Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £13,639,924, 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, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Health; including Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, certain Grants to Local Authorities, etc., Grants in Aid in respect of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under the National Health Insurance Acts, certain Expenses in connection with the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts, and other Services."—[Note: £6,000,000 has been voted on account.]
Before I speak on the work of the Ministry of Health I should explain the principal changes on last year's Estimates. Last year there was no increase in the administrative expenses of the Ministry. This year, the Committee will see there is an increase of £18,500. It is the result of the increased work, staff and expenditure rendered necessary in respect of two matters to which I shall have occasion to refer later on. The first is slum clearance and the second rural water supplies. The increase is of course the result of the balance between increases and diminutions in various items and I should like to refer here to a particularly good result as regards economy of administration, effected in the pensions work of the Ministry by those responsible under the Minister for that work. Between the years 1932 and 1934 there has been a constant increase in the work of the pensions administration. Nevertheless, in the course of that period of two years, owing to improvements in the methods of administration, gained by experience, there has been a reduction in the staff of that branch of the Ministry of no fewer than 134 persons—an excellent result as regards organisation, which deserves a word of tribute.
The Committee will see that there is an increase of £167,000 in respect of housing grants. That is the result of a balance between increases in the housing grants under the Acts of 1924 and 1930 and a reduction of £200,000 in the grants under the Act of 1919. It is an economy effected by a reduction in the interest rates, and it is an example of how widespread are the economies that result from the improved national standing and the improved confidence of the country as a whole. As against that, there was an increase in housing grants of £374,000, in respect of the general subsidies under the Acts of 1924 and 1930. Finally, in this connection, the Committee will see that on the other Vote for which I am responsible, the miscellaneous grants, there is an increase of £199,000. The increase there is a result of the Vote in respect of the £1,000,000 which has been granted by the House for the improvement of rural water supplies.
A student of national finance may well find interesting material for his studies in the Vote for the Ministry of Health, and I would like to make this comment upon it before I turn from the question of our Estimates as a whole. The Committee will see, if it looks, that between the years 1919 and 1934 our Vote has increased by the enormous figure of £58,000,000. Since 1919 it has increased from £13,000,000 to £71,000,000. The observation which I would make is by way of assisting towards an understanding of the nature of the increase and how it can be controlled. In the first place, nearly half that great increase of the Vote of the Ministry of Health has been caused by the De-rating Act, and so it has nothing whatever to do with social services; it simply represents a change of expenditure from the local to the central pockets of the State.
Then, again, I would just mention this as a matter of interest to students of national finance. Look at the character of the expenditure of the Ministry of Health when we are considering the control of national finance and economy and efficiency. Of this expenditure of £71,000,000, £40,000,000 is the block grant to the local authorities, £11,500,000 is the State expenditure on pensions, and £14,000,000 is the State expenditure on housing. These make up £65,500,000 out of our total of £71,000,000, but the point which is worth attention is that, as the Committee will see, the whole of that expenditure depends entirely upon policy laid down by the House of Commons and is not susceptible to increase or decrease by any administrative action. As I say, the Vote for the Ministry of Health is, I think, the most characteristic Vote to show how our national expenditure is determined by decisions of policy made by the House and how insusceptible it is, except over a very small margin, to administrative control once the House has decided the policy.
I will again take advantage of this opportunity to give some account to the Committee of the work of the Ministry during the year in relation to the national health, directed particularly to those anxieties which are naturally felt about the national health in difficult times. Last year I dealt with the aspect of this question which is summarised in the word "nutrition," a matter in which it is difficult to give positive proofs. This year I will deal with another aspect of national health in general, and that is the standard of national physique and health as it is shown by the incidence of disease in the country and the resistance of our population to disease. This is a matter on which it is possible to give very much more positive information, because it is reflected much more in actual figures, and I will confine myself principally to the most positive of all witnesses as to the state of national health in respect of disease, namely, the mortality figures, the death-rates from disease, which are very positive witnesses indeed to the state of the nation.
The most conclusive figure is the general death-rate, which is very sensitive to the effects of epidemics and diseases. It took a sharp and marked rise in the influenza year of 1929. The general death-rate of the nation shows an encouraging downward tendency, and that downward tendency is the best proof positive we could have of the general maintenance of national health and physique. Actually, in comparison with five years before, the standardised death-rate for 1932 stands 10 per cent. lower. I do not emphasise the actual figure, but I would only say that it shows a downward tendency, and that, let it be observed, is an improvement in the death-rate after taking account of the fact that our population, owing to the falling birth-rate, is annually getting older in its average age. The death-rate is a standardised death-rate which allows for any increase in the age of the population.
The next figure to which I will turn is a figure in which we see a more positive and encouraging result from the nation's great outlay of energy and money on its health services, and that is the infant death-rate. How can I put it so as to show the actual good results? I will do it in this way, that during the last 10 years, owing to the improvement in the infant death-rate, we have saved 40,000 more infants under one every year than we were saving at the beginning of the century, and the figures for the 10 years at the beginning of the century were a great improvement on those of any preceding such period. This indeed is an encouraging result to make us believe that we are obtaining good value from the health services of the country. It is due, as the technicians say, to improvement in environment. What is the environment of an infant under one? It is, I imagine, more than anything else its mother, and the improvement we see here is, I believe, due basically to the improvement in the education of the mothers of the country in the care of infants.
I should like to offer a word of tribute to the magnificent work which has been done by the 1,340 ante-natal clinics in the country and the 2,820 infant welfare centres. I sincerely wish that every Member of the Committee could have had my experience of visiting infant welfare clinics all over the country. There is nothing that gives one a firmer personal conviction of the value of health work than what one sees at these centres, and the encouragement that one derives from seeing the mothers imbued with a competitive spirit for the health of their infants in contact with careful, knowledgeable people who teach them, not the fancies, but the common sense of bringing up children well. All this enables one to see, indeed, that good work is being done for the future of the race by those who work at these centres. In connection with that, I would not pass over the thousands of health visitors and nurses who from the centres proceed outwards and carry the good work into the homes of the people themselves. There, indeed, we have an army for health from whose work we derive enormous advantage. What is the result? In the last 15 years we have cut down the death-rate of children under five years of age from the three diseases most fatal to children, namely, bronchitis, diarrhoea and measles, by more than one-half.
Let me give a little wider extension of the general survey of the country's resistence to disease. If we look not only to children but to adults, we shall see a good result from the faithful work of the medical profession and the hospitals and of the administrators in the public health services and in the whole field of local and central government. I will bring it to a head again in the death-rate figures, and let me put it in a way that will show the improvement in resistance to disease. Where one person died of whooping cough in 1932, nearly four died at the beginning of the century; where one died of diphtheria, four died at the beginning of the century; where one died in 1932 of scarlet fever, over seven were dying at the beginning of the century. The most remarkable scientific result of all, and attributable to the public health work, is shown by the fact that where one person died in 1932 of typhoid, the number who died at the beginning of the century was 22. I do not think these figures are known to the public, and it is well they should be known in order that the public should understand the value of our health services.
The brilliant successes that have been made in this field are shown whenever we come to outside carriers like water or milk, or some bug or insect, or food. That is where the brilliant successes have been achieved; the difficulties arise where infection is carried from person to person. It may not be generally known, but it is known to science, that there are constantly great waves of infection of these diseases passing through the public which never break. The microbes are there and they grow and decline, but the infection does not break in actual cases of disease. These waves are very difficult to check in order to stop a break of the disease. It follows from that that, since the difficulty of checking these diseases is greatest in cases where it is person-to-person infection, what we have to work on in order to prevent the diseases is to see that persons are not crowded too closely together. Overcrowding is the principal cause of the diseases which it is difficult to check. Therefore, if we put our finger on overcrowding as an evil that clamours for a national remedy, we do so not only in a social sense but in order to prevent disease.
I must give one more figure in this connection, because I am referring now to the field in which the health work of the country has won its most brilliant victories owing to the great national campaign which has been in progress for many years against what seemed to be the most intractable of diseases, tuberculosis. I will give some positive figures to show the progress that has been made. In the 10 years up to 1933, the death-rate from tuberculosis has been decreased by 22 per cent. Where 100 people 10 years before died from tuberculosis, 78 die now. I do not think any one will question that this is one of the most brilliant victories which has been achieved by medical science and the health services of the country. To what is it due? It is due, in the first place, to the identification of the causes of the disease, leading to the knowledge that isolation is the principal preventative of the disease. It is due to the general improvement of social conditions, and in particular to the vast improvement in the welfare of the child and in child care, to which I have referred in connection with clinics. We see again how intimate is the connection of health with the housing problem, because nothing is more certain than that, however far the success against tuberculosis is carried, we shall never get rid of it until we finally get rid of the slums, because the slums are the refuges of the disease.
There is one aspect of disease which may give a less favourable impression, and that is the statistics as regards lunacy and mental deficiency. They are deceptive. The apparent increase in lunacy is deceptive, because it is a disease of advanced years, and it is probable that the increased average age of the population accounts for the increase in lunacy rather than any actual increase in the disease. There has been an apparent enormous increase in mental deficiency, but this is really due to the fact that we are for the first time undertaking a great service for the segregation of mental deficients. Hence the apparent increase is due to better ascertainment rather than to an increase of the disease.
On the question of mental deficiency, there has been a most interesting report in the course of the year on the difficult problem of the sterilisation of the mentally unfit. About that I would say a word as an individual and from the ministerial point of view. As an individual, I would say that I am profoundly impressed by the strength of the reasons given by the committee in support of their recommendations as to sterilisation. I am equally impressed by the unanimity of their report. As far as my own individual conscience is concerned, I can see not the least difficulty in approving the recommendations of the committee. As regards ministerial responsibility, we must remember that this is a novel question and one which has not yet been thought out by the mind and heart of the nation. At the present time consideration is being given to the report by great organisations of national opinion, such as the churches. It is right that these organisations should have adequate time for thinking it out, because we are concerned here with a matter which affects the conscience as well as the mind. I think it would be wrong from a ministerial point of view to propose any national policy in the matter until there has been sufficient time for the national mind and conscience to be cleared, and for us to be quite sure that we are making no proposal that does not offend against the national conscience.
One other aspect of this general health question to which I would refer is the maternity death rate, which has given as much anxiety to my predecessors as it does to me. Here there is not so favourable an account to give. The maternity death rate has not decreased like other death rates during the last 20 years, and that is not satisfactory. We have obtained more knowledge of the question now, by intensive study, and we know that the reason it has not decreased is due to the fact of there being bad local patches from the point of view of maternity welfare work. I take this occasion to urge on the responsible authorities in those localities where the maternity death rate is above the normal the immense service that can be done to public health by following up and intensifying inquiries as to the cause of the local variation. In the mean while, are we to rest content that the death rate has not decreased? We should not.
But what is the remedy? To press ahead with the development of maternity services and to make sure, a thing of which we are not sure at the present time, that the standard of the maternity service is as good in every locality as it now is in the best. That is the policy we are pursuing at the Ministry of Health year by year and month by month. I can report progress in that respect. We have 147 more ante-natal clinics, and a growing number of births take place under the supervision of ante-natal clinics. There is also an increase in the number of maternity beds, and I would like to pay special tribute to the success of the London County Council in increasing their maternity services. But while we press ahead, and while we recognise the achievement in the best places, we shall not be content until we have encouraged, persuaded and stimulated all those that are not up to the best standard to develop their maternity services until they are equal to the best.
Finally, let me say this of the health services of the country. I have quoted many favourable results of our health services, and have dealt with some of the points which require intensive application. The work done has been very much assisted, improvement has been achieved, and our knowledge has been enormously increased, by the systematic review of the health services of the country by the Ministry of Health which has been in progress ever since the Act of 1929 made that review possible. The health services of the local authorities have been passed in review by the Ministry with a view to ensuring that their standards of efficiency are up to the mark. We have already dealt with the counties, the county boroughs and the metropolitan boroughs, and we are going on to deal with the smaller authorities.
Two things are particularly sought in these reviews besides a general increase in efficiency. First, we want to press forward with the movement inaugurated by the Act of 1929 for taking the treatment of disease out of the Poor Law and for making it no longer a part, as it were, of the relief of destitution, particularly by the transfer of institutions which deal with ill-health from the public assistance committees of local authorities to the public health committees. Good progress has been made in this respect, particularly in the larger areas, where it is naturally easier; and here, again, I must pay tribute to what has been done in London, where no fewer than 60 institutions have been taken out of the Poor Law. Where the difficulties are greater the progress has not been so good. It is the policy of the Ministry, pursued by active persuasion and stimulus, to press forward with the removal of health services from the Poor Law. Another great advantage is found in the specialising of institutions, so that instead of all sorts of cases—mental cases, health cases, old and young—being grouped in one institution, they are now treated in specialist institutions, which means an increase in efficiency and also an increase in the area covered by those institutions.
