitamins, which are constituents of the natural article. I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to that change, which I cannot but consider is a change for the worse.

Photo of Mr Edwin Scrymgeour Mr Edwin Scrymgeour , Dundee

Water is sometimes mixed with other liquids than milk, and it sometimes becomes troublesome from the health point of view. I did not want, however, to follow that aspect of the question. Under the Labour Government, a Commission was appointed to deal with the question of mental trouble and to consider the question of lunacy reform, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply to tell us whether there is any likelihood of some outcome from the consideration that I presume has been given by the Government to the Report of that Commission. I should think that, among the various points which the right hon. Gentleman emphasised to-day, this question of relegating people who are suffering under mental depression to an institution where there are others even still more seriously affected, has had a very disadvantageous result from the general public standpoint.

I am quite conversant with the fact that medical science is going out in the direction of urging that there should be more concentrated attention given by those under whose care these cases have been placed. From my own experience of some of those who have suffered in this way, and have come under treatment in private institutions where only a few people received attention, very wonderful results of complete restoration to mental equilibrium have been accomplished. Under the system, which is generally involved to-day, of placing these people in such large institutions, it is very difficult for the doctors to give the requisite attention in order to bring about the results that would otherwise be obtained. It is now reckoned a practical plan to treat mental trouble in the same way as physical trouble is treated, and by care and selection in the conditions under which the patient is to be treated, there is every likelihood of a stage being reached in which such cases can be as freely put upon a well-established footing mentally, as people treated in infirmaries for physical disabilities can be sent out in perfectly good health. This is a most important question, on which I hope to hear some reference made to-night.

I should like to refer to venereal disease. The discussion on the Edinburgh Bill certainly warranted the deduction to be made by the Government, that the authorities in some parts of the country, including that authority in particular, which emphasised its position by the introduction of the Bill, and the Dundee authority, have gone very far forward in this connection. On the occasion of the Debate on the Edinburgh Bill, I quoted the statements of the medical officers of health for the city, including the medical representative of that department which deals especially with venereal disease, and both were agreed in urging the necessity of compulsory treatment. Specific evidence was presented from the opposite side of the Committee to-night, and the Report of the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases is one of the most gloomy reports any Member of this House can have studied. It reveals an appalling situation, and we are dealing with this affliction and the circumstances under which it generally arises in far too timid a fashion. With such appalling results, not only to those who are afflicted, but also to the offspring of those who are afflicted to the extent of blindness, epilepsy and mental derangement, we have a catalogue of horror; and for a public body to come forward with a Bill, saying that they have tried their utmost and that they now felt the absolute necessity of further powers being sought—

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is not within the province of the Ministry of Health.

Photo of Mr Edwin Scrymgeour Mr Edwin Scrymgeour , Dundee

I apologise. I will simply make this parting reference to the subject, that I hope the Ministry of Health is giving serious attention to the natural deductions to be made from this discussion. In my concluding remarks I wish to deal with the housing question. I know that it is not possible to say anything about subjects which involve legislation, but we are entitled to a more frank diagnosis of the situation confronting the country with respect to slums. An hon. Member has quoted from Pitman's Dictionary the definition of a slum as a place inhabited by people who are poor, but we have to recollect that there are many people living in slums who possess good incomes. Although we may recognise that most of them are, unfortunately, in the position of receiving anything but what they ought to be receiving as wages, an easy-going, profligate expenditure goes on there with, sometimes, disastrous results, not only to a particular family circle, but to the people living around.

The housing problem is not a question merely of providing new houses and getting rid of property which is in an uninhabitable condition, but the question arises why so many of our people are under their existing disabilities in the matter of housing accommodation. Several local authorities, including that of Dundee, say the Minister ought to give a locality the right to provide small houses for its people, in view of the fact that they are unable to find the rent for larger houses. Theoretically we can all agree that people ought to have better houses, but that involves the whole question of our civilisation. It involves the questions we were dealing with last night of banking interest and the sweeping of large numbers of people into conditions where poverty stares them in the face, leaving a comparative handful of people playing ducks and drakes with the interests of the country at large. Though it is an important question in itself, the housing question is really no more than a side issue, because a much more important question for the mass of the people is how they are going to get a living.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The hon. Member is referring to matters for which the Minister of Health is not responsible.

