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.
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
In doing so, I would remind the Committee that the Debate upon the Ministry of Health Vote was cut short about a fortnight ago in order that we might proceed with other business. We take up the threads of the argument again, in order to secure from the Minister or his deputy as much information as we can about the work of one of the most important Departments of State. When the Minister spoke on the work of his Department on that occasion, he stated quite rightly that the expenditure of the Ministry of Health formed a very excellent study for the research student. I suggest that there is one thing which the right hon. Gentleman ought to do as soon as possible. When the student of the Annual Report of the Department looks through it he is under a difficulty, which I myself have found, in regard to the study of the health statistics of our country. The right hon. Gentleman always quotes to us with great pride and joy, in which we join with full approval, the splendid improvement which has taken place during the last half century in the health statistics of the country and in the conquest of disease. There will not be a dissentient voice to the proposition that all over the country the medical profession, as well as other men and women, are doing excellent work in the conquest of disease and in bringing down the infant mortality rate in particular.
Whenever I visit a foreign country one of the first things I try to do is to obtain what are called the vital statistics of that country, and it pleases me beyond measure when I find that hardly any country in the world is better than our own in that connection. That is all to the good. There is a very small point which I want to make in passing and which I hope the Minister will take up. Until a few years ago it was the custom of every medical officer of health in this country, especially in the large towns, to give us the general and infant mortality rate tables not for the whole township only but for each ward of the township. That practice was discarded in some reports long ago. I sat on the Manchester City Council for 10 years, and I used to look forward to two reports, that of the medical officer of health and that of the Education Department. It was always one of the interesting tasks which fell to some of us to point out the differences in the general and infant mortality rates between, for illustration, Ancoats and Withington. I happen to live in Withington where, if I remember rightly, the infant mortality rate is less than one-half of the rate in Ancoats and Hulme. The same is true as between other places, as, for instance, Westminster and Kensington. The essence of civilisation after all is not in the number of schools, museums or churches which are built, but in the degree of care which is bestowed upon the mothers and children of the nation, and it would be very interesting if we could get those ward tables restored. I do not know why they have been discontinued.
In his speech the Minister of Health referred with delight, in which we all joined, to the fact that we had very nearly conquered some of the old diseases which afflicted our people. He mentioned, in particular, scarlet fever and diphtheria, and he also said that we are now getting right on top of tuberculosis. I failed to find in his speech any reference to the new diseases. I am, however, in a position to know a little of what happens in this direction. I see the medical certificates at our own offices—not clearly written, by the way. I have almost reached the opinion that we ought in our medical schools to have a special class to teach members of the medical profession how to write legibly. It would appear that for every old disease that we conquer a new one arises in its place. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us something about those new diseases. Take cancer, for example.
Whether the disease is new or not, it is more prevalent in proportion to the population than ever, according to my information. I think the correct way to explain that is that, as the average age is extended and as cancer is a disease which afflicts the old more than the young, the disease appears to be more prevalent than it used to be. There is in Manchester a new and excellent hospital to deal with this dread disease, and I understand that it is doing remarkably good work. Have the Ministry any policy for the extension of hospital accommodation to deal with this terrible affliction?
The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about another ailment which is afflicting our people to a much greater extent than formerly, a circumstance which is also accounted for by the fact that people are living longer than was the case 40 or 50 years ago. The ailment to which I refer is rheumatism. That is a very important aspect of our health problem. Another ailment to which he referred just in passing is one which is spreading all over the land to a very much greater degree than some of us like to see, and that is nervous disorder. Noise and hurry, and the bustle of life are, in my view, very largely responsible for that increase. The right hon. Gentleman tried to explain that away a fortnight ago by saying that there are more of these cases, not because they are numerically greater than they were, but because we have better means now of finding out how many there actually are. There is a great deal in that explanation. I often wonder how many Members of this House are suffering from nervous disorders on occasions.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say something else. During the period I have been in this House, especially in the present Parliament—this is my sixth—we get statistics about almost every thing connected with trade and finance. If we want to compare to a decimal point how we stand with our imports and exports in relation to other countries, we can get statistics in a day. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we can not get similar statistics from foreign countries in relation to the health of the peoples of the world, so that we can compare our statistics with theirs, and thereby increase our efforts for better health, if there is anything we can learn from foreign countries? I throw out that suggestion, because up to now the League of Nations has been doing a great deal of work in collecting health statistics to show where each country stands in comparison with the others. It would be very interesting to find out the position of France and Germany in the realm of infantile mortality. Especially I would like to see the general mortality rates of Germany during 1934. [An HON. MEMBER: "For the last week!"] Yes, it would be very interesting to see the statistics of the mortality rate of politicians in Germany during the last week. That, however, is not the point here, and I am old-fashioned enough to believe that nothing of that kind will happen within our own shores.
As I said, I want to deal first with what may be regarded as the more insignificant points. Let me say that I do not intend to touch upon housing, because there are other hon. Members here who are very much more competent than I am to deal with that subject. I will deal with another matter with which I am a little more familiar, and that is the position of a considerable number of old folk who are being erased from the books of approved societies for health insurance purposes and for contributory old age pensions by the 1932 Act of this Government. Let us recognise clearly that, apart from the Economy Act, 1926, when the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was Chancellor of the Exchequer and took £2,250,000 per annum from the funds of the approved societies, it was left to this Government to give the severest blow of all to a section of the old people in this country.
If the Government wanted to save the social services of the country, they ought to have restored to the approved societies the £2,250,000 which was taken from them in 1926. At any rate, if they had put back only £100,000 per annum of that sum, they would have saved the medical and all the other benefits of these 100,000 old people, and kept them in the contributory pensions scheme at 65 years of age as well. The Noble Lady has a habit of always talking Socialism and voting Tory. I cannot understand her at all, and I am not the only person who cannot understand her. In spite of her interruptions—and they are very frequent on occasions—we are never offended.
It would be a pity, therefore, if we allowed this Debate to pass without touching on the administration of national health insurance, for let it be remembered that this scheme covers 17,000,000 people, the biggest scheme of its kind, and, in spite of all that has been done against it by Tory and National Governments, it is still the most successful scheme financially of its kind in the world. I am one of the administrators, and, consequently, I can speak feelingly about it. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question on another point before I come to the old people. Hon. Members, perhaps, know that within this scheme there is a regional medical officer staff, and there is also a Dental Benefit Council seeing to it that the insured population are getting their rights from the dentists. I understand that the Ministry is at the moment working on a scheme to provide that the insured population shall also receive their dues in connection with optical benefit. The Minister knows as well as I do that for every reason which can be given in favour of seeing that medical attention and dentures are up to standard, the reason can be multiplied tenfold in favour of seeing that optical appliances are of the right quality. As I said, I speak with a little knowledge on that score, and I should be glad, therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman could say something about this new optical council, which, I believe, is about to be formed to see that optical benefit is properly administered.
Let me now pass on to the old people, especially those in the depressed areas—and my area is becoming a depressed one. If hon. Members want to know what the present Government have been unable to do, they have only to turn to Lancashire. It is all very well to talk about Birmingham, Leicester, Luton and London, but one has to go to Lancashire to see the dead hand of this Government working. Will any hon. Member from Lancashire say in this House that the textile trade, the engineering and coal mining trades in Lancashire have turned the corner, and that we have witnessed a revival since this Government came into office? I have never seen it.
I say that the unemployment figures in Lancashire have gone down, and that trade is infinitely better than it was two and a-half years ago. I believe that the cotton trade has benefited least of all the trades under this Government, but it has benefited considerably, and things are, far better in Lancashire than they were when the last administration was in office.
The hon. Gentleman knows well that though the unemployment figures in Lancashire have gone down, the number of persons applying for Poor Law relief has gone up. That applies to Bolton as well. That, however, was not the point I was going to make. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke in this House on the results of the 1932 Act he did not give, I think, a very accurate picture of what was going to happen to the old people. He gave figures then to the effect that the number involved would be about 80,000, and he gave a reply later in this House, on 17th April, 1934, contradicting the statement he made in 1932. The 80,000 had grown then to 125,000. Although 125,000 out of 17,000,000 is not a very big proportion, yet when you take individuals case by case, as every Member in this House has got to do from time to time, I say there is nothing more pathetic than to meet these old folk not only turned out of medical benefit, not only falling out of their approved society, but, in fact, losing the one thing to which they were looking forward, namely, the right to a pension without a means test at 65 years of age. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman whether he cannot do something to meet those cases. He will say, no doubt, that approved societies who can afford it have been able to secure pensions to a large number of them by wiping out arrears entirely. My society, which is, of course, one of the best managed in the country, does that because it is in a position to do so, but there are other approved societies which are not in that position, and cannot pay any of the arrears of these old folk.
There are two qualifications which these old people must possess in order to keep them in benefit for the old age contributory pension at 65. Unless they have a certain prior qualification, they must get insurable employment. Frankly, there is no hope of that qualification being satisfied at all, because they cannot get a job. Then they are told that if they become voluntary contributors they will be all right, provided they pay 1s. 6d. a week out of their own pockets. To a man getting about 17s. a week unemployment benefit, 1s. 6d. is a very serious sum for him to pay. Indeed, in the financial position in which these people find themselves, they cannot possibly pay it, and I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman again whether he can do anything to meet these cases. I do not know whether it is commonly known what is the liability of the State with regard to old age pensions. The introduction of contributory old age pensions in this country relieved the Treasury of millions upon millions of pounds more than it would have to meet if it were called upon to pay old age pensions at 70 years of age. None of the persons who come on to pension at 65 fall upon the State at 70. Consequently, the State has thrown the liability, which otherwise would fall upon the Treasury, on to the employers and employed. The State would gain therefore if it saw to it that these people were entitled to their old age contributory pension at 65.