I have dealt so far with the general work of the Ministry from the point of view of public health, in order to give the House some idea of what is being achieved by the expenditure of energy and public and local funds on our great health services. Now let me pass to two subjects of particular importance at the present time as affecting the public health, and the first is the water supply of the country. The House knows the situation which has resulted from the prolonged drought. I would, at the outset, say a word of caution to the country as a whole against supposing that the recent rainfall has really very much affected the position. It has not. Though there has been some rainfall in the course of the last two days, I hope that will not be accepted as evidence of a belief that the way to induce rainfall is to table a Motion for the reduction of the salary of the Minister of Health, because that would be a most unscientific assumption. Our present difficulties are not due to the dry summer—though it is a dry summer, it is only a normally dry summer—but are due to the lack of water in the winter and in the spring; and not until next autumn brings its rainfall—as we hope will be the case—can we expect to be out of the difficulties.
Let me refer first to the urban water supplies. As a result of the not occasional but constant touch which has been maintained with the position, the urban supplies are fairly good, considering the difficulties. Those responsible for the urban supplies are confident that they will be able to deal with the difficulties of summer, with the goodwill and co-operation of all forces, including the public. The fact that the situation has somewhat improved during the last few weeks is due not so much to the rainfall, although that rainfall in the North has been not inconsiderable, as to these influences to which I refer. The present confidence of the urban water undertakers and the recent appreciable improvement in the situation are a result of prolonged hard work on the part of all those concerned—water undertakers, local authorities and the Ministry—in order to fortify the situation, and an invaluable aid has been the Act which the House passed earlier in the year.
Emergency measures have been in active progress wherever there was any need for them. They have taken the form of sinking new bores to get new supplies; cutting down compensation water in order to turn water into the reservoirs and not allow it to run to waste down the rivers; the use of special supplies, as in the case of Liverpool, which is taking sea water to wash the streets in order to relieve the consumable water; and arrangements between local authorities to share out their water, those which have water helping those which are not so well off. These are all measures which have been actively instituted in those urban centres where there was any need for them. To a large extent these special emergency arrangements have been made under voluntary agreements between the water undertakings and those concerned, for instance, those who were entitled to compensation water, or owned some new source of supply, but, of course, we recognise that these voluntary arrangements have been enormously helped because there was the emergency Act of Parliament behind. It was because the water undertaker could have resorted to an Order if he could not get a voluntary arrangement that, human nature being what it is, voluntary arrangements have turned out much easier to make.
There have been a number of cases of applications for actual Orders, but in view of the success attending the volun- tary arrangements, the number of applications has not been great. I have ten on record, including a very important one from the Metropolitan Water Board—under its special Act, and not the general Act—for taking more water from the Thames. Up to the present time I have had no need to make use of the initiative and powers of compulsion which the Act gives me. As the Committee is aware, I have power under the Act to take the initiative for making Orders so as to secure the water supply of the nation, but I am glad to say that, owing to the hearty co-operation of the water undertakers and the common sense and social sense of the community, there has been no need at present to resort to compulsory Orders. But I need not say that if it were necessary, in order to secure an essential water supply in any area, there would be no hesitation in making use of this power.
The second great influence which has enabled me to make this statement as to the urban supplies of the country has been the voluntary co-operation of the public in economising water. I think that the extent to which the public has realised that in its own self-defence it should economise water in order that it may avoid worse hardships if it were necessary to impose compulsory restrictions, has been very remarkable, and I would pay a tribute to the great service which the Press of the country has rendered in enforcing this necessity on the public. I sometimes wish that national necessities might at all times receive attention in certain quarters without exaggeration, because I do not believe in scare-mongering, and I wish that they were not treated as matters of party political controversy. But, be that as it may, undoubtedly admirable service is performed by the organs of publicity in calling the attention of the public to the great need for economy in water at the present time. It only needs to have its attention called to it for it to act with common sense in the matter. In London the public has voluntarily achieved a reduction of 10 per cent. in the consumption of water. That is a remarkable achievement, but it is not enough. The economy must be carried further in order to avoid compulsion, and I sincerely hope that a mere shower of rain will not lead to any relaxation.
There was a shower of rain, which produced a slight relaxation.
As regards the urban situation, the Ministry is in touch with every part of the country where there is any difficulty from day to day, and, as regards the cooperation which I have described, I should like to pay my tribute to the great services performed by the great water associations of the country—the Waterworks' Association, the Association of Water Engineers, and the Water Companies' Association, and particularly to the help of that standing conference which I have instituted so that I may have at once information where action is necessary, and also the most expert guidance as regards the measures which should be taken in an area.
Let me turn from the urban supplies to the rural supplies. There, of course, the situation is one of great difficulty. At the present time the situation is that there are difficulties in specific areas, but those difficulties are not yet widespread. What we have to consider particularly is, that unless there are quite unforeseeable rain-falls in the course of the next few weeks, those difficulties will increase in August and September. It is those months we have to look at, and the difficulty has this charactertistic, that of course it is greatest in the case of isolated houses and isolated groups of houses, which are furthest away from the possibiities of help. When you are dealing with a rural area, the problem is absolutely different, because there is no general nation-wide remedy which you can apply. You have to deal with the actual difficulties of each locality, and action differs in each case. The measures which can be taken are the sinking of new bore-holes, the deepening of boreholes, the deepening of wells and the getting of supplies from neighbours. There are many rural areas which long ago could have had supplies from neighbours if they could have got them at a reasonable rate, and those areas are now taking the matter up.
The next Measure which promises much more widespread relief is to make supplies which are at present imperfect, readily available by chlorination, a method of more general application, and the Ministry have put the necessary information at the disposition of the local authorities. I notice with great interest that one big firm, Imperial Chemical Industries, are also putting the most recent information as to methods and means of obtaining supplies of the necessary chemicals at the disposal of the local authorities—an example which, I have no doubt, will be followed by other firms. All such measures for increasing the knowledge and facility of remedies in the hands of the local authorities are of the greatest possible service.
Lastly, in the final resort, if the worst comes to the worst in rural areas, there is only one measure to take in order to relieve the necessity, and that is the cartage of water organised by the local authorities. In the rural districts with which I have been closely in touch on this matter since last February, let me make it perfectly clear that these measures are being actively taken, and the picture painted in some quarters of lethargic authorities doing nothing to relieve rural districts where there is a shortage of water, is absolutely false. On the contrary, rural authorities are showing, on the whole, great activity in relieving necessities where there is a shortage.
I may be asked: Is one satisfied with the situation? I am not satisfied, because I think that it is necessary to give more attention to the pinch which is coming in August and September, and to be more assured that the local authorities are alive to that, and taking measures accordingly. What is needed now is, that rural authorities, where there is the least danger of this pinch in the worst months, should at once put themselves in touch with the Ministry of Health and take advantage of the help of the Ministry and the county councils, which are showing the right spirit in being willing to help the rural authorities. Measures are in progress to secure that the rural district authorities supply information of the situation, in all cases of shortage either where there is need or where there is going to be need, so that they receive the necessary advice as to how to deal with the situation. Thus we can make sure that plans are prepared in due time, and measures are being taken to stimulate the county councils, where necessary, to assist the rural areas. Then these measures are followed up by the appointment of special officers of the Ministry to proceed to the areas where the situation is worst in order to assist the authorities to deal with it.
At the present time action of this kind is being taken in four such areas in Lincolnshire (Holland), Northamptonshire, Dorsetshire and Denbigh. We have thus an area organisation capable of being rapidly brought to bear upon any district in which there appears likely to be any lack of water during the coming summer-months. I will not detain the Committee on this occasion with an account of the work which is now being done as regards permanent water schemes for rural areas. I will only say that applications are coming in sufficiently rapidly, and cover a sufficiently wide ground to make it certain that we shall get a prompt and useful expenditure of the money in order permanently to relieve the situation in the rural districts concerned.
As regards this water crisis, I have described the measures which are in progress in order to relieve the present emergency, and I will say this final word on the subject. The position at present is like that of somebody whose house is on fire; the immediate necessity is to put the fire out. We are endeavouring to prevent, as far as we humanly can, suffering from the shortage of water, particularly in rural areas. When, however, the crisis is over, we shall not forget the experience of the great drought, but will profit by it in order to see what can wisely be done to insure against similar emergencies in the future.
Let me refer very briefly to the other great activity of the Ministry in the course of the year—the work of housing. The year has been one of tremendous activity in housing, in particular with the slum clearance campaign, where we have been actively engaged on the most critical phase of the work, which is the conversion of the programme of the White Paper into the actual work of slum clearance itself. As regards the intensive work on the part of local authorities and the housing staff of the Ministry, I should like to express a word of recognition. Let me give the Committee a concentrated report of the progress which has been made as a result of that work. I will give it in the following figures, which are really eloquent figures. In the course of 1933–34, during the slum clearance campaign, which has been pushed forward into its present activity, we have achieved the declaration of 2,250 slum areas—that is, quite apart from individual houses—covering 37,000 houses and 172,000 people. Let me note that that is during the initial stage of the campaign in which we are still pushing forward the rate of progress.
At the present time, the rate of acceleration, that is, the speeding up of the slum clearance campaign, is still going on as hard as it can. We have not by any means got to the fastest stage of the work, but we have multiplied the rate of progress in slum clearance in this initial stage of the campaign by five, so that we are now going five times faster than we have ever gone before, and that rate is increasing monthly. The Committee will be inclined to ask the Administration, "From the experience you have now got, what do you say about the possibility of carrying out the programme?" I will give the Committee the answer, on the figures now ascertained, that if this rate of acceleration is maintained we shall achieve the programme of the White Paper in the course of the five years. I realise that that is a very bold thing to say. The Committee may say that the present rate of demolition is not good enough to carry out the programme. That is true. We must speed it up more than we have speeded it up yet, in order to reach the result. I can say, with the knowledge that I have of the ways in which things are progressing with the local authorities and of the vigour which those authorities are putting into the matter, that unless there is any set-back we have achieved a rate of progress which encourages one to believe that five years will see the programme substantially carried out. I know that it will need intense work on the part of the local authorities and of the Ministry of Health, and firm support in all quarters, in order to keep up the pressure which will enable the Ministry to carry out the undertaking. It can be done. I do not doubt the power of the Ministry, nor do I doubt the firm resolution of the House of Commons and of the local authorities. I have confidence in the continuance of the support which we have had, and in what we shall achieve by it.
The Ministry have given careful attention to all means of facilitating the work and during the year I have reorganised the housing work of the Ministry in order to meet the immense burdens which are being thrown upon it. I have put together the town planning and the housing work into a single department, under an officer with the special status of director of housing. I find that the more the work proceeds the more necessary it is to bring it into close relation with town planning. The wider sweep we give to slum clearance and to the work which we have before us in regard to overcrowding, the more essential it is to take care to build the right house in the right place. The House will observe that there is a town-planning advisory council, in order to bring the help of well-informed, knowledgeable and expert persons to the aid of the Ministry on town-planning work. That has involved an increase in the staff of the Ministry to cope with the increase of work.
The year has also seen a tremendous boom in the building of small houses in London. The figures are fairly well known to the Committee, I believe. Forty thousand more houses were built in the half-year ended 31st March than in the preceding half-year, and 34,000 more houses were built by private enterprise; 77,000 houses were built in the half-year for the lower-paid wage earners. As a result of this astonishing boom, we are now building houses at the rate of 300,000 houses a year, and at the rate of 155,000 a year for the lower-paid wage earners. That is one of the most remarkable facts that has ever emerged on the housing scene. I do not want to mar the satisfaction of anyone who listens to me by reference to any of the more controversial aspects of the matter, because I am sure that we all join in satisfaction at the astonishing number of houses, but I would like to introduce one historical reference. That astonishing activity in the production of houses follows upon the Act of 1933, which altered the system from a general subsidy—which interposed the competition of subsidised building on the part of local authorities in the way of private enterprise—into a system of a controlled subsidy for slum clearance. Those of us who take that view must be allowed our firm conviction that this astonishing activity in housing is the result of that encouragement given to private enterprise.
Critics will say, whatever the number of houses that are being built, that rents are not yet lower. I know it can be said, not only by my critics upon the Benches opposite, but from the Benches behind me, and it is a principal source of dissatisfaction on the part of all housing reformers, that rents are not yet down. Bents show an excess in comparison with the other necessities of life, in relation to the standard of living. One has to find means of solving that problem. Let me remind the Committee that the tremendous production of houses is rapidly overtaking the shortage. It is perfectly well known by all students of any sort of market that, when there is a shortage and the market is overtaking it, the result is not seen in prices until the market has actually overtaken it. Not until the shortage is actually overtaken do you begin to reap the full benefit of the effort in the form of a reduction of prices. We therefore cannot expect to see the full effect upon rents until the shortage of houses has been fully overtaken. I shall be asked, "Do you mean that nothing is to be done and that we are to wait until we get the fruition of all this house building before action is taken on behalf of the lower-paid wage earners?" Wherever there is a need for public help in order to get houses at rents which the lower-paid wage earners can pay, we shall give it, because that will not compete with private enterprise. We must leave to private enterprise those fields where it can provide houses on an economic basis, but there are great exceptions and one of them is in regard to the slums. Without public help you cannot replace the slums or build houses at rents which can be paid by the overcrowded population in the centres of our great towns. There, again, is an admitted sphere for the provision of houses which cannot be built without some form of public help which does not compete with private enterprise. Private enterprise cannot touch rehousing in the centre of great towns.