Photo of Mr Edwin Scrymgeour Mr Edwin Scrymgeour , Dundee

It is somewhat difficult to get a fair and frank discussion of these questions. I sometimes feel these discussions are of too generalised a nature, and that the continual smile on the part of those who sit on the Treasury Bench indicates that they feel "You can go on talking, but nothing will happen."

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is not at all the idea of the Chairman.

Photo of Mr Edwin Scrymgeour Mr Edwin Scrymgeour , Dundee

I do not say that is the idea of the Chairman. The idea of the Chairman was to call on Scrymgeour, and something has happened; but I see that it is 25 minutes past 10 and so, as they say in the public house, "Time is up, gentlemen."

HON. MEMBERS:

How do you know?

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I have had the privilege of being present at most of the Debates which have taken place on the Estimates for the Ministry of Health since I took office, but I do not remember any occasion upon which I think this Committee has listened to such an interesting discussion. Beside the remarkable speech made by the Minister of Health, we have had a speech from the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mrs. Runciman) which was certainly distinguished by its knowledge, its human sympathy, and its breadth of view. I confess that a rumour has reached me that the hon. Member for St. Ives is contemplating retirement, if arrangements can be made, at some convenient time in favour of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman), but, after the very valuable contribution which the hon. Member for St. Ives has made to our Debate to-day, I think she has very good reason to reconsider that decision.

I know the Committee will forgive me when I say that I feel it is almost impossible for me to reply to the large number of points which have been put by hon. Members. The work of the Ministry of Health is certainly a very considerable one. Its main functions are the administration of housing, insurance, local government and public health. I must confess that I have some sympathy on this occasion with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Dr. Watts) in suggesting that the work of the Department might be reduced. I have had numerous questions put to me relating to casual wards, tramps, tuberculosis, small-pox, milk, adulteration, skimmed milk and various matters of that kind, but I think I should best suit the convenience of the Committee if I dealt with three or four of the more important questions, and I will do my best to reply to the points which have been raised.

I will first deal with the matter which was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. A. Greenwood), who raised the question of Poor Law administration in this country. Having had the opportunity of speaking so many times about West Ham, Chester-le-Street and Bedwellty, I do not propose to-night to repeat my defence for the action which the Government have taken in those particular cases. All I want to say is that the total cost of Poor Law administration in money and kind for last year amounted to over £15,000,000 as compared with £5,750,000 in 1921. In ale administration of such a large sum of money due care must be exercised, and at the same time justice and fairness done to the people concerned.

I must say a word about the sad and unfortunate case which was raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), and which has been the subject of question and answer in the House. I am sorry that I was not present when the hon. Member made his speech, but certain statements in it have been conveyed to me, and, as I understand it, he desired to charge the present appointed guardians at Chester-le-Street with, at any rate, some of the responsibility for that case. I say at once that, so far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, and I myself have had the opportunity of going carefully into the case and examining all the documents, I do not think there is a vestige of foundation for such a statement. Very careful inquiries have been made by independent officers of my Department, and I must say that I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who has held a ministerial position himself, saw fit to make an attack upon the bona fides and honesty of one of the Inspectors of the Ministry of Health. I at once say, so far as that officer is concerned, and, I believe, the whole of the people concerned in this case, that they had no other wish or desire than to ascertain the truth and report correctly and honestly to my right hon. Friend.

This case, as, perhaps, certain Members of the House know, was that of a little girl who died of diphtheria, and I think that, if the hon. Gentleman would consult any medical Member of the House, he would be told that no question of undernourishment or matter of that kind affected either the disease or the unfortunate death which followed. Inquiries have been made, since the matter was raised by the hon. Gentleman, of both the father and the aunt of this unfortunate child, and it appeared that the child was perfectly well nourished, and, up to the day of the onset of her illness, the relieving officer himself stated that he had never noticed any signs of malnutrition in any of the children, while a medical practitioner of long experience, who had known the child since birth, was satisfied, when he saw her on a material date, that there was no sign of anything of the kind. All that I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that, so far as my Department is concerned, we are fully satisfied that there is no foundation at all for the allegations, and I must repudiate, on behalf of the particular officer of the Department who has been referred to, any suggestion that he has not conducted a fair and honest inquiry into the matter.