I was very pleased with one thing which the right hon. Gentleman said. Let me say that he is not too friendly to me on occasions, because upstairs he said something about me which I have never forgotten. It is upstairs where we say some very doubtful things on occasions, but the point he made a fortnight ago to which I am referring was a good one, namely, that the increase in the amount spent by the Ministry of Health ought to be remembered in relation to the amount which is contributed by employers and employed. There is a fundamental mistake made in this country by some very eminent statisticians. I have heard the statement made by some people who ought to know better, that the State is spending nearly £500,000,000 per annum on the social services—unemployment insurance, health insurance, contributory old age pensions and all the rest of it. That figure ought to be corrected. The people who quote that total amount forget that that vast sum is in a great measure met by the contributions of the employers and the employed. What is the use of saying, for instance, that the National Health Insurance scheme is costing the State £35,000,000 per annum because that is the total sum paid away by the approved societies? Nothing of the kind. The total sum for National Health Insurance paid from the Treasury is less than £6,000,000 per annum. Consequently, I was very pleased indeed that the right hon. Gentleman made that point clear in his speech a fortnight ago.
I now turn to a subject with which I am not quite so familiar as National Health Insurance, but which must be touched upon to-day. Since we debated the Ministry of Health Vote a fortnight ago, nothing very particular has occurred in relation to our water supply. Rain has not come down in torrents, and in Manchester, where I live, we have hardly seen any. It is almost a good thing to live in Manchester when there is a drought. People imagine that it rains more in Manchester than elsewhere, but they are wrong; it takes longer to come down when it comes at all. The only new thing that has happened is that the Bishops are now taking some interest in this problem of rain. I am the last person in the world to criticise the Bishops, but, if there is one thing above all that the Bishops ought to understand, it is that even the heavens would thank them if, in addition to praying for rain, they asked this Government to do its duty in relation to water supplies for the community as a whole. It is no use praying for rain and doing nothing with the available supplies that we have.
I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, whether he has any later information as to what is actually happen- ing in this country in relation to our water supplies. It is no use curtailing the amount of water available if ample supplies can be got elsewhere. In London I see notices in the omnibuses, "Use less Water," and I am told that in some parts of the country people are paying as much as 1s. and 2s. per tank for water. Really we ought not to be in that position at all. The Government ought in my opinion to take this problem of the water supply very much more seriously than is now the case. One of the difficulties of the Ministry is that there is a number of small water companies which do not come under public control at all, but which are owned and controlled by private enterprise. The first thing that they have in mind is whether they can pay 5 per cent. dividend; the problem of supplying water to the people does not, of course, concern them in the least. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give us some more hopeful information about our water supplies than he did a fortnight ago.
Turning to another subject, I do not know how many hon. Members have seen what has been happening in our large towns, and in our smaller towns also, as a result of the De-rating Act. I am wondering whether the Ministry has any policy on this subject. Anyone walking through one of the main streets of our great cities will find that shops have been closed by the score, and I am informed authoritatively that that is a result of the De-rating Act, because the rate burden which used to fall upon industrial undertakings is now being thrown upon offices, shops and cottages. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Ministry has any policy in this connection, because it is pathetic to see the number of shops that are closed. In one street in Manchester—
No, Sir; I was feeling that I might be off the track if I pursued that problem, and, having got my point in, perhaps I had better proceed to another subject. I am not going to be too critical in regard to it, because there are certain things in human nature which are beyond, the control even of the National Government, and that is saying a lot; but one thing that bothers some of us—and I was very pleased indeed to note that the Minister himself made more than one reference to it—is the continuous heavy maternal mortality in this country. It is a very sad feature of our statistics. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what policy the Ministry have in relation to the provision of more maternity homes. I would like to see the day come when every woman would be entitled to enter a maternity home for her confinement, where she could get the best attention. But, once a maternity home is built, the problem always arises as to the charges that are to be made, and I am wondering whether, at a time when we can subsidise tramp shipping, we could not do a little more in the direction of extending these maternity homes. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) will have something to say on this subject, because, having looked up the figures, I find that, while the grant for the training of mid-wives and health visitors was £26,500 in 1934, it was £27,000 in 1933, so that there is a reduction of £500 on the very service on which I think we ought to spend more than on anything else. If money can save the lives of these mothers, a little more ought to be spent for that purpose. Therefore, I am very sorry indeed to see that reduction of £500.
There is another point that I want to raise. The Minister had in his Department a very famous medical lady, Dame Janet Campbell, who, I understand, has now resigned. I believe that everybody in every party in the land considered that this lady did excellent service for the health of the community while she was in office. She resigned a few months ago. I have nothing to say about that, but we would like to know whether a successor to her is to be appointed, and, if so, when the new appointment will be made. Then the right hon. Gentleman, in a speech at the Goldsmiths' Hall, said that he proposed shortly to issue a circular to local authorities pointing out the directions in which development of their services is still required, particularly in those areas where the rate of maternal mortality is highest. Has that circular yet been issued to the local authorities; or, if it has not been issued, when may we expect that it will be issued?
These are all the comments that I wish to make at the present stage. I will conclude by saying, as I said at the beginning, in moving that we on these benches, and also, as I have been very pleased to learn, practically all parties in the State, welcome the splendid work which is being done by the right hon. Gentleman's Department, whatever our criticisms about it may be. Already the decline in the infantile mortality rate and the decline in the general death rate in this country are simply wonderful by comparison with what happens abroad. I was in Belgrade some time ago, and I found that, while the infantile mortality rate in this country is about 70, in Yugoslavia it is about 160. That is something to be said in our favour. But these vital statistics are never altered in the right direction unless there is somebody always agitating and urging that improvement shall be brought about, and it is our duty to urge the Ministry to do a little more still in that direction, After all, however clever a nation may be in science and art, if the health of its people fails nothing else will avail.
I do not intend—it would be foolish for me to try—to cover as much ground as the last speaker, who has taken the whole subject of health as his field. I wish to confine my remarks to the problem of housing, and especially the housing of the poorer-paid working classes. Like the last speaker, I desire to express my appreciation of the work that is being done by the Ministry of Health; it is one of the great civilising influences in this country; and all that I shall say will be said in a helpful spirit, because I realise that, no matter who holds the office of Minister of Health, he has, by the very nature of his office, a great humanitarian work to perform. I want to congratulate the Minister on the energy which he has put into the work of slum clearance. I hope that all the results have not yet come in, and that even more will be done than has been announced, but nevertheless a great, deal of energy has been put into this matter, and I am glad to see that it is becoming so large a part of the activities of the Ministry.
I would like, however, to emphasise the fact that, even if the slum clearance problem is proceeded with at the rate anticipated by the Minister, that is to say, if some 200,000 slum dwellings are cleared away and replaced by a corresponding number of good houses in the next five years, nevertheless the actual housing problem will not have been advanced any further, because, apart from slum clearance and apart from what may be done by reconditioning, there will still remain an enormous shortage of what are known as "C" class dwellings which the poorer-paid workers can rent at figures which they can afford to pay. I suppose that, even on a very conservative estimate, quite 250,000 of these "C" class houses are urgently needed. I think that most hon. Members know what is meant by the "C" class house, but to make my point clear I would say that it is what is known as a non-parlour house, with three bedrooms and a floor space of about 760 square feet—a poor enough dwelling, but one of a kind which hundreds of thousands of people in this country would be only too thankful for if they could get it at a rent within their means.
If these dwellings are not provided, and provided very soon, the poorer-paid workers will be in a very serious plight. At present they are herding together, not only in old houses, but in many of the new houses. It is necessary to realise that, owing to the fact that so few houses have been available for renting, many people have had to buy their houses, which they cannot afford to do, and they are therefore willing to let rooms in their houses to other people, so that a new problem of overcrowding is arising, because, as fast as we clear away old slums, new ones are being created in their place. I would urge the Minister to realise that one of the problems of slum clearance is the problem of finding houses for the poorer-paid workers. If that be not done, the Minister will be in the position of Dame Partington, sweeping back in one place the tide which overtakes him in another, or, to use another image, he will be like Sisyphus rolling up the hill a stone which comes down as often as he rolls it up. It is not generally realised how little has been done to provide houses of this "C" class. People are told how many houses have been built and how many millions have been given by the State for these houses, but is it realised that, of the £250,000,000 or so which has been allocated by the State for housing since the War, only 13 per cent. has gone to providing houses of the "C" class?
Not only has public money gone mostly in the wrong direction—it has certainly not gone where it is most urgently needed—but private enterprise has not been able to fill up the gap because scarcely any of the houses recently built by private enterprise are of the "C" class, and of those that have been built with the aid of building societies and so on only a very small proportion are available for rentage. The reason is obvious. In present circumstances, it is far more profitable for private enterprise to build houses for sale. I wonder if it is within the power of the Minister to frame a policy which will make it possible for builders to take longer views and not be in such a hurry for their money, so that houses can be built which can be profitably let.
The main object of all Government activities is to look after the interests of the weak. The main concern of the Ministry of Health, surely, is the housing of the poorer working classes, by which I mean those that cannot afford to pay more than from 5s. 6d. to 10s. a week rent, inclusive. In many cases even with low rents, they would be paying from a fifth to a third of the total family income in rent. It is no use showing these poorer people new houses to buy at £400 or £500. It is about as much use to show them houses of the non-parlour type at £320 or £350, if they are asked to buy them. How can a casual labourer paid by the hour, or a man drawing the dole possibly saddle himself with such a burden? They must be able to rent houses within their means. Yet, with the best intentions, the Minister does not seem to envisage any lower rent than about 13s. 6d., inclusive, for this class of house. The richer a man is, the larger proportion of his income he can afford in rent without sacrificing the necessities of life. If a man with £1,000 paid £500 a year rent, he would still have £500 left for the necessities of life. But a well-to-do man very often has to pay no more than, say, 5 per cent. of his income in rent, while the poorest have to pay 40 or 50 per cent. So it is urgent that we should do our best to put up houses which can be let at the most at 10s. or 10s. 6d. a week inclusive. If we are to cope with the problem of the agricultural labourer, we shall have to devise a means of putting up houses which can be rented at 5s. 6d. inclusive.
I am not saying this in any unfriendly spirit. The Minister has set himself the same ideal that we have on these benches, namely, the provision of enough "C" class houses at a rent which the poorer wage earners can pay. I want my criticism to be helpful. There are two great matters which should be altogether above party spirit. One is the peace and good will of the world and the other the decent housing of our poorer brothers so as to secure peace and good will at home. I offer these remarks in a spirit of co-operation, but I must call attention to the fact that this "C" type of house is not being built to let, and, if it is being built to let, the rent must not be more than 10s. a week inclusive. I ask the Minister if it is within his power to achieve this end. In his speech introducing the Estimates he said:
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.