To discuss housing policy without some reference to future legislation is like discussing the play of Hamlet with the Prince of Denmark left out. It is recognised in our policy that we proceed by two stages to supplement private enterprise where it cannot work, first of all as regards the great slums—the decreasing slums—and secondly as regards replacing the over-crowded population. It is a very complex administrative problem. If anybody asks, "Why are you not dealing with overcrowding as distinct from the slum population at the present time? the answer is purely administrative. The resources of the building strength and the housing organisation of the local authorities of the country must not be overloaded by placing upon them the rehousing of the overcrowded population and the clearance of slums at the same time because you will jam them, and they will not be able to work at all. You should go on with slum clearance, as we are doing to the end of the summer, and then you will be able to carry out the overcrowding part of the work.
I have only been able to give summary references to the housing problem of the country. The more one studies that problem the more one becomes persuaded that it cannot be effectively solved or dealt with without keeping in the forefront the forces of local government in the towns and the rural districts. We cannot deal effectively with local conditions without enlisting for the purpose those local forces. I notice two phases in public opinion as regards the achievement of the work of our social services. There is the phase in which the public desire that everything should be done by the central Minister without loss of time and by dictatorial powers, he ordering everybody to do exactly what he would have them do. The second phase is that which exhibits a certain jealousy towards any extension of the powers of the Minister in the direction of over-riding and proceeding in a dictatorial manner. The wisdom of the efficient conduct of our public business lies between the two. It is in a wise distribution of powers between the local authorities and the central government that we can use most effectively those two forces for the efficient discharge of the duties of our social services. I am confident that that is so in the matter of housing, and that the best way to make a fuller discharge, in regard to such a social service as housing, is to enlist to the full the intimate knowledge of local conditions, and the keen personal interest in them, of the men on the spot.
It will be appropriate that my closing observations should be not only a tribute to those who have done hard work in other spheres but a reiteration of the warm appreciation which any Minister of Health must feel towards those who give their voluntary services in the conduct of the local government of this country. I assure the Committee, if there are any hon. Members who are not directly conscious of this, that there is no other force of such great moment for the proper conduct of our social services as the voluntary forces which operate in our local government.
This day is always one of very great interest to me for sentimental as well as for national reasons. The right hon. Gentleman devoted the first part of his speech to something which interests all of us, a record of the general march of progress in public opinion and how that has been responsible for the lengthening of human life, the diminution of the death-rate, particularly of infant mortality, and the improvement in the resistance of our people to disease. That, of course, none of us will deny. Indeed, we are delighted to know that, after generations of effort, we have overcome some of the most dread diseases, and at the same time have improved, not merely the physique, but the morale of our people. I share the Minister's feeling of sorrow that we have not yet made any impression on the maternity death-rate. That is perhaps the most difficult, and in a sense the most fundamental, of all our national health problems, and if the right hon. Gentleman can produce any kind of scheme which will reduce that rate to the minimum that we must face, with the risks that there are in life, I can assure him that he will have no more warm supporters than hon. Members on this side of the House.
As regards the rest of his speech, I am bound to say that we are now going to part company, as I imagine Members of the Committee would expect. I think, if I may say so, that the right hon. Gentleman has been rather evasive, both about the question of water supply and about the progress of housing. It is not very long since he used words which I think are worth quoting again to-day. When he spoke only three weeks ago at Swindon on this problem of the water supplies of the country, he said that the first necessity was that measures should be taken in good time—that action must be efficient and must be taken promptly and well beforehand. That is an excellent text for a sermon on the Government's treatment of this problem. I am bound to remind the Committee again that the right hon. Gentleman this year, in face of an emergency, has had to revert to a policy of financial assistance which was in full operation when he took office, and which he did his best to destroy. There is not the slightest doubt that, in the two years from 1929 to 1931, the increased grants which were made available especially for rural water supplies did make a contribution to the question, and, had that contribution not been made then, I tremble to think what would have been happening in many rural areas at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman brought all this activity to an end. I need not go over the history of the matter; I do not want to repeat what I have said already in the House; but the right hon. Gentleman's initial policy was one of deliberately discouraging local authorities from making provision for their immediate and prospective water needs.
Last year, as a bolt from the blue, the right hon. Gentleman made a speech, during the Debate on the Address, in which he referred particularly to this question of rural water. He told us that the problem was becoming serious—he having as a matter of fact massacred the rest of the rural water schemes which we left behind in 1931—and that something would have to be done about it. Although no reference had been made to this question in the King's Speech, we were informed that the right hon. Gentleman meant to take early action. He took that early action towards the end of February this year. Six months before he came to the House in November of last year, he had felt it his duty to send round a Circular to rural authorities with regard to the provision of adequate water supplies. After six months he makes a speech; after three further months he comes to the House of Commons with his Rural Water Supplies Bill; and two months after that he comes to the House again with his Water Supply (Exceptional Shortage Orders) Bill. I said at that time that he had taken two bites at the cherry and yet had not eaten the whole cherry, and I will try to prove that.
I think it is perfectly clear, from the speeches he has made, that he has never appreciated the gravity of this problem. I remember, on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Rural Water Supplies Bill, the air of gay irresponsibility with which the Parliamentary Secretary replied to the Debate. He told us that all this was a figment of the imagination; he said that, as an old journalist, he was not going to begrudge newspaper men the advantage of making copy out of it; he said that it was a mare's nest, that there was nothing in it. Even a few weeks ago he was, I was going to say guilty, of saying that the Ministry of Health had two daily prayers: "Up with the houses" and "Down with the rain." I must say I thought that that was worthy of an ex-journalist. But I would remind the hon. Gentleman—for he and I come of the same kind of Nonconformist stock—that faith and works must go together. It is not much good praying for rain unless you are going to do something about it.
I have mentioned that in order to show that the Government have never taken a serious view of this situation. They have always tried to minimise it. They did so in February, they did so in April, and the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day will clearly make no impression on the public outside. He has been trying to prove to this Committee that, although things may be rather serious, they are not as grave as the newspapers would make out, and all will be well if we leave the solution of the problem to him. What is the position to-day? It is true that during the last two days the Clerk of the Weather has wept a few crocodile tears over London, but, as the right hon. Gentleman says, we must not regard this as having ended the difficulties of London. He has said that this is a dry summer, but not exceptionally dry, and he points out to-day the difficulties—the great difficulties, he says now—which we shall encounter because of the lack of rain during last winter and during the spring. It is very difficult for anybody to forecast the weather, but, if one looks at what available statistics of rainfall there are, it is quite clear that you do get periods of years when, on the average, the rainfall is in excess of the normal, and periods of years when the rainfall is below the normal. We have had a series of years in which the rainfall has been more than normal. It may be now—nobody knows, but it is the right hon. Gentleman's duty as a statesman to have regard to it—it may be now that we have entered on a period of dry years. Certainly during the last 15 or 18 months we have had a very exceptional situation, and, whatever the right hon. Gentleman day do now, the outlook is serious. I do not believe that he has issued a sufficiently strong note of warning to the people of this country in the speech that he has made this afternoon.
While there is a very grave shortage of water in many districts of this country—it is no use minimising that—there is a scandalous waste of water going on today. I was never more shocked in my life than when I saw in the newspapers the story of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the Thames that had been wasted to keep the Ascot racecourse right for the races this week. It may be that that will not in any way affect the necessities of East Anglia or other areas, but it is surely an indication that public and semi-public and sporting organisations have not realised the psychological importance to-day of recognising that there is a drought.
When I said that the right hon. Gentleman was evasive and vague, I meant it. What is the position? It does not matter whether it obtains in 20 parishes or in 200 parishes; the truth is to-day that we are in danger, as a nation, of suffering a very substantial economic loss this year because of the drought. It is undoubtedly true to-day that farmers are having to pay very extravagant prices for water cartage in order to keep their cattle alive and fit. It is undoubtedly true to-day that water is having to be bought, again at very extravagant prices, for the fruit-growing areas of this country. It is undoubtedly true to-day that in certain areas of this country human beings are being driven willy-nilly to sources of supply which may be contaminated and polluted. I say that that is a very serious situation, and nothing that the right hon. Gentleman can do now can ease that situation in any degree. The damage is done, as a consequence, as I believe, and as I think my speeches in the House on this question will show, of the short-sightedness of the Government and the tardiness of the action which they have taken.
The right hon. Gentleman has admitted to-day that the dry winter and the dry spring are the cause of the difficulty with which we are going to be faced towards the end of the summer this year. Even if the drought broke now, even if we had incessant rain for a month, or six weeks, or two months, there would still be a shortage of water in many areas in Great Britain at the end of the summer. Nothing can prevent that. To-day, part of the water supply of London is not what fell last year or the year before; it comes from what one might call the hidden reserves which fell years ago; and it is going to take a series of phenomenally wet seasons before the reserves which the nation has been using in the last 15 months are fully replaced. With a larger population, with a greatly increased consumption of water per head—and a desirable increase in water consumption per head—but with a non-expanding supply of water, the ease for the conservation of our water supplies becomes stronger year by year, and the present situation ought to be a warning to the nation to deal with this problem on a scale which does not yet appear to have appealed to the Minister of Health.
If farmers are ruined this year, as many may be, if in the textile districts, which require water for their industrial processes, unemployment is increased, if the country is swept by epidemics because of the use of contaminated water supplies, all that long trail of misery must lie at the door of the right hon. Gentleman. [An HON. MEMBER: "And his predecessors."] Hon. Members will perhaps recollect my words a little earlier on this question. My story on the occasions when I have spoken on this question has been perfectly consistent. I am dealing now with this emergency. I am saying what I have said in the House before, that the right hon. Gentleman ought to have known more than a year ago that there was an emergency and taken the action a year ago that he took in April, instead of merely sending a circular to local authorities. I am putting the responsibility on the Minister and the Government for not having taken effective action in what has proved to be, and what many of us thought it might become, a serious national emergency. After taking two bites at the cherry, he has taken a third small bite and has now established a standing conference to consider the question of water. If the experience of the past 15 months proves anything at all, quite apart from the need for dealing with the emergency which is on us now, and which will grow in seriousness, if there is one lesson that we should have learnt it is that of the need for a far more drastic national policy of conservation and distribution of our water supplies than we have had hitherto, and it is a little regrettable that the right hon. Gentleman should have spent the time of the House on two Measures neither of which can conceivably meet the situation which now confronts the country.
Then the right hon. Gentleman spoke of housing. He talked about the initial stage of the campaign. He talked about speeding up. He referred to the way he was multiplying the rate of growth. He spoke of the tremendous boom in the building of small houses in general, whatever that may mean. He spoke of the astonishing activities which have followed the passage of the 1933 Act. From my point of view, the facts of the situation do not in the least bear out the right hon. Gentleman's enthusiastic account of his own period of inactivity. If one looks at the figures, the truth is that, from the point of view of the objective which the right hon. Gentleman himself put before the House in the King's Speech Debate, the provision of houses to let at reasonable rents, the Housing Act of 1933 is a complete fiasco.
As regards the progress that has been made under the 1930 Act, I am bound again to remind the Committee that that was my Act and that he wasted the best part of two years before he implemented the programme that was in being when we left office in 1931. The right hon. Gentleman took office in the early autumn of that year. During the previous two years, when I sat on that side of the House, building activities grew monthly. The number of houses actually being built as officially recorded, grew month by month. They reached their maximum at the end of October, 1931—houses actually under construction. They were not in any way the responsibility of this Government. They were houses all of which I myself had approved in the previous months before the downfall of the Labour Government. I dare say that many of the houses under construction month by month after that were houses that I had approved before I left office. At the end of October, 1931, there were under construction in local authorities' schemes between 44,000 and 45,000 houses. That was the peak figure. From then onwards the number of houses under construction by local authorities at the end of each month, when the Ministry takes stock of houses actually being built, apart from minor fluctuations, has fallen. Instead of there being nearly 45,000 houses under construction, at the end of April this year there were, under local authorities' schemes of all kinds, 19,000 houses. Astonishing activity following the 1933 Act! Tremendous boom in the building of small houses!
We will pursue the figures a little farther. I do not want to run away from the consequences of these statistics. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Why should I? I see no reason why I should run away from the fact that the housing activities of local authorities is far less than half what it was when the Labour Government left office. I am not wanting to run away from that fact at all. I want to go on to the other side of the question. The 1933 Housing Act was passed for one purpose only, in order to allow private builders to continue the profitable enterprise of building houses for sale rather than contracting with local authorities and building houses to let. That is what the right hon. Gentleman had in mind. In that object he has succeeded, and I pay him that tribute, that he has in that sense carried out the purpose of the Act. It was to be an Act, as he told the House, which would result in harnessing the building societies to the building industry not to build houses for sale, but to build houses to let. From that point of view, the Bill has been a complete failure.
I was not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman steered clear of referring to the actual results of the 1933 Act. But the situation is, according to his own information given in answer to questions, that under the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1933, which was to set in motion a great campaign to produce houses to let at reasonable rents aided by guarantees from the building societies at the end of March this year, guarantees have been given in respect of 1,631 houses. What a campaign! But let the whole truth be known. In addition, guarantees in respect of 8,400 houses had either been promised or were the subject of active negotiation. The subject of active negotiations is a very good phrase which may cover a multiplicity of omissions and meanings.
