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Orders of the Day — Supply.

– in the House of Commons on 25th June 1931.

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Considered in Committee.

[Sir ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]




Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £1,607,203, 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, 1932, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Health for Scotland, including Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, certain Grants to Local Authorities, etc., Grant-in-Aid of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, Grants-in-Aid 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 Acts, and other Services."—[NOTE: £1,120,000 has been voted on account.]

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Adamson Mr William Adamson , Fife Western

Those Estimates cover many important activities, and I can only hope to break the ground for discussion of some of them. Fortunately, hon. Members have available to them the Annual Report of the Department for 1930, and I think it will suit the convenience of the Committee if, in the main, with here and there an exception, I take the facts and figures for last year as read. Housing bulks largest in the Estimates; it is 65 per cent. of the total, and I shall take it first. The sum required for housing is £1,768,354, an increase of £21,372 over last year.

I want to say a word or two regarding the progress and prospects of housing in Scotland. Since the State subsidy was introduced in 1919, a total of 121,019 houses had been built with State assistance of one kind or another up to 31st May this year. To-day the shortage of houses remains somewhere about 100,000, so that we have a long way to make up before it can be said that the people of Scotland are reasonably housed. Hav- ing regard to the measures which I have taken to urge local authorities to proceed with the erection of further houses, and to the generous amount of Exchequer assistance available to them, I propose to examine the causes which have militated against greater housing progress being made. I find that the number of houses under construction had commenced to fall in 1928, and that the fall continued steadily until the late Government left office, and for a few months thereafter. In illustration of this, I may mention that at 30th September, 1928, the number of houses under construction was 19,058. A month later, the number had fallen to 17,777, and at the end of May, 1929, the number had dropped to 14,719—a fall of 4,339, or roughly 22 per cent. in the eight months.

When I take the number of houses approved for erection, I find that the number approved was allowed by the late Government to fall from 18,356 in 1926 to 15,169 in 1927, and to 8,482 in 1928—a decrease of 9,874, or roughly 54 per cent., during the three years that I have just dealt with. These figures represent a very serious shrinkage, the reason for which is not far to seek. As hon. Members will recollect, the second statutory review of the housing subsidies under the Acts of 1923 and 1924 was due to take place in October, 1928. There was, therefore, a general fear among Scottish local authorities that their subsidies would be reduced when that second review took place. The inducement to them, therefore, was to complete the houses then under construction, rather than to proceed with further schemes by placing contracts for new houses for which an unknown and probably reduced subsidy would be paid. As events turned out, their fears were justified. In December, 1928, an Order was passed reducing both the Chamberlain and Wheatley subsidies for houses completed after 30th September, 1929. The effect of that Order was to put a severe check on fresh building commitments, and at the same time to speed up the completion of houses so as to make sure of obtaining the larger subsidy. On coming into office in 1929, the present Government in July of that year, that is, before the reductions became operative, restored the Wheatley subsidy to its original rate. But the damage had been done, and it was not very easy to repair it by the restoration. Once damage has been done, confidence is not easily restored. Thus it came about from the latter part of 1928—when fear of the subsidy cut in 1929 first expressed itself—the number of houses under construction shrank steadily and rapidly.

As I have already indicated, the effect of this shrinkage in houses under construction was not expressed in a diminished number of completed houses in 1929, because the subsidy cut was not due until 1st October of that year, and the local authorities, in order to earn the higher rate of subsidy, concentrated on completeing the houses which they had already begun. As a matter of fact, the number of houses actually completed during the first nine months of 1929 was higher than during the corresponding period of the two preceding years. In consequence of this artificial spurt in 1929, the legacy which I received from my right hon. Friend opposite and the other Members of the late Government, was a very lean one indeed, measured either by the number of houses under construction or by the number approved for erection. Ever since the present Government assumed office, a steady endeavour has been made to stimulate local authorities to renewed activity, and to restore the confidence that, as I have already stated, had been destroyed by the action of the late Government. The endeavours to stimulate interest in housing and to recover the ground lost by the late Government I am happy to say, are now meeting with some measure of success. For example, the number of houses approved for erection in 1930 was 10,145, as compared with 8,482 in 1928, the last year that the late Government was in office—an increase of 1,663, or nearly 20 per cent. But no one can rest satisfied with the present situation, and every effort is being made to secure more expedition in the erection of houses and to urge local authorities to push on with their schemes. Representatives of the local authorities have been interviewed with that object, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has personally attended conferences of local authorities in different parts of Scotland.

As I have already indicated, the signs are that our efforts are beginning to bear fruit, but, unfortunately, a number of local authorities have failed to appreciate the need for improved housing, even when, in some cases, it has been urged upon them by their officials. Parliament has vested the central Department with power to step in where a local authority fails to do its duty, and it is well for me to speak frankly in this matter. I have given definite instructions to the Department that further pressure is to be applied, and, if necessary, compulsory action taken against the defaulting local authorities.

It is to the Act of 1930—the Act placed upon the Statute Book by the present Government—that we must look for any substantial advance. That Act required local authorities to submit to the Department before the end of 1930 general statements setting out their proposals for the ensuing three years. On the 15th June, out of 227 local authorities, 180 had submitted statements. These statements show that a total of 76,986 houses are required in the areas of those local authorities. The three years' programme of these 180 local authorities amounts to 52,174 houses, which represents an average of 17,391 houses a year; and, if the 47 local authorities who have not yet submitted statements make provision adequate to the needs in their areas, I think we can look forward with confidence to an average of something like 20,000 houses a year for the next three years. This would make a very substantial contribution to the rehousing of the Scottish people. I want to say one word about the cost of house-building. The fall in costs has continued steadily during the past six years, the total drop over the period I have just named amounting to £91 per house.

It is not necessary to say much about housing under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act of 1926, as the subject was fully discussed recently in the House. At the 31st March, 1931, applications for assistance by way of grant had been approved covering no less than 7,662 houses. During the two and a half years to June, 1929, when the late Government demitted office, only 2,332 houses had been approved for reconstruction, whereas, during the two years' lifetime of this Government, 5,330 houses, or more than double the number during the time of the late Government, have been approved.

I turn from housing to make a very few observations regarding other activities of the Department. The first of these with which I want to deal is pensions. The contributory pensions scheme I can pass over with little more than the observation that this scheme has now taken tis place in our social organisation. Everyone who has been associated with it can testify to the good that it does. The few shillings per week to the widows, the orphans, and the old men and women, are not over generous payments from the State, but, with a very few exceptions here and there, they carry to humble homes a minimum measure of security, and, if not comfort, at least mitigation of hardship. The new Act which the Government had the pleasure of introducing came into operation in 1930, and, by removing anomalies, it has greatly increased the number of people receiving pensions and allowances. At the beginning of this month, there were 253,472 pensions being paid in Scotland under this scheme.

The outstanding fact about the work of the National Health Insurance scheme during 1930 was, perhaps, the drop in payments for sickness and disablement benefit. The amount paid out by the approved societies was less per member than in any year since 1925. The more or less continuous increase in expenditure on these benefits from 1925 had been the cause of serious anxiety, not only to the Government, but to the approved societies, and this drop, therefore, is very welcome. On the one side, it at least relieved the anxieties of those responsible for the finances of the scheme, although I am afraid that continued unemployment, which is affecting the approved societies by reducing their income from contributions, affects the relief coming from the reduced expenditure on sickness benefits. In any effort to stop leakage of funds, the utmost care must be taken that sick persons get the benefit to which they are entitled, and that they are also provided with the medical advice and attendance that they require at the proper stage.

During 1930, some new forms of medical records were introduced, and a system by which the Department will receive details of all sickness occurring among insured persons. Sufficient time has not yet elapsed in which to compile complete results that will justify some generalisation. The preliminary reports which have been published in the Annual Report of the Department are merely tentative, and should be read as no more than samples of the kind of information and sickness statistics that the Department will be able to furnish once this new scheme is in complete working order.

The administration of the Poor Law is now in the hands of town councils of large burghs and of county councils. The change under the Local Government Act took effect on the 15th May, 1930. It has, of course, created problems of its own, and these will have to be dealt with in the light of experience. In the administrative schemes which the Local Government Act requires the authorities to submit for my approval, I am pleased to say the majority provide that assistance in the form of maintenance and treatment of mental defectives, provision for the health of expectant mothers, nursing mothers and children under five years of age, the care of blind persons, and provision for the feeding, clothing and treatment of school children, will be taken out of the Poor Law. Hon. Members will have observed that during 1930, owing to the new conditions that are brought into operation for unemployment benefit, large numbers of unemployed persons who would otherwise have been on the Poor Law were receiving unemployment benefit. The effect was to reduce the number of able-bodied persons on the Poor Law, and the cost of relieving them, by roughly 50 per cent. During the later part of the year, the number and cost falling on the Poor Rate tended steadily to rise. The increase was carried into the new year, but for the last three or four months the figures have remained fairly stationary.

I now come to deal briefly with unemployment and public utilities. In support of the view that good may come out of evil, I think one could turn to the work that is now in progress in many areas of Scotland to improve and extend water supplies and drainage facilities. That work, generally speaking, was undertaken to relieve unemployment, and is being subsidised by the Unemployment Grants Committee; but, incidentally, as the Department's report for last year will show, it has added to the permanent assets of the nation, and Scotland will emerge from a period of distress much better equipped in these public utilites than it was before. There is no doubt, however, that in this and other directions more could be done by local authorities to improve the present occasion.

I shall now say a word or two regarding rivers pollution. I ought to mention here the work of the Scottish Advisory Committee on Rivers Pollution Prevention. The committee, as hon. Members know, has published its first report, that on the River Tweed and its tributaries. The committee's recommendations involve comprehensive action to be taken by the local authorities in the Tweed area, and the Department is actively pressing those authorities to take such action. On the 8th May, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary met representatives of the authorities in conference at Galashiels, and on Monday last he attended a further conference at Peebles. I am hopeful that the local authorities will do what is necessary to stop the pollution of this beautiful river—a work which, on grounds of preserving beauty and health is fully justified. The second report of the committee, on the Midlothian Esk has been completed and will be published shortly. The committee is now investigating the conditions of the Fife Leven and its tributaries, and other rivers will be dealt with as soon as possible thereafter.

While on this subject of work that presents itself as specially appropriate in these times of industrial depression, I should make passing mention of the town and regional planning movement. It will only be a passing reference, because this is a subject which is being fully discussed under the Town and Country Planning Bill. I am specially anxious to encourage the intelligent planning of all our areas and it has been disappointing to find that so little progress has been made since the Housing and Town Planning Act was passed in 1919. It seems to me that anyone who believes that Scotland has a future at all—I am one of those who believe that our future will outshine the past—must see the wisdom of planning so as to preserve amenities, ease transport and help the development of industry. At a moment when, although there is little building development, transport and new sources of industrial power are developing and great industrial changes are taking shape, it is imperative that this planning should be undertaken. It costs little and may be worth everything to our nation in the future.

I now come to deal briefly with the medical services. But, before saying something about their development, I want to call attention to the very satisfactory vital statistics for 1930. Measured by death-rate, it has been a very healthy year. Although some death-rates were up, cancer for example, some infections and maternal mortality very slightly, the total death-rate was only 13.2 in 1930 compared with 14.5 in 1929. The deaths of infants were 83 per 1,000, lower than the recorded rate for any year with the exception of 1923, which was 78.9. The tuberculosis death-rate was a very satisfactory record also—88 per 100,000, compared with 94 in 1929. The progress made in fighting this disease is well illustrated by the contrast between the rate of 88 in 1930 and 124, at which it stood in 1920—a very fine achievement. For the first time since 1920 the birth-rate has increased.

The effect of unemployment on health is another very important subject. The signs of improved health refer to a year of widespread unemployment and the possible harm that the continuance of unemployment might do to the health of the people has been a real cause of anxiety not only to the Department but, I am certain, to many others who take a keen interest in the health and welfare of our people. During 1930 the Department, on my instructions, carried out a special investigation involving over 100,000 school children in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Lanarkshire, and its results seemed to justify the broad conclusion that our social services are warding off the worst effects of this period of difficulty. I propose to publish the report. I think the work that this committee has accomplished is a valuable work, and its results will give a considerable amount of satisfaction to a very large number of our people.

Photo of Mr William Adamson Mr William Adamson , Fife Western

It is a committee which I appointed in 1930 to enable the Health Department to inquire closely into the health of school children whose parents are unemployed. Those who are responsible for the school health service will receive great encouragement from the comparison which has been made of school children in some of the larger centres in the sessions 1919–20, 1924–25, and 1929–30. Although on many points the material for drawing satisfactory conclusions is slender, the figures show that, on the whole, on beginning school life, and even on leaving school, children are now better clothed, are cleaner, and suffer less from malnutrition, rickets and defective teeth. That means a positive advance in the capacity of the citizens of the future.

Another subject to which the Government are devoting special attention is the development of an adequate hospital service, adequate in beds and buildings and in quality of service. It is an urgent problem, and now that local authorities have had a year since they took over the duties of parish councils and were invested with the new powers conferred upon them, we shall expect them to go forward on a policy which will at least end the old and inexcusable differentiations between the standard of treatment in Poor Law hospitals and that in, say, fever hospitals or in the ordinary voluntary general hospitals. There should only be one hospital standard, which will be open to all. There is no justification, in my opinion, for perpetuating social differences in the treatment of the sick. Whether in one hospital or the other, the sick, to whatever section of the community they belong, should be placed on the same footing and should be provided with the same standard of treatment.

I would now refer to medical research and to the scientific advisory committee which I set up to assist the Department in its medical administration. The estimate for investigations concerning the causes of diseases has been increased this year from £100 to £2,500. It is intended that the scientific advisory committee will guide these investigations, and I look for a large return from this proposed small expenditure. I have no time left for special mention of other important classes of work which are included in this Estimate if I am to give every member of the Committee a fair opportunity of taking part in the discussion, but I think I have said enough to convince Members, if they require convincing, that the proposed expenditure on the Health Department is unusually worth while.

There are those, and they are particularly vocal at present, who carp at the social services and speak and write glibly of cutting them down, but I think our condition would be wretched indeed if we could not maintain the services for which this Estimate provides. They are fundamental to a civilised State. There would be no hope for the future if we abandoned our efforts to house the people according to the standard necessary for healthy and human comfort, if we did not attempt to plan our towns with more intelligent regard for the coming generations, if we left to their own devices the sick, the old, the widows and the children, and if we did not act on the knowledge we have acquired to prevent disease and to raise a vigorous, healthy people. That the work already accomplished is justified by the results, I think, is clear from the measure of stability with which we have withstood the shocks of industrial depression, and from the figures which demonstrate a rising standard of health among our people. We are really only beginning, and there is every reason for believing that the full development of the policy that we are pursuing will carry us much further to a better and vigorous civilisation.

Photo of Mr John Gilmour Mr John Gilmour , Glasgow Pollok

I am sure no Scottish representative will regret this opportunity of reviewing the circumstances of the health services of our country. The right hon. Gentleman has covered a very wide field, and we are fortunate in having in our hands the report of the Health Department. It is truly a very human document. It goes to the root of the lives of our people and upon its effective administration, and upon the active co-operation and the link between that Department and the representatives of the local authorities must depend the adequate provision and the efficiency of these services. I listened with some interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, who in the kindest fashion endeavoured to stir me into a feeling of antagonism on the political aspect of this subject. I look back upon the period when I, like the right hon. Gentleman, was responsible for the administration of this great office. I recall with particular pleasure the fact that while I held that office, I could count upon the active and close co-operation upon these subjects of men and women who differ from me in political views, but who nevertheless were always ready to come together and to confer, and, if possible, to solve these problems. It is quite true that in all these matters, if there is to be a live and active current dealing with these problems, there must be differences of opinion—differences as to what may be the best method of administration and whether by this or that process we are going to arrive at the goal at which we all aim.

The right hon. Gentleman opened his statement with an admission that on housing it was the advent of his Government which first brought the element of uncertainty into the arena. It was one of those admissions which one notes and passes by. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman speaking of the development of housing in Scotland. It is in the recollection of Members of the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman, in speaking of what is past and alluding to the most recent Act upon this subject, passed under his aegis, said that he hoped to attain an output of 20,000 houses. In view of the fact that in the period during which we were responsible this number was actually achieved, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will equal what we were able to do. The real problem in housing in Scotland is, in co-operation with the local authorities, to produce houses of a type and at a cost which will bring them within the possibility of occupation by the ordinary worker.

It is true to say that in the early period after the War, whatever was done in the production of houses was done at a cost which placed most of those houses out with the power of the ordinary wage earner to occupy them. Those houses were necessary and they filled a gap which was empty, and that as time has gone on we have seen the production of other houses. I am happy to think of the houses, planned upon modern lines with a view to the amenities, not only of outward appearance, but of what is of infinitely more importance, namely, ade- quate regard to air space, proper ventilation and the provision of those articles of household necessity which meet the needs of any good housewife. I readily admit, however, that with the best will in the world, with every effort which Governments may make, we must be in a large measure dependant upon the ability of the local authorities and upon their active interest and support in this matter. It was the duty of myself and of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) and those connected with me at that time, to go up and down the country and confer with the local authorities. They are well aware of the responsibilities which have been thrown upon them, and I do not feel that they will not respond to any further demand which may be made.

I wish to say a few words about the problem of slum clearance. I hope that when next we come to discuss these Estimates the right hon. Gentleman may be able to tell us exactly what progress has been made under the Act of 1930. I hesitate to ask him now how many houses have been promised under this scheme up to date, because I recognise that the time has been very short. I think I am right in saying that in spite of the increased subsidy and all the advice and encouragement which the right hon. Gentleman has been given, so far no great activity has been shown. The slums in our great cities are, of course, well known to the city dweller; but I think also in terms of houses scattered throughout the country areas, and particularly in the outlying portions of our country. I confess that there was a period when, I felt slightly disheartened at the criticism of some people against the efforts which we were making towards the reconstitution of cottages and the additions to cottages in the country districts. I am glad to think that with the passage of time and with experience, local authorities in country districts have largely acknowledged the desirability of encouraging this work. But in this question of housing I trust that the Secretary of State will realise that many of these local authorities find it difficult to appreciate, even with the additional subsidy, that they are being sufficiently encouraged when at the same time other and additional burdens are thrown upon the development of the system by which these schemes must be carried out.