He regards it as within his power to provide houses at a rent which the poorer class worker can pay. I think he has not fully realised all that is involved in carrying to a successful issue the aim that he has set himself. I should like to refer to the opinion of such great authorities on housing as Messrs. Rees and Nicholson, who for the last 10 years have been trying to persuade the Government to establish a National Housing Corporation. They are out to achieve the same end, to provide for the poorer paid working-classes houses which they can afford to rent. These gentlemen maintain that that end can be achieved. They also maintain that the following factors are for the most part essential: continunity of progressive policy; centralisation of housing finance, which might involve national housing saving certificates; synchronisation, and not conflict, with any work now being carried out by private or public enterprise; coordination and organisation of efforts of all authorised bodies or approved borrowers; supply of the full necessary finance at the lowest rates possible and
with extended periods for redemption; installation of branch offices enjoying knowledge of local requirements and resources; assistance with model working drawings, plans, specifications and latest prices of material; allowing all authorised bodies or approved borrowers to retain full proprietary and management powers over all properties erected or re-conditioned by their selected contractors and supplies of materials; dealing with the problem on a national and planned basis and with proper consideration of town planning methods; standardisation of component parts of buildings and production of these under modern methods of mass production; the employment of British manufacturers and suppliers on long period contracts with cash settlement against approved delivery. How far is the Minister willing and able to take notice of these factors? In introducing his Estimates, he said:
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 overcrowded population."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1934; cols. 403–4, Vol. 291.]
He goes on to say that a wise distribution of powers between the local authorities and the central Government is essential. What I suggest as necessary is not so much a distribution of powers—powers are far too much distributed at present—but rather co-ordination of all the powers of the parties concerned—public authorities, public utility societies and private enterprise—all under a National Housing Corporation especially established to do this great work. However the Minister accomplishes that, however he brings all these factors into being, it is only by doing something on those lines that he can achieve the end of getting houses at a rent which the lower wage earners can pay. What is the use of pressing on hard with slum clearance, if all the time new slums are being created? And unless these houses are provided at a rent of not more than 10s. a week you achieve nothing by all these labours in the way of clearing the slums. I trust that the Minister will
treat my remarks with sympathetic consideration. I would help rather than hinder, for the great work before us is to co-ordinate all our resources so as to clear away all the slums and ensure that every family in the country has a home of which England can be proud.
In the Debate following the Minister's opening statement there was considerable criticism of the 1933 Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) particularly stressed it and said the Act was a fiasco. Surely as a previous Minister of Health he will realise that the moment you pass an Act affecting housing you cannot expect to see results. The hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) gave an example from the city of Liverpool, which to me suggests that Liverpool is in a different position to my own city of Birmingham or that her figures, which are usually correct, were not correct in this case. I have obtained official figures as regards Birmingham and I find that considerable use is being made of the 1933 Act. About 2,000 houses are being built on one estate, the Perry Hall Estate, and in many other parts of Birmingham houses are being built by various enterprises. I heard only last week of definite arrangements with a building society to put up no less than 5,000 houses under this Statute and there are 300 houses to be built on the High-field Estate, 150 in another area and 500 in a third. In fact, there is a total of nearly 10,000 houses now being built or which will be in course of construction in the near future. If that rate were followed all over the country, we should have about 400,000 houses being built and, therefore, we can look forward to the Act being of real service.
Another criticism is that the Act is not turning out houses to let. I think the effect of the Act will be to assist in this direction. On inquiry I find that the estate department of Birmingham are having between 25 and 30 houses thrown on their hands per week because the occupants of municipal houses are going into new houses built under the 1933 Act. We are, therefore, getting from 1,300 to 1,500 houses to let through that process alone, and this process is likely to be extended as the number of houses are built. I think we shall find that the Minister has been right in his view that the Act will be of great service. I am greatly encouraged by the way in which he allowed criticism to be made in regard to slum clearance. There was constant criticism in this House and questions were asked as to how many houses were being demolished, and then suddenly we had the White Paper which gave the information that about 264,000 houses had been scheduled. It was said that this was only on paper and that it was doubtful whether it would mature, but no one who has studied what is taking place would be of that opinion, and we can rest assured that the whole of the number will be demolished and other houses built in their place by the time specified. In Birmingham we gave in the first place a number of rather under 5,000 houses, which was afterwards increased to 10,000, and the same thing has been taking place in many parts of the country. It is difficult for local authorities, with the best will in the world, to be able to schedule straight away houses which they would like to have replaced. I feel that the Minister of Health has not taken the trouble fully to acquaint the House with the success of the 1933 Act and that a great deal more is going forward than would appear from the criticisms which are made.
The hon. Member for the English Universities spoke of the differentiation in rents and gave us an example of what is going on in Leeds. I know that it elicits one's sympathy, but I suggest that it is too late to alter matters now. Many types of citizens are now living in municipal houses. They went there perfectly legally, and to turn them out or insist on their paying a higher rent than they do now would be unfair. It not only penalises them, but suggests that they have no right to be where they are. It is well known that among those living in such houses are many city and borough councillors not necessarily of my own political persuasion but I do not think we should pillory them in this way. They have spent a considerable amount of money in seeing to their gardens and the amenities of their houses, and to turn them out of these houses would mean the cost of redecoration to the local authority and also would be a considerable expense to the individual concerned in removing.
I should like to put one question to the Minister with regard to the unemployable blind. At the present time different rates are paid all over the country, varying from 15s. per week to 25s. and even more, and consequently it is tending to bring people from areas where lower rates of benefit are given to areas where higher standards are paid. In Birmingham we are paying 20s. and I think there is little doubt that we shall pay 25s. But for the fact that around Birmingham we have various boroughs where the rate is less thereby attracting immigrants into our city, we might have done this earlier. I realise that there is a certain waiting period, but the statistics show that this immigration is serious. It is not only the cost of looking after the unemployable blind in our own city, but it disorganises the housing position, and if it be possible for the Minister to consider national control so that there shall be one rate all over the country it will be a great advantage. I have the greatest faith in the success of slum clearance schemes. The Act of 1933 is going to be far more useful than expected, and I feel certain that when we have legislation brought before us regarding overcrowding we shall get the results which we all desire.
The Minister of Health, in introducing the Estimates, was very optimistic about the great improvement in the health of the country. I share his optimism, and everyone who has studied our health statistics for the last 20 years must be convinced of the tremendous improvement. But while I agree that there has been a general improvement there are many black spots in the country where there has been no improvement, and I propose to discuss one or two of the worst spots to be found in England or in London. I propose to take the borough of Kensington, so close to this House. Most people when they think of Kensington think of Kensington Gardens and Holland Park Avenue, lovely houses and spacious streets. There is another kind of Kensington, inhabited by almost another people. There is the Kensington of North Kensington, about which most hon. Members do not know very much. Let me give some particulars as to the overcrowding in North Kensington. When the great houses were built 60 or 70 years ago they were built for one family, to-day, in many cases, six
and seven families inhabit one house. You can find examples of 35 and 40 people in one house. There is one street in North Kensington of 140 houses containing as many as 2,400 people. As a matter of fact, 35,000 people in North Kensington are living in one or two rooms, and some of the houses are past belief from the point of view of horror. They have leaky roofs, rotten floors, glassless windows, broken doors. There are hundreds of horrible mews dwellings, unfit for human habitation, and thousands—I mean thousands—of underground basements in which no human being ought to live, basements which whenever there is a storm in London are liable to shocking flooding. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who has done a great deal of good work in regard to housing in the West of London, said this in 1927:
The flood water runs back up the sewers and floods the basements sometimes to a depth of two feet. Imagine the effect upon the effects of these poor people. But the basements have to be lived in because there is nowhere else to go.
You find foul refuse left by floods in the living rooms and bedrooms of these poor people. There are more than 5,000 of these basements in North Kensington. How can people sleep with beds in every room? How can children do their homework? There are no sanitary conveniences and very often families have to carry all the water they require up three and four storeys. Hon. Members may think that I am exaggerating. Let me quote another famous authority, Lord Buckmaster:
The Royal Borough of Kensington is one of the richest in the County of London, yet within its boundaries there are dens where human beings live, breed and die, that are a disgrace to our Christianity and to our wealth.
He described one family as follows:
A man, his wife and four children, live in two basement rooms, both are extremely damp and were flooded to the extent of 8 ins. over the window in June, 1927, by sewage water. Three children have been born since these rooms were occupied, and all have died of double pneumonia, and the woman has had pneumonia herself. It is said that the family are extremely neat and clean and the rooms marvellously kept.
Lord Balfour of Burleigh, speaking on the same night, said:
In Kensington I have encountered appalling conditions, but have been amazed by the high standard of morality that existed, cleanliness, despite incredible discomfort and lack of privacy.
Those are the conditions described by a gentleman who cannot be said to have Radical leanings but who, from the sheer humanitarian point of view, is interested in the terrible conditions which prevail in a borough so near to this House.
It is interesting to find what has been the attitude of the Kensington Borough Council. That council controls one of the richest boroughs in the country. A penny rate in Kensington produces about £14,000, compared with a penny rate in Bermondsey producing £3,500. Yet Bermondsey in the next five years will have demolished and rebuilt so many slum houses that half the borough will have been rebuilt. In Kensington—I repeat that Kensington is one of the richest boroughs in the country—in the last 10 years the council has not demolished or built 200 houses—not one-hundredth part of the work done by the poverty-stricken borough of Bermondsey. If what I say is true, if the conditions described are anything like true, there ought to be some evidence in support of what I say, and there is. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) spoke of the fact that most medical officers of health give their reports in regard to districts. Kensington is one of the few districts that still gives the report in regard to wards. It is of vital importance to have health statistics according to districts, because it helps one to see the figures more quickly and to ascertain the source of the trouble.