The right hon. Gentleman might have told the Committee. He has not chosen to do so, from which I gather that the number is not such as he would care to confess. The truth is that the 1933 Act has not worked in the way it was supposed to work when the right hon. Gentleman brought his scheme before the House. The Bill was going to deal with the problem of houses to let. He said on more than one occasion that there was no difference of opinion among us as to the problem. It was that of providing houses to let at reasonable rents. The 1933 Act is producing no crop of houses built to let. I will go forward to this astonishing activity resulting from the 1933 Act due, as I said, to what was the real motive behind the Act, to get rid of every subsidy, to throw back the solution of the housing problem, apart from slum clearance, which is too complicated for private enterprise and not sufficiently profitable, on to speculative builders.
Let it be said that there has been a boom in the building of houses. Let it be said that private enterprise last year built more houses than it did the year before. The increase in the number of houses does not compensate for the number of local authorities' houses which would have been built but which have not been built. [Interruption.] The hon. Member must not challenge my figures, because I will quote them all if he likes. I am prepared to admit that, if the figures for the whole year up to the end of September are double the figure of houses built by private enterprise in the six months up to the end of March, it will be greater than it was in the previous 12 months.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about rapidly overtaking the shortage. For whom have those houses been built? How many of them have been built to let, and how many have been built to let at rents within the capacity of working-class families to pay? If builders were prepared to build houses to let, they could have done it with building society guarantees under the 1933 Act, but they have not done so. Those houses have been built for sale, to meet the still unsatisfied demand of the lower-middle classes, the superior artisans, and the people who do not want houses of their own but are driven by necessity to buy houses which they do not want. This great building boom, this astonishing activity, and this rapid overtaking of the shortage has done nothing whatever to deal with the problem of working-class houses in this country. Indeed, the damping down of working-class house building by local authorities is intensifying the problem and providing no solution whatever. Now the right hon. Gentleman refers to slum clearance. I wish he would remember that that is really my baby and not his. It is true that he is its foster parent now, but, after all, I have a certain responsibility, and, although I had an ejectment order against me and he took over the rest of the family, the baby still stands in the birth certificate in my name.
My reply to that is that it is suffering from malnutrition now. We had better proceed with this simile. The right hon. Gentleman denied the baby nourishment when he took it over. In fact, he treated it very cruelly. I am not sure that a case might not have been brought against him in the Courts. He certainly neglected the child, and, indeed, he deliberately bullied and discouraged the nurse. He said to local authorities, "What! In this hour of our national trial, build houses? It is ridiculous. You must cut down the infant's milk." And my poor baby suffered in consequence, and its elder brothers and sisters outside the slum clearance scheme suffered in consequence, and some of the nurses up and down the country became broken hearted. There are members of Conservative local autho- rities present in the Committee to-day, and they know that what I say is true, namely, that from the first day the National Government took office they deliberately discouraged local authorities from going on with any housing schemes at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] It is true, and members of the Committee know that it is true. I have referred to this matter before in the House. It is an undeniable statement of fact. The right hon. Gentleman having massacred the 1924 Act, turns round and talks about this neglected baby of mine. The poor thing had got rickets by that time. It was suffering very seriously from malnutrition. I do not know what kind of patent food he is giving it at the moment; it is looking a little Healthier than it did, but it is not the healthy infant that it ought to have been. Why? Because it has been neglected for 18 months or two years by the right hon. Gentleman.
If these results are due to anything, they are due to the direct depressing influences of the right hon. Gentleman, and the programme which we should have carried out has not up to this date been fulfilled because of the enormous waste of time due to the false economy policy of the Government. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go back on his tracks a little farther. I, like him, cannot refer to legislation, but he has threatened us this afternoon—I use the word "threaten" advisably because all his Bills are Measures which one does not receive with enormous enthusiasm—to deal with the problem of overcrowding. He is going back on his tracks. The problem of overcrowding is essentially one of a shortage of houses. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman thought fit to destroy the subsidy under the 1924 Act and to deter and discourage local authorities for so long, and now finds that he may have to retrace his steps by some future Bill which has been adumbrated in very vague terms in the press and by the Prime Minister. While on all sides of the Committee we always welcome the statement of the Minister of Health where he reviews and takes stock of our position from the point of view of national health and well-being, if he wishes really to go down to history as one who has added to the well-being and improvement of the health of the people, he must do more than he has done about water, and he must certainly do much more than he has done already for the housing of the working-people.
I should like to join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in congratulating the Minister of Health upon several things he has done. He has to exercise very wide functions and has a great many tasks to carry out, and it is unfortunately true that he inherited a certain Act from the previous Minister of Health upon which I propose to make a few comments. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield claim paternity for the iniquitous Housing Act of 1930. I have taken a particular interest in slum clearance as I happen to be a journalist connected with the building trade and have received protests from many parts of the country about the way the Act is being worked. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman passing a Measure such as that with the sanction of the party who supported him. It is purely a Socialist Act. It provides for the confiscation of private property. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Liberal party supported it."] I cannot help that; I was not here. I oppose it to-day and have a number of reasons for so doing. [An HON. MEMBER: "What kind of property is to be confiscated?"] I have in my hand a copy of the Act of 1930, which permits a local authority to select a certain area for clearance. It is true that the Act says that in certain cases:
The authority shall cause that area to be defined … in such manner as to exclude from the area any building which is not unfit for human habitation or dangerous or injurious to health.
I put it to the Committee that there is no area in this country of any size that would conform to that provision. Good houses and bad houses are inextricably mixed up, and housing associations and corporations in all parts of the country are complaining because under the Act the local authorities have the power to destroy the good houses as well as the bad without compensation of any kind. I have a number of documents upon which I raised a question in the House yesterday concerning an elderly woman whose husband, a business man, recently died. He had invested his life savings in a number of small cottages. The cottages,
I believe, were good cottages, but the area in which they were situated was scheduled for clearance. The lady received notice calling upon her to have the cottages demolished within six weeks. There was not a penny compensation for the property nor for the site value.
I communicated with the town clerk of the authority of the town where those houses were demolished, and asked him whether the local authority intended to purchase the site. He said very definitely, "No, not at present," and he told me also that the present owner cannot secure permission to build upon the site without the consent of the local authority. While under the Act one can make an appeal to the Minister of Health, as far as I can ascertain there has not been a single appeal in any part of the country which has been successful. One must remember that it is necessary to be represented either by counsel or a skilled surveyor when an appeal is made. The lady of whom I am speaking had six houses in two different parts of the town. Four of them were swept away, and I have a bill in my hand for £37, which was the cost of demolition, while she had previously spent £42 10s. in engaging legal advice and the assistance of surveyors to try and prevent the demolition from taking place. She has had to pay the cost of demolition, and now she is not allowed to sell the site to anyone who could use it, and consequently the site is valueless.
That is the whole point. The houses were not insanitary, but they were inside the clearance area. The Minister of Health has the power to make certain concessions if he wishes to do so in a case like that, but I cannot trace a case in regard to which an appeal has been made to the Minister of Health where such concessions have been granted, nor can I trace a single case in any part of the country where good property in this process of selected destruction has been separated from the insanitary and slum property and has been allowed to stand. It is impossible to schedule an area for general slum clearance and leave decent property standing while the rest of the property is demolished. The Parliamentary Secretary asked me the value of those houses. I have not the value but I could get it, though I do not see how it can affect the principle of the case at all. They were houses which were bought by a small tradesman in order that his wife might have a small income from rents in the event of his death. He died about two years ago. The rents were collected until last year when the particular clearance scheme became operative.
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should claim paternity of a Measure which, by this time, has grown into a veritable burglar Measure, which not only seizes the property, ejects the tenants, and orders its demolition, but refuses to make any compensation for the site value or to allow the site to be sold or used or taken over by a town council on payment of compensation, and which, in addition, has compelled this lady to pay the expenses incurred in the process, without securing one penny of compensation. I cannot congratulate the right hon. Member for Wakefield on his boast of the paternity of an Act which flagrantly robs the poorer people who dwell in these houses and the people who purchase them, as well as the richer people against whom his party have declared war many years ago.
It is interesting to note how the Act of 1930 relates to a shop in a district such as I have indicated. The word "shop" is not mentioned, but it is conceivable that a new shop may have been built in 1929 and, according to the strict text of the Act, it could be separated from the rest of the buildings scheduled for clearance, and could be allowed to stand after the poorer houses in front, behind and on each side of it were demolished; but, if that were done, there would be no opportunity for town-planning. You cannot have a clearance scheme which allows some houses to stand within a scheme, while the other houses are demolished. It is possible that in 1929, the year before the passing of the Act, a shop may have been built in that area. A man may have put the whole of his savings into the shop as an investment. In the following year, or a year later, he may have received a notice to get out of the shop, to pull it down, to pay the cost of the demolition and any expense that he cares to incur in trying to avoid the loss of property upon which he has depended for his living.
Several instances have come to my notice of people who have bought houses through building societies in areas of that kind. I am willing to concede the point that the houses bought may have been slum houses and had to be demolished under a clearance scheme. That was not really so, but I am willing to suppose that that was the case. If that were the ease, a man might have taken out a 14 years' mortgage with a building society in 1929, in 1931 he may be ordered to get out, to pull down the house on which possibly he has only paid three or four years subscriptions. That means that for the next 10 years he has to go on paying, in effect, a double rent. He has to pay his contributions to the building society and also the rent of the new house into which he has gone to live because his own house has been demolished. These things are happening in all parts of the country under the slum clearance schemes of the 1930 Act.
I have received a protest from property owners, who are not necessarily Liberals and Conservatives. Socialists own property, I know of several Socialists, members of the Labour party, who are great land owners. I remember one particularly in the north of England who owns a very large area of land, and I remember distinctly some years ago standing on a platform with him and singing "God gave the land to the people." I suppose he would say: "All except my bit." I have received a protest from the National Federation of Property Owners and Ratepayers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I can fully understand the position of hon. Members above the Gangway. They do not believe in the private ownership of property, but I cannot see why the National Government, which is not a Socialist movement, should compound the present felony by refusing to alter the terms of an Act which takes private property without compensation, regardless of whether the owner is a rich person or a poor person, a millionaire or a member of the working class.
Hon. Members above the Gangway, apparently, do not wish me to read the resolution of protest, and I am not anxious to do so. I have no doubt that they will have received a similar protest. It sets forth that while property owners have every sympathy with the idea of good housing for all, and are willing to co-operate in the achievement of that ideal, they cannot be expected to agree to methods of wholesale clearance which involve the destruction of property in a good state of repair, simply because it happens to be included with bad property in a clearance area. Protests of that kind are drawn up by experts. I do not think that anyone can doubt that a good deal of the operations of slum clearance under the 1930 Act do sweep away good property in common with bad property. Such action takes away security in property and leaves the person affected impoverished and sometimes penniless.
The Minister of Health ought to take these matters into consideration. I have pointed out one definite case. I could produce hundreds of cases if necessary where poor people whose money is invested in property—it is invested in good property in as many cases as in bad property—have been ordered to get out and to pull their houses down. We have been discussing recently a Measure which, in certain circumstances, will give the police the right of entry and search. Hon. Members above the Gangway have been very indignant at the thought of the police having the right to enter and search both property and person. That is not nearly so bad as the demand that you should pull down the house in which you may be living, or the house in which your tenant is living, upon which your living depends, to clear the site to incur heavy legal costs and, then, although the land is supposed to belong to you it is useless because you are not allowed to use it or to sell it to anyone else who might use it. In many cases the local authorities refuse to take the land because they say that we have no plans for it and do not know what use the piece of land will be. I do hope that the constitutional party opposite will, at least, take some steps to remove this grievance. People who own property in all parts of the country have sent their protests. Some organisations have had a personal interview with the Minister of Health. I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman, or the party to which he belongs, or the National Government should continue to implement the Act of 1930. which stands for the Socialist policy of confiscation without compensation.
I should like to make a few general comments on the housing question. The Minister of Health has done exceedingly well in building the number of houses that have been built. It is not easy to get the local authorities to come into line. There are many reasons why they cannot easily do so, but I believe that with a little encouragement the private builder could supply all the houses that we need to-day, at rents which the poorer people could manage to pay. In pre-war days municipal and national housing schemes were practically unknown. Only on special occasions did the local authorities step in and assist in building. The private builder was able in those days to provde the houses because there was cheap material, a low bank rate, and land was available. He built the houses perhaps not in the most satisfactory manner but in a manner that allowed the working classes to have a house for each family.
I heard a Noble Lord yesterday, in speaking on another question, saying that he thanked the Government because the President of the Board of Trade had promised to deal generously with landowners whose land was tapped for the purpose of the discovery of oil. He said that the interference with land was detrimental to the building of houses in pre-War years, and pointed out that the passing of certain land legislation including the Land Valuation Act had closed speculation in the building trade. That belief is held especially in the Conservative party and has been held for a great many years. I do not believe that there is any vestige of truth in the assertion. There are competent gentlemen here who are interested in building of various kinds, and I think they will agree with me that the building trade is prosperous in inverse ratio to most other industries. When the great industrial concerns are slack and have plenty of money in the bank, uninvested, the bank rate falls and the builder seizes the opportunity to build while the bank rate is low. As soon as industrial conditions improve and there is an advance in the bank rate the building trade always falls slack. The slackness that fell upon the building trade during the time the pre-War valuation was taking place was due almost entirely to the sudden boom in oil and rubber which created a great demand for money and ran the bank rate up to two-thirds higher than it had been previously. That made conditions difficult for speculative building.