Let me pass from housing. I read with great interest the report which the right hon. Gentleman has presented to this Committee. It deals in its different sections with town planning, maternity and child welfare. School health administration, infectious diseases and Poor Law. On each of these problems, intricate and considerable, we come back to the machinery by which it has to be dealt with. I recall the controversies in this House when those with whom I was then responsible took the course of altering that machinery fundamentally. Of course anyone who attempts to tackle a problem of that kind is bound to realise that great and fundamental changes cannot be made without criticism; nor indeed can they be made without leaving certain weaknesses and problems which have still to be solved. I am glad to observe—I say this in no party sense—that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, speaking with authority upon this problem, admit that in the main the changes which have taken place under the Local Government Act appear to be advantageous and not disadvantageous.

Take the problem of housing and town planning. The right hon. Gentleman truly said that town planning is being discussed by a Standing Committee upstairs; but the fact remains that by transferring the town planning powers from district committees and town councils and small boroughs to county councils, and so enlarging the unit of administration, the Local Government Act of 1929 has simplified the administration and reduced the difficulties by correlating schemes of different and contiguous local authorities. If the Act has done nothing else, that is a step in the right direction. Obviously one of the greatest stumbling-blocks to the proper planning of our country and the correlating of what is partly urban and partly county, is due to the small authorities and the very natural and obvious difficulties which arose between those authorities when joint interests were interlocked. Whatever else may come out of the Bill now being discussed by a Standing Committee, this certainly is clear—that from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, the Act has at least simplified the problem, in that the Department has to deal with fewer and larger authorities.

In regard to maternity and child welfare, again under the Act we have seen an increase of the powers and duties of those concerned in dealing with these problems. I agree with the Secretary of State that one of the most important things to-day is to see that the health treatment of those who fall under the Poor Law should be on a different and better footing. Quite obviously one of the first and most elementary steps in order to bring that about was the step taken under that Act. I would like to hear how far there is any indication of a movement on the part of the authorities to bring about correlated schemes dealing with this matter. The report, I believe, says that so far no such scheme has been brought into being. It is obvious, however, that before a great passage of time, if this problem of dealing with hospital accommodation and the treatment of those who are under the Poor Law, is to be adequately dealt with, such schemes must be evolved.

5.0 p.m.

I hear criticisms of the Act in so far as it deals with school administration, but one thing is clear in the report, and that is that in so far as it concerns the health of the school child, there is an improvement. Those of us who knew the circumstances of overlapping, of authorities side by side not working in complete accord, of missed opportunities and the lack of continuous treatment, must have felt that at any rate, whether this particular Act was the final solution of the problem or not, the problem was one with which it was essential to deal. Now, for the first time, the school health administration is included in the general public health administration of the local health authority. If, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us, in the present circumstances of unemployment there is a progressive improvement in the health of the children in our schools, which is demonstrated in the form of the clothing which they wear, and more certainly in the improvement in the general health of the child, in the physique of the child and in its better treatment in regard to teeth, eyesight and other matters, it is something which we may regard with satisfaction. If this new machinery is linking up these services and giving a better opportunity for greater correlation and supervision within the school, will not the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the step of linking the school and the public health authority will also greatly facilitate our dealing with the problem of the child of pre-school age? We who visit the schools from time to time and take an interest either in the schools in our local districts or in the constituencies which we represent, cannot help being struck when we see the conditions of the younger children when they first come into the schools. I look forward to the time when under this system there will be a great improvement in supervision and administration so far as that problem is concerned.

Let me turn to the question of infectious diseases. Is it not true to say that the co-ordination and the responsibility must more adequately deal with the preventive measures, which are of greater importance than anything that can be done after the discovery of the infectious disease; such preventive measures as the possibility of getting information at the very first moment? I welcome the announcement which the right hon. Gentleman has made that there has been an effort, and that it will be a continuous effort, to co-ordinate scientific research in these matters of health in order that the results of that scientific research may be brought quickly to the notice of the local doctors and those who have to deal with the problem at first hand. I have always been struck, ever since I have had anything to do with administrative work in Scotland, with the importance of the scientific research which is proceeding in a great many branches of our affairs. Whether it be in agriculture or in medical research it is essential that the fruits of the research should be made available in a form in which it can most readily be appreciated and can most practically be applied.

I will say a few words about the problem of the transfer of the Poor Law. There was no problem which caused greater difficulty to those who attempted to touch it than that problem. I realise, as I am sure most hon. Members realise, that in the past those who have been responsible for the administration of the Poor Law in all kinds of circumstances, whether in the outlying islands and highlands of Scotland, or in the great cities or in the wide parishes of the countryside, the men and women who took part in that effort, have done their best and were doing their best in the very difficult circumstances which they had to face. But there was an over-riding problem which led myself and others to take the step of altering that administrative machine, and it was that the areas were in most cases too small and that the circumstances in which those people were placed who had the responsibility of administration were such that they could not, even with the best intentions on their part, give to those with whom they had to deal more than very inadequate treatment when it came to dealing with a great many of the problems. I trust that here, again, under the wider powers those who are being dealt with will find that the change has been made to their advantage. I observe that the report states that: The change-over appears to have been effected with a minimum of disturbance so far as the poor themselves were concerned. I am glad to know that that is the case. I was interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the problem of rivers pollution. I agree that there is no question in our country which deserves more careful consideration than that problem. I was interested to observe that the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the beauties of the Tweed and hoped that those beauties would be preserved. He did not go so far as to say that among those beauties in which he is interested is the maintenance of the finny tribe which inhabit those waters. I am aware, as many of his friends are aware, of his interest in that pursuit, and I look forward to the time when even the Leven in the County of Fife, may be so cleaned as to return to that position which it once held as being the habitat of fish for the recreation of the great mass of people who are drawn there, and who take an infinity of interest and derive the greatest pleasure from the pursuit of angling.

To-day, we are seeing new housing schemes and we are seeing introduced into those housing schemes sanitary provisions which were unthought of in the days that lie behind, but the problems of dealing with the sewage and avoiding deposits from our great works, whether they are old-established or new industries, are problems of great magnitude and press no doubt with great severity upon some local authorities who have for years gone along under old systems, with- out interference. I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the result of conferences which he has had recently hold out the hope that there will be an active co-operation and a real recognition on the part of the local authorities and of the citizens generally that it will be to the mutual advantage of all that the report of the Rivers Pollution Commission should be adopted.

Many hon. Members in the course of the Debate will have a variety of points to raise. I will content myself by saying that I am encouraged in the belief that the executive action for which I and my friends were responsible has not been deleterious to the progress and improvement of the health of Scotland. I would urge on the right hon. Gentleman, in all sincerity, and I trust chat he may find that it will be within his power both to increase and improve those health services, whether it may be in the great cities or in the outlying parts, where men and women are working with devotion and skill, such as the outlying hospitals in Orkney and Shetland and the outlying hospital in the Hebrides, which I have had the pleasure of visiting on more than one occasion. In justice to those who are the day-to-day workers in trying to assist and improve the health of our people, we must realise that, much as we may think of the power of Parliament, much as we may grant from the public purse for the development of those things, none of them could succeed were it not for the strenuous and continuous work of the many individuals who are devoted to those services.

Photo of Mr James Scott Mr James Scott , Kincardine and Western

I join in the congratulations with respect to the speech to which we have listened from the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has given an exhaustive resume of the more important items of the work of the Department of Health. While giving eulogies to the head of the Department, I, with deference, would say that he would not be in a position to present that favourable report to-day if it were not for the services, devoted and energetic, of all those in the Department of Health who are under his supervision. That service goes on from day to day. The Secretary of State has underlined some of the more important parts of their work. He dealt, first, with housing, which is of great importance. I hope that he has not over- estimated the prospects of the future when he expressed the hope that some 20,000 houses per annum will be added to our house building in Scotland in the years immediately ahead of us. He spoke of 47 authorities who have not yet responded with housing schemes. I have no doubt that he has done his utmost to encourage them. It may be, however, that some of those authorities may not require housing schemes. I would suggest a number of authorities in my own constituency. I took the trouble to make inquiries whether they were sufficiently well equipped with houses to meet their needs, and the report that I got was that they had put certain housing schemes into operation and that up to last year they were fairly fully supplied. Accordingly, the right hon. Gentleman may not expect to get housing schemes from all the 47 authorities. We all hope that housing will be proceeded with in a sufficiently satisfactory manner, especially in the areas where it is so greatly needed.

One of the most satisfactory parts of the report of the Department of Health is that which shows how the fell disease of tuberculosis is being stamped out, and I trust that the satisfactory figures which have been shown steadily for a number of years will continue. There is, however, one less satisfactory set of figures in the report to which I would like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to infectious diseases, the right hon. Gentleman will find that the average number of cases of enteric fever over a period of 10 years was 535, whereas in 1930 the figure was as high as 766. He will also see that the average figure for diphtheria over a period of 10 years was 8,907, whereas the figure for last year was 11,580. I should like to hear an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman of the alarming increase in those two diseases. It has been suggested that the cause may be impure water supply, and I should like to hear whether the right hon. Gentleman endorses that view. At any rate, with all the skill which we now possess, it is somewhat discouraging to find that the figures for both those diseases are so alarmingly high.

The right hon. Gentleman took some credit for the number of men put into employment through schemes set on foot by his Government. He might have been generous enough to say that he was carrying out a number of those schemes at the direct instigation of the party with which I am connected, for after all, the right hon. Gentleman is carrying out Liberal ideas. It is proper that we should remind him of the fact. I wish him joy and progress in carrying out those ideas and he will certainly not lack support from these benches.

Photo of Mr James Scott Mr James Scott , Kincardine and Western

The unemployment schemes put on foot throughout Scotland, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke. He seemed to think that they were making some serious inroads into the unemployment figures. I hope that he is right. When the right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of another part of the report of the Department of Health he seemed—as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) assumed—to have no fault to find with the new machinery put into force within the last year to carry out the work of the Department in various directions. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for Scotland rather congratulated himself upon the fact that he had had a good deal to do with putting the new machinery into effect, and he closed his remarks by saying that he was glad to think that the new machinery had not adversely affected the conduct of the Department of Health services. I think that he was rather relieved to find from what the right hon. Gentleman had said that there had been no prejudicial effects to report. I am not sure whether he has not spoken too soon. At least I reserve my judgment, because from the very first mooting of the change in machinery I opposed it, particularly in regard to Poor Law administration and to education.

I am far from being satisfied, notwithstanding what the report of the Department of Health says, that the changes with regard to the Poor Law will be permanently beneficial. The report shows that there has been a derogation by the county councils and the large burghs of the important work entrusted to them to new committees or new district councils. It is not shown in any way, or in any appendix of the report, what proportion of the personnel of the old councils remains in the new councils. I am afraid that there has been thrown upon the scrap heap a vast number of experienced men and women who a generation ago gave their expert services and knowledge to the Poor Law. Their services have been dispensed with. There are comparatively few of them to be found in new services, and the new councils which are conducting the administration of the Poor Law consist of more or less untried men and women. I remain of the opinion that it was a serious loss to Scotland when we were deprived of the services of those who for so long had given of their best in Poor Law administration and education. What have the new councils done? What they have done, as the report shows, is to derogate their work to the chief public assistance officer and the public assistance officers under him.

I fear that the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for Scotland may still have something to account for. The new machinery, with the starting of which he had so much to do, may break down. Indeed, I question whether to a large extent it is not now breaking down, because on every hand one hears complaints from individual county councils who say that they are simply appalled by the extent of the work which has been derogated to them and that they have had to derogate work to committees. That work—and this is where the public interest is affected—is being handed over more and more to paid officials and is being done less and less by those who were directly responsible to the electors who appointed them to their various offices. Accordingly, the right hon. Gentleman will not misunderstand me when I say that I reserve my opinion as to whether the change in machinery is or is not an improvement.

The late Secretary of State for Scotland rather prepared himself and the Committee for coming changes when he said that no doubt with the introduction of the new machinery would be found new problems and that some problems would be left and some weaknesses would still have to be dealt with. It may be, as he argued, that with regard to housing and town planning and the health of school children, it is all to the good that there should have been some unification and some new machinery. He suggested that the change with regard to areas was all to the good, but I should like the Committee to notice what the report says with regard to areas. The old parish is by no means eliminated. The report says: The areas for which the district councils are responsible vary considerably from the single parish to the former district committee area, though as a rule the districts now comprise several parishes. It might be of advantage for several parishes to be united, but, if you have all the parishes in a large county put under one council, you deprive them, especially in Poor Law administration and education, of the services and the personal touch of the individual representative who in the past was always careful to take a personal interest in the work under his charge. The risk now is that it will be left too much to officials to discharge, and that is a weakness in the change in the method of government. It is correct to say that the new machinery was only started in May, 1930. Accordingly, it has run for a little more than a year, and it is probably too soon to draw any definite conclusion. The position, however, points to the urgency of a commission being appointed, such as the Government have been urged from all quarters of this House to appoint, in order to inquire into the working of machinery and to see whether the time has not come when there ought to be in Scotland—in Edinburgh—a Parliament over all our machinery.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The hon. Member knows that to establish a Parliament in Scotland would mean legislation, and he has been long enough in the House to know that he should not introduce a subject which is not dealt with in the Estimates.

Photo of Mr James Scott Mr James Scott , Kincardine and Western

I had no intention to transgress. I only wanted to get in one more sentence. At any rate, it is very desirable that there should be an inquiry, and I hope that a commission will be appointed very soon to ascertain whether the machinery which has been installed by the late Secretary of State for Scotland is working efficiently and in what way it may require to be amended. From these benches we wish the right hon. Gentleman well in carrying out the great work which he administers through the Department of Health and any support which we can give in the entirely non-party spirit, which the late Secretary of State for Scotland desiderated, will not be lacking from us.

Photo of Mr David Hardie Mr David Hardie , Rutherglen

Although I speak as a new Member of this House, I can speak with an intimate knowledge of the subject of local government, as I have spent 20 years in the work. I naturally join issue with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollock (Sir J. Gilmour) in his conclusions generally in regard to the working of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, because I speak from practical experience of the Act, and I know that it stands condemned from many points of view. For example, I have been interested in the question of education for many years, and I am convinced that no question suffers more under the De-rating Act than that of education. In the days of the old education authorities men and women interested in education offered their services and usually useful people were found for all branches of education. When this new Act came into being and when these good men and women discovered that they had to enter the county council and make themselves responsible for the various activities of the council as a whole, they stood out, and education in Scotland, and particularly in the county from which I come, suffers from the want of the idealist. To-day we have the education committee treated as a subcommittee of the county council, and only one-third of the time that was devoted to educational affairs in the days of the education authority is now given to them. Accordingly, I maintain that it has suffered in consequence of the change. I could quote teachers, particularly of my own county, who favoured the change but have lived to rue the day. They appreciate now that the change has not been what they anticipated. I am hopeful that a commission will be appointed to go into the working of this Act, and I live in the hope that, as a result of that commission, the old educational authorities will be restored to their former status, and in that way that education will come into its own again in Scotland.

I remember reading the White Paper issued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollock (Sir J. Gilmour) which preceded the coming into being of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, and the statement contained therein that one of the objects of that Act was to put a definite limit on what might be imposed on the taxpayer for the upkeep of local services. It was out for economy, and economy is being pursued at the expense of services in every direction. Under the 1924 Housing Act progress has been made, and only those who sit on the benches here can claim any credit for having made possible the provision of houses for working-class people, because prior to that no legislation was in being which provided for houses to be let at rents which the poorer classes could pay even with the subsidy. Rents are still rather high for the wages paid, particularly to the labouring classes. The question of rents in Scotland differs fundamentally from that of England. Under the Scottish system owners' rates, in the first place, are paid by the occupier in the name of rent to the owner. Both owners' rates and occupiers' rates are then paid in the total rent and thus we have the anomaly of rates being paid upon rates. The consequence is that rents are kept much too high, and I trust that the local authorities in Scotland will take advantage of the 1930 Slum Clearance Act under which provision can be made for the lower-paid worker.

Many of our town and county councils are manned largely by people bearing the title of Moderates. To me, they are extremists, Tories who are manipulating the town and county councils, and in many cases endeavouring to prevent procedure under the 1930 Act. The reason is that many men on these councils would suffer, as house owners, if houses could be let at the low rents proposed in the 1930 Act. Their attitude is to be deplored. It is a pity that men, themselves well placed in life and well housed should for the consideration of their own pockets seek to keep other people less happily placed from enjoying houses at rents which they can pay.

The Housing Committee of my own burgh have built approximately 500 houses, and I consider that it is the best expenditure of public money I have ever seen. Not only has it afforded a standard of decency, but it has raised the people in their own self-respect, and has given them an opportunity to live in that cleanliness which they desire. The new houses are not so big as they ought to be, but still they afford conveniences and possibilities for keeping the house clean and in order. A new interest in life has been afforded to the men and women now occupying these houses. I know of many cases of men who formerly used to wander away to the street corners or on to the bowling greens and who now remain at home and are content to look after their garden. That is all to the good. When we compare their lot with those in the old Scottish tenements which offered no conveniences of this kind, no garden plots, etc., we are able to see that those occupying the new houses naturally feel that there has been a great step up. It is an improvement which is greatly appreciated by the new tenants. But we have ever the grumbler in our midst. There are many who say it is not right that public money should be spent to provide houses of this kind for only a relatively few people. As far as my borough is concerned, I can claim that when we built these 500 houses we added such a sum annually to the rateable value of the burgh that the returns from the rates are more than sufficient to meet the subsidy of the local authority.

The hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) made a most erroneous statement the other day when ho said that a builder who feued land at £20 an acre, and erected eight houses on the acre and charged a ground rent of £5 on each house or £40 in all, spent the added £20 in laying streets and sewers. That is not the case. In my burgh, Rutherglen, as soon as sufficient houses are erected on the land to contribute in rates a sum equal to 25 per cent. of the cost of the sewer, the whole cost of the sewer is met by the local authority and is taken over and maintained by them as a public sewer. In regard to streets, each purchaser of a house pays for the street to the extent of the frontage of his house out to the middle of the street. The builder, therefore, ultimately recovers the whole cost of the streets and sewers, and pockets the extra £20 yearly for all time. I hope that in the near future a commission of inquiry will be held into the working of the 1929 Act for Scotland, because I am convinced from my own experience that it is not too good in its general working. In fact, I think it is the reverse. It was the most smashing blow ever delivered at local control in Scotland. It has meant the loss to us of those people of experience who had taken up a branch of public service such as the Poor Law, education, etc. The tendency has been to standardise everything and to create officialdom. I would make a plea. I have been informed and know of cases of hospitals that are under-staffed in Scotland, of lunatic asylums where wards are in charge of one nurse all night without assistance. That needs investigation. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to take note of that.