Here are the figures for Kensington for the year 1932, according to the report of the Medical Officer. While the infantile mortality for London was 66, that of the whole of Kensington, north and south, rich and poor, was 98. In North Kensington the infantile mortality was 116 per thousand, and in South Kensington 54. For the whole borough the mortality rate was 50 per cent. above that of the average for London, including such poor boroughs as Poplar, Bermondsey, Hackney and Bethnal Green. In North Kensington the rate was 80 per cent. above the London rate. What about the wards? Here is the value of having ward results. In the northern ward the infantile death rate was 110 per cent. above the average for London. Some hon. Members may say that I am taking an abnormal year in selecting 1932. I do not think it was very ab- normal, but in order to make sure, I have taken the figures for the last five years for Kensington, and I find that for the last five years the average infantile mortality for the years 1929–33 for the two poor wards, Norland and Golborne, was 100 per year, or 50 per cent. over the London average, while in the two wealthy wards of the South, Queen's Gate, etc., the death rate was 50 per cent. below the average. In North Kensington the infantile death rate was nearly three times as high as the death rate in the South.
What about the disease rate? Some people may say that it is a good thing that there is this mortality, because there will be fewer to be unemployed. There are people who take that inhuman view. When there is a high death rate there is a shocking disease rate. People who survive are weaker, and that is bad for them and for the State. It is a shocking investment to have people just surviving and keeping on living. What of the disease rates? Of scarlet fever in the north, there were 350 cases and in the south 128; of diphtheria, 360 cases in North Kensington and 53 in South Kensington. The Minister said last year that tuberculosis is a most important barometer of health and nutrition. If that be so, let hon. Members think of the following figures. The deaths from tuberculosis in the two poor wards of Kensington were 58, and in the two rich wards seven—eight times as many deaths m the poor wards as in the richer wards. If that is a barometer, it is a very shocking barometer and it shows how vicious and horrible the conditions are in North Kensington.
Roughly, I should say that the population of North Kensington is 10 to 15 per cent. above that of the south. I think that the population is roughly 10 per cent. above that of South Kensington. I do not, however, want to make it appear that Kensington is the worst place in England. The conditions there are shocking enough, but there is one worse place in London, and that is the borough next to Kensington, which is not usually mentioned in this House unless hon. Members are talking about compensation to slum landlords. Will hon. Members take note of the figures for Paddington, in the medical officer's report for 1932? The infantile mortality for Paddington in that year was 107 per thousand compared with 53 in Hackney, which is a poor area, and 56 in Bermondsey, which is a shockingly poor area. The whole of Bermondsey is poor. The other boroughs that I have been quoting, Kensington and Paddington, are at least half middle class, and perhaps more than that. In North Kensington, for instance, there is a large area of well-to-do people. As I have said, in the whole borough of Paddington the infantile death rate is 107 per thousand as compared with 56 in Bermondsey and 53 in Hackney—twice as high in a semi-rich-poverty area as in an entirely poor area like Bermondsey.
Whatever our differences may be in politics we must all admit that there must be some serious facts that need to be explained and some serious causes that need to be investigated arising from the reports of these medical officers of health. I emphasise the fact that these figures are taken from the reports of the medical officers and not from the statements of any party politician. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton spoke about the infantile mortality in Czechoslovakia as being 160 per thousand, and he thought it was very fine to realise that in England nothing of that kind could be discovered. He is wrong. In one ward of Paddington, the Town Ward, well-known to the Paddington Members, the infantile death rate in the year in question was 160 per thousand, twice as high as the infantile death rate in many central European towns; the same death rate that London had 70 years ago. With all our boasted progress, much of which I admit, in spite of all our improvements in health and comfort, there is a ward, in a big area of 15,000 people, within 1½ miles of this House where the infantile death rate is 160 per thousand.
What of the disease rate there? The scarlet fever cases in two poor wards numbered 130, and in two richer wards 36 cases. The cases of diphtheria in the poor wards numbered 106 and in two richer wards, 11. Of measles, the cases in the two poor wards were 490, and in the two richer wards, 109. The Medical Officer of Health says:
Owing to the existing social conditions only the most extreme cases of overcrowding are dealt with by official action.
To me these facts are most appalling and I wish the Minister would investigate them and give us some reasoned explanation why in Kensington and Paddington, semi-rich and poor districts, there should be figures such as I have quoted. What is the explanation? Let me make one or two suggestions. First, poverty is the greatest influence in health. Here is an extract from the report of the Medical Officer of Health for Kensington. He was alarmed and he made an investigation into the infantile mortality. He states that:
In 52 per cent. of families in which infant deaths occurred the wage-earner was in receipt of unemployment benefit or an income below that figure.
In 52 per cent. of the cases the income of the family was either the unemployment pay or below that limit. That is one explanation, and it is a very important fact to remember. The Medical Officer also says:
Of 79 mothers whose children died, 41 worked until the seventh or eighth month, and 24 worked to the full term.
Why? Because they were poor. It was not because they did not know or wanted to work the full period but because they were too poor to stay off. Just think of it. Women working until the eighth and even the ninth month, in the year 1934, in London.
In 1932 there was great economic depression which must have had a detrimental effect on the health of many mothers and children.
The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he has not evidence of malnutrition. I think he used words to that effect in the last week or two. Let me give him some evidence. The doctors of North Kensington were also alarmed by the shocking conditions. We have some very
decent men among our medical practitioners in Kensington. This is what they reported:
The bronchitis deaths in the main are not due to environment but to defective nutrition. The lady doctor was of the opinion that in a number of cases the mothers suffered from defective nutrition during the infant's lifetime.
The Hammersmith medical officer of health has also gone into this question. Dr. Hasting carried out an investigation of the condition of school children of 21 families of unemployed, and published the result in the "Lancet," of the 25th March of last year, in which he said:
Evidence of malnutrition was found in 28 per cent. of cases, while 76 per cent. of the children examined were below the average weight of children in elementary schools.
I could give further evidence in regard to conditions in London for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. There is another factor which is important as an allied cause of this trouble, and that is the tremendous rents that are charged in West London, rents far above anything in any other part of London. In West London rents which before the War used to be from 15 to 20 per cent. of the average family income have increased in many cases to as much as 50 per cent. of the total income. Hon. Members may not accept these assertions from me, therefore I will quote people whom they will believe. Here is a report from the Hammersmith medical officer for last year, with regard to cases he examined. Here is one case:
An unemployed person, man and wife, with three children, income—oven with the cut restored, and I have restored it in the figures—32s., rent, 17s. 6d.
That leaves 14s. 6d. a week to keep five persons—man, wife and three children, an average of less than 3s. per head per week. Other cases: Man, wife and three children, income 32s., rent 19s. 6d., left for keep for the week 12s. 6d.; man, wife and three children, income 32s., rent 25s., sub-let 9s., and so on; man, wife and two children, income 30s., rent 18s., 12s. left for four people to live upon for the week; and the final case of an unemployed man, with wife and four children, income 34s., rent 20s., and 14s. left with which to keep six people for a week. Malnutrition. How could there be other than malnutrition with only 14s. a week on which to keep six people? Perhaps some hon.
Members would like me to give some cases of the employed. Here is one of a man, wife and three children, wages 46s.—that is not an uncommon wage in. London, but the average wage for an ordinary unskilled worker—rent 20s., with 26s. left for five people to live upon. Other cases: Man, wife and five children, wages 50s., rent 24s., and so on; man, wife and five children, wages 60s.—which is above the average—rent 30s., leaving 30s. upon which to keep seven people. These are not abnormal cases. There are thousands and thousands of cases of families in Kensington, Paddington and Fulham in which from 15s. to 30s. a week is being paid for rent out of a wage of £2 10s. I assert that when 50 per cent. of income has to go in rent there must be shocking cases of malnutrition in those families. This is not my evidence, but evidence of officials employed by the local borough councils. Lord Balfour of Burleigh gives other examples of work and rent in Kensington, and says:
Children are going short of food, clothes and boots because parents are paying too much out of their income for rent.
The medical officer said:
My attention has been called to the very serious effect upon the health of parents and children resulting from so much of the family income being paid in rent. Parents and children are being underfed and undernourished.
I could go on giving further examples, but I think I have given enough for the Minister to think about when next he speaks about malnutrition and the effects of poverty on the health of our people. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) tells us in one of his books that the cost of illness to the nation is round about £300,000,000 a year. I suggest that a large portion of that expenditure could be saved if these black spots in London and the rest of England were wiped out. There would be a saving in health services, in the expense of crime and drunkenness, and in the general health of the nation. I believe that a really great drive to wipe out the shocking slums and to bring down the abnormal rents in London and elsewhere would be one of the most profitable undertakings upon which any Government could embark.
No, Sir, I am referring to decontrolled rentals, but the hon. Member will remember that the percentage of decontrolled houses varies from borough to borough, and in some of the West London Boroughs, owing to the alluring rents which can be obtained by landlords, all kinds of devices are being used to get a greater number of houses decontrolled. I do not profess to know whether the percentage of decontrolled houses is 20, 30 or 40, but it is sufficiently high to leave thousands of people in these boroughs paying the rents which I have quoted. I will finish by quoting the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently wrote as follows:
The housing conditions are working havoc upon what is meant by pure home life. Scarcely any sacrifice, individual or corporate, civic or political, is too great for rolling away the reproach of conditions which to our grandchildren will seem unbelievable.
I commend those sentences and sentiments to the earnest consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health.
We have listened to a very moving speech from the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West) which must have impressed the whole Committee. I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman tried to concentrate the attention of the Committee upon the London problem. The Minister of Health is conscious, I am sure, that London presents a problem almost of its own. The hon. Member was justified in making contrasts between various boroughs. London is divided into 28 boroughs and the standard of administration invariably varies. There are no doubt contributory factors which enable such boroughs as Bethnal Green and Bermondsey, with almost universal poverty, to show up in many ways so well in comparison with other more prosperous boroughs where the conditions should be better. My hon. Friend did not mention two very important agencies which make a substantial contribution towards decreasing infant mortality. First, I refer to the infant and child welfare centres which are doing wonderful work in London to decrease infant mortality, particularly at the beginning, by providing free milk to mothers before childbirth. That is most valuable, and I should like the Minister to refer to the matter when he replies. It ought to be universal, and facilities ought to be made available by every local authority. Another example of good work being done—and it is done in Paddington—is that of the day nurseries. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) often refers to nursery schools, which do good work, but equally good work is done in the day nurseries in decreasing infant mortality, which is so great in overcrowded areas like North Paddington and North Kensington, where the housing problem is acute.