In these days there are three things that we ought to do to make it possible to build houses. One is to deal with the land question. Hon. Members opposite who think that the land valuation proposals had a good deal to do with stopping the building boom, have possibly never considered what little effect that could have had. What happened under the land legislation. There was a tax of ½d, in the £ on undeveloped land of less than £50 an acre in value. That did not stop building. There was an increment tax which allowed the person to get 10 per cent. and then the State levied 10 per cent. on the remainder of the increment. There was nothing in that to prevent building. There was a reversion duty, under which the State took 20 per cent. of the increment when the lease fell in. There was nothing in that to prevent a man from speculating in building. The mineral rights duty had nothing to do with building. What are the three things that ought to be done? One is to deal drastically with the land question and to prevent people who own land from holding it up in order to obtain future high values. In the present Budget the Land Values Duty has been repealed. That, I suppose, has put a nail in the coffin of land taxation for some years to come. It is hopeless to assume that either a local authority or a private builder can build successfully in order to enable the people to be housed cheaply while land is continually increasing in price. For that the Minister of Health is not responsible. During the past two years, however, the Government have imposed certain tariffs which have sent up the cost of building materials.
I know how difficult the right hon. Gentleman's task is, and I can only hope that in the interests of housing, some of his colleagues may be induced either to reduce or to remove these taxes. Practically everything that the private builder uses has advanced in price very materially during the last two years. The price of fittings has gone up. There is a proposal of a combination of cement merchants to advance the price of cement by 4s. to 7s. a ton during the next few weeks.
Private monopoly. Timber has also advanced considerably in price. If the Government want to do something for housing they should enable people who require timber to get it from Russia, where the best soft timber in the world is produced. When these things have been done the next and most important step is to take rates off property—
I am sorry, I wish I were a little more skilful in Debate. I have had a good many years experience of the building industry on the technical and practical side and I think it is the task of the private builder more than a public authority to provide the houses we want. He can do it if he had the little assistance to which I am out of order in referring. If we are expected to make some contribution towards a solution of this problem I think we should be allowed to explain to the Government exactly what we think ought to be done to provide houses. Let me make a suggestion. Yesterday morning hon. Members were invited by the Postmaster-General to see a film exhibited by the Post Office. We learned a great deal more about the details of the Department than ever before. We came away a good deal enlightened as to what the Post Office really does. If the Minister of Health would have a film of his Department made and let the public know exactly what he is doing he would meet with execration rather than congratulation. If only the public saw how officials serve notices on tenants, how tenants and their families are ejected into the streets, lock, stock and barrel—
I only wish I had time to deal with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Young). He is absolutely wrong in all his facts, but I do not suppose that I should make much impression upon him even if I occupied the attention of the Committee for a couple of hours. I rose principally to deal with the problem of money. I think that the Minister of Health was optimistic when he said that we were going to solve the problem in five years. I understand that London is not included in the time schedule.
In regard to what the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has said, I happened to be the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council in 1930 and my capital commitment for the year was £5,000,000. It was the Government itself which starved the Housing Act of 1930 when it disturbed the finances of the country to such an extent that it became impossible for local authorities to go into the market and carry on work of capital expenditure. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know why we have been able to put a little blood into the bloodless infant he left us it is because we have been able to get cheap money. We have been able for the first time to raise money at 3 and 3½ per cent., and that has had far more effect on rent conditions and the ultimate financial result than anything that could happen in the way of building costs or the cost of land.
The Socialist party never regard the production of houses as a solution of the housing problem. With them, it is always a question not of who builds the house but who owns it. That is the only point which affects them. You can talk about providing 40,000 houses by private enterprise and you are at once met with the remark that they are built to sell. If they will only look at the newspapers they will see hundreds of houses built for a small deposit, where the total out goings including rates and taxes are anything between 16s. and 17s. per week. It may be said that this does not help the lower-paid artisan. I agree, but if these houses were not provided there would be still greater pressure on the accommodation available inside London and our big provincial cities. Therefore, I suggest that the production of houses by whatever source or agency is a great contribution to the housing problem. There is another point I want to put with regard to the 1933 Act. I never expected that that Act would build thousands of houses in the London area for the simple reason that there are no sites available within the county boroughs which would enable any company or any private enterprise to get hold of a large area of land.
The difficulty in regard to building societies and houses to be let at 10s. per week is this. In the first place, local authorities are able to borrow money at 3 or 3½ per cent., and their capital redemption is over a period of 60 years on buildings and probably 80 years on the land, whereas the private builder is called upon to pay not less than 4 or 4½ percent., with a capital redemption starting the first week after he has built his houses, and goes on for a period of 30 to 35 years. No builder could make ends meet to pay that rate of interest, and let houses at 10s. per week. Where the scheme of the building societies went wrong, instead of attempting to build houses to let for one particular class of people at a fixed rent we should have begun the problem as a much larger one, to include tenants up to 15s. or to 16s. per week, that local authorities to-day and in the future will not be levied for a certain class of persons at a rent of 10s. per week, inclusive. Many of the houses let by the London County Council range from 10s. up to 17s. and 19s. per week, inclusive. If we had got hold of the problem on a larger scale we should have built on a large tract of property, covered people from 10s. to 15s. per week, inclusive, and thus have got the right type of people to come forward, with a good percentage of all classes of the working classes.
I do not believe that it is a good thing to segregate one class of tenant together. The best thing socially and for the com- munity is to have a mixed development, all types living together in their right environment. In that way you would make ends meet and have a reasonable proposition for re-housing. I think the Minister took the right action when he did away with the 1924 subsidy. The London County Council have built some-think like 60,000 houses and spent something like £60,000,000 of capital. Out of the whole of that money only £6,000,000 has been spent on actual slum clearance. Had we gone on without the Minister of Health laying it down that we should not receive a subsidy unless we destroyed we may have gone on and spent another £40,000,000 of money, and these weeping slums would still have been there and would still have been occupied. I suggest that to link up destruction with the subsidy was the right method to destroy and get rid of slums. We have of course a much bigger problem in London than elsewhere. We cannot re-develop London by way of getting hold of estates. It has to be redeveloped with tenement buildings, with probably six, seven and more storeys. In regard to what the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East has said, I happen to have some figures here, and from the time the Housing Committee of the London County Council says "go," until we have got the tenant back into a building on a site which has been cleared, a period of two years elapse. The hon. Member said we should not do it, that we should give compensation, that we should see that all these people are paid for their product. That was not altogether the fault of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Wakefield. I do not want to blame him for something for which he is not responsible. This has been there since the Chamberlain Act was passed, one of the earliest Acts passed after the War.
To the 1923 Act. The case which the hon. Member quoted was not, I imagine, a slum clearance case at all; it sounded to me more like an improvement scheme, where a local authority can come in and make better conditions, clear the place out and let in air, but leaving the land in the occupation of the owner. I can see how the hon. Member's client was unable to sell or redevelop the land. We all know the difficulties of that Act. I have studied it, and, while I do not know how it is operating in other parts of the country, in London we are careful to see that everybody gets a square deal. The standard of measurement is that if property is unfit for human habitation, is injurious to the health of the people, if nothing can be done with it save clearing it away, then we say it is a slum and should be cleared away, and no compensation should be given for such property.
If that is in a clearance area my experience is that the authority would shade that house grey or blue, and there would be compensation. It is true that the person who has spent most money on his property gets no more compensation than the person who has neglected his property. I am not prepared to say that there is not some consideration that should be given in that case. As a hidebound Tory myself I stick up for the rights of property. I happen to be a property owner, and when property comes under condemnation because it is said to be injurious to the health of tenants and unfit for habitation, I am no party to standing up for that type of property. I am sorry that my Liberal land-taxing friend below the Gangway has the idea that we have got to do something for Liberals that we would not do for good old Tories. Liberals want the best of both worlds and they cannot get it. When my hon. Friend refers to beneficial Acts, to the taxation of land, which will help the house-builder, I reply that it destroys just that little bit of confidence that the man who is carrying borrowed money wants to enable him to get on with his job. A Bank rate up or down had little or nothing to do with whether the speculative builder would put up property. What did matter was that the solicitor of the investor whom he had to see in the City or in the West End was prepared to put in permanent mortgages.
In my early days these mortgages we could get freely at 4 per cent., but directly the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) started mucking about with the land the rate of interest went up 1 per cent. and the amount of the mortgage was cut down by about 20 per cent. In the old days we land-grabbers, who bought land as a raw material to enable us to create ground rents, sold it, not to the Duke or the dustman, but largely to the friendly societies. I want my hon. Friend to work it out. How much did we take in the rent of the working man who occupied a house on which we had created a £5 5s. ground rent for 99 years, when the price was originally 26½ years' purchase but had gone down to 22 years because it was threatened with land taxation? How were we able to pass on the loss to the tenant? Those were working-class properties. What happens is this: Directly you start to threaten that kind of investment the people who have to put in their money and want to see that they have ample security make sure that they have a reserve; and the result is that, instead of getting 25 or 26 years' purchase, which was the market value in the old days, there is an immediate drop to 22 years, so that they can have a little bit in the till when the hon. Member comes to collect the land tax.
The right hon. Member for Wakefield said that the Minister of Health would take all the credit for what the right hon. Member for Wakefield had left on the stocks when he left office. I want the right hon. Member to come across the river and to tell his friend Mr. Lewis Silkin kindly to remember not only the author, the father, but, I was going to say, the one who germinated practically the whole of the great scheme that I left behind at County Hall about three months ago. I take it that that gentleman and his party will claim the credit for it, whereas in fact I laid the egg and they are simply sitting on it.
I wish to congratulate the right hon. Member the Minister of Health on his speech to-day. I listened intently to him and I thought he was painting a very good picture. He reminded me of the days when I was a boy. I used to go to a place where there was a man outside a circus. He told us all to come in and said that inside everything was beautiful. Outside on the canvas was painted the clock-eyed lady and other people, but when we got in- side it was not as nice as outside. That is how I felt to-day when the Minister was talking. I am not going to talk about housing. I want to talk about three things. The first is tuberculosis. The Minister told us about the lower percentage of deaths from tuberculosis. He said that the deaths had been reduced by 22 per cent. When we talk in percentages it does not seem possible to see the human side of things. I want to put the matter another way to-day, by saying that every day in England, leaving out Scotland and Wales, 95 people die of tuberculosis. Of those 95, 54 per cent. die under the age of 35 and 34 die at ages between 15 and 25. It means that this terrible scourge is sucking away the real life of the nation. The total of deaths in 1932 was 32,000.
What is largely the cause of tuberculosis? I am not an expert on housing like the hon. Member for Middlesbrough East (Mr. Young), who gave us a lecture on the economic side of housing. What is the cause? Dr. Bradbury has been making a close investigation in Jarrow and Blaydon for over two years and has published the result of his investigation. He puts the cause of tuberculosis under three headings. First there is the bad sanitary condition of houses. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough East said, "You must compensate people for houses." While he was speaking I remembered that if a butcher by accident buys a beast that is full of tuberculosis and he exposes it for sale, he is haled before the magistrate and either heavily fined or sent to prison for selling diseased meat. The person who exposes an insanitary house for occupation and asks rent for it ought to be dealt with as drastically as, if not more drastically than, the man who exposes bad meat. Instead of that we have hon. Members in this House who say, "Oh, if by accident a man has bought an insanitary house, to prevent him from going to the workhouse you ought to give him some compensation." They do not say that about the butcher; they send the butcher to gaol. I should send the man who exposes insanitary houses for occupation to gaol also.
The next cause of tuberculosis, Dr. Bradbury reported, was overcrowding. Here I will say what has possibly never been mentioned in this House by referring to forcible overcrowding. What do I mean by that? I mean that there are lots of people, thousands upon thousands of them, who are living two families in a house because one family cannot pay the rent. The Ministry of Health have sent down an auditor into the Division and the little town in which I live. There the auditor looks at the books and says, "What is the matter with these arrears of rent here? What are you doing with arrears like this?" He turns to the clerk and says, "You must get down these arrears. If you do not you will have to clear the people out." We, as a Housing Committee, then call these people before us. We say to one, "Now then Jack, you owe £20 rent and the auditor says you have either to pay it or clear out." He replies, "Where am I to go?" and we say, "We do not know." At the next Housing Committee meeting we have an application from Jack, who asks, "Can Sam Brown come and live with me? If he can I will try to clear off a bit of my arrears of rent, and between us we shall be able to pay the rent of the house." That is forcible overcrowding, and thousands upon thousands of people are overcrowded in that way in this country. Such overcrowding helps to bring on tuberculosis. Dr. Bradbury made a special point of that as a cause.