Photo of Mr John Train Mr John Train , Glasgow Cathcart

I wish to congratulate the hon. Member who happens to be my Member, on his maiden speech. If there is one thing about him more than another, it is that he is consistent. He began by speaking against the Local Government Act, 1929, and he has continually in his work in local government been opposed to that Act. I want to reply to his remark in regard to what I said the other day in my speech about the man who took up land to build. His quotation was correct—that he paid £20 per acre in feu per annum and got £40. I still say that the other £20 is used for roads and sewers. In Glasgow they pay neither for roads nor sewers, but take them over.

Photo of Mr Joseph Sullivan Mr Joseph Sullivan , Bothwell

In the county of Lanarkshire you do not pay for the roads.

Photo of Mr John Train Mr John Train , Glasgow Cathcart

What I say is that the county of Lanark pays nothing for roads. A man who develops his land and puts buildings on it makes the roads, and if they are made to specification the county takes them over.

Photo of Mr David Hardie Mr David Hardie , Rutherglen

I say that the builder recovers the cost of the roads from the man who buys the house. Does not the county of Lanark take them over, and pay for the sewers?

Photo of Mr John Train Mr John Train , Glasgow Cathcart

It is true that the county of Lanark takes over the sewer if there are enough buildings on the site to give a 7 per cent. return on the capital cost of the sewer.

Photo of Mr David Hardie Mr David Hardie , Rutherglen

That is what I say.

Photo of Mr John Train Mr John Train , Glasgow Cathcart

It may take 20 years to get sufficient houses on the land to give that 7 per cent., and in many cases there are not enough houses to-day. In the City of Glasgow they pay nothing for sewers at all. I do not wish to discuss the question of housing in any partisan spirit, because hon. Members in all parties are deeply interested in that subject. We deplore, as the Secretary of State deplores, that the erection of houses has gone down. During the years 1927 to 1929, according to the report of the Scottish Department of Health, 18,000 houses on an average were built every year, but in 1930 the number had gone down to about 11,000. We are told by this report, and by the Secretary of State, that there is still a shortage of 100,000 houses in Scotland. I am not going to criticise the policy of the Government without making some suggestions which may assist in the erection of houses. The Secretary of State has told us that local authorities are not quite so anxious to build, and that he has had some difficulty with some of them. He has had meetings with them in order to explain the Act of 1930.

That Act is the eighth after the Addison scheme, which puts a great burden on local rates for the erection of working-class houses, and, naturally, when local rates have risen to over £l in the £, these local authorities find a great difficulty in starting new housing schemes. I have said all along, and I still say, that there are many people occupying some of the 117,000 houses which have been built during the last 10 years who can very well provide houses for themselves. In the Housing Acts which have been passed during the last 10 years there is a provision to assist people to build houses for themselves. In the 1923 Chamberlain Act, the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act was amended and local authorities were given permission to advance to anyone building their own house about 90 per cent. of the value, spreading it over 30 years. Many local authorities have taken advantage of that provision, and the county council of Lanarkshire has advanced 90 per cent. for some years to people building their own houses. About £1,000,000 has been advanced in this way.

I should like to see this policy advanced a little further. When the county council of Lanarkshire was advancing this money—at the moment they are only advancing 50 per cent.—they were borrowing the money on loan at 4¼ per cent., and advancing it to these people at 4½ per cent. They were making a profit of ¼ per cent. At the present time they are borrowing the money at 3½ per cent., but are still getting their 4½ per cent. As an old member of that county council and as a vice-chairman for nine years, I know that they have made money. They are making 1 per cent. at the present time, and they must have saved thousands of pounds by the scheme. I think it should be pointed out to local authorities that there are lots of people who would own their own houses if they were encouraged to do so, and that local authorities could make a profit which could be used to keep down the rates and provide more houses for people who cannot provide them for themselves.

In the 1930 Act there is a difficulty when an area is declared as a suitable area to be cleared. If some of the people who are now living in these houses and who own motor cars were told that they must buy their house or clear out, there would be less houses to clear in many areas. It is alarming to think that while there are so many unemployed men in Scotland in the building trade there are still many slums to clear and 100,000 more houses wanted. Something has been said with regard to officialdom. That is not altogether bad in many cases, because the officials have to stand an examination whereas the politician who goes to the hustings and tells the tale probably knows nothing about the subject. I do not think it is altogether a bad thing that the officials should get their hand in more than they have in the past.

Then there is the question of sewage purification and drainage. There is no doubt that with the stretching out of towns into rural areas the drainage of some large towns is in a very bad condition. If you look at some of our streams and rivers you may be reminded of the lines: …. books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, but there is a whole lot of other things in the brooks and rivers of Scotland which want attention. I notice that the Tweed is to get attention. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Welsh) is not present, because I should like to advise those in Paisley to do something to purify the Clyde. It is a shame that while Glasgow has spent millions of pounds in sewage purification, Paisley should be allowed to put crude sewage into the Clyde, and as it is a tidal river it floats right back to Glasgow. I should like a little attention paid to the Clyde. Then we have Hamilton, which is almost as ancient a burgh as Rutherglen, where Sir Henry Keith, who knows all about local government in Scotland, is a great authority. But Hamilton makes no attempt to purify the sewage poured into the Clyde. It is a shame that these people should be allowed to carry on without some control. Then as to the question of rent. The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. D. Hardie) said that education is free. Apparently, things will not be right until houses are free as well as education. He said that rents were too high. Many people if they paid nothing at all would say that it is too much, but, unless we are going to get bigger grants from the State, houses will not be any cheaper. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the statement he has put before the Committee, and I hope he will go on in the work he has taken in hand, ably supported by his officials. In any step he takes in the public interest and for the health of Scotland, he will have our support.

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir James Millar Sir James Millar , Fife Eastern

I also desire to congratulate the Secretary of State not only on the statement he has made, but upon the interesting report of the Department of Health in Scotland which has just been issued. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman should always measure his achievements in purely party terms, by comparing what has been done during his term with the work accomplished by those who previously occupied his place. To a large extent the success which has attended public health work in Scotland is due to the excellent administration of the Measures which have been placed on the Statute Book. There is no Department more sympathetic or more ready to assist in carrying out these great objects in Scotland than the Department of Health and their Secretary himself, and his staff who are experts in all the matters with which they have to deal. I wish to refer to the question of river pollution which has already been dealt with by previous speakers. The report issued by the Scottish Advisory Committee on River Pollution dealing with the Tweed, was in every sense a remarkable document. It gave a large amount of interesting and useful information and it laid a foundation, if I may say so, in regard to the methods of treatment which ought to be adopted in dealing with pollution, showing not only that it was possible, but that it had actually been demonstrated, that both domestic sewage and trade waste could be treated in such a way as to secure the practical restoration of our rivers to a condition of comparative purity. In that report, reference was made particularly to what had been accomplished at Galashiels, where, under a very efficient local authority, successful efforts have been made in reducing, if not altogether removing, the sources of pollution. We are to have a further report upon the River Esk in Midlothian, and there is to be an investigation of the condition of the River Leven in Fife.

With regard to the Leven, may I say that it is not only a question of river pollution. In this case we are dealing with pollution which—in this instance in a very exaggerated form—creates serious disturbance and nuisance along the foreshore as well. The pollution of the Leven in recent years has seriously affected the amenities of the town of Leven owing to the amount of sewage and other materials constantly brought up on the shore itself. There have been some interesting demonstrations to show how sewage which passes into the sea is apt to come back at certain points and create a widespread nuisance along the shore. That problem, I hope, will be settled along with the problem of the river itself. This is a direction in which the Department could move, in trying to do something to restore to their original condition those streams which, in the memory of people still with us, were beautiful pure rivers, flowing through the countryside, but which in certain cases—and I refer particularly to the Leven, have become practically sewers with sewage and effluents from public works poisoning the water and rendering the riverside obnoxious. The Advisory Committee, I understand, is considering the question, and I hope that we shall have the advantage of some definite and direct recommendations as to the steps which should be taken to deal with the matter, not only by the owners of industrial works, but also by the local authorities, who are in certain districts the chief offenders. I understand that one can point to a good many places along the riverside where practically crude sewage is falling into the river and the local authorities themselves ought to be approached on that subject. I congratulate the Advisory Committee heartily on the results of their work so far, and I am glad to know that that work has the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The question of rural housing has also been mentioned and I observe from the report of the Department of Health that the popularity of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act is recognised on all hands, and that every county has adopted a scheme. We are glad to know that the operation of the Act is to be continued and we hope that in the immediate future much further use will be made of it. I notice that in the report attention is drawn to the fact that a distinct handicap has been imposed upon local authorities in dealing with housing as a result of derating. Reference has been made already to the effect of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, but here is a very important matter, affecting the question of housing. On account of the reduced assessable rental a heavier rate than formerly has had to be levied to meet the local authorities' share of the costs of new housing schemes. Accordingly, many local authorities are having additional burdens thrown upon them, which is a serious matter in many districts.

No doubt, the efforts to increase our housing accommodation which are being made under the new Act are well-devised, and I hope that they will be successful, but I associate myself with what has been said already with regard to the operation of the Local Government (Scotland) Act. We have been faced with considerable difficulties owing to the changes made, I regret that aboli- tion of the parish councils, to whose work a very fine tribute is paid in the report of the Department of Health. Those councils were singularly well equipped and efficient in carrying out the work of administering the Poor Law. We recognise the public spirit which has been shown by their successors, the members of the public assistance committees under the new Act. But in my view the experience we have had so far under the new Act, is that the work is gradually passing into the hands of officials. The hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) welcomed officialdom, but I hope that that is not the view of the Committee as a whole. Those who have had experience of good officials in certain Departments recognise their value, but in the administration of local affairs it is a great drawback and a disadvantage to the community that the business transacted should be of such a cumbrous, intricate and difficult character that only one or two officials can master it sufficiently to explain matters at meetings of the newly constituted authorities, while it is exceedingly difficult for the ordinary members to follow it.

Again, it involves an immense amount of time on the part of those who give their services. I am not challenging the right, which was properly conceded, of those who give their time to be compensated for it, but the change has meant a very large additional cost. It means, in fact, that whole-time workers are required to take the place of those who in the old days were able to give a considerable portion of their leisure time to local administration. I regret that this effect, which some of us foresaw, should have been so pronounced, and I associate myself with the hope that we shall have a review of the whole administration of local government under the new Act. The time has already come when one can form certain conclusions, and the Government, which has already committed itself to the view that the matter should be reconsidered, ought to take action at the earliest opportunity. I should like to make it clear that I recognise that the new system has been administered by those who have undertaken duties under it with singular public spirit, and with every desire to make it work, but I doubt whether it can be effec- tively carried out, or whether it will be anything like as successful as the closer and more intimate association of the citizens with their own local administration which we had formerly.

The question of distress due to unemployment is mentioned in a separate paragraph of the report of the Department of Health, and reference is made to the extraordinary increase in the number of unemployed in Scotland. The average number registered as unemployed during 1930 was 18.7 of the insured population, and the report states that the unemployment position in Scotland was considerably worse than in Great Britain as a whole. The report also states that although the volume of unemployment was greater, there has been a considerable reduction in the expenditure of the Poor Law authorities on the relief of the destitute able-bodied unemployed during the last year or two. This, however, is explained by the placing of the burden of the relief of the able-bodied unemployed upon national funds under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. That change, which I personally welcome, has relieved the rates to an enormous extent and placed this burden where it ought to fall.

In regard to relief, as a matter of administration, I should like to call attention to the necessity for speeding up schemes for the training of those at present unemployed, especially young men and women. Some efforts are being made in Glasgow and elsewhere for the training of these young persons in farm work and domestic service, but there is much need yet to develop a system of training for those who are at present unemployed and drawing unemployment benefit, and who might utilise the period by acquiring special experience in trades and callings for which they are fitted. I understand that the Department has this in view and I hope that the matter will be further considered. I conclude by expressing the hope that the Department which has placed before us such an interesting report will continue to achieve the success which it deserves in connection with the new housing scheme. The right hon. Gentleman and those associated with him deserve every support in the efforts which they are making to improve the housing conditions in Scotland and the health of our people.

Photo of Mr Joseph Sullivan Mr Joseph Sullivan , Bothwell

I wish to raise some points in connection with housing. I do not agree with the statement that we only require 100,000 houses, because the report of the Royal Commission in 1918 said that we had a shortage of 121,000 houses and that if we wanted to raise the standard of housing, the shortage was much greater. In addition, the annual output of houses required is calculated at 10,000, so that although we have built 117,000 houses, we are scarcely meeting the annual need, apart from making up the shortage. I wish to be absolutely fair. I think that the Government are trying to do their utmost in the matter, but they are up against a new set of circumstances. When we first set out to build houses, we had authorities who were anxious to help and who entered into the work in a very enthusiastic manner. They built an immense number of houses. We are now up against the fact that some public authorities have spent as much on houses as they care to, and the Department has to face the fact that public authorities are not able to do anything. There is one county in Scotland and some burghs that have built no new houses. If we want to do anything to raise the standard of housing in Scotland, we must raise it generally. It is no use centralising on one or two authorities. We must raise the standard all over Scotland, because it means so much to the people we represent.

I would like to press on the Minister the question of the cost of housing and rents. I think that houses can be built much cheaper to-day than they could be some time ago. I estimate that they have been reduced by fully 50 per cent., and in some cases more. In Lanark, when we built houses before the War, we borrowed the money at 2½ per cent., and the average cost per house did not amount to more than £230. In saying that, I am making a general statement. The interest on the £230 was about £7 10s. per house, and with the repayment of capital, the total financial burden was about 10s. a house a year. That, unfortunately, went up under the Addison scheme to £66 per house because the interest went up to 6 per cent. Public authorities at that time were in the habit of building on short-period loans, and the raising of the Bank Rate affected the finance. If the raising of the price of money forced up rents, the reduction in the price of money should make it possible for rents to be reduced. We have thus two facts—houses can be built cheaper, and money is cheaper in the market, and there is no reason at all why that should not affect the rent charged for houses.

I would press the Department to make a close scrutiny of rents. One of the difficulties is that every authority does not fix the same rents. In the county of Lanark, we have different rents in different wards, and in the burghs the position is the same. I should be glad if the Government were able, through the lower price of money and cheaper building, to get public authorities to make the rents more reasonable. An hon. Member speaking to-day claimed that everybody should own his own house. I remember when I started on the housing crusade in the county of Lanark, that we had a hostile opponent who preached the doctrine that every working man and everybody else should own their own houses. We had some difficulty in beating that doctrine, because one of the greatest ambitions that Scottish people had at one time was to own their own houses. Time" change, but the feeling lies deep in them. A little while afterwards, we had a letter before the council asking us to authorise the erection of a model lodging-house. I insisted on getting the name of the writer of the letter, and I discovered that he was the man who said that everybody should own his own house. If we carried out his idea, there would be no need for model lodging-houses.

The right hon. Gentleman opposite claimed credit for the 20,000 limit for two years, but it is fair to state that a number of those houses were steel houses. I do not criticise the rent of steel houses, but I criticise the finance of them. The previous Government advanced on loan to a public company an average of £405 per house. These houses would not have cost more than £250, yet the Government gave a loan of £405 for each. These houses are scattered in every part of the country to-day, and I am sure that somebody is getting a good picking through the foolishness of the Government. The proposed average for the next three years is given as between 17,000 and 20,000. I warn the Minister that I do not believe that the Government can reach that point for the reasons that I have given. They have to deal with public authorities who are not willing to do anything, and unless the Government take courage and go over the heads of public authorities, they will not realise that number, and the people will suffer. I am pleased that there is little difference of opinion among the parties in the house about housing. We are anxious to raise the standard for Scotland, but I suggest that unless the Government are able to go over the heads of the public authorities where they fail to do their duty, we shall not reach the average that we should like to reach.

When I make that point about more houses and lower rents, people talk to me about smaller houses, which they say people want. I have heard all sorts of people who object to a big rent more than a big house. I would like to tell those who want smaller houses what has happened in a case I have in mind. A property which was erected in my lifetime has been condemned. When that property was built, I tried to get one of the houses. They were built so close together and the rooms were so small, that they have become slums in 20 or 30 years. The owner let the property off into rooms instead of houses in order to get a bigger return. The local authorities stepped in, and the owner has taken action by evicting the tenants. That is his kick back. The public authority has made no provision for the housing of these people. We should set our faces against people being turned out before fresh houses are provided for them. People say that one-apartment and two-apartment houses are very popular. I admit that there is a great deal of argument in favour of them, but 50 per cent. of our houses now are of one and two apartments, and we want to raise the standard because only by so doing shall we make the race we want to make.

In connection with river pollution, I wonder why the Government have fixed on the River Tweed? Is it because there are salmon in the Tweed? Why did they fix on the Leven and Esk, when in the west of Scotland we have the River Clyde? The county council for years tried to get something done in connection with the Clyde. The outfalls from factories run into the river, and now we have strengthened the law, but I have discovered a new form of complaint. Only two or three weeks ago I had a complaint from a village that the public authority was running the sewage in its raw state into the river. I do not object to rivers like the Tweed being purified, but attention should first be paid to industrial centres in order to guard the health of the people, because the lives of men, women and children are much more precious than fish, even if it be the king of fish, the so-called salmon.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) made a reference to the Local Government Act, and said that by getting larger areas we had a more uniform system. There is some truth in that, but he has gone too far. In the county of Lanark we have uniformity, but between the burghs and the county there is not uniformity, and there is trouble in other parts of the country. The trouble is that although you may have uniformity of a certain kind in a certain area, the next county has different methods. We tried to fix a uniform payment for people who, owing to unemployment, had to go on to the parish. We were able to fix a scale in Lanarkshire of 23s. for a man and his wife—a wholly inadequate amount, but that was as much as we could get. That scale is not general, however, for it applies only to the county of Lanark and not to other places. We have had to relieve from the payment of rates all those people who have been struck off the unemployment register and who have had to go on the parish, and this, added to the derating, has thrown a big burden on the people who pay rates. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman about education being free is a misnomer. Suppose education is free, you have got to pay for it. The only difference is that instead of making a payment individually, you are making it in a communal way; the people of the country have to carry the burden, and they are carrying it manfully with great difficulty. I congratulate the Secretary of State upon his report, but I believe that he requires to be audacious in dealing with public authorities.