The cure of the housing problem cannot be effected by a wave of a wand. I wish it could be. In the meantime, therefore, we ought to insist upon the local authorities providing palliatives, which are to be found in such things as day nurseries. I have in mind particularly a day nursery which is doing wonderful rescue work among mothers who have to go out and work owing to the poverty of the home. It enables a child, although born in the slums, even in a two-roomed tenement, to have a decent chance and to have proper breathing space and to make up for insufficient rest at night by pleasant environment and proper nourishment and treatment in every way. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that, if we are to find permanent remedies and go down to bed rock, we must not be diverted from the master problem of housing. Any other remedy must necessarily be temporary and not provide a full cure. I do not think it matters if, on an occasion of this kind, we have a small Committee present. It enables us to have a more friendly and intimate discussion and to refer for a few moments to the slum problem.
The right hon. Gentleman—I have been a critic of his, but I do not mind paying tribute to him when it is due—has shown tremendous energy in going up and down the country preaching a forward policy on slum clearance. He is able to come forward, as a result of his campaign and of the preaching he has done by his quiet eloquence, with a big paper programme. I say this in no disparaging manner. He is able to show and to outline a large number of schemes which have been submitted by various local authorities which make fine reading on paper, and, if he can get them rapidly into operation, they will make a difference to the condition of the health of the people of this country. We are justified in asking him—I do not do it in any disparaging tone—how many houses have been provided since the Housing Act of 1933 came into operation. How many houses have been built under the Act, and how many persons have been rehoused? What is the actual progress? What are the results, not in schemes approved, but in houses built and persons rehoused, which, after all, will be the test? In London we have a fine paper scheme. The new Labour majority is not satisfied and wants to enlarge it. We want to see effective results.
I have never been under any delusion—I have always been in favour of slum clearance—as to the time factor. I have said in this House and on local authorities that this is a slow way of approaching the housing problem. You are up against powerful vested interests who are very ingenious in devising ways to delay and prevent operations. I and, I think, most Members of the Committee have had a remarkable memoranda sent to us by property owners putting forward the sad and tragic case of the owner of this particular class of property. They tell a pitiful tale which almost moves the heart—they do not move the Noble Lady and myself, as we know a little more about the matter—of the uninitiated. They say that it is very hard that this National Government should confiscate property without reasonable compensation. I do not think that it is out of place to remind the Committee of the terms of the Act of 1930 under which we operate. They are very fair and generous. Before a local authority can clear any area it has to be shown, first,
that the dwelling houses in that area are by reason of disrepair or sanitary defects unfit for human habitation, or are by reason of their bad arrangement, or the narrowness or had arrangement of the streets, dangerous or injurious to the health of the inhabitants of the area.
I took part in the drafting of that particular provision of the Act when the Bill was in Committee. It was submitted to most careful examination and criticism. The right hon. Gentleman the present Postmaster-General was there as a colleague of mine and showed his great powers of amendment. He and the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor
of the Exchequer submitted that Measure, when it was going through Committee upstairs, to a most careful examination-it was not a Labour majority by the way—and everything was done to respect legitimate property interests. I would remind the Committee of the provision in the same Section which says
the authority shall cause that area to be defined on a map in such manner"—
I want the Committee to mark and to remember these words, as it would be better to know them when talking outside to vested interests—
as to exclude from the area any building which is not unfit for human habitation or dangerous or injurious to health.
Does it not show that this whining of the owners of property is unreasonable? As a matter of fact, of course, it is common knowledge that there has been great speculation, and most of it has long since been paid for by the tenants. A great part of the property in London that has been condemned is over 100 years old. I know of miles and miles of streets dating from about 1832, and the rents of the inhabitants of the various generations have more than paid for every brick, stone, slate, and piece of timber in the buildings. Of course, there are innocent people, the widows and orphans, who have had this property left to them, or alternatively who have had some trustee who has invested their savings in it, but I think there is a great deal of exaggeration in that regard. I had a case told me the other day of some poor person who invested his savings in some property in South London, the savings of a lifetime, some three years ago, but when I investigated the case I found that he bad been getting 30 per cent. return on his capital for three years, and that he will probably get it for a fourth year. I do not think he is entitled to much sympathy.
We must go full speed ahead and not be beguiled by any of these pathetic tales of confiscation. Although it may be hard on the owners of property to lose their money, it is three times harder to be condemned to live in these houses, and it is 10 times worse for the children who are brought up in them and who will be handicapped from the very beginning of their lives by this bad environment. I did not rise, however, to speak about the slum problem. We are now one happy family on this question, and all parties are agreed in this campaign against the slums.
I thought I had universal agreement, but perhaps my hon. Friend will show where I am wrong. There is a real danger in concentrating on the slum problem and neglecting the larger issue of the general housing of the people. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pickering) dealt with the other side of the question. The 1930 Act provided that there should be a complete survey by the various local authorities in each area throughout the country of the housing needs. It was to have been done in 1930, and some local authorities did complete their surveys. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will put me right if I am wrong, but I think I am right in saying that if he were to search the pigeon-holes of the Ministry of Health, very few of those surveys would be found to be there; they would mostly be missing. Another survey is due next year, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should require the local authorities to fulfil that obligation imposed upon them by the Act of 1930, and that there should be a complete survey, quite apart from slum clearance, of the housing needs of the country. I insist on that, partly because of the serious position arising in London. There is a new and particular problem arising in London, peculiar to London, providing a special problem, and if it is not faced with imagination, if the Minister of Health does not apply himself to it, it will go by default and will become very serious.
Nobody knows better than he does that in the county of London there has been an actual decline in the population. What is happening is that residential property is largely being converted into commercial uses. Factory, workshop, and place of business are gradually pushing people outside. Although there has been a decline inside the county of London in the total number of people, there has been an increase—and this is the peculiar factor that is upsetting many of our calculations in dealing with the housing problem—in the number of families. The family unit is smaller, but the number of families is larger, and your housing problem, even inside the county of London, has become more acute. Actually the number of persons who have separate dwellings has decreased from 38 per cent. of the population to 36 per cent. Only 36 per cent. of the people in this great, wealthy town of London, inside the county boundaries, have separate dwellings. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Hammersmith said, that is one of the problems peculiar to London. You have these fine houses, in good streets, nowhere near the definition of slums, built by middle-class people, well planned and well designed, originally designed for one family, but now occupied by two, three, four, and even up to seven and eight families.
That accounts for a lot of the high mortality in North Paddington and North Kensington in good residential streets. It is due to the shortage of accommodation and the use for several families of a house originally designed for only one family, where there is no proper provision for sanitation, no water supply, and no structural alterations to adapt it to house several families. That is one of the serious problems that we have to face in London, and it is an extraordinarily difficult one, because we cannot find new sites. The whole of London is now, more or less, covered by buildings. Then there is the very difficult and acute question, which has already been mentioned, of basement dwellings—30,000 of them, occupied by over 100,000 people.
As my Noble Friend says, it is appalling, and although these dwellings do not come in the category of slums and cannot be pulled down as slum dwellings, the conditions in these basement dwellings in most cases are very much worse than could be found in the very worst slums in London or in any of our great cities. The Medical Officer of Health for London points out that they are the most insanitary houses to be found in the Metropolis, and the school medical officer says that medically, physically, and educationally the children living in these dwellings are very much worse off than those living in any other area. The remedy is extraordinarily complex, because obviously you cannot close these basement dwellings, although they are really unfit for human habitation, until you have houses for re-housing the people. Meanwhile, those houses do not exist and will never be provided at rents which these people can pay, without the intervention of the local authorities.
That is the problem inside the county, but in the meantime a more difficult problem arises outside the county. The population is being pushed outside the county area. In London we have a responsible authority whom we can make accountable for errors of omission or commission—the London County Council, with the 28 local councils, but outside the county there reigns chaos. There are 113 local authorities with various powers, county boroughs, urban districts, county councils, rural districts, and all the various local government experiments which the ingenuity of man can devise that have grown up in the last 20 or 30 years as the population has developed. But as if that were not enough, our problem has been intensified by the fact that North, South, East and West, from Wales, from the North of England, from the Clyde Valley, and from the mining areas are pouring in large numbers of people who are creating new industries. It may be said, and with reason, that that is all to the advantage of London, because it is adding to its wealth, but, as a matter of fact, these new industries are largely bringing their populations with them, and they are attracting, through the energy and initiative of the Ministry of Labour, this great army of men and women, but owing to the fact of the absence of an ordered system of local government for Greater London, no proper plan has been devised for housing this new army of people.
The natural increase and the migration have not been met either by private enterprise or by local government organisation, and I suggest to the Minister that the responsibility—I am not going to say the blame—must be his. He has inherited the problem. He finds himself Minister of Health when this new problem has grown, almost by a miracle or by an accident, but it has to be faced by someone. Actually, if you take the London traffic area, you have now in it one-fifth of the total population of the country, and it is growing apace. According to the last Census return, for the period between 1921 and 1931, there was an increase in the Metropolitan area—that is, within a 10 miles radius—of three-quarters of a million, but the right hon. Gentleman knows that the Census officials point out that that speed of increase is going on, because of the migration from all over the country. I suggest that it is necessary, if during the next eight or nine years we are not going to be faced with one of the most difficult problems, not merely of housing, but of public health, that the Minister should take this question in hand. It is not merely a question of housing, but of planning the population and of the provision of sanitation, of drainage, and of water. One of the reasons why we are faced with a possible shortage in London is not the normal increase, but the exceptional increase inside the Metropolitan area. It has to be faced, and it will have to be faced with imagination.
To revert to the housing question in this Greater London area, less has been done by local authorities outside London than in any of the other great towns in the country, and it is due to the division of responsibility. What is everybody's business is nobody's business. The county does little, because, it says, it is the business of the urban district, and the urban district does nothing because the county borough is adjacent. Then none of the bodies does the job because there is always the London County Council, which they hope will do it for them, as it has power to build outside the county area.
This is really an important and urgent matter. Whether it can be dealt with by utilising the powers under the Town Planning Act I cannot say. A committee of architects has pressed forward that suggestion and no doubt the Minister of Health is familiar with their report. A very influential committee put forward most interesting proposals for the ordered development of the great new area that is growing before our eyes. It may be necessary to have legislation, but I am not very enamoured of legislation in the matter. I do not look with special favour on a new board. London already has four boards, the Electricity Board and the London Traffic Board among them, and I would not like to see a new Housing Board added. Boards are in the way of doing a great deal of talk and achieving extraordinarily little result. I think that probably the best result could be reached by getting the authorities together in a permanent conference, by co-operation, and by getting the Minister to give a lead and take the responsibility. Then something could be done.