I am pleased that a representative of the medical profession is present. Medical men in the past have been very much like lawyers. They have fallen out with each other and have not been able to define one legal Clause. If the Minister of Health has not read Dr. Bradbury's document I invite him to read it. Dr. Bradbury states definitely, after a thorough investigation—not after a flying visit in an aeroplane but after two years of inquiry—that the chief cause of tuberculosis in this country is poverty. There are then three causes—bad housing; forcible overcrowding, sometimes by the Ministry; and poverty. He states that of the three the greatest is poverty.
As the chairman of the Tuberculosis Sub-Committee of the West Riding County Council for the past five years, it has come to my notice that of the miners' wives in that county scores and scores have got tuberculosis as a result of underfeeding. I have followed the matter closely. The Ministry of Health states in its 1932 report what was said by the Medical Officer of Health of the West Riding. That medical officer stated that the health of the children in school was very often "gratifying in revealing surprising little evidence of malnutrition," and he added: "This result is obtained by the self-sacrificing bravery of the mothers." The mothers starve themselves in order to give the children a chance, and as a result, contract tuberculosis—all on account of poverty and low wages.
I leave that point and I would call the attention of the Committee to a matter over which I thought the Minister skipped rather rapidly. Of course it was a subject as to which he had not a very rosy account to give to the Committee. He simply said that he was sorry that the maternity death rate was not going down. I should say that maternity is the most dangerous occupation in the world. The miner's occupation is bad enough. We kill miners day after day but 3,000 mothers in this country die every year in bringing new life into the world and Sir George Newman the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry has stated that at least 50 per cent. of these mothers could be saved if they were properly looked after. That is a damning indictment of this country. If 50 per cent. can be saved what is the matter? Why is the Minister of Health not getting on with the business of saving them? It is his business, it is a matter which belongs to his Department. The reason why so many mothers die is because, when it comes to the vital point, they have not the necessary strength. They have, I might say, been starved to death. In many cases they have not had sufficient to eat and not having had sufficient to eat, they cannot survive under the stress of childbirth. This is a subject about which we feel very strongly.
I have done so, not only in this House but outside the House before I came here. My people in Hemsworth sent me here to tell the Government, face to face, their views on these matters, and the only thing that I am sorry about is that we had not a contest in that division in order to show to the Government how much the Hemsworth people think about them. If I may turn to another subject which has not been touched upon at all in this Debate, I would mention the case of the diabetics. I would like the ear of the Committee for some words on that subject. There are in this country 196,000 diabetic people, which means that one out of every 250 of the population suffers from that disease. In America there is one diabetic out of every 100 of the population and it is said in America that when shares go down diabetes goes up. In this country when wages go down diabetes goes up.
I was very pleased indeed to see that one who has helped to prolong the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in this country received a well-merited honour in the Birthday Honours on 4th June. I was very happy when I opened my paper in the train coming to London to find that Dr. Banting had been honoured. That certainly is an honour which has been well-earned. The point to which I would particularly direct the attention of the Minister is this. In the 1932 Health Insurance Act there is a section which states that if a man has been out of work for two years and nine months he forfeits medical benefit, his wife forfeits maternity benefit, and he also forfeits pension rights. If one out of every 250 of the population suffers from diabetes and if there are 100,000 unemployed people who have forfeited medical benefit, there must be, on the law of averages, at least 400 diabetics in this country who have been deprived by the Minister of Health, through that Act, of the means of getting insulin.
Insulin is the life of the diabetic. I have proved it myself. I know something about it. I have it every day and I wish to make a claim on behalf of these people that they also should have it. What have the Government done to the diabetic? They have taxed his lettuce, his tomatoes, his bacon and even the needles which he has to use. I was paying 4½d. each for needles in Boots chemists shop at Wakefield but recently the young lady there said to me, "It will cost you a 'tanner' now because they lave put a tax of 25 per cent. on imported needles." That meant an increase of 33⅓ per cent. in the price.
It was sharp practice as I found out. I would ask the Minister or whoever replies for the Department to give us a promise that the diabetic who has been deprived of other medical benefits should continue to get his insulin. It may be said that the cost is not much. Somebody on the opposite side a fortnight ago said that the price of 100 units was 1s. 5d. and 1s. 8d. I have a letter here from Allen and Hanburys and the latest price for 100 units is 1s. 10d. Here is a bottle which hon. Members can see for themselves. This bottle contains 100 units and it costs 1s. 10d., and there are some people who have to take 500 units a week, which represents 9s. 2d. a week. How is a man expected to pay 9s. 2d. a week either for himself or for a member of his family out of transitional payments or unemployment benefit? It cannot be done and I ask the Minister to see that diabetic people who have fallen out of benefit should continue to get their insulin free as they have done in the past. If they are deprived of it, I say here that it is slow murder. Once a person has been taking it, if he is deprived of it he goes down slowly and he ultimately dies as a result of the deprivation. I repeat my appeal to the Minister—and I appeal both to his heart and his head in this matter—to allow these 400 people at least to have their insulin free even though they are thrown out of general medical benefit.
This discussion has been both interesting and profitable. It has covered a wide range of subjects, but I am afraid that the limitation which has been put upon the time available, will prevent hon. Members from raising many points which we would like to have considered. I wish, in the first place, to refer to what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) with reference to the Act of 1930. I was astounded at the pride which the right hon. Gentleman appeared to take in that Measure. In my experience, which may be limited in this respect, I have never known of a Measure which has stirred up such discontent among the ordinary working people. It is no use for hon. Members who sit below me to reply by references to property owners. It is not to them I am referring but to the disturbance of ordinary poor people, frequently very poor people, who have spent most of their lives in these clearance areas who may have acquired a small stake of some kind in the district and who are com- pelled to go without any compensation at all.
I, unfortunately, have in my division a very large clearance area where there are a large number of very poor people. Admittedly, there are poor houses in that area, though some are of a better type. The declaration of this area as a clearance area has brought before all concerned a state of affairs which they had not believed to exist. Take the case of poor people in an area of this kind who have by their industry made sufficient to keep going say a little cobbler's shop. After a time they have been able from their savings to introduce a machine into it, and develop the business a little further. I know of one case of a crippled man who had built up a business in that way. This man is going to be cleared out of the district without getting anything under the Act of 1930. A list has been made in connection with the clearance scheme of the number of cases of really poor people who are going to be shabbily treated as a result of that Act not containing any specific provision for some form of compensation, and the number of such cases is astonishing. If hon. Members below me were only looking after the people whom they claim to be their own in this respect, they would not have passed a Measure of that kind. They appear to have forgotten these people entirely and the Act is arousing indignation among those who are affected by it. I am astonished therefore at the right hon. Gentleman claiming it as his own and taking such pride in it.
I cannot, in the limited time at my disposal, give other examples but I hope, if any other Member from my district who knows the difficulties in which we are placed, intervenes in this Debate, he will give further particulars. We beg the Minister to help us by putting pressure in any way he can upon the local authorities—in this case the city council—to grant compensation in these cases. Already by our efforts we have got a good deal more than was in prospect originally, and that result has been due almost entirely to the indignation shown by the poorer people living in those districts at the way in which it is proposed to treat them.
With regard to the actual buildings arising out of such clearances, the first wish of the people directly concerned is that they should be rehoused on the site, but the initial difficulty is that only half the people in the case I have in mind are going to be rehoused on the site. The city council has got out some rather fancy town-planning schemes and by that means they have cut down the number for whom accommodation will be provided in that district. It became necessary to devise flats of varying sizes, though not so high as those which we have here in London. An attempt has been made by means of multi-storied buildings to try to meet the desires of the people. I believe that we are making progress in the direction of getting local authorities to realise that a man to-day does not necessarily want to move out of the town into the country when he has to travel to and from his work every day. I gather from what the Minister has said lately that he is beginning to accept that point of view, and, in any new Measure which he may introduce, I hope he will employ additional means to help development in that respect, quite apart from the means that we feel sure he will take in some way to deal with compensation.
With regard to the clearance programme, I think the right hon. Gentleman is unduly optimistic. I cannot see how he will complete all this slum clearance and replace it by storied houses unless something more definite is done in the way of standardising the flats that are going to be put up. In each case you have to deal with the local people, with their own ideas of town planning, and all that will take time and produce variation in construction. I know there is a Research Council on this question, whose report is now available to the public, and that it gives examples of all kinds of structures, but that does not bring the question down to the engineering problem involved. You can make a structure which is built upon unit sets of rooms, with a steel frame, very much like a piece of Meccano construction, and if there is concentration on that class of work by engineers, the possibility of completing the big programme that the Minister has in view will be rendered far greater than it is at the present time. At present it looks as if we shall not only be short of the actual time in which to complete the schemes, but that we shall be short of bricks and bricklayers, and I cannot see how, with our ordinary methods of construction, we can possibly complete the Minister's programme.
I should like to say a little about the water side of the question, with which I have concerned myself a great deal, and I wish I had more time at my disposal. I think that here also the Minister is an incurable optimist, and the trouble is that with his charming manner and wonderful flow of words he is able to get away with it. I think he has done a great deal of work in helping forward the water question, but at the same time there has been a great deal of delay. I do not want to go through all the recommendations that have been made in the past. I could quote what I have said long before the drought ever began, and I could quote, and have quoted in this House, the recommendations of a committee which reported as far back as 1920, but in about 1932 the Chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board observed:
Unless regional control and pooling of supplies are established, there is going to be a great shortage of water in some of the large populous areas.
That was in 1932, and he is a member of the Advisory Committee by whose advice the Minister has guided his policy. The new engineer to the Metropolitan Water Board is also a member of that committee, and how is it, therefore, that such a long time has been taken before any emergency measures have been brought in? While not wishing in any sense to say anything against the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done, I think there has been far too much hoping that it was going to rain. If action had been taken, as it well might have been, arising out of the remarks which I have quoted of one of the members of this Advisory Committee, we should not be in the state in which we find ourselves to-day. The Minister here again seems to me to be looking forward to a better state of affairs and counting upon the drought to cease, but the records that have been published by the Meteorological Office show that these dry areas persist in being dry, not for two years alone, but it may be for three or four years, and if what the Minister said about the severity of the shortage is continued into the autumn, we shall be worse off next year than this. Therefore, the measures proposed might very well have been put in force without waiting any longer.
The difficulty in the administration of water supplies has been the permissive nature of all the instructions that have been issued. Regional committees have been set up, but those committees have been given no power to act. They might try to discover the needs of a district and to bring about common action, but they have not had any power to act. These things, on account of the increasing urgency of the problem, are improving, but still we have no definite authority given to anybody to get on with the job; and the outstanding feature of the policy of the Department seems to be not to take any responsibility to itself but to pass it on to others, and to leave it to others to get on with the job much as they like. I feel that if this had been a war measure, we should have had definite officers appointed for the various regions with authority to get the bore holes put down, and to get it done in the shortest possible time. That would have secured water, and we should not then have been in the position in which we find ourselves to-day. The trouble is this continual saying "You may," instead of "You must."
There is one other point in connection with water policy which must be touched upon. The Minister has not mentioned it to-day, but it has been said by the Department that it was not intended in any way to change the method of control of the water supplies of this country. The Committee which reported in 1920 said:
We find that the difficulty in fairly allocating water is becoming greater year by year in England and Wales, and evidence proves beyond doubt the urgent necessity in the national interests of some measure of control of all water, both underground and surface, in order that the available supplies may be impartially reviewed and allocated and may be made to suffice for all purposes in future. In consequence of increase of population, improvement in conditions of life, and growing requirements of industry, the demand for water is steadily increasing, and the problem of meeting future needs is giving rise to considerable anxiety in many parts of England and Wales. At present no department is charged with the duty of exercising general control over the use of water in the interest of the whole community.
Here is the point at which there is a, difference in opinion. Electricity is under central control, but water is not, and it is not fair to say that water and electricity are different. That is only the
reply of the man who does not understand the job. I hope the Minister will excuse me for being so blunt. It is easier to co-ordinate water than it is to co-ordinate electricity, and it is just as, or even more, important to have a public utility of the nature of water, which is the first need of life, centrally controlled, it may be under the Minister—I will not go into any details—with power to allocate and organise, so that it could be developed in the way in which electricity has been developed.
Further than that, we have come to a state in which, if we are not careful, we shall be landed eventually in some epidemic. Very little has been said about that lately, but anybody who knows anything about it knows what happened in the Middle Ages and how the population in those days was kept down by outbreaks of plague, due to polluted water. Look at the state of alarm that we should have if an epidemic occurred. People would be rushing about digging in the ground in order to bring about a change. I am not discounting the possibility of treating water chemically in order to make it almost certain that this danger might be removed, but everyone knows how a small slip can make a change in the water, and we are not altogether immune from the effects of bacteria and the possibility of a very severe epidemic.
On the question of central control, much would be gained by completely examining the water supplies of the country, properly allocating them, and seeing that everyone got a proper share and that all systems were interconnected, so that there could be a pooling of supplies, giving a fair and square deal for everyone, and paying less account to the conventions of the past. I wish the Minister would give this question more serious attention. I am afraid that he is completely in the hands of the existing water authorities and is not really strong enough to get out of them. How can he expect the existing authorities to hang themselves? They are not going to change the present state of affairs, because it does not suit them to do so. That is rather plain speaking, but that is where there is the greatest difference between the control of water and that of electricity. On the one hand, you have had this extraordinary combination of electrical engineers, which has produced an expansion that no other public utility has seen, and, on the other hand, you have this backwardness in connection with the control of water supplies. It is a subject on which I should very much like to have spoken at greater length, but time does not permit, and I must apologise to the Committee for having already occupied so much of its time.