Photo of Mr Jack Lawson Mr Jack Lawson , Chester-le-Street

May I ask what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about the statement of the hospital doctor who attended the child, and who said that she was emaciated, debilitated, and without the resistant strength of a child of her years; and I would also ask him whether he supports the attitude of the guardians in paying £1 a week for six persons, leading to the mother herself being so hungry that she has had to be sent away to a convalescent home?

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

The question of the amount paid by the guardians is not, as the hon. Gentleman knows, material to the case. I again repeat that the question of malnutrition or otherwise in the case of this child in no way affected the case. I wish to make no comment on the criticism of the doctor who first made that statement. He was a young medical man, and certainly his opinion could not be placed against those of doctors of considerable experience who have been in practice all their lives.

I also want to deal with a matter which was raised by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto), with regard to the attitude of my Department on what is called birth control in relation to maternity and infant welfare centres. I think the Committee will have already gathered from the Debate that this is a very highly controversial and difficult matter. My right hon. Friend and the Department take the view that the present formula that is directed to the conduct of the maternity centres should be maintained. It is that the maternity and infant welfare centres should deal only with expectant or nursing mothers, and it is not the function of an ante-natal centre to give advice in regard to birth control, and exceptional cases where the avoidance of pregnancy seems desirable on medical grounds should be referred for treatment or advice to a private practitioner or a hospital. That is the formula which we intend to maintain until the House itself comes to a contrary decision. It would be a great pity if the excellent work of these centres, numbering over 2,000, which are attended by about a third of the mothers who give birth to children, were involved in a controversy of this kind. At any rate our policy and our decision in relation to the matter is that that must remain as it has been under successive Ministers of Health until any further conclusion has been arrived at by the House itself.

I want to deal particularly with the subject which has been raised by the Liberal party and which has been the principal subject of Debate, namely, the question of housing. I make no complaint whatever of the very instructive and proper Debate that has taken place on a vital matter, and both the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Briant), whose work I have admired for many years, and the others who have taken part in it have made a very considerable contribution, and we should be very pleased to give very careful consideration to any practical suggestions. I must, however, make this criticism. I have been anxious to see whether any hon. Member had any further practical suggestion to make, and even the hon. Member for North Lambeth in his very well-informed speech only ended by saying, "We have to face the facts, and we must take a forward step." So far as the work of the Ministry is concerned, really very few practical suggestions of improvement can be made. I heard one criticism, following my right hon. Friend's suggestion as regards the renovation of houses, from one or two quarters that they did not think that was going to be much of a solution. The policy of the Ministry is in very many directions indeed, and the main solution that has been agreed upon by almost every speaker that the main method of solving the problem, is what we are doing and have been doing most successfully, in building new houses.

The hon. Member also said he could not share our optimism in connection with housing progress. If one cannot be optimistic about what has been done in relation to housing in this country, one must be a very pessimistic person indeed. After all, although it is a habit of the British people to decry their acts, we can say that at this moment, so far as the erection of new houses is concerned, we have built more houses since the Armistice than at any time, not only in the history of this country, but in the history of any other country in the world within a similar period. There are two important features in relation to housing progress. One is the fact that up to the 1st April, 1928, no fewer than 690,000 houses had been built by private enterprise. I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) would have done if it had not been for what private enterprise did during his administration at the Ministry of Health? The second excellent sign of the times in relation to housing is, that over 378,000 new houses were erected in this country without any State assistance at all. I may say, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston, that the great majority of the houses which were built without any State assistance were houses suitable for the working classes.

Criticism was made to the effect that there had been some slowing down as far as the building of houses was concerned. Naturally, after the greatest effort that has been made in the history of this country one would expect to see a certain amount of slowing down. But what are the actual facts? At this moment, I find that there are no fewer than 146,000 houses under construction, definitely arranged or authorised so far as our housing programme is concerned. I say to the Committee, quite deliberately, that there is evidence from the information that is reaching the Department that local authorities and private enterprise are again preparing for a period of building activity. The chief criticism which came, not from the Liberal benches, but from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and particularly from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston, has been in relation to the reduction which my right hon. Friend made in the building subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston made three criticisms, or, I might even say, charges in this particular matter. He said that in reducing the subsidy we had broken the solemn pledge which he had given to the building industry. Secondly, he said it prevented the rents of the Wheatley houses from being sufficiently low to enable the poorer-paid workers to obtain houses. Thirdly, he advocated that we should restore the subsidy to the original amount. Who is the person, at any rate, primarily responsible for the reduction of the subsidy at all! The right hon. Member for Shettlestone. There was one good thing, in the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1924, which the right hon. Member for Shettleston succeeded in passing when he was the Minister of Health. With all the responsibilities of his office he provided in the Act of Parliament which we call the Wheatley Act, that there should be a, review at certain stated times of the housing provisions, particularly so far as finance is concerned. It is under the authority of Section 5 of his own Housing Act that we are proceeding in relation to the reduction of the subsidy. I commend the right hon. Gentleman for what he did. He was a very cautious, and, at that time, a very able administrator, in thinking of it. No doubt he had in mind the fact that there would come a time when from the point of view of the State it would he necessary to take action in the reduction of the subsidy.