Mr. R. W. SMITH:

The Secretary of State congratulated himself on the satisfactory vital statistics of our country. On the whole, there is a marked improvement but there are one or two black patches, and I think that by means of administration something might be done to clear them up. One especially is maternal mortality. That is rather distressing, because more care is token of expectant mothers and of the children than has even been taken before by better institutional arrangements and better nursing and medical services, and yet, unfortunately, we do not find the figure falling as we think it ought; to fall. I would make one suggestion to the Secretary of State for finding out why there is not the improvement we might expect from the services we supply. He has told us that new forms of medical record are to be made in the case of sick persons, and I suggest they should be supplied in cases of maternal mortality. The great trouble there arises from puerperal sepsis, and it seems to me that by greater care something could be done to prevent the frequency of such cases. The annual report of the Department of Health says these cases might be prevented if doctors, mid-wives and maternity nurses were to make a wider use of masks and adopt more careful antiseptic treatment for the hands, and that in hospitals there should be bed isolation by means of metal and glass screens. I suggest that the cases are due to infection coming from outside.

If the statistics of maternal mortality were classified into "mailer groups we should be able to see the number of deaths in institutions, the number of deaths in cases where patients were nursed in the home by a nurse or attended by a doctor, and the number where patients were nursed in their own homes and attended by a midwife. That would give us some idea of where the poison comes from. I was talking recently to a country doctor. He was a man who had had no intention of becoming a country doctor. He was the son of a doctor, and had come home to help his father. He was going to be a surgeon and had done a great deal of surgery, and he told me that when he first came home he dreaded doing operations in the cottages, because he felt there were not the requisite facilities, but that he had found that fewer cases went wrong in the cottages than in nursing homes. It was his opinion that the septic germ was not in the cottages but in the nursing homes; that there was more likelihood of the germ being passed from one patient to another in institutions and nursing homes than in cottages where there were clean and healthy conditions and the germ did not exist. I think there is a large amount of reason in that. It would be very useful, therefore, to divide up the statistics to see whether the number of cases in institutions is higher than in cottages. It is only a question of classifying these cases into different categories.

The second point I wish to put concerns pre-school age children. In the matter of the medical attention given to the population the Local Government Act is extraordinarily useful, because it coordinates all the medical services from the time the child is born until it is of school age, and I cannot understand how the hon. and learned Member for East Fife (Mr. D. Millar) could criticise the Act and give no credit to one part of it which is extremely useful. The Secretary of State referred to the fact that the health of school children was better than was the case some years ago, but I would like to draw attention to what the report says about the children of pre-school age: Many of the defective conditions found in children on admission to schools are of such a nature as to suggest that they could have been avoided or ameliorated by adequate health supervision in the preschool period. I suggest to the Secretary of State that something more might be done in looking after the children between the ages of one year and five years, because the report says the children are fairly well looked after up to one year. When they begin to get about on their feet parents do not look after their health so much and they suffer from various ailments and go back in health. The suggestion is also made that there ought to be more visitation of these people in their homes. I am certainly in favour of nursery schools in the towns, if we can afford them, but they are an impossibility in the rural areas. I represent a rural area and want to see our children who are below the age of five get as much attention as those in the towns, because they need it just as much. The suggestion on page 51 of the report is a very good one: It is necessary that arrangements should in the meantime be made to secure that so far as practicable all pre-school children are under regular systematic medical inspection. At the bottom of the page it says: In rural areas where centres are not available there is required an improved health visitor service to secure systematic home visitation. This could quite easily be secured in many cases. In my own county we have a system of district nursing which covers practically the whole county. Suppose a district nurse is attending a woman in a maternity case. I suggest that she should then also make a report on any children in that household between the ages of one year and five years. There need be no great difficulty in the matter. If she is attending anybody in any house she should inquire about any children under five in that house who have not been attended to medically within the year, and make her report to the medical officer. I hope these two suggestions of mine may meet with the approval of the Secretary of State as a means of improving the health of our people. If we are to have an A.1 nation we must start at the very beginning. We must concentrate on the youth of the nation, must see that our children are strong and healthy in the early days of life, because if that be done we enable a child to throw off many diseases which otherwise it might contract in after years.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend into the interesting discussion he has raised. I have two very short points to deal with. In the rural parts of Scotland the population is very sparse, and often a doctor lives 20 to 25 miles from some of his patients. On another Vote I urged upon the Government that it is eminently desirable, if not absolutely necessary, to have a good telephone system in those parts. In reply the Postmaster-General told me that in certain localities where there is a certain amount of population the Health Department could be of great assistance, either by pressing the claims of those localities or by monetary assistance. I would ask the Under-Secretary whether the Board of Health has in the past assisted, is now assisting or intends to assist the poorly populated localities, where it is difficult to get the minimum number of telephone subscribers, to get a telephone service installed, so that the poorest of the poor may be in quick touch with a neighbouring doctor? The position is particularly bad on the West coast of Scotland, but not so bad on the East coast. This is a point of great importance, seeing that the health service now given by the Government in the Highlands as, in my judgment, one of the finest in the world. I would like to congratulate the present Government and, indeed, the past Government on what they have done to improve the health service in the Highlands and Islands, but this question of more rapid communication with doctors is very important. I have had case after case brought to my notice of a patient dying, or being driven almost to the point of death, because it takes half a day to get in touch with a doctor. That should not be so. Why should not the Government come forward with a cheap installation, either wholly or partly provided by them, in order to enable the poorest of the poor in the remotest glens to get into touch with a doctor quickly?

There is another point in connection with the medical services in the Highlands. The local practitioner in the Highlands is very often a man of great skill in medicine and in surgery. In my tours through the Highlands I often go into doctors' houses and I find that what is specially needed is a small additional room where patients may wait or which in an emergency might be used even for a slight operation. Often a medical practitioner has not got room in his house to provide such facilities. When these houses are erected could not the Government see to it that there should be such a room, apart from the residential rooms, where patients might wait or be treated either medically or surgically? It is a great want. If the Secretary of State were to consult his advisers they would bear me out in what I am saying, because I am speaking from first-hand knowledge. I know the great difficulty in emergency cases, when other patients are waiting, that doctors have of knowing where to put a surgical case or even a serious medical case. I would impress upon the Secretary of State for Scotland that he should consult his advisers and see what can be done in that matter. If he cares, I am quite willing to supply him with a good case of a local medical practitioner who is a man of first-class knowledge of medicine and surgery, but whose house is of such dimensions that he cannot cope with emergency cases. It would be a very great service, and it would not cost very much, to have a facility of this kind granted in those localities. I suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland the desirability of paying particular attention to the points that I have raised as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Adam M'Kinlay Mr Adam M'Kinlay , Glasgow Partick

I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, for putting up a good argument for a State medical service. Rather than traverse the Highlands and Islands, and add a new wing to every doctor's house to be used for emergencies, it would be much more courageous to go in for a State medical service in those scattered area.

Photo of Mr Adam M'Kinlay Mr Adam M'Kinlay , Glasgow Partick

Yes, but according to what the right hon. Gentleman has said it is not sufficient. I wish to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is usually so watchful in dealing with matters relating to Scotland, where he was when the Home Secretary suspended the medical arrangements under the Workmen's Compensation (Silicosis and Asbestos) Act of 1930? It appears that the victims of silicosis in Aberdeen, Orkney and the Shetland, in order to be medically examined, have to travel to Newcastle-on-Tyne. I should like to know who was responsible for this extraordinary arrangement. Silicosis is a trouble which affects the mason's trade. It is pretty rampant in Aberdeen, among the granite quarry workers. I want a definite assurance that this matter will be put right, so far as Scotland is concerned, and that the authorities will not ask men, who are unhappily afflicted with this disease, to make such a journey to England to secure medical treatment and advice.

I am not going to join in congratulation, because it is sometimes dangerous when you receive the congratulation of your friends. I would like for a minute or two to deal with an aspect of public health which you, Sir, may possibly rule out of order as not coming within the ambit of this Vote. I want to touch upon the effect upon the health of the people of Glasgow of the tactics pursued by the factors under whom we sit. The safety regulations have been suspended. I know I am skating on pretty thin ice. The regulations have been suspended for years.

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

I must ask the hon. Member not to deal with that subject. The Scottish Health Department is not responsible for the suspension of the regulations.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

On a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman has said that this is a matter having a serious effect upon the health of the people of Glasgow, and that therefore the Board of Health should make representations to have the regulations restored. I think that subject would be in order if the hon. Member could prove that the relaxation had had a serious effect upon the health of the people.

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

It would be in order if it were within the province of this Office to take such action.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I understand that it is always within the province of the Scottish Board of Health, on any question that affects health, to make representation to any Department to have a practice modified or altered.

Photo of Mr Adam M'Kinlay Mr Adam M'Kinlay , Glasgow Partick

The regulations to which I have referred covered housing. One consequence of the suspension of regulations since the War, in a city like Glasgow, is that in my own industry, woodworking, thousands of unemployed men are walking the streets who might be employed if those regulations were still in operation. Its effect on the health of the people is seen in the risk which is imposed on the housewives in Glasgow, in carrying out their house duties in properties, which, because of the suspension of the regulation, have become positively dangerous. Frankly, I agree that this is somewhat difficult to get in on this Vote.

As a building trade operative, I want to refer to the "gentleman's agreement" which was arrived at in 1924 for a long-term housing policy. The consequence of that agreement, made with the then Minister of Health in conjunction with the then Secretary of State for Scotland, was that the building trades opened up their ranks and recruited thousands of building trade operatives. As a result of the policy pursued by the previous Government, which culminated in the slowing down in production under the threatened withdrawal of the subsidy, we have been left with thousands of operatives, to whom we have to pay un- employment benefit. I would urge the Secretary of State for Scotland that, just as his predecessors were ruthless in their treatment of the building trade operatives, possibly quite unwittingly, by their attitude towards State subsidised housing, he should be ruthless in the other direction.

In my division, that of Partick, and the contiguous division of Hillhead, of which we have heard a great deal these last two or three days, we have appointed a committee composed of practical building trade workers with, in some cases, the assistance of sanitary engineers, to survey property. Partick has never lost, and I hope for a considerable time will not lose, its characteristics as a burgh. We are a part of a great city, but the late burgh of Partick has many associations that we try to keep up. We have appointed this committee. I see the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) in his place, and I would like to say to him that when the inquiries are completed I will let him have a copy of the report. Hillhead is a delightful constituency, provided you only look at one half, but many properties in Partick and in Hillhead which were condemned in 1911, are inhabited at this moment by persons who are paying in some cases a rent of 10s. per week for a single room, plus 6d. per month to have the chimney swept. The remarkable thing about it is that the owner of most of the property is a very responsible office-bearer in the Hillhead Unionist Association.

We took the step of appointing the committee, because we are satisfied that the Glasgow Corporation, although they have done much in relation to houses, are not doing as much as they might do. In the most respectable and salubrious part of my constituency, near a fever hospital there is property which was condemned in 1911. There is an open-drainage system, a dry-closet system and the refuse is emptied into bins at the same time as people are distributing milk. Alongside this property is, as I have said, an infectious disease hospital. No alternative accommodation is in the offing for those people. I am going to insist upon the Secretary of State for Scotland suspending for a moment his calm and careful consideration of the question I am putting. I will supply him with a copy of our survey report.

I want to appeal to the Department to take the view that it is time that this quesion was tackled, and tackled seriously. Thousands of building trade operatives in the city of Glasgow are idle and crying for work. We maintain that these men ought to be given employment to provide houses. I do not think this contention will be met with the argument which we met with in an area where a local authority will not build houses under the 1930 Act because the rents are going to be too cheap. That property was to be owned by private owners. It has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the 1930 Act put a three, four, or five-apartment house within reach of every member of the working-class, at an average rent of £12 per annum. If that is true—and it is true—it is up to the Secretary of State for Scotland to exercise the extraordinary power which he has under the 1930 Act to see that the local authorities take steps to deal with the problem. Berwick and Haddington, which has a Tory-ridden county council, takes the view that their needs for the next three years amount to 13 houses. I do not know whether we shall have to face the argument of shortage of labour to cope with that terrific problem. That is the sort of treatment which is meted out to a Government that is anxious to get on with the job. That is sufficient about houses.

One other question is in relation to education. Working-class parents in Glasgow have a grievance against the coordinated authority, as they had against the authority before it was co-ordinated. I am willing to give credit where credit is due, but take the average working-class family, the size of which is four. You have a boy and a girl who go from the elementary school to a secondary school, and you have the other two children following on. From the moment they enter an elementary school to the day they pass from the secondary school to the university, there is not a text-book you may hand from one child to the other. I am happy in having a somewhat considerable family. The position in which I am placed is the same as that of every working-class parent in the city of Glasgow. You have to provide a new class of book for every child you send to the elementary or secondary school. Cannot steps be taken to see——

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

I must remind the hon. Member that the provision of books for school children is not within the scope of this Vote.

7.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Adam M'Kinlay Mr Adam M'Kinlay , Glasgow Partick

I am sorry if I have gone beyond the brief. I think I have said sufficient to keep the Secretary for Scotland busy for some little time. One more word and I have finished. It is in relation to health. One hon. Member on the other side said that there ought to be the same standard of health treatment in the hospitals for all classes of the community. To that I heartily subscribe. I would ask the Under-Secretary to send one of his officers to the Merryflats Hospital and the Shieldhall Hospital, where you have a distinction between the ordinary poor and the persons who are sent to a general hospital. In one case a friend of my own was sent by some mistake into the ordinary ward. There was in the next bed a person who died about half-past 10 at night, and they covered him up with she counterpane, and he lay there until nine o'clock next morning without anyone having looked after him. That happens in the city of Glasgow. The beds are old, wooden beds, and the floors are ready for the scrapheap. This is a Poor Law hospital, and consequently it comes within the ambit of my right hon. Friend and the health service of Scotland. I want to appeal to him to take the necessary steps and have the administration of this hospital looked into and as quickly as possible.

Photo of Mr Frederick Macquisten Mr Frederick Macquisten , Argyll

We all agreed with the last speaker who has displayed a good deal of useful practical knowledge. I agree with him that all these matters should have the attention of the Scottish Office. I think with the powers which are in his hands, the Secretary of State for Scotland is, doing the best that can be expected of him, but we are a long way from getting what we really require in matters of health. It is obvious that the period from the first to the fifth year is one of great importance from the health point of view. Education is of little use unless there is good health with it. I have said elsewhere that it is better to be a tramp with a good digestion and sound health and teeth than a millionaire with bad teeth and bad health. People do not realise that health is the real foundation of happiness. There is a great deal in this book here about the various medical services, the dental staffs and the medical men, and curative methods, but what I wish the Secretary of State would impress on his medical men is that there is far more in preventive methods, and that they should teach that as a proper training for the people. Dr. Murray, who used to be chairman of housing for the Western Isles, said that when he was a boy at Stornoway there were people over three score and ten years with every tooth in its socket, fit and well. He said that among the young people to-day, even those of 17 years of age, you saw very marked signs of dental deterioration.

It is entirely due to unsuitable foods and the sophisticated devitalised and preserved stuff which people now eat. It comes often from white bread. Even in Portugal anybody who tried to sell the bread which our people have to eat would be prosecuted, because there they have sound wholemeal bread. White bread has not the same nourishment. The rising generation are fed entirely on soft foods and slops, and that makes them go wrong, because they do not get the hard tack to chew which people used to have. If you would go back to the old simple food of our ancestors it would make an immense difference to health. These primitive foods are eaten by those who live in out of the way places, and, apart from the diseases that come by air, they never suffer from many of the diseases of the people in the towns, because they take these simple foods, and chew them, and so they are fit and enjoy perfect health, with none of the civilised diseases which we have. When they come to the towns and take to the sophisticated foods, their health very soon goes.

I would like to support the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. MacPherson) in his demand that telephones should be available all through the Highlands and Islands. You have the islands such as Tralee, Coll and Mull and there are no telephones for the people. If you send a telegraph you often arrive in time to receive it. Telephones are an urgent necessity for health.

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

I think that is something which should be discussed on the Post Office Vote. In so far as the hon. and learned Member is urging the Department to make representations, he is in order, but he cannot criticise the telephone or telegram systems on a health Estimate.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

On a point of Order. May I point out that I have received letters from my own people and from the Post Office to say that if I applied to the Minister of Health I might get a grant for the particular locality.

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

Under the Highlands and Islands services it is possible for the Department of Health to make a grant.

Photo of Mr Frederick Macquisten Mr Frederick Macquisten , Argyll

Not only is it necessary for the health of the people, but it is necessary for the health of the Post Office.

Photo of Reverend Herbert Dunnico Reverend Herbert Dunnico , Consett

That is where the hon. Member is going wrong. If it is in the power of the Department to provide telephones it is in order to urge that they be provided, but it is most improper to criticise the defects of a system for which the Secretary of State for Scotland is not responsible.

Photo of Mr Frederick Macquisten Mr Frederick Macquisten , Argyll

I apologise. I am not suggesting that it is a defective system, but I do say that, if the Ministry of Health used these grants and got the telephones there, especially in the islands, they would be sufficiently used, so that the grant need be very small. I urge on the Secretary of State for Scotland that he should persuade the Post Office to enter into a bargain, with a grant in accordance with the number of calls made, because the islands are full of people who want to communicate with the mainland and that will reduce the grant. If he will stimulate the Post Office and act with courage in the health-interest of the people, I have not the slightest doubt that it will be a perfectly good bargain and that the grant will ultimately be found to be unnecessary.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I listened to the statement of the Secretary of State for Scotland on the Vote and to the discussion since that Debate was initiated, and I find on all hands a tendency to congratulate the present Administration on its efforts to bring about better health for the people through housing and various other schemes. I also find there is general agreement that the previous Administration were almost equally desirous of bringing about an improved state of health for the people of Scotland. I am sorry I must disagree entirely with the statement made to-day in relation to the general well-being of the people of Scotland, especially in housing. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Maequisten) has mentioned the great amount of ill-health due to tinned foods and white bread. The real trouble is that the people are often not able to consume any decent food at all. The hon. and learned Member also mentioned, as others have done, that an important factor in the improved health of the people, especially in the Highlands and islands, is an improved telephone service. Within the last year I have heard statements made on many occasions as to the desirability of improving the telephone service so as to bring the people of the Highlands in closer relationship with medical provision to deal with the ills that accrue from the troubles of everyday life. I must agree that it is essential, in a well-ordered state of society, that every citizen and every inhabitant should have ample opportunity of improving his general health by getting in quicker touch with those who are able to administer to his needs. I fear, however, that is only skimming the surface of the troubles that arise in society at the present time.