As the last speaker said, the time is so short and there are so many hon. Members who wish to speak, that I will try to confine myself to a few subjects which are not being dealt with by other hon. Members. I should like, first of all, to say how those of us who are in touch with local administration in all parts of the country are impressed by the remarkable progress that has been made in connection with slum clearance as a result of the initiative and drive of the Minister of Health. It seems to me that this afternoon some speakers have concentrated rather on the difficulties and hardships involved in these schemes, but I think we should make a very complete acknowledgment of the extraordinary progress that has been achieved during the past year. In spite of criticism and disparagement from those who do not particularly desire to assist the operation of slum clearance, we know as a fact that at the present time there are more areas being declared each month than in the whole of the 10 years before 1930. In that period, 1920 to 1930, there were only 121 schemes prepared, and of those only 43 were carried to completion. In contrast to that we have the statement of the Minister to-day that in the last 12 months 2,215 areas have been declared.
That is a very remarkable achievement, and it would be ungracious of the Committee if we discussed these Estimates without recognising the enormous advance that has been made. Indeed, I am told by experienced social and health administrators in various parts of the country that there are distinct indications of housing conditions becoming easier, and when the Minister develops his schemes for dealing with overcrowding we hope, without undue optimism, that all slums may disappear in the course of the next 10 years, and that with a reduction in building costs it will be once more worth while for private enterprise to erect tenements which can be let to give a reason- able return on capital. A disappointing fact which I venture to mention in the presence of the Minister is that the form of the improvement area procedure provided in the 1930 Act has not been given a fair chance by local authorities. I hope that these bodies will be encouraged to make more use of this procedure in the deteriorating areas so as to prevent them from becoming slums.
We know from what the Minister has told us that this is present in his mind and no doubt will form part of his scheme for dealing with over-crowding, but it is a fact that the local authorities have made very little use of the powers which the Housing Act, 1930, conferred upon them for dealing with improvement areas, as compared with the use made of the powers for the declaration of clearance areas. It may be that during the earlier period of operating the Act the local authorities, not unnaturally, had their attention first drawn to blocks of property which fell within the description of clearance areas, namely, those which were in such a condition that they required to be swept away altogether. Again, the characteristics of a clearance area are easily recognised, and the procedure is akin to, though not identical with, the procedure for dealing with unhealthy areas which was in operation under the earlier Housing Acts. However, by the improvement of deteriorating areas a large expenditure on the provision of new houses may be avoided, or at any rate deferred for a considerable time. That, of course, means that you are leaving assets for both owners and collectors of public revenue.
So much has been said about housing that I will deal with only one or two other small matters to which, I hope, the Minister will give his consideration, even if he is unable to refer to them to-day.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what are the intentions of the Government with regard to the British Post-graduate Hospital and Medical School. The Committee will remember that before the financial crisis of 1931 a sum of £250,000 had been voted for the provision and equipment of this hospital and school. After the crisis, that sum was reduced to £100,000, but many leaders of British medicine hope that now that the strain of our financial struggles is less acute the Government will take a more liberal view of the possibilities in this connection. They want to see in London a post-graduate medical school which is not only worthy of British medicine, but which will be a central rallying point for medical men from all parts of the Empire and the United States, which send over hundreds of graduates year by year to work in the medical schools of Paris, Vienna, Berlin and Rome. They leave London out because the teaching facilities here are so ill-organised and inadequate. We have in London material which will rival that of any capital in Europe, and it is unfortunate that men from abroad and the British Empire should have to go to Continental centres, even secondary Continental centres, to get the teaching which could be so supremely well given in London. Although this is not a matter that interests the general body of Members, it is something which deserves the attention of the Minister, and with which, I hope, he may deal in a liberal spirit.
I want to mention the subject of health education. The health departments of this country are so fully organised and equipped and so ably administered, that there is very little more than can be done to increase their efficiency. They offer the public all the services they require in the promotion of health and the prevention of disease, so much so that any further extension or expenditure in that direction is hardly necessary. It only remains to teach the public to make use of those facilities that are provided by our public health departments. This is an economical proposition that will save a great amount of public expenditure. It is no use having all this organisation of health visitors, doctors, laboratories and everything that is provided, if the public will not use it. One can see how much expenditure in connection with such things as maternity, infant welfare, nutrition, tuberculosis and venereal disease is wasted unless the public can be taught to use the facilities provided. The Minister has already given valuable help in the matter of health education. For years the need of such education has been preached by Sir George Newman, the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry, and recently the Minister has encouraged the Central Council for Health Education in their work, and has gone as far as to secure for their use those fine hoardings which belonged to the Empire Marketing Board. Unfortunately, the Central Council has no funds, and it is regrettable that the Minister appealed in vain recently to the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils' Association to get their constituent bodies to support the central organisation. For some reason these representative bodies are either not interested or they think it beyond their duty to advise local authorities in such matters. The fact remains that both these bodies are not interested and choose not to associate themselves with the matter at all.
I therefore appeal to the Minister to consider whether he himself can advise local authorities that a small expenditure in this connection to support this work would mean a great saving in the cost of public health departments and in preserving the health of the people. I regret that that magnificent unit for the production of moving pictures which belonged to the Empire Marketing Board, which has been lent to the General Post Office and has produced such remarkable films for the Post Office, was not retained for the purposes of the Ministry of Health. There are some matters of great concern to the public which are not dealt with by existing organisations. There is, for instance, the instruction of the public in regard to nutrition. By the use of that cinema unit the Ministry of Health could secure for the public a valuable series of films which would have a great educational effect. I should like to ask the Minister to consider whether when that cinema organisation and the skilled people who are in charge of it have finished their work with the Post Office, they can carry out similar work for the Ministry of Health?
I have a final appeal to make to the Minister with regard to the local government officers, who are doing such magnificent work in all parts of the country. The local government officers are emulating all the virtues of the Civil Service, and they deserve from this House and the Government all reasonable help and recognition. It is a great hardship in the local government service that superannuation is in force in only some areas. The result is that in those areas where schemes of superannuation have not been adopted we see elderly officials past their best retained because there is nothing on which they can retire. This is a matter which should not be left to private Members or private organisations; a Measure enforcing universal superannuation for local government officers is a responsibility that should be undertaken by the Government.
The Minister in his very interesting statement has travelled over a great deal of ground, but I want to allude to only one of the questions about which he spoke, namely, housing, and only to one or two aspects of it. I felt when I was listening to the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that he was rather ungrateful in accusing the Minister of neglecting his duty. The five years' slum clearance scheme accomplished under the Greenwood Act is really impressive, and I thought that a tribute might have been paid to the Minister for his success in stirring up local authorities to their responsibility for the slums. Until recently they have been inclined to neglect that aspect of the housing question because of its, difficulties. My complaints against the Minister are of a different nature. It struck me that a curious thing has happened, which sometimes does happen in families, namely, that the foster father of the Greenwood Act has realised that the foster child is a finer specimen than his own offspring, and that he has therefore been anxious to claim paternity. The Act which bears the present Minister's name—although I have never heard the 1933 Act referred to as the "Hilton Young" Act—has, I think, been disappointing.
I wonder whether the Committee realises a rather curious fact about the figures which the Minister gave. One might have supposed when he was drawing a contrast between what had been accomplished during the two Ministries—his own and that of his predecessor—that the great increase in private enterprise building which has undoubtedly taken place was due to the 1933 Act. Was it? How many of the 120,000 houses which were undertaken by private enterprise during the six months ending 31st April were due to the 1933 Act? The Minister himself admitted, in reply to a Parliamentary question, that the number of guarantees actually given under Section 2 of the 1933 Act was only 1,631—a wretchedly small number. It is time that another 8,000 guarantees were under negotiation, but that does not afford any proof that the negotiations will reach a satisfactory issue. I have recently made inquiries in my own city of Liverpool, where, as everyone recognises, we have an exceptionally good housing committee and an exceptionally severe housing problem, and I find that up to a few weeks ago there had been only one scheme, and that for four houses, submitted under Section 2 of the Act of 1933, and that scheme had to be rejected as unsatisfactory. That is in spite of the fact that the housing committee have on more than one occasion issued circulars to private builders reminding them of the facilities offered by the Act and urging them to put forward programmes. The small use made of that Section of the Act would not matter if private enterprise were meeting the needs of the lower-paid wage-earners without either subsidy or guarantee, but notoriously—at least notoriously according to the belief of most people—that is not so.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some further explanation of his claim this afternoon that 155,000 houses are being built each year for the poorer wage-earners. What proportion of those houses is being built for rental and not for selling, and what are the rentals? Hitherto, no one has succeeded through Parliamentary questions in getting that information, although several Members have tried. The Minister has always replied that the figures were not available. He did tell us some weeks ago the average rental of the houses built by private enterprise in the rural areas, but he has never given the figure for the urban areas. It cannot be beyond the means of the Minister to find out. He could require that when the figures are presented to him they shall be in such a form that he can say how many private enterprise houses are built for sale and how many to let, and what are the rentals of those to let. It is obvious that this information is of immense importance, as bearing on the question of whether the 1933 Act is working satisfactorily, and if he continues to say that he is unable to answer that question, he cannot accuse us of being unduly suspicious if we do suspect that the reason the figures are not produced is that he is aware that if they were forthcoming they would not bear out the claim that the Act of 1933, or private enterprise, is in any way meet- ing the needs of the poorer wage-earners.
The question I was putting was, Why is the information not available? Will the Minister tell us why he has been able to produce figures showing the average rental of private enterprise houses built in the rural areas and has never been able to tell us the figures for the urban areas? If he is not able to tell us, why is he not able to tell us? Why cannot he ask for the returns to be made in such a form that the figure will be available? That is the point. Again and again we have been told that the reason for withdrawing the subsidy was to see what private enterprise would do, and the Minister has said that he would agree to local authorities building without subsidy only if they could prove that private enterprise was not going to step in. How can we prove that private enterprise is not willing to step in if nobody can provide figures showing the rents at which the houses built by private enterprise are let?
The Minister thinks that the gap left to be filled is represented by the needs of the overcrowded, and we know, although he was not able to deal with it to-day, that he has in contemplation legislation to deal with the problem of overcrowding. But it seems to me that he has always ignored the fact that besides the slum-dwellers and others who are suffering from overcrowding, there is a very large and—although I hate the phrase, I cannot help using it—deserving class who are particularly in need of cheaper houses. There are hundreds and thousands of decent, respectable but poorly-paid people who have somehow or other managed to keep themselves out of the slums but only by paying rents which they can pay only by stinting the family food bill. I recall a phrase which has stuck in my mind ever since I began to do social work in Liverpool 30 years ago. I was reproaching a poor woman about the large proportion of the very small family income which went in rent. I asked how she could afford to spend half her husband's wages on rent? She said, "Miss, me and my husband have often talked it over, and have said that we would rather pinch the children's bellies than bring them up in those pig-sties of places "—referring to the low-rented houses in courts which were available. Everyone who knows the lives of the poor realises that that crude phrase expresses the feeling of very large numbers of working people. They are not slum-dwellers, they are not living in overcrowded conditions, but they are paying the price of decent housing at the expense of stinting their children of the necessaries of life. We have as yet had no evidence that private enterprise is beginning to step in to fill that particular gap.
Another point I should like to deal with concerns an old complaint of mine. It applies not only to the present Minister of Health, but to his immediate predecessor, and, I think, to all his predecessors. I believe every Minister of Health has done his best, according to his lights, to assist the housing problem, but all seem to forget that to provide houses for the working classes is not enough unless there is some control of the use that is made of those houses. Some time ago I asked what was the definition of the phrase, which has been in use ever since about 1860, "the housing of the working classes." I was told that it has always been left to the local authorities to define the phrase and that the Minister had never found it necessary to interfere. But do not we all know that what has actually happened during the whole period of post-war housing is that houses built with the help of money drawn from the pockets of the general body of taxpayers and rate payers—many of them poorer than the people who succeed eventually in getting those corporation houses—are allocated by most housing authorities with hardly any regard to the question of whether the tenants can afford to pay an economic rent, and that the Ministry has never attempted to stop that practice? It is true that the Ministry has issued circulars. An excellent circular was issued soon after the Greenwood Act was passed which specifically laid it down that in the case of houses built under that Act—the Act of 1930—regard should be had to the capacity of the tenants to pay, and that rent relief should not be given to those who did not need it.
Under that circular a considerable number of local authorities have adopted a system of differential rents, fixing a standard rent and allowing rebates to tenants who could not afford that standard rent. The present Ministry issued a circular on the same lines applying not only to the Act of 1930 but to the other Acts, and specifically to the Act of 1924, under which the great majority of working class houses have been built. That circular laid it down that subsidies should not be wasted on those who do not require them, and urged local authorities, if they found that tenants in their houses had so improved in circumstances that they could pay a higher rent, to require those tenants either to vacate the houses or pay the full economic rent. But it is not enough to issue circulars if no trouble is taken to see that they are carried out. We all know what happens to circulars. I fear that in most cases they never reach anybody except the official in charge, or, possibly, the chairman of the housing committee. I doubt whether one in ten of the members of housing committees ever reads the circulars of the Ministry, or is given the opportunity of reading them, and when a circular advocates an unpopular policy it is not likely that that advice will be followed unless something more is done than merely print the circular and send one copy to every local authority.