Photo of Mr John Wheatley Mr John Wheatley , Glasgow Shettleston

Does not the hon. Member, from his knowledge of what is done at the Ministry of Health, know that the object of that provision was to satisfy the local authorities that if the cost of building was not reduced within two or three years, and they found themselves in difficulties, they could come back to the House and apply for an increase of the subsidy?

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I am thoroughly disappointed with the right hon. Gentleman. How can he twist into Section 5 the suggestion that the building industry or the local authorities could come back to this House and ask for an increase of subsidy, is a little bit beyond me. Section 5 of the right hon. Gentleman's Act says that the Minister of Health or the responsibile Minister for Scotland could, after consultation with certain of the authorities concerned, jointly make an order altering the amount of contribution payable or the period for which the contributions were to be paid. Not a word about anybody coming back to the Committee and asking for the subsidy to be increased. The right hon. Gentleman left the matter to the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland to determine. I am afraid that it is so long since he saw the Section that he has got a little confused. In his second contention, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was a very unfortunate thing that his Housing Act, which was not only to provide houses to be let but to be let at such rents as the lower paid workers of the country could afford, had not fulfilled his expectations. He has convinced himself that it is owing to reduction of the subsidy that that very happy ideal has not been achieved. It is a fact that his Act so far as providing houses for the lower-paid workers is concerned, has been a failure, but the cut in the subsidy has had nothing to do with it. The reduction of the subsidy was only made two years after his Act came upon the Statute Book and I have not noticed, although I have endeavoured to follow the housing figures very carefully, any difference in the rents of what we call the Wheatley houses either before or after the cut in the subsidy. Notwithstanding the very considerable increase in the Exchequer contribution by the finance of the Wheatley Act, I know very well that the rents of the Wheatley houses were no lower and in one or two cases were even higher than under what is called the Chamberlain Act. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the position when he is giving his explanation why this particular part of the Act did not meet with the success he anticipated.

The last suggestion the right hon. Gentleman made was certainly the most extraordinary of the lot and has not been repeated by any other Member. He is not only complaining that the subsidy is cut, but he is demanding that it shall be restored. He has got:

"Houses!"] It is not houses only, but it is houses suitable for the lower-paid workers of this country. What is the best chance for the lower-paid workers so far as houses are concerned? It is that prices should be reduced and it is very remarkable that, since the cut in the subsidy, not only has there been a very considerable reduction in the price of houses, but there is increasing evidence that local authorities are now being able to turn their attention to making provision for the lower-paid workers. I have before me a considerable amount of evidence that local authorities are now being enabled to build houses at much lower rents than previously, and I have very many statements from up and down the country that, owing to the decrease in the cost of houses, local authorities are at last being enabled to produce houses at a rent much cheaper for the lower-paid workers.

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that we should go back to the increased subsidy. What is the experience of subsidies so far as housing is concerned? It is that the higher the subsidy the higher has been the cost of building. In the days of Dr. Addison, with the largest subsidy ever paid, the price of houses went sky high, and it was not unusual to find houses costing as much as £1,100 or £1,200 which only cost £250 or £300 before the War. Therefore, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, I reject any suggestion that increasing the subsidy would in any way help our housing difficulties at the present moment. The present position encourages the hope that the building of the larger type of house may soon, if it is not now, be regarded as a commercial proposition which can be left in the main to private enterprise. I believe the next development will he attention on the part of the local authorities in providing the smaller houses which are still needed in various parts of the country.