I want to turn to the subject of housing and to show that housing and overcrowding, especially in our industrial areas, is one of the greatest factors, together with mal-nutrition, which contributes to the ill-health of the population of Scotland. I find in the report of the medical officer of health in Glasgow some very startling figures of the overcrowding and lack of decent housing accommodation. We have in Scotland 124,000 one-apartment dwellings and 397,000 two-apartment dwellings. Two million people in Scotland live in one apartment or two-apartment houses. In Glasgow 6,000 families live in one-apartment houses, and most of them number from six to 12 persons. Can hon. Members visualise a state of society where 6,000 families are compelled to live from six to 12 persons in a single-apartment house? It is no exaggeration to say that the condition of child life in the industrial cities, and especially in a city like Glasgow, are deplorable in the extreme. I have gone through street after street. There is the Calton area, where the destruction of child life has been notorious and where 160 children out of every 1,000 die before reaching the age of 12 months. That area, it is true, has been scheduled for complete demolition. I discovered in that area buildings that had been up for 209 years, and, when they were opened first, the rent of the houses were something like from 10d. to 1s. a week. The latest figure is 7s. 6d. for these houses that used to be 10d. or 1s a week. If we had been anxious for the real, civilised state of society that the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting in his report, the owners of these houses would have been imprisoned or would have suffered some other fate for attempting to let houses of that dencription—disease-ridden dens of the worst description, for which rent is being extracted.

In Glasgow there are 12,000 families, numbering four or five persons each, living in one-apartment houses. I discovered, in the area which I represent, a man, his wife and eight children under 14 living in a single-apartment house. The father was unemployed, was a tee-totaller, and did not smoke. He was there not because of any vicious living, but, because of the inability of the Glasgow Corporation to supply the needs of himself and his family, he was condemned to live in that dwelling. I went to visit him, and discovered that the eight children, the father and the mother were living in a square room 3½ by 4, and the children were living in boxes. There was no furniture in the house of any kind. But the worst feature was that nine months previously a child, who had been for two years in the Rob Royston Hospital as a tuberculous inmate, had been partly cured and then plunged back among the other boys and girls to give them that horrible disease. I tried to discover why no attempt had been made to re-house this family, who were living under these horrible condi- tions in a so-called civilised and Christian state of society, and I found that 2½ years previously the medical officer of health had reported the case to the housing department of Glasgow, in order that they might be re-housed; but, as happens in all public authorities, there were no houses at the time, and afterwards the schedule was left in the docket and forgotten. That family ought to have been re-housed, and it is the duty of this Department to see that every family in overcrowded surroundings, and especially when any of its members have that horrible disease, is re-housed in a proper and civilised manner.

We are told that it is the function and duty of the local authority to provide houses, but I know something about local authorities. I was a member of the Glasgow Town Council and of the old parish council. There is a desperate struggle on the Glasgow Town Council as to whether they shall provide houses or not. There are two sections, even among the Liberal and Tory parties—because I make no differentiation between them; Liberals and Tories are just of the same kidney in any public body or authority; their desire is to protect the interests of that section of the community to which they belong. We have one section who, like the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train), are interested in building, and it is quite true that they are anxious to build houses so long as they are not built under a system of direct labour. So long as a profit on the production of each house goes into their pockets, they will vote for the building of houses. But in the Liberal and Tory parties, which are combined, there is another section which does not want any houses provided at all, and they can be heard shouting from time to time, "We do not want houses." The leader of that party is a constituent of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead, (Sir R. Home) and, I think, belongs to the same Unionist Association. The leader of that party in the Glasgow Town Council says, "We do not want houses," and, because he is a property owner and house factor, and owns some of the worst slums in the city of Glasgow, he says quite frankly and openly in friendly discussion, "If you build more houses my houses will be empty; the people will rush to the good houses, and I shall be left with the old houses on my hands." That, of course, is true, but who would dare to advocate that any person should consume diseased meat or milk, and why should you allow the owner of a house to spread disease among the inhabitants of our society because he has got to take a profit out of the rent of the house? I suggest that the rules and regulations are not stringent enough.

I discovered, also, that the medical officer of health and the sanitary authorities of Glasgow have a tendency to conform to the wishes and desires of the housing department. They say, "If we condemn these houses, if we apply a closing order to them to-morrow, the people will be required to leave the houses in six months, and we have no alternative accommodation to give them"; and, therefore, the medical officer of health and the sanitary department work in conjunction with those who desire to prevent the speeding up of house-building in the city of Glasgow. I can see no prospect of the local authorities tackling this question in the broad and courageous manner that is required in an intelligent and reasonable community. We are told that 100,000 houses are required, but Glasgow alone, in my estimation, requires almost that number, if proper and stringent conditions were applied to those who own slum property. 60 far as I am concerned, if I had complete authority in this country, there are no two ways about how I would deal with those who own these slum dwellings in the city of Glasgow or in other places. The medical officer of health states that 67 per cent. of the people living in one-apartment houses are living in overcrowded conditions. If that be true, what are the figures which the local authorities supply in their reply as to the number of houses needed? Glasgow at once requires a large number of houses to meet the needs of the people, but the needs of the poor areas cannot be met because they have not the money. There is depression and unemployment, and, although those poor areas may have democratic Labour control, they cannot build houses because of their inability to provide the funds; but in the rich areas controlled by the hon. Member s friends they are determined that no housing progress shall be made.

With regard to rent courts, I find that in Glasgow last year 13,000 people were summoned for inability to pay rent. Everyone desires a good house. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, you hear objections about the size of the rent, but never about the size of the house. We are building the right type of houses at the wrong type of rent. From the figures that I have obtained from the Scottish Office, I discover that, in the area of Glasgow which I represent, in 1923 a three-apartment house cost £439 to build, and in 1930 it cost £335; while a four-apartment house in 1923 cost £553 to build, and in 1930 £402. There was, therefore, between 1923 and 1930, a difference of £151 in the cost of building a four-apartment house, and of £104 in the cost of building a three-apartment house. In 1923, however, the rents of three and four-apartment houses were respectively £27 and £35, but this year they are £26 and £35. The rental of the three-apartment house has increased by £1 per year, under a public authority, at a time when there has been a decrease of £104 in the actual cost of building.

We are told that everything has been going down. Wages have gone down; the cost of living has gone down. But what chance is there for a man or woman and their children, if there is no adult member of the family bringing in wages, to meet a rental, for an ordinary house, of £28 per year plus rates? It costs over £40, or 16s. a week. I would ask hon. Members who talk about reductions of scales and so forth, although I know I shall not be allowed to discuss unemployment insurance, what is the position of many of these decent fathers who desire to do their best for their families and take them out of sordid slum surroundings? They move into an ordinary house at a rent of £28. Unemployment comes; they have to feed their children; and, if there is a man, his wife and three children, they are drawing from the local authority in able-bodied relief 32s. a week, out of which the sum of 16s. has to be paid in rent and rates. The consequence is that the man is compelled to forego the decent house and all the claims and desires of his family. He hangs on for some time, and then he slips out and gets back to the tenement dwelling, to the sordid surroundings, with a reduction in the standard of health of the family. All these are decent artisans who desire to do the best they can in life, and, generally speaking, that means a reduction in the standard of health of working-class families.

The position is the same with regard to slum clearance. The previous Administration may say that they built a good number of slum clearance houses. They built quite a number in the City of Glasgow, in the Calton area, and in the Mile End area, which is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). They say to these people, "We are going to move you into better surroundings. You are in a diseased house, and we are going to pull it down." These people are unemployed, and they were paying 3s. 6d., 4s. or 5s. in rent, when every shilling means a tremendous amount to the man who is unemployed. They are told that their standard of health is to be improved by moving them to a re-housing scheme where the rent will cost them 9s. a week. Their standard of health is to be raised by depriving them right away of 5s. that was going for nourishment for the children. That means a gradual reduction in the stamina of the children, as can be seen in those areas. It is not only that, but they are given a modern house, with electric light and gas, and then it is discovered that all that improvement, which is a desirable and necessary requirement of a man in happy and healthy surroundings, simply means that he is going to have an increased struggle to make both ends meet. If you are going to improve the health of people in the slums, you have got to make the rent of the new houses the same as that of the slum houses from which you are taking them, because otherwise you are not going to improve the health of the children. I desire to see a vigorous extension of these slum clearance schemes, and some effort to overcome the difficulties' in relation to rent.

It is all right to say that that there are opportunities for local authorities to put into operation by-laws under the 1930 Act but, unless it is going to be com- pulsory, it is of no use. We get these answers, and then another Government takes the field and they give us the same answers. The game goes on and the poor inhabitants suffer accordingly. There are too many suggestions as to dealing with the disease once it has arisen. I want to see more money spent on prevention right down at the very root. The greatest asset of any nation is its healthy and happy children. When I see my child gambolling on the back lawn of a modern house and see the great improvement in its health owing to its surroundings and good nourishment I find consolation and comfort in it, but I cannot find consolation and comfort in knowing that my child only is getting that opportunity while others are entitled to the same opportunity. Political parties work in many ways their wonders to perform.

I want to see more courageous action taken in connection with housing, and an essential of real progress is a national house-building scheme. There are 146,000 building trade workers unemployed and 135,000 drawing unemployment benefit. They want employment. They want to supply the needs of the people, who require better housing accommodation. An effort on more courageous and progressive lines is required in the interest of the health of the community. There is no use in patting one another on the back here and saying, "You fellows did your best and we are doing our best." It is the officials all the time who are doing their worst to prevent any progress.

I should like to say a word in connection with poor law relief. Last year I put a question to the then Under-Secretary of State, now Lord Privy Seal, and he promised that, when the Public Assistance Committees had found their feet, he would have a friendly discussion with them to see how far they could secure the adoption of a more reasonable scale. I have never heard of any such conference. I got the usual stereotyped official reply the other day that the officers are doing their best and anyone who is not satisfied with his relief can make a complaint. The scales of relief are not even uniform in any parish. There is a minimum and a maximum, and the minimum becomes a maximum in almost every case. A man and woman with a family of two may be drawing 23s. or 24s. from a Lanarkshire parish with the standard of rent that applies, and the Glasgow authority pays in the very same case 36s. for the man and woman, 5s. for the first child, 4s. for the second and house rent on top of that. That disparity ought not to exist. It is no use for the Scottish Office to shuffle off with the reply that their officers are doing their best and you can appeal if you are not getting the proper amount. If you appeal, you discover the officials again in office. There is only the regulation that compels the authority to give you relief, either indoor or outdoor, but there is no specified amount of relief.

We only relieve after the suffering has become acute. When the suffering has become acute, we take the child into a public institution. My experience of local authorities is that their members vie with one another in their attempt to stop the rot that has set in. They are all going to give the very best in medical skill, in science, in food, in nourishment, in outdoor recreation and in good, light, healthy surroundings, and they will keep a child in a sanatorium which has contracted disease in the slum, costing the State three guineas a week. When you suggest giving a little extra nourishment on the top of 2s. relief, the same people who are prepared to spend three guineas a week on a child who has contracted the disease, because they are compelled by Act of Parliament to deal with it, are so niggardly that they are not prepared to give even 2½d. a day. Most of the people who havee to administer relief to these children are worse than the brute beasts of the jungle. A beast will tear from nature that which is required to sustain its young, but Christian civilised man will allow children to suffer starvation and misery and contract horrible disease. He will go to church on Sunday with a Bible under his arm, but all the week he will contribute to the mass murder of working class children.

I want to see a more progressive policy adopted. It is said that this is a minority Government. I have heard it said from the Liberal benches time and time again, "Go on with a courageous housing scheme and we will back you." I have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) say that. The Government ought to see whether he is prepared to go the length he indicates. If he is not, they should call his bluff and expose the Liberal party and show that they stand in the same place as the party that forms the Opposition.

I want to ask a question regarding the Scottish National Housing Company. There are two of these companies and they are run from Rosyth. One was formed by the late Government in connection with steel houses and the other was formed, I think, in 1910. I find that a subsidy was being paid to one of them of something like £30,400 in 1930 and £27,000 in 1931. It is due largely to unlet houses. I want to know what the explanation is. I should like to know what are the terms of agreement between the companies and what is the position of the House of Commons in relation to them. I have heard that we have no control. We supply the money. We guarantee 5 per cent. interest to the First Scottish National and, as to the Second Scottish National, it is too early to find out whether it is run at a profit or not. I should like to know who the directors are. There is the grossest waste of public money I have ever known in connection with these steel houses. We have three inspectors who draw between them, with expenses, nearly £40 a week in running 2,000 steel houses. Not one of them knows the first thing about houses. They were placed there probably by the late administration, but certainly not because of any ability that the had in regard to housing. One man comes from Rosyth and visits the steel houses once a month or once a fortnight and draws £9 a week for it. He has a salary, in addition, from the first Scottish National. If there is going to be a deficit, the Scottish Office ought to have control over the expenditure of the money.

I ask the Scottish Office to see that the Government display the energy that is required and get rid of that Rip Van Winklish feeling that all Government Departments seem to develop. They seem to think in many cases that their duty is to go to the country and get elected, to get into office and then to do nothing courageous in the interests of the people who put them there. Remember the promises you made to the people. Let us try to keep faith with those who are crushed by the economic force of present-day society into misery and starvation, who see their children pining away for lack of the ordinary decencies of life. When you go to the country, the country will judge the Government, as it judges all Governments, by their action and by their attitude. They will not condemn you because you have no[...] been able to accomplish great things, but they will condemn you assuredly and rightly because you have never attempted to accomplish these great things. We ought to end this mass murder of working-class children that is taking place because of the complete failure to attempt courageous or drastic action for the life and well being of the nation's richest asset, namely, our glorious child life.

Photo of Mr Frederick Thomson Mr Frederick Thomson , Aberdeen South

When the Local Government Bill was under discussion those of us who supported the then Government had to listen to much oratorical exaggeration in denunciation of that Measure. I have noted that the hon. Gentleman who now occupies the position of Under-Secretary of State for Scotland described the Local Government Bill as a Bill which "betrayed the best interests of education and the best interests of Scotland." I would invite him to turn his attention again to passages, with which I have no doubt he is very familiar, in the report of the Department of Health for this year, a report which shows most conclusively, with regard to very important services, what a great blessing the Local Government Act has already conferred and is going to confer on Scotland. Before dealing with certain points about the health services I would like to say a few words about town planning. Town planning will be much helped by the Local Government Act, because instead of small burghs and district committees being the authorities for town planning, instead of there being a great multiplicity of authorities, you will have the town councils in the large burghs and the county councils. This arrangement will insure a smoother passage for wide town planning schemes dealing with the towns and the areas around, and there is bound to be a great improvement.

It is true, as the Secretary of State pointed out, that not much has been done during the past year in the way of town planning. That is a pity, because during a time of industrial depression people ought to think ahead and plan for what is to come in the immediate future. There are, however, one or two interesting things in the chapter on town planning. I am interested in the Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, scheme. We not only have the duty to look to the future in planning our towns for the health of the people and the convenience of life, but we also have a duty to preserve the planning of past generations. Anyone who knows the new town of Edinburgh realises that there is a magnificent bit of planning. I rejoice in the Charlotte Square scheme, which has been approved by the Department. The frontages in the square cannot be interfered with without the consent of the corporation, nor can the skyline be altered. Therefore that magnificent square will be preserved in future as a monument of Edinburgh as it has been in the past.

The city of Aberdeen, one of the divisions of which I represent, has, with the adjacent counties of Aberdeen and Kincardine, prepared a joint town planning scheme which endeavours to look ahead and is, I think, showing the way to other authorities in Scotland with regard to the laying out of unbuilt areas in the town and in the county immediately outside. There are provisions in this Aberdeen scheme for the zoning of buildings according to character—a residental area, an industrial area, and so on. There are also very important provisions for preserving viewpoints—one point in particular, where a magnificent view of the River Dec is obtained—preserving woodlands and places of eminence in the neighbourhood by having them declared private open spaces by agreement with the proprietors. I regard that as work of the greatest value. What happens in the ordinary course? A town grows haphazard. Beautiful wooded hills are ruthlessly destroyed, and a little later a town has to acquire further ground which is not nearly as suitable for a public park. In the Aberdeen scheme an attempt is made to preserve the amenities. You have a woodland park which is not to be destroyed, and viewpoints which are a glory to the district are to be safeguarded. All that is of the greatest importance. I hope that Aberdeen's example will be followed widely in Scotland.

I wish to pass to the consideration of certain matters in regard to the health services. If we look at the report there can be no doubt that much is expected from the unified system which the Local Government Act has made possible. For instance, take maternity and child welfare. We know that outside the large burghs the authorities under the old system were small burghs and district councils, and that the health of the school children was controlled by the education department. In future maternity and child welfare service will be under the control of the town councils in the big towns and of the county councils in the counties, and a unified policy will be possible. Under the old system far too many different bodies, all no doubt doing their best, were concerned with matters of health. It is a great matter in the health services to get unified control.

I think the chapter on maternity and child welfare is very interesting as showing the progress in home visitation. In many places there are health visitors, and where that arrangement is not possible the visitation is done by the district nurse. After all, much better than to cure disease when it breaks out is the maintenance of health. By this system of home visitation in general much can be done to maintain health and prevent the bad conditions which lead rapidly to disease. There are, of course, maternity and child welfare centres where excellent work is being done. We are all gratified that the statistics with regard to infant mortality are this year better than in any year except one for which health statistics have been kept. The death rate is 83 per 1,000 for this year, which is better than for any year except 1923.