My own personal opinion is that it is possible for local authorities to do this work without a subsidy. At the present price of money and the low cost of building, local authorities could face up to their responsibilities and could build to meet the shortage of houses for letting. There is a lot of building going on, in an unregulated way, of houses for sale, but if local authorities would do their duty in the matter of building houses to be let, they could make up the shortage, even at the expense of the rates. I apologise for having spoken so long. I have done so only because of the urgency and importance of the problem.
We have had several subjects raised, and I would like to refer to some that may appear to be less popular but are none the less essential to our public health. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) spoke of certain new diseases. He meant rather to refer to new manifestations of disease, such as cancer and rheumatism and nervous diseases, which quite rightly should attract our attention but are commonly taken for granted and are not mentioned specially in these annual Debates on the subject of public health. It is right to say that those who are concerned in the great advance that is being made towards the discovery of the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer are generally of the opinion, though they are not unanimous—that would dot become the medical profession—that there is no real increase, age for age and like for like, in the incidence of cancer at the present time. It is quite clear that there is a change going on in the age distribution of the populace. That means that, inasmuch as there is a constant decline in the birthrate, so we are getting a smaller and smaller proportion of infants in the populace. As health is gradually being preserved, as life is being prolonged, so we are getting a greater proportion of old people in the populace.
For both these reasons the average age of the people is becoming higher and higher. Therefore, the diseases of old age have become more prominent per thousand of the population. Cancer being essentially a disease of those between the ages of 40 and 70 it has a larger prey in the population, and therefore the figures are increasing, but as far as we can make out from the actual figures, in any one area under like circumstances the total affected of those between 40 and 70 is fairly stationary, although unfortunately it is not being much reduced. But the outlook is hopeful, mainly because of the encouragement given to research, and the work that is being done with the aid of the Imperial Cancer Fund and the British Empire Cancer Fund, and by the hospitals and research laboratories that are working to that end, and not least because of the co-operation that is becoming more and more prominent, in research work and information, of different countries all over the Empire and the world, which gives us the result of American and European research and work, and, what is not the least important, the results of tropical work and tropical analysis.
The same thing applies, to a certain extent, to the increase of rheumatism. It is not only a question of the actual incidence, per proportion of the population, of a disease, but as cases get talked about more and more, so more and more they will be attributed to that particular state or group of symptoms, the disease of rheumatism. The same thing applies to the discovery of cases of cancer owing to X-ray and other modern methods. Those cases were not attributed to cancer in the old days, and would have been passed unnoticed until they came into the mortality tables, where they were attributed to the secondary complaints of pneumonia or peritonitis. In rheumatism the number of cases attributed to this cause is largely due to the fact that the cases are so much talked about. There is little diminution in that set of troubles, but I hope that the immense amount of work that is going on into the causes and treatment of rheumatism will have effect.
Then there are the nervous diseases in connection with mental deficiency. People see the figures of mental deficiency or mental disorder, and are horrified by the idea that there is an increase, sometimes a very remarkable increase, in one year, but the real fact is that those diseases that have any kind of stigma attached to them have in the past been concealed and hidden and have not been spoken of or noticed. But the more we get down to the problem and find that there is some reasonable prospect of treatment and some proper system of dealing with it, so we are able by ascertainment to increase the apparent incidence of this disease. That is certainly so with regard to mental diseases. It is only in the last 10 years or so that we have tackled these subjects with a clear mind and with considerably increased powers.
It is tackled by a system which includes both the psychological side and the material side, institutional and domiciliary. At the back of the Noble Lady's mind is the idea that it is the psychological understanding of the approach to these diseases that has given us the greatest hope. That is becoming recognised in my own medical profession and among the public at large. We recognise that a great many of these subjects are primarily psychological, and have to be treated not by drugs but by what we may call more natural means, greater sympathy, which really means by the psychological approach and trying to get at the mind rather than by drugging. I was thinking more particularly of the organised system that has been set up to approach these problems, by diagnosis, by ascertainment, by the Mental Deficiency Act or under the Education Act by the school medical inspection system, which enables school medical officers to get at these things much earlier than they could in days gone by.
One of the most important subjects raised to-day was infant mortality. There has been a constant decrease in the figures of mortality, from 153 per 1,000 70 years ago to 62 per 1,000 last year. Comparing the infant mortality at the beginning of this century with that today the Minister has saved something like 40,000 lives in the year. Comparing the infant mortality of 70 years ago with that of to-day we are saving 54,000 infant lives every year. It is useful for us to remember that this drop in infant mortality applies not only to infancy but is continued through what is called the toddler's age, the second, third, fourth and fifth years of childhood. That is particularly important. In my public health days little attention was paid to the toddlers. It was largely the present Principal Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health who first drew the attention of medical officers generally to the fact that there was this blank in the public health. Let us compare the statistics for the years 1911 to 1915 with those for 1932. I will take the mortality in the second, third, fourth and fifth years of life and compare it, per 1,000, with the mortality before the War. Whereas 35 per 1,000 died in their second year before the War, the figure has been reduced to 14; in the third year of their age it has fallen from 14 to 6 per thousand; in the fourth year from 9 to 4 per thousand; and in the fifth year from 6 to 3 per thousand. So that in each of the years of the toddler's life you have the mortality halved in the last 20 years. That is a matter for very great satisfaction to us all.
Then as regards the difference between different areas of the country. The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West), in an interesting and well-informed speech, drew attention to local variations. We have infant mortality reduced to 62 per 1,000. It is a remarkable fact that in London the figure is only just above that, and stands at 67 per thousand. But why should we have in Liverpool an infant mortality of 91 per thousand? Why in Manchester is it 86? Why in Leeds is it 88? Why should these great industrial towns have an infant mortality almost half as high again as London—including, be it remembered, Bermondsey, Bethnal Green and Hackney? Perhaps the answer is to be found in that useful comparison which we had between Bermondsey and North Kensington. It shows that even in poor districts when the local authority makes up its mind and the people take the matter up with a will, the infant mortality can be reduced. One thing is clear—and I am speaking now in a non-political sense altogether—namely, that poverty is not the main reason for infant mortality as the hon. Member for North Hammersmith suggested. Hackney and Bermondsey give the lie to that idea. Look at the case of Merthyr. In the beginning of the last decade of the last century the infant mortality in Merthyr was 202 per thousand. It has been reduced to 73 per thousand. Poverty was not the cause of the high infant mortality there, and that wonderful reduction has been brought about by the application of will and intelligence combined.
These reductions in the infant mortality rate are due to the local authorities on the one hand and to the mothers themselves on the other, to the exercise of greater intelligence and, above all, greater knowledge. That brings me to the work of the maternity and child welfare centres, and of the health visitors throughout the country, by means of which knowledge has been brought home to the mothers themselves. During the last 30 years a great deal has been done in that direction. Mothers have been brought together to get the most up-to-date information and to learn from each other as well as from the doctors and nurses who attend those meetings. It is remarkable how much the ordinary mother is learning to-day compared with what could be learned by her in past years. That result has been achieved largely through the centres and the health visitors who have brought sympathy and instruction into the homes of the mothers themselves.
In the last two annual reports of the Ministry of Health there have been references to the question of co-ordination of authorities in connection with this matter. It was expected that under Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929, applications would be submitted for the purpose of securing co-ordination between education authorities and maternity and child welfare authorities. Power was given for that purpose in Section 60 of the Act, the idea being that there should be one authority dealing with both education and maternity and child welfare matters, so that there should be continuity of treatment from the beginning of the child's life until the school-leaving age. Apparently few, if any, such applications had been received up to the date of the last annual report, and I should like to ask the Minister whether even one little mouse has yet been produced by the mountain of Section 60. Are any more applications expected or have any more been received? The last report of the Ministry stated that comparatively little use was being made of Section 60 up to the present.
I turn from that topic to the question of maternal mortality, which is a pressing and a difficult problem. In 1912 there were 3,492 maternal deaths which in 1932 had been reduced to 2,587, but the rate per thousand births had not gone down. It was under four before the War, and it is now nearly four and a quarter. Those who are in touch with the work of midwives and district nurses in the rural areas cannot fail to be struck with the contrast between the general rate and the rate among those cases which are conducted by the midwives. In the last two centuries in this country we have rather departed from the system which used to exist, and which still exists in so many other countries, under which confinements are primarily the work of the midwife and not of the doctor. I hope we are coming back to that system in this country, and that we shall be able to get sufficient trained midwives to conduct all normal midwifery work. The ordinary work of midwifery could safely be entrusted to such a body leaving the medical profession to be brought in for consultative purpose or in case of need for the support and instruction of the midwife. We must not forget of course that there are those mothers who consider a doctor better than a midwife. Many of them appear to have greater confidence in the male sex than they have in their own. Let those mothers who are prepared to pay for the luxury have the services of doctors by all means but I hope to see a great part of the normal work going back into the hands of the mid-wives again. If so however, the mid-wives will require to be trained for the purpose. It will be necessary to have more attention paid both to their original training and to their post graduate training than is the case at present.
I had the privilege recently of addressing the annual meeting of the Queen's Institute of District Nursing, one of the great philanthropic organisations brought into being by Queen Victoria and carried on since by Queen Alexandra and her Majesty the present Queen. It is performing a beneficent work throughout the countryside, and the annual report contained some striking figures as to the rate of maternal mortality among the cases dealt with by the district nurses as compared with the general rate for the whole country. As I have said the rate for the whole country is 4¼ per thousand births. In the cases dealt with by the Queen's Institute of District Nursing for the same year the rate was 2.1. There are several reasons for this difference. One is that mothers who are having their first confinement do not take risks and very often go into hospital, while complicated cases of one kind or another are not treated by the midwives. These cases get into the hands of the doctors sooner or later and therefore the figures do not afford a fair comparison as to the efficiency of the one method or the other. But the fact remains that you have this comparatively low rate among the district midwives cases as compared with the figures for the whole country. There is, however, also a slight increase in their figures. The rate for 1932 was 2.1, but in 1931 it was only 1.7, and in 1932 it was 2.3, so apparently in both cases there is about the same kind of increase in the rate year by year.