Let me say this in conclusion. The hon. Member who introduced this Motion, and almost every hon. Member of the House who has spoken, pointed to the need, of which we are well aware at the Ministry of Health, for renewing the battle against the slums. Anyone who has given the subject a moment's consideration will know that, in the first place, you cannot get rid of slums by reciting the many instances of the unfortunate conditions of the people who live there, and, in the second place, that you cannot get rid of the slums unless you have somewhere to put the people you want to get out of the slums. Undoubtedly the policy which we are now endeavouring to carry out is the right one, namely, first, to go on with the building of new houses. I do not want anyone to think, nor do I believe any hon. Member can point to any speech made by my right hon. Friend or myself which gives any confirmation to the view which has been stated in the Committee this afternoon, that we have any desire but to go on vigorously with our housing work. White we feel that the corner has been turned, we do not consider for a moment, knowing the conditions of various parts of the country, that our work has ceased. We have to go on with our housing programme, and we have to continue the considerable work which is being done by local authorities in regard to repair of houses.

I was surprised to hear the criticism made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne on the work of repairs. He brushed it on one side and asked how anyone could consider that whitewashing a house or putting on a latch would help the housing position of the country. On reflection he will agree that some of the best work which is being done throughout the country is this repair work of houses which are in need of repair, and unless we do these repairs the difficulties of the housing situation will be increased. Last year over half-a-million houses were put in a proper state of repair by the action of local authorities, and half of this half-million were secured without any legal action at all. I say that this is a side of our work which the Committee should encourage.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

May I ask whether the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the question as to whether the Ministry has any estimate of the number of slum houses?

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I will answer that question at once. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Brown) pressed very strongly the point that we should go round and obtain a number of statistics, the number of slum houses, how many people were in a particular room and, generally, the conditions of these areas. In the first place, we have a census which gives a good many of the particulars, and the next census will contain these particulars, and, so far as I am personally concerned—and I am speaking on my own account on this point—I think we should do far better to devote our energies to attempting to really grapple with the housing situation rather than collecting statistics.

Photo of Mr Ernest Brown Mr Ernest Brown , Leith

If you do not know the facts, how can you grapple with the situation?

Photo of Sir Kingsley Wood Sir Kingsley Wood , Woolwich West

I think the facts are sufficiently known, and the duty of the local authorities is to proceed with the work which immediately confronts them. To ask the local authorities to get off real housing work and to put half their staffs on collecting statistics, would not be in the best interests of housing. Finally, I trust that the Committee will reject the Amendment. I think no Estimates ought to receive the unanimous support of the

Committee more readily than the present Estimates of the Ministry of Health.

Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £13,773,925 be granted for the said service."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 99; Noes, 209.