It is interesting to observe that while there is this great improvement in the case of the children up to one year of age, the improvement is not anything like as noticeable for the first week of life. It is satisfactory, however, to have this steady improvement in the figures of infant mortality. I notice that up to about 1901 the figures ran from 108 per 1,000 to 136 per 1,000. It is a great improvement to have got down to 83 per 1,000. As regards the health of children between one and five years of age, I notice that the death rate is 10 per 1,000. That is a great improvement over past years. I notice that, comparing the two sets of years 1911 to 1915 with 1925 to 1929, there is an improvement of 33 per cent. Those are satisfactory figures. It might have been thought that the improved conditions, the lessened mortality during the first year, might have meant that more ailing children survived only to die a little later. But that is not the case, because there is an improvement throughout.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith) referred to the maternal mortality figures of seven per 1,000. That figure is regrettably high, but if you compare it with the earlier years it seems pretty certain that a number of cases in past years which were due to puerperal causes and were not so described in the statistics are now much more carefully described. In Aberdeen between the years 1918 and 1927, 10 years, they had a special inquiry into maternal mortality, and it was found that 12 per cent. of the cases which were notified would not, but for the inquiry, have been put down to puerperal causes. It was only the special character of that investigation that led to this result. That shows that the statistics are probably compiled with much greater care to-day. Still these figures are figures which cannot give us satisfaction. Even when death does not occur we know that there are many cases of permanent bad health that are the result of bad conditions at the period of confinement.

There are one or two other points with which I must deal. There is the question of the children between one year and five years old before they pass to school. There is no doubt that the Local Government Act will effect a tremendous improvement here. It is going to be a great thing to have the care of the child from birth right through to the conclusion of school life under the one control. I am not criticising in any way the work that has been done by the school medical officers under the old system, for they did admirable work. But they had no authority over or interest in the child between one and five years of age, and it was at the latter age only that it became the duty of the medical authorities to concern themselves with the child's health. That system was open to objection. It is a great thing that under the one authority we shall have the care of the health of the child right through till it leaves school. We want to do a great deal in the towns for the extension of nursery schools for children between two and five years of age, and of day nurseries for children between one and two. We want to develop that system. It is quite clear from the statistics that there is a falling off in health between those years.

Recent investigations comparing the health of the children when they enter school and when they leave school show that on the whole the health conditions are much better when the children leave school than when they come in. That shows that regular medical inspection throughout the school career has been of the greatest value. It is found that in most places, when the children are medically examined on going to school, that the parents accompany the children. I understand that there is a group medical examination when the child comes to school at five, another when it reaches the age of nine and another at the age of 12—a systematic examination. In Aberdeen no less than 95 per cent. of the parents turn up at the medical examination of the child at five years of age; 94 per cent. are present at the examination at nine years of age; and the percentage drops to 44 at the last group examination at the age of 12.

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Aberdeen leads the way in that matter. Naturally the town has a higher percentage figure than the country, where distances make it impossible in many cases for parents to be present at the examinations. But the figures I have given for Aberdeen show that the great majority of parents come to the medical examination of their children when they first enter school. When a child is attending school to be examined the younger members of the family might be brought and might come under medical examination. Thus there might be medical examination of the pre-school child, so that weakness or illness might be detected, and the child kept under medical observation throughout. I think there are great potentialities in this.

I value very highly the possibility, which has been brought about by the Local Government Act, of making the care of the health of the child the concern of one authority throughout. It is com- forting to know from the statistics that very careful inquiries were made in different places with regard to the health of the children, and that comparisons were made with previous years, and it is satisfactory to know that even in these very difficult times in Scotland there is an improvement in the health, nutrition and cleanliness of the children in the schools; and that the improvement is more noticeable in those who are leaving school than in those who are coming into school. We may, therefore, congratulate those who have done very good work in this field in the past, and we may congratulate those who are going to carry on the work in the future, because I think by the new system of co-ordination they will have a, great opportunity of producing better results.

It is clear from the report that great benefit is anticipated from the reform of the Poor Law administration. The-parish councils certainly did admirable work, but the areas were far too small. Great improvement has been made by the removal of the discrepancies in rates between one parish and another; and many services that were carried out under the Poor Law will be, and in many cases already have been, withdrawn from the Poor Law. There is, in that, room for great advance. Looking at the whole matter, already we see that the Local Government Act has wrought great benefit for Scotland, and, as a supporter of the late Government, I congratulate very warmly my hon. Friend sitting in front of me, and his right hon. colleague, in being responsible for what was a great piece of progressive legislation for Scotland; and I think nobody who reads this report carefully, especially those overwhelmingly interesting chapters on health, can fail to realise that a great opportunity has been offered to us, so far as administration is concerned, of improving the health conditions of our children. We have now got improved machinery, and I think we can look forward to steadily improved achievement, and we can congratulate ourselves, even in this time of great difficulty, upon the results.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I rise, only for a few moments, to offer an observation or two upon the 1930 Act. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary later on will deal with other points that have been raised in the course of the Debate this afternoon. But as I have had the responsibility, very largely, for the administration of housing affairs in Scotland for almost the past two years, and for the year covered by the report discussed this afternoon, and as I had some responsibility for piloting the 1930 Act through the Committee stage upstairs, I feel, perhaps, I ought to say a word or two upon that subject. The right hon. Gentleman asked if he could have any evidence that the Act was being operated. I happen to be able to give him assurance that whereas for eight years the old Slum Clearance Act succeeded in interesting only 39 authorities in Scotland, and in those eight years succeeded in getting only 13,358 houses dealt with, already we have promises from 113 authorities that they will operate the Act, and they state that in the course of three years they will be able to deal with 24,321 houses. No one who has ever given thought to the housing problem in Scotland believes that there are only 100,000 houses required. No one believes that all the authorities in Scotland are doing their best. My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Sullivan) has said he knew of an authority that had built no houses at all. Well, many authorities have built no houses at all, under any Act. There are county councils in Scotland that have not operated any Act.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

There are houses in Scotland now that have been in continuous habitation, according to the date over the doorway, since the days when Prince Charlie was operating in the Highlands. There are areas in Scotland to-day where the housing conditions in which the people live are a standing disgrace to everybody connected with local government in those areas. I think it was the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) who said that this Government would be judged by the courage, the resolution, with which they faced up to the problems that were within their powers. I shall be content to be judged by the way we have attempted to face up to the housing problem in Scotland, so far as the Scottish Office is concerned. We have done everything that is in our power to get the existing Acts operated, to induce the local authorities to operate the Acts; and we have continuously reminded those in authority in local government that in the Act of 1930 we took power under which any four local government electors in any local government area in Scotland could put compulsory powers in operation against the local authority if it was not doing its duty. Already one attempt has been made, one local government inquiry has been held: there is a county inquiry in process of being made concerning villages in the constituency I represent. I happen to know the circumstances. I put whatever powers I had in operation there. I ask Members in every part of this House to remember that in Section 37 of the Act there is power to deal with recalcitrant and unwilling local authorities; and if we cannot get four local government electors to put these compulsory powers of the Act in operation, then things have come to a dire pass indeed.

The hon. Member for Shettleston said, quite truthfully, that 9s. rents in Glasgow and elsewhere were rents that many of the tenants in slum-clearance and improvement areas could not afford. It is utterly impossible for them to pay those rents, and when you clear an area and offer decent houses at a rental of 9s., it means that they cannot go into those houses, and that they drift away to create fresh slums by overcrowding elsewhere. But we faced up to that problem. Those 9s. rents have gone, under the 1930 Act. That Act, which is not a fifty-fifty basis at all, lightens the burden on the local authorities, and they are able to obtain grants on a unit basis. Ie means that, as we prophesied, local authorities can now provide decent, sanitary dwellings at maximum rents of £12 per annum—rents of 5s. per week—which are no burden whatever upon local rates when you consider the increased valuation. Indeed, the largest borough in my constituency where they have operated this Act can have rents of £12 on the first batch of these houses, and the local authority conveners themselves declare that the Act will in fact mean a reduction in local burdens, and that when you build these houses at £12 rents you compel the proprietors of other properties to reduce their rents.

Photo of Mr David Kirkwood Mr David Kirkwood , Dumbarton District of Burghs

Will the Lord Privy Seal inform us what is the size of the proposed houses at £12 a year rent?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

As a matter of fact, it does not matter what the size is, because on the unit basis it actually pays the local authority to build bigger houses. There is actually a bigger grant for the bigger house. These particular houses to which I refer are three-rooms-and-kitchenette houses.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Well, I do not believe any working-class house's yet built have all modern conveniences, but these are the recognised standard for municipal houses. I am dealing with this point, that we have the compulsory powers now if we choose to exercise them. There is no limit at all in the 1930 Act, financially. There is no limit in the number a local authority can build. I venture to prophesy that the rents that will be charged, when increased valuation is corsidered, need not be any burden whatever upon the local authorities. And if it be the case that all that stands in the way now is the fear of certain proprietors of houses in these areas that their rents will suffer in comparison, and that they will be compelled to reduce them, then I beg Members in all parts of the House to see to it that the compulsory powers of the 1930 Act are exercised.

Photo of Mr John Train Mr John Train , Glasgow Cathcart

The Lord Privy Seal said that there is no limit under the 1930 Act. There is not a limit to the Exchequer contributions?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

Per house, yes, but there is no limit to the number of houses that may be built. There is another Measure, to which I am forbidden to refer now, and which may, if it be passed, make for a certain advance in rural areas where no housing has hitherto been provided. Now I do not at all agree, as I have already said, that the local authorities have done their duty. I know one county where they were fighting us to get two-apartment houses. They would not build any houses unless we gave them 100 per cent. of two-apartment houses. The previous Administration—and I do not want to make any party point—yielded under pressure to 60 per cent. of two-apartment houses in these schemes. My right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State reduced the 60 per cent. to 25 per cent., and in very exceptional circumstances we agreed to 40 per cent. of two-apartment dwellings in the schemes.

Miss LEE:

If there was not a single penny put on the rates by the building of houses under this Act, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee what possible inducement any local authority would have to build two-apartment houses rather than three-apartment houses?

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I explained when the Bill was going through the Committee upstairs, and I have explained it at a hundred public meetings, that the cost of an extra room at present prices is between £25 and £30 and that the value of the extra Exchequer grant is £86. Therefore any local authority which insists upon building two-apartment houses is actually throwing away something like £50, and luckily the number of local authorities which are now insisting upon two-apartment houses is very much smaller. In my view, it is a waste of public money and of human life to build two-apartment houses. It does nothing whatever to meet the terrible conditions of the overcrowding of the sexes. We have had cases of adults, brothers and sisters sleeping in the same beds. These are matters which you cannot very well discuss in public, but they are productive of so much physical and moral degradation that no amount of public money would be too great to spend upon obliterating them. The two-apartment houses are a curse; we have far too many of them now. In the area of one local authority which demanded 100 per cent. of two-apartment houses we found 13 people in one municipally-owned two-apartment house—13 human beings crushed into a two-apartment house. The matter is beyond party politics. The Act of 1930 is the law of the land, and the local authorities who do not operate it can be put in default and ought to be put in default. If you put them in default the Department has power to step in and do the building and charge them with the cost. That is in the Act which the House passed last year. The rents are within the power of the people to pay, and in regard to the poorest of the poor who cannot pay, the public assistance committees have power to assist the housing committees in order to meet the rents, and, indeed, to furnish the houses, so that really there is no differentiation in the matter of rent.

We say that every local authority and the State, and every public administrator will require to face up to this problem. We have now houses built under half-a-dozen Acts all in the same local government areas. We have what are called the Addison houses, probably with rents of £25 or £30, we have the Wheatley houses, probably with rents of £22 or £24, and we have the Chamberlain houses, probably with rents of £24 or £25, and so on. We have houses built in connection with slum-clearances, with rents at £18, and now we have what are called Adamson houses, with rents of £12. Sooner or later we shall require—and it will be a matter of very great difficulty administratively—to equalise the rents so that for the same standard of accommodation the same rents will be payable. That is an early problem to which we shall require to devote our attention. In the meantime the greatest public service that any member of any party in this Committee can render in his day and generation is to stir up his local authority to make use of the 1930 Act, and if the local authority will not do it, to stir up four local government electors to see that the local authority does it. If neither the local authority nor the four local government electors can be prevailed upon to demand decent houses and the abolition of the slums, then God help the people of Scotland!

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I am sure that we are all glad to see the ex-Under Secretary of State for Scotland among us again even in the august robes of the Lord Privy Seal. He is, I think, now the fourth citizen in the realm. He is the first Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to become the fourth citizen of the realm, and it seems to be a very useful precedent. He is the first Provost of Kirkintilloch to become the fourth citizen of the realm, and we congratulate him upon having attained that high distinction. The remarks which he made upon the subject of housing are of the greatest interest to us all. I am not quite sure whether he was speaking at the moment as Lord Privy Seal or as the ex-Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, because as one who, like himself, has had negotiations with local authorities, I would warn him that the Scots are difficult folk to drive, and that while he may be able to drive them a long way along one line he may find that he is taking their attention away from other directions. As Lord Privy Seal he has many activities in which he desires the co-operation of the local authorities, and many schemes, other than housing schemes, which he wishes to put forward. I have heard many local authorities say, "We should have concentrated more upon schemes for housing had not our attention been diverted towards other schemes for relieving unemployment which the Government have pressed upon our notice." The only word—a very mild word—of warning I would offer to him and to the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) is that more is done with honey than with vinegar. More local authorities come into conferences when they expect to find a friendly welcome than is the case when they meet with hard words at the outset.

I sympathise fully with the right hon. Gentleman in his anxiety to push ahead with the solution of the housing problem, or the amelioration of the housing problem, in Scotland. It is not a static problem. As our standards of good housing rise, it is necessary for us to review the houses in Scotland. It is true that the cottage in which Burns was born would be condemned unhesitatingly now by any local authority as absolutely unfit for human habitation. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that houses were occupied now which, according to the date over the door, had been occupied when Prince Charlie came here. My hon. Friend the Member for Western Perth (Duchess of Atholl) is in occupation of a house with a date over the door which shows that it was occupied when Robert the Bruce was there. [Interruption.] I can assure the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) that those castles of Robert the Bruce would be unhesitatingly condemned as absolutely unfit for habitation.

Photo of Mr David Kirkwood Mr David Kirkwood , Dumbarton District of Burghs

They have the bawbees to bring them up to date.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

It may be that the house that was mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal has also been brought up to date. It is not possible for us to put a limit and to say: "These are the modern conveniences which we desire." We have always to be grading up and improving housing. It may very well be that 100 years hence the people will look upon our houses of to-day with something of the air of surprise that we look at the tenements in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh which, in their day, were the dwellings of the nobility but which to-day, whether improved or unimproved, would be regarded as very inferior habitations for the people of Scotland.

The proposals which the Lord Privy Seal has laid before us this evening and the speech which the Secretary of State delivered earlier in the day were really testimony to the vigour and zeal with which the right hon. Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) pushed forward housing when he was in charge of that Department, because the utmost that they hope to do is that, in time, they may be able to screw up the output of houses to what it was during the Secretaryship of the right hon. Member for Pollok.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I added, I hope, that there was already on the Order Paper a Resolution indicative of an additional effort being made by the Government which will add to those figures.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I shall have a word or two to say about that matter, because, from the terms of the Resolution on the Order Paper and from the terms used in the report, the proposals of the Government will not add but will seriously impede those efforts. I propose to prove that. It is one of the accusations which I wish to bring against the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are bringing before the House. We all desire to see housing in Scotland progress to the level of at least 50,000 houses a year, and that it should be held there. During the three years while my right hon. Friend the Member for Pollok was responsible, the figure was put there and held there, or approximately there. In looking at the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question a few days ago, I find that in May, 1927, the houses under construction numbered 19,359, in May, 1923, 18,380, in May, 1929, 14,719. We make a present to right hon. Gentlemen opposite of the fact that those figures show a considerable reduction, but I would point out that in 1930, their first year, there were only 10,580 houses under construction. The right hon. Gentleman may say: "We had not got going. There was a great deal of lack of confidence. It is a plant of slow growth."

What about the year 1931? They have now been in office two years. I do not know how much longer they are to be in office before they get off the mark. During the past two years they have been a great deal slower than their election speeches would have led us to believe they would be. What are the figures for 1931? Do they get back to the 14,000 or the 18,000? No. They do not even get back to what they were in 1930. In 1930 the figure was 10,580 houses under construction. In 1931 the figure is 10,508. The Government's own report shows that there were 7,000 people employed on assisted house building in July, 1930, whereas in 1927, when assisted house building reached its peak, twice that number was estimated to be employed. Under our administration, whatever they may say about it, there were 7,000 more men in the building trade who were drawing pay for work upon housing, and under the present administration those men are walking the streets idle, without jobs. There are many explanations which it is possible to give.

Miss LEE:

Hear, hear!

Miss LEE:

Details like rent.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

These interjections show to what straits hon. Members opposite are driven in their desire to explain the position.

Miss LEE:

Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that if we had gone on building houses at the rate of 20,000 a year at those rentals, we would have found tenants? The hunger for tenements made many thousands of the working classes accept rents which they could not afford. The difficulty is in getting houses built at rents which will attract the slum population and other poor people.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

The hon. Member may give that explanation to the 7,000 builders who are out of a job and who were building houses at good wages when we were in office. The hon. Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Mathers) talks about Tory-dominated councils, as if there were only Tories in councils when we were in office.

Photo of Mr George Mathers Mr George Mathers , Edinburgh West

Tories willing to assist you in carrying out your programme.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

The hon. Member has got an ingenuous belief in the power of political comradeship which is not shared by anyone else. He seems to think that all that is necessary is to have another Tory Government in office and to let that party once more rely upon political comradeship, in order to raise the number of houses built to 20,000 a year, so that 7,000 more building operatives may be employed, without any expense to the State, except the salaries of my right hon. Friend and myself, instead of the salaries of the right hon. and the hon. Member who now hold the positions of Secretary of State and Under-Secretary. He has produced one of the best arguments for a change of Government that has ever been produced.

The problem is not so simple as that. The fact is, that the accumulated weight of rates and public burdens, the trade depression and the fear of local authorities of increasing expenses, weigh fare more heavily upon local authorities than the mere matter of desiring to make the Act of their political friends successful or trying to make the Act of their political opponents fail. I can assure the hon. Member that if he believes that all that is necessary to solve the housing problem is that when a Conservative Government comes into power they should merely appeal to their friends, who will say: "Yes. We are all Tories together; build your houses," he is anticipating a very much easier task for us than I anticipate or that the Lord Privy Seal anticipates. The weight of public burdens and trade depression are the great arguments against that improved rate of house building which we all desire to see, and the difficulty before any Government which comes into power is that, so long as the slump proceeds, it will find the local authorities most reluctant to undertake new burdens.