What is the reason? In that remarkable document, the report of the Departmental Committee which was issued the year before last, we had a Very interesting comparison between the figures for this country and the figures for the Netherlands. Everybody knows that the public health arrangements in some of the northern countries of Europe are very far advanced and the figures of maternal mortality are very interesting. Compared with our 4.31 maternal deaths per thousand births the figure in the Netherlands for 1920 was 2.4, in Denmark 2.8, and in Sweden 2.6. But there has been an increase in the rate in those countries also. In the Netherlands between 1920 and 1930 the rate increased from 2.4 to 3.3, in Denmark from 2.8 to 3.8, and in Sweden from 2.6 to 3.0, so that they are not immune from this increase.
I had better sum it up in the words of the report of the Departmental Committee, that the Netherlands is the only country which is really comparable to our own, all things being considered. I cannot go into the details. Perhaps the Noble Lady will amplify or correct my statement later. There are two or three causes for the difference in the figures as shown by Dame Janet Campbell in her remarkable report on the subject in 1932. First there is the question of diet, and hon. Members representing the agricultural community will be glad to hear that there is a strong recommendation in favour of the increased consumption of milk, though it is not said whether it is to be pasteurised or not. That will give some hope to our farmers of being able to help themselves and also help the public health movement, by securing an increased consumption of milk among mothers. The question of diet is a serious one—not merely the amount of food but also th epreparation of the food—and we know that it is one of the difficulties among mothers to-day.
The second cause referred to is one that has not been sufficiently recognised up to the present and that is the question of the actual conformity of the pelvis which makes all the difference between a healthy easy confinement and an unhealthy difficult one. It is not merely a question of rickets, though that may often be a cause of difficulties, but in this report there is the definite conclusion that the Netherlands' women are better shaped than our own. I am not so sure that it has anything to do with the question of gymnastic exercises so much as with the abandonment in many civilised countries, including our own, of the natural squatting position. We have forgotten how to squat. We do not learn as children how to squat. In Oriental countries and in other countries where more natural habits prevail, squatting is practised naturally from childhood onwards and it has the effect of broadening the pelvic bone. The fact that in this country young people are trained to sit and not squat from their earliest days has a considerable effect upo nactual physical development. That is a matter which, as I say, cannot be treated by exercises in adult life. It is rather a matter for exercises and training in early life. That is one important suggestion, and I think we might look for some improvement in that direction.
Then many of these cases—over one-third, I think—are traced to puerperal infection, which often arises from the use of instruments in a hurry and the desire to hasten the natural process. I believe that a great deal of trouble in these cases arises from the hurry of the general practitioner, who in these days has a far greater range of practice than formerly and has frequently to hasten from a confinement case to other duties. There is also the impatience of the mother who wishes at all costs to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible, and to be relieved of pain. I believe that a good deal of trouble comes because, as often happens in civilised life, the introduction of civilised methods abolishes nature's natural processes. There, again, is a line of development that depends not so much on legislation by the Government, regulation by the Department, or by help given by the medical profession, but which really depends on the natural inclination of the young mothers and on general public opinion recognising that they have got to take their share in having a more natural which would mean a safer labour.
In conclusion, I want to ask two or three questions that must not be omitted from our survey of public health. I have already referred to the question of mental treatment. The Mental Treatment Act, 1930, which was passed under the Ministry of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), was meant to bring early relief on a large scale to cases of mental disease that had hitherto been excluded from treatment for one reason or another by allowing early voluntary treatment without people being certified. We should like to know what has been the result of that Act. My own information is merely partial, depending upon local instances, but, as far as I can hear, there has been a great disinclination to use the voluntary system, and the Act has not had the effect that we hoped it would have had. I do not know whether there has been too great a rigidity of official forms. I had a case the other day of a poor girl, who was an ideal case for voluntary treatment, and she was recommended to go into the medical hospital for that treatment. She was naturally very hesitant about it, and I wrote to the medical superintendent and to the chairman of the welfare committee. The result was a letter from the medical superintendent saying that the girl had to apply to the relieving officer for a form, get the form filled up and send it to the proper quarter. That kind of thing frightened off the girl, who was the daughter of an agricultural labourer, and nothing more has been heard of the case as yet. I am inclined to think there is too much officialdom. We can get voluntary treatment in incipient mental disease only by making it as easy and as unofficial as possible for people to go into the hospitals.
Another Measure of which I should like to know something is the Registration of Nursing Homes Act, 1927. I do not see any report on its working in the annual report of the Ministry of Health, and I hear nothing about it. Perhaps no news is good news. Has the Act improved the working of these homes? Has it led to the closing of unsatisfactory homes? Has it managed to stop, as we hoped it would, undue profiteering? Has it prevented fraud? There has been no report, and it seems to me that the House, having taken the trouble to pass the Act, wants to know what its effect has been.
My last point is with regard to tuberculosis. We see the figures for tuberculosis with heavy minds, after all the amount that has been spent and the trouble that has been taken on dispensary treatment, domiciliary treatment, institutions, sanitoria and so on. What is the result? In 1932 tuberculosis patients who died or who were discharged from approved residential institutions numbered 39,000. Of these, 500 died in institutions, nearly 9,000 were discharged quiescent, and 24,000 were discharged not quiescent. What is to happen to that 24,000? To where are they discharged? They are discharged hack to their homes to make their own way in the world. They are discharged back, therefore, to try to take up life's burden in their own profession, and to get employment again. Their homes are very likely overcrowded and in the slums, and they are spreading the disease among other people. Very gallantly—they are very gallant and hopeful—they get back to their work and say, "I am quite all right." They go on working although they feel exhausted, but they feel that they must carry on. They do not say anything about it, but after two, three or five years they drop down and die. All the work and the money that have been put into sanatorium and dispensary work are wasted. It is true that they have given these people an extra year or two to live, but the money is practically thrown away, and meanwhile these people are infecting their families.
There is one relief. I do not know whether it has a practical bearing upon the nation as a whole, but in certain cases it is a wonderful relief. Some of us have been to see Preston Hall in Kent, or Papworth in Cambridgeshire, and it is good to see, as I saw, on a fine spring day, 2,000 or 3,000 of those who have been discharged as not quiescent living in houses with their families in a normal way—an abnormal way really in these modern times, because it is a healthy way. They are living there and are employed in ordinary work in the workshops which are run on financial lines. Travellers go all over the country and get orders for the workshops from places like Harrod's, Selfridge's or the Co-operative Society. These men live an ordinary, healthy life with their wives and children around them, practically free from infection.
These places give a wonderful line of hope and encouragement, but they are limited to a very small number. What are the housing authorities going to do when they try to clear the slums and come across these people who have been discharged from sanitoria? Are the authorities going to rehouse them with all the rest, and allow them to go back to their ordinary employment? Could they not be given some kind of opportunity to get down to a place like Preston Hall or Papworth? Is not that a national development? I know that there are fearful commercial and industrial difficulties of running a place like this, and they require a superman. They have been fortunate enough to get supermen in these two places. The London County Council already pays for a considerable number of cases that go to Papworth. Can that be done on a larger scale? Can some of the money that is to go for slum clearance and rehousing be used for rehousing in village settlements like Papworth? I know the difficulties that have been shown to exist whenever a local authority has suggested setting up such a place, but I think that that kind of hope ought to be given to these poor unfortunates for their own sakes, and for the sakes of their children and of the people among whom they live.
This is a difficult job and really affects two Ministries. Why should the Ministry of Health be excluded from using machinery that may be lying in another Department? I would like to see if it is possible to get some machinery established between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour, or rather the new Unemployment Board under the chairmanship of the late Minister of Labour. I would like them to use Part II of that Act so as to give employment in training centres and so on to unemployed people who are tuberculous. I cannot help thinking that by some co-operation between the Unemployment Board and the Ministry of Health there may be some hope. I throw this out as a line of thought that ought to attract all of us although the difficulties are enormous. I feel that we have a worthy representative Department dealing with this subject in the Ministry of Health. The local authorities are all alive to the possibilities and I offer this line of thought in the hope that something may be done in the next few years to relieve those who are suffering from tuberculosis and to reduce the danger of spreading the disease.
There is scarcely a Vote of any Government Department which so intimately touches the average life of the people as the Vote of the Ministry of Health. The work of that Department touches the home life and the life of the mother and the child, but I think that on this occasion it would be only fit and proper that someone should pay a tribute to the very fine work done by the officials of the local authorities. I am always indebted on these occasions to the reports of the medical officers of health for various districts. Whenever I read those reports, I feel very much indebted to a class of man who, on the whole, is remarkably conscientious in his duty, and is anxious to give his council every information and to help in every way to give the community he serves good health. A part of my constituency is the typical Black Country area of Tipton, an urban district with a population of about 33,000. Last week the medical officer of health issued his annual report. I am anxious to draw the attention of the Minister to what I consider to be the outstanding problem of the Ministry of Health,
namely, housing. The medical officer, Dr. A. Wall, declares that the overcrowding in his area is causing him very considerable anxiety. In Part IV of that report the surveyor reports that the erection of houses by private enterprise had improved slightly on 1932, the total being 27 as against 18. That is a most illuminating sentence. The Minister tells us that now that the subsidies have been done away with private enterprise is "filling the gap," and yet in an area with a population of 33,000 and a serious overcrowding problem only 27 houses were built by private enterprise in 1933. The report goes on to say:
In my comments on the housing position for the year ending 1932 I stated that it was my opinion that private enterprise would do nothing in our area to meet even the normal demands for housing, and this statement has proved to be more than correct, and it is quite certain that no one but the local authority can possibly tackle housing in a common sense manner in such a district as Tipton.
That medical officer declares, as hon. Members in many parts of the House have declared from time to time, that the housing question is one primarily for the local authorities. The evil of overcrowding does not diminish. I have a letter from a constituent of mine in Wednesbury. He married in 1922 and had to live with his wife's parents. He has been asking for a house for himself ever since. In 1928, when he had two children, he made a special plea that a house should be provided for him. He said that he was then living in one room in the house of his wife's mother. There were two rooms upstairs and two down, and one of the other rooms was occupied by another daughter who had got married. So there were two married couples and the old lady, the mother, living in a house with two rooms downstairs and two up. He says that he is obliged to put his two children in one corner of the room. They have to sleep in a single bed, which is only 6 feet by 4 feet 6 inches wide. The elder son is 11 and the younger seven. At the present time, 12 years after his marriage, he is still asking for a chance to get a house of his own. He has approached the local council, and begged and prayed of them to do something, but the reply is, "You have got only two children; there are people here with five, six and seven, and we must provide for them first." Now that the
council are unable to get subsidies for houses, there is only the slum clearance scheme on which to rely, but slum clearance schemes in themselves will do nothing to help where there is a lack of houses.