The local authority in Leeds, which recently obtained a Socialist majority, attempted to carry out in full the principle of the Ministry's circular. They have revised the rentals of all houses on their estates, and where the circumstances of the tenants have improved, they have told them either to pay more or to get out. Have they had any encouragement from the Minister? On several occasions when the matter has been brought up at Question Time in the House the Minister, if not showing disapproval of the Leeds scheme, has evinced an obvious disposition to throw cold water on it, and to say that what has been done has excited considerable unpopularity. Of course it has. Any scheme is likely to be unpopular which tries to undo a wrong, but the onus of that unpopularity should rest not on those at present in charge of the Leeds housing but on those who for years and years disregarded the circulars of the Ministry, disregarded what the Ministry declared was the plain inten- tion of the Housing Acts, and accepted as tenants for highly-subsidised houses those who could perfectly well afford to pay economic rents. The Ministry should either withdraw its circulars or encourages and foster the public-spirited action of those local authorities who try to carry out the principles advocated.
I beg the Minister to say something on this question when he replies. He has told us a great deal about house building, and what he is doing to encourage house building. Will he for once tell us a little about what he is doing, or hopes to do, to make sure that when houses have been built by the aid of rates and taxes they shall be used only by those for whom they are built? Is it consistent for the Ministry, which has identified itself with the principle of the means test in another sphere, to say, "When public assistance is being given to which there is no limit, except the amount of money which the taxpayer can provide, we will impose a means test; but when it is a case of a commodity which is strictly limited, not only by the amount of money available but by the necessary slowness of house building, we will insist on no means test; we will use the public money to put up those houses, and then we shall say, 'We leave it to you, the local authority, to make any use of it that you please,'" although by far the greater part of the money comes from the taxpayer and not from the ratepayer? A man will, therefore, get a house to which he was never entitled, and he may not only keep it himself the whole of his lifetime without any inquiry into his means, but it may descend after him to his children and grandchildren. That seems to me to be carrying out the perfect opposite of the means test, and to lead to a perfectly indefensible conclusion. It may not have been the policy of the Ministry to encourage that, but the Ministry has never done anything to put a stop to the misuse of subsidised houses by persons of ample means.
At the outset of my remarks I wish to offer my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health upon the very able, informative and encouraging speech which he delivered at the opening of this Debate. His wonderful appeal, the sincerity of which must have been obvious to everyone in the Chamber, and his tribute to our glorious health services, will be appreciated by hundreds of thousands of poor working-class mothers who have benefited by our health clinics, "babies' welcomes," and so on. I wish, however, to speak for a few moments on the somewhat interesting subject to which the hon. Member for the Platting Division of Manchester (Mr. Chorlton) referred at some length in his speech a little earlier. That is the subject of water, without which the dispensing chemist would be at sea and would have to fall back upon the tabloid treatment; the Welshman's leek would not flourish, and the Lloyds and the Lewises, the Joneses and the Johns, would have to make up the deficiency by weeping copiously.
I do not follow the hon. Member to the extent which he was prepared to go. I understood him to suggest that we should have water distributed throughout the country in a similar manner to the way in which electricity is distributed by means of the electrical grid. The question of water supplies is most important, but people must not be led into panic and embark upon ill-conceived schemes to meet the present position—schemes which would be an unwarranted burden upon the ratepayers and the users for probably 19 out of 20 years of normal rainfall. We must not forget that the drought of 1933, which year saw the start of the Ministry's present effort, was not so acute as the drought of 1921. Not only was 1921 dry, but during the summer months of that year the position was aggravated by the coal strkie, which materially affected the supply of all towns dependent upon underground sources. To-day the position is rendered worse than it otherwise would have been because 1934, up to date, has not supplied the deficiency of 1933; in other words, a dry season has followed upon an exceptionally dry season.
Let me present to the Committee a little mathematical calculation. (A) The average rainfall over England and Wales is approximately 30 inches. (B) The area of England and Wales is approximately 60,000 square miles. (C) One inch of rain over 60,000 square miles equals 860,000,00,0000 gallons. Give each person 30 gallons per day, and one inch of rain collected over England and Wales would supply 40,000,000 persons for two years. A matter of one-sixtieth part of the rain- fall of Great Britain would supply 40,000,000 people with 30 gallons per day for one year. Having worked this out, let us see where the rest goes. First, a percentage is re-evaporated. Secondly, a percentage is consumed by vegetation. Thirdly, another percentage, and a good one, sinks into the pervious beds and is stored up in vast underground reservoirs—the chalks, lower estuaries, Trias or New Reds, and other formations. Scunthorpe, where I reside, takes its water from the lower estuaries. London takes vast quantities from the chalk measures. The South Staffordshire Water Company takes 21,000,000 gallons a day from New Red. My own constituency, Lincoln City, takes over 2,500,000 gallons a day from New Red. Fourthly, a large percentage of the water runs away by ditches and streams to the rivers and back to the sea, from which it first came by evaporation. Beyond all doubt, all water of a potable character should be strictly conserved and protected and used only for purely domestic purposes. There are ample Supplies of a borderline quality that could and should be used for all industrial purposes and for sewer flushing. Some of these supplies also, in periods of drought, could by filtration and chlorination be rendered reasonably fit for domestic use.
It is, however, in the rural areas that at the present time there is the greatest cause for complaint. It is in those areas that we are faced with the greatest difficulties. The population is widely spread and limited in numbers, with a very low rateable basis. These areas entail the maximum outlay for mains for the minimum of consumers, and in my opinion some of the recently suggested schemes and estimates are far too elaborate, and almost prohibitive. I suggest that too little attention is being given to local supplies, perhaps small in themselves but ample for rural needs. Many rural areas have no sewers or disposal works, hence water-closets and baths are not as usual as they are in the urban areas or larger towns and there is not such a great call upon the water supplies for these purposes.
I was interested in the Minister's reply last Thursday to the hon. and gallant Member for Howdenshire (Major Carver):
Rain-water, with proper storage, should provide a reasonably adequate supply of water in country districts where other supplies are impracticable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1934; col. 1883, Vol. 290.]
and I am glad that the Minister is issuing a leaflet to local authorities on measures for conserving rain-water. Roof water in a village, if entirely collected, strained, filtered and stored in clean concrete tanks, covered and underground, with pump, would meet practically all domestic needs on the site without long lengths of mains to bring in an outside supply. As most housewives know, roof water is much softer than any underground supply, and I am told that saving of soap by the use of softer water may be considerable. The other day a Sheffield newspaper referred to rain-water as an aid to beauty. It told of one woman, brought up in the heart of the country where all the water for washing was collected from rain, and commented thus:
Whenever she goes to her country home and washes again in this way, she is amazed at the difference it makes to her complexion, and to her hair. She has fair hair, and she avers that rain-water brings out its colour in a way that tap-water never could. She has collected rain-water in Sheffield, and the results have been most beneficial. She is shortly going to live in a new house, and she is arranging for a tank to be placed where it can catch the drippings from the spouting round the house, and she will use this as often as possible for beauty purposes.
Many districts would have ample supplies for all local needs if the springs and other sources of supply were opened out, protected and rendered available; while from the roof areas in every hamlet or village a yield of probably over 20 inches would be available to collect, filter and store. Underground supplies, while they may be organically and bacteriologically pure, are often very hard from water, passing through the permeable beds, taking up soluble salts of lime, magnesium or sodium. I repeat that some of the present schemes for rural supplies are too grandiose, and the estimated costs could, with efficiency, be reduced by one-half if experienced water engineers instead of purely civil engineers were placed in charge. I submit that our water engineers should be well versed in the sanitary needs of the people and know how to meet such needs. They should know how to utilise and conserve any local supply, have a long knowledge of rainfalls, the nature of
gathering-grounds and absorptions of soils; they should not only be able to detect impurities and discover their origin, but know how to eliminate them; they should also have a sound, practical knowledge of costs and be able to provide and run any plant, whether driven by steam, oil or electricity.
The Minister appreciates that rural areas cannot, by reason of their widely scattered population, be given a mains supply throughout the area at a figure that can be met by a charge upon the local rates, but in practically every village or hamlet not merely one inch but 30 inches of rain water can be collected from roofs, filtered and stored as local units. That applies also to rain which has fallen on the land and flows along in streams, and to rain that has sunk into porous beds and has come to the surface again as springs. That water is available at very little expense if dealt with by practical men with local knowledge, rather than by the London office-trained experts—so-called—who can only see these problems by means of their textbooks, and who do not realise that it is utterly impossible for the ratepayers in those widely scattered rural areas to meet the heavy capital cost of long lengths of pipe. I earnestly beg the Minister to bear these facts in mind. There is no need for panic. I repeat that rural supplies can be given as separate units from within their own areas in nearly every instance. Rural supplies should be for rural needs, and should not be provided on the more elaborate town system until all rural areas have sewers and sewage schemes, and until rural ratepayers have water closets and baths.
The discussion is getting a little threadbare and the Minister a little restless; I will therefore endeavour to concentrate my remarks into a small compass. I listened with very great interest to the Minister's statement, and he is to be congratulated upon the wonderful results shown in the lowering of the percentages in many departments of public health. I am a little uneasy whether I entirely agree with him in regard to the housing position. I do not know why, but there seems to be a widespread impression in regard to the Act of 1933. I grant that the Minister has provided figures of the houses built during a certain period, but I want to know whether the figures in regard to the 1933 Act are sufficiently encouraging, considering the time that was spent in trying to bring that Measure forward. Where does the difference lie? Who is responsible—irresponsible, I should say—for not carrying out the Act as was intended? It is not a question of finance. The financial side was properly arranged and everything was satisfactory. If it is not on the financial side, is it on the side of the builder? I am inclined to think that the builder does not favour the Act. I know from my own experience that if certain builders can continue to build houses at, say, £500 and upwards, they will not be interested in building the type of house for which that Act was made.
If the builder fails to come forward and do his duty, what is the next step, and whom shall we hold responsible for the carrying out of the Act? Responsibility would be left then with the local authorities. I have had a great experience of local authorities in regard to building and to the managing of local affairs, and I can assure the Committee that I am not greatly enamoured of them. If pressure can be put on the private builder to insist upon a certain number of houses being built in a form that would be suitable for the wage-earning people, it would do a great amount of good. I should prefer pressure to be put upon the private builder rather than the matter should be left in the hands of the local authority. The local authority has two alternative systems—letting building out by tender, or doing it by direct tlabour. We have had a great amount of experience of direct labour, and we think it has not proved beneficial.
I am not going to mention Sheffield. In our city we are suffering from a sixpenny rate, and shall be for many years to come, as a result of the building of houses by direct labour. I know that housing and slum clearance are allied questions, and if we can get over the difficulty of providing a number of houses at a reasonable rent, that will help to solve the slum clearance problem. We, naturally, cannot move in regard to slum clearance because we cannot find accommodation or suitable places for the people. That is the first thing to be done. In the city which I represent we have undertaken a certain amount of reconditioning to prevent the houses from being condemned as slum property. We have reconditioned about 4,000 houses and have made them satisfactory. They were back-to-back houses in a condemned position, and most of them have been made back-to-back or with side ventilation. The result is that they are now good property and they have partly helped to solve the question of our slum areas. I am proud that the city I represent has not been backward in accepting a scheme and doing its share towards slum clearance. A lot of comment has been made about the 1933 Act, and I would add my contribution to the various complaints that are heard all over the country. I hope that the Minister when he is making new arrangements in regard to slum clearance will try to be lenient and to make things easier for people who, unfortunately, may have their property condemned. I appeal to him to give them all the assistance he can.
I am not rising in order to condemn the Minister for what he has done in regard to the housing problem, nor to praise him, but to add a little friendly criticism. I feel in a somewhat embarrassing position in criticising him for not gingering up local authorities more in regard to their housing schemes, because the Minister said to-day that he has not received a scheme from the city which I represent. I can inform him that that is not due to lack of zeal. For one reason, the Minister came in a somewhat suspicious guise; he came as a foster parent of the Greenwood baby, and the Greenwood Act is none too popular with the people who are concerned with slum clearance—the property owners. Difficulties were created, although they were not fundamental, and we were naturally unable to present a scheme. In a very short time the Minister will receive this scheme, and I trust that he will find it as good as he would wish.
One reason why the Ministry have not done all that they ought to have done in regard to solving the housing problem is that they are separating the two great problems of slum clearance and over- crowding. That is what we feel in Leicester. In a sense we have no slums in Leicester at all comparable with what people usually mean when they speak of slums, but we have a great number of houses for the poorer working class, and some resentment has been aroused at the idea of pulling down and clearing out houses which are badly required by many people. I am not, of course, justifying the existence of insanitary houses and of slums. There should not be one house in any city which is not merely not fit for human habitation but which is not a joy for human beings to dwell in. For all that, we are faced with this real difficulty—