Photo of Mr James Brown Mr James Brown , South Ayrshire

You are giving good reasons now.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

No one would desire us to lead this argument into the wider field of what we would do to stimulate trade and industry in this country, but I should be willing to meet my hon. Friend on that point. That is the main point upon which the discussion at the election will undoubtedly turn. When the country is prosperous, it will be possible for us to press ahead with those developments in the social services which we all desire. When the country is not prosperous we are fighting against the current, pushing upstream, and have the greatest difficulty in bringing home to local authorities those advantages which even in a time of depression are to their economic and financial advantage. We have the greatest difficulty in getting them to consider these things at all because they are weighed down by a fear of the future, which is the greatest handicap to the progress of housing in Scotland along the lines which we all desire to see.

The arguments of the Lord Privy Seal and other hon. Members are quite familiar to most of us. They say: "What a curse this Toryism is; what a nuisance these elected bodies are which go contrary to our ideas. If we could only shatter them to bits and rebuild them nearer to our hearts desire." We all feel like that. I feel like that about the present Government. If I could only destroy them, shoot some of them, clear them out of the way, how much better for the country my plans would be than the pettifogging and niggling plans which they have brought forward. The Government feel like that about town councils and county councils, but if the Lord Privy Seal and his four colleagues find themselves committed to taking over the duties of all the local authorities in all the counties and burghs in Scotland he will have very little time for any other activities either in this House or in his private life. He is in a little difficulty here. He is advancing upon two divergent roads. The new proposals that he is bringing forward are to say to local authorities, if you cannot build, if you are too poor to build, and if you can prove to us that you are too poor to build, we will give you more money. Can you imagine a more certain way of getting local authorities to stop every other form of activity and con- centrate upon proving that they are very poor and that the Government should give them money.

The annual report of the Department, while casting a few bricks in our direction, refers to the uncertainty caused by the possibility of a reduced subsidy and its effect on the housing programme, but let me point out that the reduced subsidy was not more than a reduction of 30s. which the fall in the cost of building has completely wiped out. They also point to the effect of the uncertainty about future subsidies. Certainly the uncertainty of the subsidy under the new Slum Clearance Bill and the delay in introducing that Measure had a great deal to do with holding up housing schemes in the years immediately subsequent to the Government coming into power. That is over now, the Bill is on the Statute Book. Now higher subsidies are to be available for the building of houses. I fear very much the bearing of these proposals on the administration of housing in Scotland and I ask the Government to consider whether some way of dealing with these proposals cannot be found which will not have that effect. To say to a man, "If you cannot work under this I will give you better terms," whether he has been in a railway accident or not is the surest way of making certain that the man never gets better from the railway accident. The fear of depression and the promise of more money, these two things working together, will make local authorities stop the building of houses, a possibility which we should all most heartily deplore.

The housing programme of the present Government, or shall I say the income of housing, shows a distinct rise. The figures I have received from the Department do not show any great improvement in the number of houses under construction. The number of 8,700 in January has only risen to 10,500 in May, and that is a long way below the figure of 14,700 in 1929 and still below the number of houses under construction in 1930. It may be that the building dispute in the West of Scotland has had something to do with the delay in bringing forward houses under construction, but, even so, 10,000 houses under construction in May does not auger very well for a large output of houses during the year. I do not think it is possible that we shall get 15,000 houses constructed this year. I doubt very much if we shall get 12,000 houses constructed, although that may be possible, but it means that for two successive years the figures of housing in Scotland have been low indeed, and even if the programme begins to rise to 15,000, or even to 20,000, there will still be the leeway of these two years to make up. Can the Under-Secretary of State give us any forecast as to the number of houses which he thinks are likely to be completed in Scotland this year? It is true that there are only six months to run and if he thinks that it is impossible to give an estimate I do not wish to press him in any way.

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

I cannot be depressed at any rate.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

The Under-Secretary says that he cannot be depressed. He has every right, not to feel depressed. He came in at the bottom, on the ground floor. The figures are bound to go up, and he will be able to slap his chest and say, "Look at the poor Lord Privy Seal! He could not build any houses at all, but when I came in the number of houses began to rise and has gone-on rising ever since." That is not an exaggerated statement, indeed he is only following the lead of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman makes a very poor mouth about the impossibility of doing very much because of the heritage left to him by his predecessors. He is continuing to plough with our heifer, although he says it is a very lean heifer and unable to drag the plough very fast.

Photo of Mr William Adamson Mr William Adamson , Fife Western

It was a legacy, not a heifer.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

My hon. and learned Friend behind me will correct me, but I think you can have a beastial legacy as well as a legacy in anything else. What did the right hon. Gentleman say about the Rural Workers Housing Act? He did not make any excuse about it being a poor legacy, nor did he make the excuse about Tory town councils and Tory local authorities, nor did he make the excuse of a lack of confidence. He claimed' that it was because the present administration was properly administering this Act that they had produced the result they had; that while the Tory party for the two years they were running the Act had produced few houses in the years he had been running it he had produced double the number of houses. Either he did not administer the Act of 1924 properly or else the increased number of rural houses was due to the good administrative Act which we had left him. It is just as impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was his good administration which produced a lot of rural houses as it is to say that it was the lack of confidence which we had left which did not produce a lot of houses. The difficulty is this. These Debates are of interest to us, but they are not of such great interest to the people of Scotland, because the people of Scotland want results. They ask, "Are we going to get the houses?" and that is why I ask the Under-Secretary if he can give us a forecast for this year. Can he give us a forecast for next year of how many houses he thinks he may get? Will he get 15,000 or will he rise to his 20,000 programme next year? He says he has a programme for three years to come. Can he give us any indication as to how much of that programme he will be able to cash in during those three years? When does he think we shall get back to the 20,000 a year programme? I admit that we are asking him to prophesy, and I do not want to hold him to that question, or even to ask him to give us a figure, if he thinks that it would be unjust to ask for such a figure. But these are things which are of more interest in Scotland than discussions on whether it was the Act as operated by the present Secretary of State, or the Act as operated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Pollock (Sir J. Gilmour) which produced the houses already in existence.

Housing is important, but it is important as bearing upon the public health of Scotland, and the public health is important as reflecting the prosperity of the nation as a whole. The nation is going through a crisis of grave depression. Is the nation going through it successfully or not? I was interested to see the figures in connection with the administration of National Health Insurance Acts in Scotland. They show that the amount paid out in sick benefit was lower last year than it has been for years, and that seems to indicate that the public health of Scotland is not suffering as a result of the depression.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

Due to the cutting off of a large number of people who are entitled to benefit.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I will leave the hon. Member for Shettleston to bring his accusations of murder against his own Front Bench. I am always delighted when these accusations of murder are hurled against others than myself, because for four or five years we on these benches, sat under that. I am glad to find that they go on just the same, with as little relevance and may I add with as little accuracy.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

Will the hon. Gentleman pardon me for saying that I do know that in the Glasgow area large numbers of people are cut off from national health insurance benefit by the doctors, although those people are admitted by the public assistance committees—with all their rigidity—and even by their medical men to be unfit.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

The hon. Member can deal with his own Front Bench upon that point.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

The hon. Gentleman questioned the accuracy of my statement.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Yes, and I question it still. I would rather take the evidence of the Secretary of State for Scotland than that of the hon. Member for Shettleston.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I would rather take the evidence of the patients who have been cut off and whom I know.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

I have known the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for many years longer than I have known the hon. Member for Shettleston and I will take the word of the right hon. Gentleman until I have found him proved wrong, and I will take the word of the Department of Health until I have found it proved wrong and it will need a good deal of evidence to shake my belief in either of those two authorities. When I have known the hon. Member for Shettleston as long as I have known the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State I will take his word against that of the Secretary of State but not before.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

If the hon. Member does not take his own word then it is a very poor thing.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I say that I will take the word of the patients.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

We find from the report that a section taken out of the 1,850,000 insured persons in Scotland shows a lower morbidity rate this year than in previous years, and that is a matter upon which we ought to congratulate ourselves. One of the important factors in that connection has been the absence of an influenza epidemic such as those which have repeatedly occurred in previous years. That is one of the important reasons for the drop in the payments of sickness benefit. In connection with the administration of these Acts the absence of an influenza epidemic is a matter of satisfaction, because we know that the recurrence of such epidemics was one of the great features in the continuous and disquieting rise which was a source of perturbation to all engaged in administering these Acts for several years past.

My statement as to the general public health is corroborated by the tuberculosis return. The hon. Member for Shettleston will not deny that the tuberculosis return is one of the most obvious ways of telling whether the public health is good or bad and the figures have fallen to a point never touched before. I give him another instance, that of infantile mortality which is also a way of testing whether the health of the nation is good or bad. Infantile mortality also has fallen to a point never touched before. Then the special inquiry held by the Department on account of the demands of the hon. Member and his friends, into the health not of the people of Scotland as a whole, but of the children of the unemployed people showed that these people were not suffering. We have been promised the publication of that report by the Secretary of State. These are things which the country ought to know and of which the country ought to be proud. There is no reason why the country should suppose that mass murder is being committed, or that the social services are not being maintained, when it is not so. We have been able to come through these years of depression and to show at the end of the period a lower infantile mortality, a lower tuberculosis rate, an untounched standard of health of 100,000 children of unemployed people——


In spite of, not because of the depression.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Surely the hon. Member, who himself was a student of Glasgow University, does not suppose that Scotsmen are such fools as to believe that people get healthier and healthier, the longer the industrial depression continues. Of course it is in spite of it and not because of it.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman is stating his argument in such a way that the general public would believe that these things were because of the general depression.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

In London to which the hon. Member has come, the general public might believe that, but in Scotland, which the hon. Member has left, the general public will not believe it, and it is to the general public in Scotland that I am addressing my remarks and not to the general public in the constituency which has been, so misguided, apparently, as to elect the hon. Member. The fact remains that the health of the people of Scotland is being maintained remarkably well, and what do we gather from that fact? That the necessity in front of the country is a revival in prosperity. The moral of the people, the health of the people, the condition of the people, so far, remain almost unimpaired. The ambulance services of Scotland have kept the efficiency of the nation up to scratch, but we shall not get out of our present difficulty by concentrating upon the ambulance services. We must see that the health of the people is maintained, but the lesson of this report is that depression in the trade and industry of the country is the thing that is really holding back the country from the progress which we desire to see it make. Until we can clear away that depression these reports will not be fully satisfactory to our people, because they will be reports of things which are being done against the grain, done with difficulty, and done against the opposition of local authorities while the whole nation is "hanging back in the brechan" and not going forward. That, I am sure, is because the people have a lack of confidence about the future. I agree, most heartily, with the Secretary of State. That is all that is the matter with Scotland just now, and that is why it is necessary for one party or the other to remove that cause in the near future.

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

The trend of the Debate to-day leads me to the conclusion that I shall have an easy task in meeting the questions that were put to me. Not a single question has been put for the purpose of tripping up the Under-Secretary when he has to reply. Every question has been put with the desire, I believe, to gather information, and to help in the general administration of Scotland. The hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot) has really assisted me in giving some of the reasons why there is a decline in house building. There was a point, however, to which he did not particularly refer. One of the difficulties local authorities have to face, and which may have thrown some grit in the wheels so far as house construction is concerned, is the fear of the increased cost because of decreased rating. That difficulty was intensified because of the De-rating Act, which has given them less rating value on which to collect the money necessary for housing.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

It has also been intensified by the burden of such measures as the raising of the school age.

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

I am not entitled to discuss that. I am responsible in my reply only for administration, and not for prospective legislation which the other House has thrown out. I am pleased to be able to report, in reply to the question put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that there is an upward tendency in house production. The test of that is not to concentrate on the houses that have been completed; if I take the number of houses that have been approved for erection by local authorities, that will be the best test as to whether there is now an upward tendency. In 1928 the number of houses approved for erection was 8,482. In 1929 it dropped to 7,740. In 1930 the number went up to 10,145, and I am pleased to report that up to the 20th June this year, we had approved of the erection of houses to the number of 5,434.

9.0 p.m.

That proves an upward tendency, although it is not altogether satisfactory. We have to get still greater improvement, and every effort is being made to encourage local authorities to take full advantage of the 1930 Act. The hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) put to me certain questions as to the construction of houses for the next three years, the next two years and the next year. I am not able to give the figures for one year, because the 1930 Act laid down a three years' programme. Under Sub-section 22 (2) of that Act, local authorities have to submit their programme for the next three years. It is to that Act that we must look for any substantial advance. It provides a subsidy which is based on a unit grant for those persons who are to be dispossessed of insanitary houses and re-housed in a decent house which all sections of the Committee want to see accomplished as soon as possible. From the Department's contacts with the local authorities it is clear already that they are responding to the attractive terms of the Act. Under the previous Acts, the grant for two-apartment houses was £9, but under the new Act there is no real encouragement to local authorities to build that size house, because the unit grant is only £7 10s., whereas the unit grant for three-apartment houses is £12 10s., and for four-apartment houses £17 10s. Therefore the encouragement to local authorities in the rehousing of the people from the insanitary houses, from slum areas and from overcrowded houses, is to build three, four, and, if necessary, five-apartment houses.

Photo of Mr Archibald Skelton Mr Archibald Skelton , Perth

Is that tendency operating in actual fact? Do the schemes show that the larger houses are being brought forward by the local authorities?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

Yes. Not only do the schemes show that, but the Department itself has been encouraging local authorities to go in for three-apartment houses as against two-apartment houses. Let me give an illustration how the encouragement was responded to. In the case of Dalkeith burgh, a scheme was submitted in which there was a larger number of two-apartment houses than the Department desired to grant, and the local authority were asked to reconsider the scheme. They were even asked to have fresh estimates for three-apartment houses in place of the two-apartment houses, and the local authority discovered in the new estimates that there was a difference of only £15 per house for the three-apartment house as against the two-apartment house. To the credit of the local authority, they were agreeable to provide the three-apartment houses.

Photo of Mr James Scott Mr James Scott , Kincardine and Western

Has the hon. Gentleman any information as to the probable life of that class of house, and whether there is any risk of their degenerating into slum houses in a certain number of years?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

All I can say is that the grant is payable over 40 years, and the assumption is that the house will last at least for the period of the grant. The 1930 Act required local authorities to submit to the Department before the end of 1930 a statement setting out their proposals for the ensuing three years. On the 15th June, of 227 local authorities, 178 had submitted schemes. The point was made by an hon. Member that the other 49 authorities did not require schemes. The Act laid down, however, that they must submit their reports, and if they do not require the schemes "nil" will be marked against their names, so far as their requirements are concerned. My complaint is that even at this late date, 49 local authorities should not have complied with the conditions of the Act to carry through a survey and to submit their reports so that we should know exactly what the position is in Scotland.

The statements issued by the 178 authorities show that a total of 75,992 houses are required in the areas of those authorities: 37,422 are to replace houses which are to be pulled down or closed; 21,470 are to relieve overcrowding; and 12,602 are to meet the normal growth of population. In addition, 4,500 not yet allocated into the above categories, are proposed. The three-year programme of these local authorities amounts to the provision of 51,470 houses, which will give us the 20,000 per year at which we aimed. This represents an average of 17,156 houses per year, and if the expectations of the local authorities are realised the output during the next three years should be a substantial contribution to re-housing in Scotland. Up to the 16th May, 1,778 houses have been approved for erection under the 1930 Act. The actual number under the 1930 Act will not be determined till later—I think my hon. and gallant Friend knows the arrangements—because we may have to rehouse some of the people under the 1930 Act or under the Wheatley Act, according to which is the more suitable to the local authorities, and they are not required to make their choice until before the houses are occupied.

So far as slum clearance houses are concerned, we are getting 50 per cent. more houses from the local authorities under the 1930 Act in the three years than we succeeded in getting before. I do not blame the previous Administration, because as representing a constituency in which the housing conditions are intolerable—I am not speaking now so much as Under-Secretary of State as the representative of that constituency—I always had the assistance of my hon. and gallant Friend opposite in bringing pressure to bear on the Tory-ridden authority there, but they took no more notice of him than they did of their present Member. We had not then got the power that we have now, and I for one am prepared to use this power if the local authority in my constituency will not carry out their duties under the Act of Parliament.

I have dealt pretty fully with the production of houses, and will now turn to some of the other points raised in the Debate. If I do not deal with every point I promise that to-morrow I will go carefully through the report of the Debate with my officials, and any point that has been omitted will be made the subject of a reply to be sent direct to the particular Member who raised it. I realise that there has been an honest endeavour on the part of everyone taking part in the Debate not to be too critical, but to attempt to be helpful in matters concerning the administration of health and housing. The right hon. Member for Pollok raised the question of the regional survey. Industrial Scotland from the Forth to the Clyde is being covered by regional schemes, and these are now under consideration. A committee of local authori- ties is dealing with Ayrshire, as with the whole of the Clyde Valley, and with Stirlingshire and West Lothian, and I understand they are also dealing with Fifeshire. It will be for the Department to see that each of the schemes and any others which may be submitted will fit into and be properly co-ordinated in a great town planning scheme for Scotland.

Another question raised concerned medical research. The Secretary of State set up a committee to investigate the causes of disease and we increased the grant available for investigation from £100 to £2,500. A scientific advisory committee will guide these investigations, and with two individuals coming from Fife holding the offices we hold the Committee can be assured that we shall look for a large return from this increased expenditure. In passing I would like to point out that Dr. Smith, of the Aberdeen Health Department, has been awarded the Nichols prize of the Royal Society of Medicine, a prize given every three years, and that he has given us very valuable assistance in connection with this work. An hon. Member from one of the Aberdeen constituencies asked about the two diseases, enteric fever and diphtheria, with which we have had some difficulty during the last year. Our investigations have shown, unfortunately, that it has been most difficult to trace the source of infection, but we are continuing the investigations in the hope that whether the water supply or lack of drainage is responsible we shall be able to bring down the number of victims of those diseases, just as we have by medical science and our social services been able to bring down the numbers of people afflicted with tuberculosis.

Before I conclude I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. D. Hardie) on the maiden speech he delivered. He put two questions to me regarding the necessity for getting into contact with the authorities. We are always trying to get into contact with the authorities, particularly in connection with housing, and also about river pollution, to which several hon. Members have made reference. I myself have been responsible for convening several conferences. We have had conferences on housing with a view to explaining the powers that local authorities have and the financial advantages available to them under the Housing Act. We are also bringing together the authorities to discuss such evidence as we have of river pollution and are dealing with the Tweed, the Esk, and the Leven.