Division No. 124.]AYES.[11.0 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)Grundy, T. W.Ritson, J.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)Rose, Frank H.
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)Sakiatvala, Shapurji
Ammon, Charles GeorgeHardle, George D.Scrymgeour, E.
Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. VernonShepherd, Arthur Lewis
Baker, WalterHenderson, T. (Glasgow)Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Barr, J.Hirst, G. H.Shinwell, E.
Batey, JosephHudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)
Beckett, John (Gateshead)Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)Sitch, Charles H.
Bondfield, MargaretJohn, William (Rhondda, West)Smillie, Robert
Briant, FrankJohnston, Thomas (Dundee)Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Broad, F. A.Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)Snell, Harry
Bromfield, WilliamJones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)Stamford, T. W.
Bromley, J.Kelly, W. T.Stephen, Campbell
Brown, Ernest (Leith)Kennedy, T.Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)Kirkwood, D.Sullivan, J.
Buchanan, G.Lawson, John JamesSutton, J. E.
Cape, ThomasLee, F.Tinker, John Joseph
Charleton, H. C.Lindley, F. W.Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.
Cluse, W. S.Lowth, T.Varley, Frank, S.
Connolly, M.Lunn, WilliamViant, S. P.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)Mackinder, W.Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Dalton, HughMacLaren, AndrewWatts-Morgan. Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondds)
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)Wellock, Wilfred
Dennison, R.MacNeill-Weir, L.Westwood, J.
Edwards. C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.
Gillett, George M.Maxton, JamesWilkinson, Ellen C.
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)Williams. T. (York, Don Valley)
Greenall, T.Murnin, H.Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)Oliver, George HaroldWindsor, Walter
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Griffith, F. KingsleyPethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)Potts, John S.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Groves, T.Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Paling.
NOES.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-ColonelCassels, J. D.Everard, W. Lindsay
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)Fairfax, Captain J. G.
Albery, Irving JamesCayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt, R. (Prtsmth, S.)Fermoy, Lord
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)Forestler-Walker, Sir L.
Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)Foster, Sir Harry S.
Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)Charterls, Brigadier-General J.Foxcroft, Captain C. T.
Applin, Colonel R. V. K.Christle, J. A.Fraser, Captain Ian
Apsley, LordCobb, Sir CyrilFremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.Colfox, Major Wm. PhillipsGadle, Lieut.-Col. Anthony
Astor, Maj. Hn. John J.(Kent, Dover)Conway, Sir W. MartinGanzoni, Sir John
Atholl, Duchess ofCope, Major WilliamGilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. StanleyCouper, J. B.Glyn, Major R. G. C.
Balfour, George (Hampstead)Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.Gower, Sir Robert
Bainlel, LordCowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.)Grace, John
Barclay-Harvey, C. M.Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)
Barnett, Major Sir RichardCrooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)Greene, W. P. Crawford
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gatnsbro)Grotrian, H. Brent
Bentinck, Lord Henry CavendishCulverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.
Betterton, Henry B.Curzon, Captain ViscountGunston, Captain D. W.
Blundell, F. N.Dalkeith, Earl ofHacking, Douglas H.
Bourne, Captain Robert CroftDavidson, Major-General Sir John H.Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.Davies, Dr. VernonHamilton, Sir George
Brass, Captain W.Dean, Arthur WellesleyHannon, Patrick Joseph Henry
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William CliveDlxey, A. CHarland, A.
Briscoe, Richard GeorgeDrewe, C.Harrison, G. J. C.
Brooke. Brigadier-General C. R. I.Duckworth JohnHartington, Marquess of
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)Eden, Captain AnthonyHeadlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C. (Berks, Newb'y)Edmondson, Major A. J.Henderson. Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William JamesEdwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.
Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir AlanElliott, Major Walter E.Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.
Burman, J. B.Ellis, R. G.Hills, Major John Waller
Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.England, Colonel A.Hilton, Cecil
Cadogan, Major Hon. EdwardErskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)
Hopkins, J. W. W.Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)Skelton, A. N.
Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)Nuttall, EllisSmith, R. W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.Oman, Sir Charles William C.Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)Pennefather, Sir JohnSomerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Hume, Sir G. H.Penny, Frederick GeorgeSpender-Clay, Colonel H.
Hurd, Percy A.Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.
Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.Perkins, Colonel E. K.Steel, Major Samuel Strang
Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)Storry-Deans, R.
Jephcott, A. R.Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.
Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gten)Pilcher, G.Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)Power, Sir John CecilTempleton, W. P.
Kindersley, Major G. M.Pownall, Sir AsshetonThorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Kinloch-Cooke, Sir ClementPreston, WilliamThompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Lamb, J, Q.Price, Major C. W. M.Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)Radford, E. A.Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)Raine, Sir WalterVaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)Ramsden, E.Wallace, Captain D. E.
Looker, Herbert WilliamRawson, Sir CooperWard, Lt.-Col. A.L. (Kingston-on-Hull)
Lougher, LewisRemer, J. R.Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard HarmanRentoul, G. S.Warrender, Sir Victor
Lynn, Sir R. J.Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
MacAndrew, Major Charles GlenRice, Sir FrederickWatts, Dr. T.
Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)Wells, S. R.
Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
McLean, Major A.Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James RennellWilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)
Macmillan, Captain H.Ropner, Major L.Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Macnaghten, Hon. Sir MalcolmRuggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Wakins, Brigadier-General E.Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)Withers, John James
Manningham-Buller, Sir MervynSamuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)Wolmer, Viscount
Mason, Colonel Glyn K.Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)Womersley, W J.
Merriman, Sir F. BoydSandeman, N. StewartWood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-Sanders, Sir Robert A.Wood,, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)
Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)Sanderson, Sir FrankWood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)Sandon, LordYerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)Savery, S. S.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur CliveShaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W)Mr. F. C. Thomson and Captain
Murchison, Sir KennethShepperson, E. W.Margesson.

Question put, and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.