Photo of Mr James Scott Mr James Scott , Kincardine and Western

Is it the intention of the Department to get in touch with the local authorities in regard to education?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

It would be entirely out of order for me to deal with education on this Vote. We are doing our best to get into touch with authorities on housing, river pollution and all other problems.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I asked about Poor Law relief, and the same question has also been raised by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). We want the Scottish Office to get into touch with the local authorities on the question of the Poor Law scales.

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

I cannot say at the moment whether any conference has been convened on that matter, but my hon. Friends may rest assured that it will be kept under consideration.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

A promise was made 12 months ago, and surely the hon. Gentleman can tell us whether any action has been taken.

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

I have already pointed out that I cannot give an answer at once. So far as this question and the other questions are concerned, I have given a promise that I will go carefully through the records of the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow and that every point will be dealt with, as far as is possible and useful.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I am sorry to interrupt again. I am not dealing with any statement that has been made now, but with a promise made 12 months ago on the last Scottish Estimates, in connection with the calling of a conference to consider the raising of Poor Law scales of relief to a uniform rate. Do I understand that nothing has been done?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

My hon. Friend is not to understand that nothing has been done. I do not know whether anything has been done or has not been done, but I promise to look into the matter. I cannot say yea or nay.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I feel that I cannot allow this point to go, although I am rather loath to interrupt. The Secretary of State for Scotland is here, and it was on his behalf that the promise was given by the late Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, now the Lord Privy Seal, that he had an assurance that the Secretary of State for Scotland would use his influence in order to have conferences along those lines. Surely I am entitled to know, after 12 months, whether anything has been done or not?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

I can only say that I will look into the matter and find out whether a conference has or has not been called.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I am very dissatisfied that, after 12 months, the Secretary of State for Scotland, sitting here on the Front Bench makes no attempt to tell me if a promise made 12 months ago has been carried out. Is that promise like all similar promises?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

Any promise we give, so far as the Scottish Office is concerned, we endeavour to fulfil.

A point was raised in reference to pollution in the River Cart. The position is that the authority responsible, the Town Council of Paisley, have a scheme under consideration for complete sewage purification, and that there is a likelihood of the scheme being effected in the very near future. The hon. Member for Partick (Mr. McKinlay) put several questions about the silicosis regulations under which those who are affected by silicosis have to go from Scotland to Newcastle for treatment. My right hon. Friend asks me to assure the Committee that this matter is being looked into with a view to getting the regulations altered, and to try to give effect to what the Committee desires, namely, that no one from Scotland will have to travel to England in consequence of these silicosis regulations.

Questions were put by the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) dealing with the assistance which might be given in the way of telephone facilities through outlying districts. In the report of the Department of Health he will find, on page 97: Concessions have been made by the Post Office by way of the abolition or reduction of the guarantees required for 10 telegraph or telephone circuits, towards the cost of which the Department formerly contributed. It was agreed to give grants from the fund towards the annual rental of six new telephone installations in doctors' houses, five on the mainland and one in Orkney; and similar assistance was also promised for certain nurses. If there are any particular cases to which the right hon. Gentleman desires to draw particular attention, I hope he will accept the assurance that they will be inquired into, and if it is possible, within the limited scope that we have under Post Office regulations, for us to assist in the direction suggested, he may rest assured that assistance will be given.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

Will my hon. Friend say a word about the question of an extra room in doctors' houses?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

That is also a matter which, I am authorised to assure the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for Scotland will look into. It seems to be a question worthy of consideration.

Although much work has been done by the local authorities in regard to housing, there is still more to be done. I, for one, am dissatisfied with the progress that local authorities are making in dealing with the housing problem. There are problems to which, unfortunately, they give too much time. Apart from the building of houses, there are certain duties which devolve upon local authorities, for seeing that houses are in a habitable state, and seeing that private owners give effect to the repairs that are necessary to keep houses in a habitable state. Cases carne under the notice of the Department when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) was in office in 1927, and that they remain to-day is due to the laxity and the delay of local authorities, and the refusal, in some cases, to enforce the powers which the local authorities have. Houses that could be made habitable and worthy of the name, are, in a most disreputable condition, simply because local authorities are not enforcing the law and are not calling upon private owners to put these houses into habitable repair. I want to make an appeal to the local authorities from this House, that they should assist us in dealing with this problem.

The late Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that you can coax a Scotsman, but you cannot drive him. If you have 47 local authorities standing out, while the other authorities have yielded to your coaxing, then it is the duty of the State to see that the 47 are forced to do their duty by means of the powers which lie to hand. Of one thing, this House, and the working class and the housing enthusiasts in Scotland may rest assured—the housing enthusiasts are not limited to members of the working class—that our powers of improving Scottish housing conditions and of calling upon the local authorities to use all the power that they have for the purpose of improving the present insanitary houses, will be enforced, in the hope that the local authorities will be able to provide better houses and give our people a chance of living in decent and honourable conditions which, I believe, is the desire of every member of this Committee.

Some of the reports that have come my way since I entered office have been enough to make one feel that there is something drastically wrong with our system of society. Quite recently there was a case in which 14 individuals were living in a single apartment. Reports have come in within the last two or three weeks of houses where there were holes in the roof, and where it was absolutely impossible, when it was rainy weather, for the children to be allowed to sleep in bed. These conditions cannot be allowed to continue in Scotland. We are entitled to something better than that for the housing of our people. I think we shall have the co-operation of all parties. Among those who have persisted, with myself and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, in the calling of various conferences to discuss housing problems, we have had the assistance of Liberal and Conservative hon. Members, with the object of bringing, not pressure, but that coaxing spirit to bear, on the local authorities, in the convening of these conferences. If we can have that spirit continued, so far as dealing with the housing problem is concerned, then at the end of three years I, for one, shall not be satisfied unless, if there are 500,000 houses declared unfit for human habitation, there are 500,000 houses to take their place. That is the aim and object so far as our administration is concerned, and I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Estimates moved by my right hon. Friend. I feel sure that, in administering the law with regard to housing as far as Scotland is concerned, we shall have the support of all sections of the House.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

May I have a reply on the point about steel houses?

Photo of Mr Joseph Westwood Mr Joseph Westwood , Peebles and Southern

I can assure the hon. Member that I have a full reply here, but I thought I had taken a fair share of the time of the Committee, as other Members wish to speak. I will send the hon. Member a full reply, which will give him the names of the directors of the housing company and the other matters asked for, and I am sure he will be more satisfied with a written reply.

Duchess of ATHOLL:

As the hour is getting late, and there is another subject to be discussed, I shall not detain the Committee long. Most of the time has been spent in discussing houses, and there are two things I would say on that subject before passing on to another matter. First, there is one thing one can say about those who live in steel houses, and that is that they can sleep in their beds at night without the fear of anything coming through the roof. In the second place, I think I could bring some comfort to the mind of the Lord Privy Seal and show him some houses dating from the time of the '45 which, now that all modern conveniences have been put into them, are quite to the satisfaction of those who live in them, so that he need not despair if a "Prince Charlie" house is occupied, provided it is assisted by the Rural Housing Act.

I wish to draw attention to another matter, which is insufficiently emphasised in the report, the extension of maternity and child welfare schemes in the rural areas. The need for extending these schemes is written all over the report. We see it first in the distressing figures for maternal mortality, which have been referred to. There may be many reasons for maternal mortality, but all medical opinion is agreed that one of the chief reasons is the want of more antenatal care. For this the presence in a district of a nurse health visitor is a very important factor. There are many women who would more readily go to a nurse health visitor in matters of that kind than to a medical man. To insure that a nurse health visitor is within the reach of every woman who may be a mother is very important from the point of view of maternal mortality. As to the deaths of children within one month from birth from congenital defects, the report again emphasises the need for ante-natal care from the point of view of the newly-born child. But we are told that only one-third of the mothers of Scotland get ante-natal care, and we must feel that that is not at all a satisfactory position. When we come to the slightly older children from one year up to five years of age, we are told that only one-quarter are getting any medical care in the child welfare centres, although many of the defects found in these children when they come to school are defects which are easily remedied, but which, if left unremedied, may become serious.

The whole of the report declares the need for the extension of maternal and child welfare schemes. In the towns these schemes consist largely of child welfare centres. In the rural centres, the report tells us the work is chiefly done by district nurses acting as health visitors in return for grants from the associations which employ them. Nothing is said as to the extent to which district nurses in Scotland are acting as health visitors, and no suggestion is made as to how we can have an extension of the scheme by which district nurses will undertake these duties. If I had spoken before the hon. Gentleman, I should have liked to have asked him in how many counties in Scotland schemes are in existence by which the district nurses are undertaking those duties and advising mothers in regard to their own health and the health of their children up to five years of age. I do not think it is a very large proportion of counties, not nearly so much as in England, where this work is being done over a very considerable area.

One of the first things to be done for health in Scotland is to extend schemes of that kind so that every parish can have a district nursing association. This is a work in which co-operation is necessary, because it is common knowledge that the district nursing associations are provided by voluntary bodies. The next point to note is that it is not very easy for local authorities to arrange schemes unless all the district nursing associations, which usually have come into existence on a parish basis, are co-ordinated and federated into a county nursing association. It is very difficult for a county council or big burgh to arrange anything of the kind with disconnected parish associations. The local authority naturally wants to get them all federated into one large body. That is essential in order to extend these schemes in the counties in Scotland. In the past, if any scheme of that sort was to be made effective by the local nursing associations which had federated themselves into one body, they might have to discuss that scheme with a dozen different local authorities. I can think of one case where a scheme of that kind was discussed with five district committees and 11 burghs. The scheme as it concerned district committees was quickly carried through with the county council, but it took eight years before the last of the 11 burghs had entered into a scheme with the federation. Now, however, under the operation of the Local Government Act, the whole of the scheme would be in the hands of one body, the county council. Whatever criticism may he levelled at that Act, I cannot imagine any measures of health being levelled at it in regard to county areas. If the hon. Gentleman will utilise the advantage it gives, particularly in the rural districts, by the unification of health services, he can do a great work for the health of mothers and children in the rural districts of Scotland.

It is not always easy, however, to get district nursing associations federated into one body. There may be nobody, perhaps, who knows how to give the matter a start; one local nursing association may be afraid to step out into the open; there may be some nursing associations who want to be left alone. Therefore, it is not always an easy matter, particularly in our big scattered counties, where people are far from each other, and do not meet often to discuss things. The county councils of Scotland could give tremendous help in this way if they would approach those who are responsible for local nursing associations, and ask them to give their help in extending child welfare schemes. If the right hon. Gentleman would appeal to the county councils to put themselves in touch with local nursing associations, and invite their co-operation——

Duchess of ATHOLL:

Most of these associations in Scotland to-day are associations to which people pay a membership fee. They are supported, besides by subscriptions and donations, and to that extent it may be said that they are charities, but whatever they are, and however their funds are provided, they are doing splendid work for the health of the people in these areas, and no one in these areas will deny that. If the right hon. Gentleman could suggest to the chairmen of county councils how much they could assist local nursing associations in federating themselves, it would make all the difference in the world, because often the people who are running these local nursing associations are shy of taking the first step. They do not know how it will be responded to by the county councils, and do not like to apply for help to the local authority, but prefer to wait to be invited. If the right hon. Gentleman could appeal to the county councils to put themselves in touch with local nursing associations, and ask them to federate themselves and then discuss with the county councils how they could carry out child welfare and maternity welfare schemes, I am certain that it would very greatly facilitate the federation of these local nursing associations. Having had to do with district nursing associations in Scotland for something like 30 years, I know that there is no work which makes so wide an appeal in a rural area as that of the district nursing association. There is nothing which people are so ready to help, and I believe that, if the county councils would appeal to the committees of local nursing associations to come forward and co-operate, they would tap a reserve of interest and helpfulness and public spirit which could be put in motion to the very great advantage of the people in those areas.

Miss LEE:

I should not have ventured to intervene at this late hour had it not been for the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal earlier in the Debate. I con- sider that it was one of the most important and startling statements that could possibly be made in reference to Scottish housing, and I want to express my indebtedness to the right hon. Gentleman for stating in clear and unequivocal language exactly what the position is. I hope that his statement will be given the very widest publicity. Unless I misunderstood him, he informed the Committee that we could help housing by three and four-apartment houses in Scotland, to be let at a rental of 5s. per week; that county councils could build an unlimited supply of these houses so far as the regulations of the Act go; and that all this could be done for the badly housed people of Scotland without adding a single penny to the local rates. The Lord Privy Seal is now in his place, and I hope that at this point he will contradict me if I have in any way misinterpreted his remarks.

Photo of Mr Thomas Johnston Mr Thomas Johnston , Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire Western

I think that what the hon. Lady has said is perfectly correct. I would only like to say, with regard to her last sentence, that I said that the experience we have now had shows that, in the districts where this has been done, nothing has in fact been added net to the rates. I do not say that in certain isolated areas, where the cost of building may be higher, there might not be some charge, but there has been none in those cases where it has been done.

Miss LEE:

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell me where it has been done?

Miss LEE:

That is excellent for my purpose, because the particular area with which I am concerned is Lanarkshire. I was not only startled by the Lord Privy Seal's remarks, but shocked, because you can find in any part of Lanarkshire to-day houses utterly unfit for human beings to live in. Indeed, in answer to a recent Parliamentary Question, the Under-Secretary of State informed me that there are 1,250 houses in Lanarkshire which have been condemned by the sanitary authorities, but which, nevertheless, are inhabited by families. If we take the figures for the whole of Scotland, we find that there are no fewer than 37,846 houses unfit for habitation, and, so far as the Government at present know, taking the returns from 180 authorities, they have a promise that within the next three years the local authorities will build 24,321 houses to take the places of those which have been already condemned.

I want to suggest that the whole of the people of Scotland should be outraged that such a state of affairs should exist when we have the power in our hands to rid Scotland of these shameful slums. As the statement has not so far been made in this Debate, although I have made it myself, and others have made it, in former Debates, it is just as well that we should avoid any complacency by remembering that, while only 5 per cent. of the population af England are living in one and two-apartment houses, very recent figures show that 52 per cent. of the houses in Scotland are one-or two-apartment houses. It is not only, therefore, that the slums of Scotland themselves are a disgrace, but also that the relative position of housing in Scotland as compared with England ought to be a challenge to every Member of the House to work harder than he has even done before to put things right in Scotland.

But for the statement of the Lord Privy Seal, I should have been very reluctant to believe that any body of men in a responsible public position, such as the Conservative members of our county councils and other local government bodies, while understanding that they have it in their power to do this great service to their communities, would for any selfish, narrow interest refrain from using this power to the very maximum; but the facts which have been brought before this Committee force us to conclude that, simply because here and there you have a Conservative local councillor who is also an owner of property, or whose relatives, or whose wife's relatives, or someone, perhaps, who attends the same congregation as himself, may happen to own property, he has held his hand. I am still reluctant to believe that that can be so, but I am driven, by the facts which have been put before us, to come to that conclusion. I can assure the Government that in North Lanarkshire at least there will be no lack of the four citizens required in order that the maximum power may be used, and I hope that the same will be the case in every other part of Scotland.

I have in my mind very vivid pictures in innumerable small villages in my constituency, where hard-working people are living in single and two-apartment houses. They have been writing to me on scores of occasions asking when it is going to be possible for them to move into these new houses which have been promised by the present Government, and I confess that it is only now that I can go back to the county of Lanark and tell them that not only have these things been promised by the Labour Government, not only have the Government created machinery to make them possible, but that this actually can be done without adding a single penny to their local rates.

A further thing that I feel we simply must deal with in the very near future is the need for doing something not only about the height but about the variety of present rentals. We are talking of building new houses to let at £12 per annum, but in parts of the West of Scotland working class families are, at this point of time, struggling to remove into new houses and they are having to pay £28 a year for three-apartment houses and £35 for four-apartment houses. That is quite an intolerable situation. I do not see why there should be a special economic law applying to house rent which does not apply to a single other commodity. If anyone went into a shop to buy a suit of clothes and was shown two suits identical in style and in material but one priced at £10 and the other at £6, he would think the only thing to do with the salesman was to have him mentally certified if he said that one was built earlier than the other and the material was more expensive and he had to pay for that. It applies to furniture, hats or anything. The latest material and the latest prices must determine the prices of the other things.

It may be said that even the most expensive of these houses are State subsidised and, therefore, to some extent below market value, but I do not think that is an adequate reply, especially in these days when the Prime Minister himself has explained that, although working class wages have been reduced to a certain extent, the cost of living had been reduced considerably more and, therefore, no sacrifice was imposed. If the cost of living is coming down in everything else, it is more than overdue that it should be brought down in these new houses, and particularly in the steel houses, which are not as good as ordinary stone houses according to those who are living in them, but for which the inhabitants have to pay excessive rentals of £28, £24, and more than £30.

The Noble Lady expressed some concern regarding mortality figures among very young infants. In every disease we have seen a certain improvement. Even in these figures there has been a certain improvement, although nothing like what we should wish to see. I am very troubled by a statement which I find in the report of the Department, where we are told: Maternity homes are intended for normal confinements but, owing to the shortage of maternity hospital accommodation, they have been used to some extent for abnormal cases, for which, however, they are neither adequately equipped nor staffed. I feel bound to bring this point again before the Committee because I have had women constituents of my own complaining to me that there was even a scarcity of hospital places in the West of Scotland for abnormal cases where there were particular medical difficulties present. I hope the matter will have the immediate attention of the Scottish Department, because it is rather a disgrace to any Scottish Committee to allow such a state of things to go on.

I should like to thank the Secretary of State for the work he has done for some of the nurses. I brought to his notice cases where nurses in public institutions were being under-fed, and certainly overworked, and I think I express their feelings as well as my own when I thank him for the very careful attention he gave to the matter, which in one large institution was responsible for a very marked improvement. I beg that the good work he has begun should be continued. There is very great need of its continuance, because I am far from satisfied with the condition of things in our voluntary hospitals. In the first place, it is ridiculous that we should talk in terms of voluntary hospitals at all at this late time. We have our schools. The children go there as a matter of right. They feel that there is no moral shame of any kind in getting the cost of their education paid through the rates instead of directly by the parents. In the interest not only of the nurses, in order that they may get decent trade union conditions, but also in the interest of the patients I hope the Secretary of State will take very big steps in that direction. The Lord Privy Seal has brought before our notice that machinery has been created to remove the slums and it now remains for Members of the House, and for the interested public outside, to see that that machinery is used to the fullest possible extent.

Photo of Mr William Adamson Mr William Adamson , Fife Western

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.