During the week-end I came across the report of another medical officer of health, Dr. A. Wotherspool, Medical Officer for North Staffordshire. He estimates that out of 60,000 homes in the Potteries 6,000 are overcrowded. He gives some examples. There are two adults and six children living in one small bedroom. There are two adults and six children, of mixed sexes and from nine months to 15 years of age, also living in one small bedroom. There are 12 people living in two bedrooms, the parents and two children in one room and in the other room eight males, including a lodger. He mentions a case of four adults and two children in one bed-living room. This is the testimony not of politicians, not of people who are biased, but of medical officers who present these reports in the course of their duties.
These reports prove conclusively that in spite of all the figures quoted in this House from time to time, in spite of all that we say is being done in the way of housing, we have thousands upon thousands of people unable to get a decent house in which to live. Many of them are quite prepared to pay—I do not want to call them exorbitant rents but rather high rents, more perhaps than they can afford to pay—if only they can get a house of their own. Incidentally, this question of rents is a very serious matter indeed. Not only working-class people but middle-class people and shopkeepers are complaining about high rents. I noticed that one of the great London papers the other day asked a man who was unemployed to report the service in connection with the new pilgrimage at Canterbury on Sunday. The man said he was allowed 33s. transitional payment for himself, his wife and four children, and out of that he was paying 12s. 6d. a week rent. I thought that a most astounding thing. One can understand rather high rents in a place like London, but in a small town like Canterbury this man was having to pay 12s. 6d., and that did not leave sufficient for the common necessities of life for himself and his family. I hope the Minister will not rest content in the belief that in some way or other the housing situation is being considerably eased. It may be possible to quote figures, but we want to know precisely where the houses are being built and how many are being built to be let. Going round the suburbs of London I notice almost everywhere hundreds of new houses being put up, and one would say that a great deal is being done to make up the housing shortage, but, as I have said, in Tipton, a town of 33,000 people, private enterprise provided only 27 new houses for renting in one year, and that is an area in which overcrowding is rife. Therefore, the Minister will have to consider whether he cannot give some assistance to local authorities in dealing with overcrowding.
That is a matter of opinion. I say it is a reasonable comparison, because I know the district, and the hon. Member does not. In a town like Tipton, where the average wage of the man who is employed is not more than between 36s. and 38s. a week, and where there is no middle class at all, any question of building houses to sell is beside the mark. The houses there must be built to be let, and at rents which the people can afford to pay having regard to their wages. Only 27 houses were built by private enterprise, and the council is not now in a position to build houses for the people as it was previously to the passing of the last Act. The medical officer, in his report, after alluding to the slum clearance scheme of the council, declares that in 18 per cent. of the houses which they propose to replace there was gross overcrowding. The building of houses for sale is no remedy in that big area, of which I know so much, which lies between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and comprises towns with an aggregate population of between 150,000 and 200,000. Unless some assistance can be given to the local authority, some subsidy to enable them to build, we shall still have complaints of the lack of housing accommodation. This is no question for argument by men speaking as Socialists, or Liberals or Tories. It is a problem which must appeal to all, irrespective of politics. We must all realise the advantages which accrue from people being able to live in decent, sanitary and clean houses. If we can give the people decent houses in which to live, and see that the children have light and air, the nation as a whole saves by a reduction of disease and in all kinds of other ways, and we can build up a generation which will have a real chance in life from the very beginning. I have put up a case for help to be given to local authorities to deal with overcrowding, and I hope that my words will fall upon sympathetic ears.
Another question with which I wish to deal is the position of the men who have lost their right to old age pensions through being unemployed. I think it was stated this afternoon that there are now 120,000 of these men. The injustice of the position is that if a man belonged to an approved society with a fairly good surplus, that society has, in many instances, come forward and enabled him to get an old age pension, but if he has chanced to live in an area in which there has been much sickness, or belonged to an approved society in a trade where the workers have a high percentage of sickness, the society will be unable to give any help at all, and the man gets no pension. Cannot the Minister do something for this class of men through the approved societies? It seems illogical that some societies should have a surplus running into thousands and others have but little surplus. Surely we should endeavour to use the surpluses as a whole to give these men of 65 an old age pension.
It is pointed out that if these men got a year's work, or something like that, they would be able to qualify. If a man becomes unemployed after he is 60 it is almost hopeless for him to expect that between 60 and 65 he will be able to qualify for an old age pension. I suppose the number is not so great in comparison with the number who are qualified to draw pension, but that is an added reason why the small difficulty should be put right and these men be enabled to draw a pension at 65 which would in many instances keep them off the Poor Law. It would be a tremendous help to them. In the meantime they suffer cruelly from a sense of injustice. They know that they are unemployed through no fault of their own. It is no fault of this kind of man that he is unable to find work; he is only too anxious and willing to work if the work were there. Society will not give him a chance, and the social system works in such a way that a man of 60 years of age is thrown upon the social scrap-heap. Because of his sufferings as a consequence of that, still further sufferings are put upon him, and when he comes to 65 he sees around him those who have been a little more fortunate drawing pensions, but he finds that he is to have no pension.
Small as this matter may seem, it is very serious to the individuals concerned. It is one of the things which no right-thinking man can defend. You can explain to those people about rules and regulations, but when it comes down to brass tacks and you put the matter as between man and man, you are unable to find any defence whatever, or any real reason why those people should be debarred from their old age pension at 65. I, therefore, make an appeal to the Minister to see whether something can be done. Whatever argument may be used in regard to this matter, where there is a will there is a way. If there is a will to see that this grievance is remedied and that these old people have a chance, I am confident that the Minister will be able to find the way. I hope that the two questions I have raised, of overcrowding, and of the old age pension for those who have dropped out through no fault of their own, but simply because of lack of employment, will be given sympathetic consideration by the Minister.
We have had a very interesting Debate ranging over a day and a half. Perhaps I might now answer the points which have been raised, and my right hon. Friend in his reply later on, will deal with other points. To-day we have had contributions on housing and public health, notably from the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). Before I get on to some of the main points of criticism, let me disabuse the mind of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield), who appealed to the Ministry to prevent 125,000 persons from losing their old age pensions. The answer is that the grievance has never existed. None of that category of persons will lose pension rights. Those people are especially preserved in pension rights until 1935. I thought that had been made abundantly plain during the Debate six months ago. The Minister of Health has come in for a good deal of praise which has, in the main, come from well-informed quarters, and he has come in for some criticism directed as a result of misunderstanding or ignorance. The criticisms can in the main be divided into three topics: First, water supply and drought; secondly, housing, and thirdly, slum clearance. With the permission of the Committee I will deal with them in that order, picking up on the way some of the questions put to me.
In regard to water supply and drought, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) led the attack upon the Government with some complaints about our emergency Measure. He says that the measures we took two or three months ago conferring very drastic emergency powers on local authorities should have been taken in April, 1933. The fact is that in April, 1933, the rainfall for the previous three months was 11 per cent. in excess of the normal. Imagine our coming to the House of Commons and asking for drastic emergency powers when the rainfall was 11 per cent. in excess of the normal. When the position of the drought and the information that we had from all expert bodies warranted it, my right hon. Friend came to the House and asked for those powers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield went on to say that the condition of our water supply was critical. That is an equally absurd contention.
That is not the point I am on. The charge was that we should have introduced this Measure in April, 1933, and I have given the answer. The other point does not arise. My right hon. Friend made the position perfectly plain as regards the way in which the drought has affected urban water supply undertakings. On the whole, we are looking forward with confidence to the future, always provided that the consumers can be relied upon to co-operate in reasonable economies. How much work has been done by the large undertakings, and how efficient is their water service throughout the country, can be shown by the fact that out of 1,000 large urban authorities the supply has been curtailed in only 10 cases. That reflects great credit, surely, on the strength and the virility of the services of the large water undertakings. Economies must, of course, be effected. I was calculating the other day when I was in my bath that 7,000,000 people live in Greater London and, on the assumption that even 500,000 persons have a bath a day and that they could manage with half the water they now use—that is not unreasonable; I was thinking that the water in my own bath was too much—that would save 7,000,000 gallons of water per day. No one could call that a hardship, and barely an inconvenience. It shows with what reasonable economies the public can help.
The second problem of the drought concerns rural areas. This is a permanent problem which the drought has intensified. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield is always talking about my natural gaiety. All that I have done is to deprecate alarmist statements in certain quarters. It is perfectly true that there are isolated farmhouses or groups which have never had a water supply, and may be, never will have a water supply, or, at any rate, they will never have a piped supply. They will rely on the surface wells, or they must rely upon tank supplies. We had a very instructive speech from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Liddall) who dealt with millions of gallons in the way that one deals with pints. He made the point that the local authorities of rural areas did not attach enough importance to the collection of rain water. Consider a cottage with a roof surface of 500 square feet. A rainfall of 30 inches during the year would provide 7,800 gallons of water for the occupants of that household, in what I am assuming is an ordinary cottage in a rural area. The cost of a thousand-gallon tank is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £20 or £25. In the large majority of cases, the utilisation of a tank, whether it is of corrugated iron or is underground, is probably the best way to ensure a constant supply of water.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said that prayer was not enough. He wanted proof of works. Let me give him some figures showing the extent to which the Rural Water Supplies Act is helping to solve this permanent problem in the rural areas. In the two and a-half months since the Act was passed, we have had applications from 593 parishes in respect of capital works totalling £1,700,000. We have actually approved for grant water schemes in respect of 211 parishes to a total capital value of £700,000. That is good going in two and a-half months. It is twice the total of each of the last two years, and it is approaching the maximum figure ever reached under the predecessors of my right hon. Friend. I claim that at that rate the permanent problem of our rural areas will be very greatly alleviated, because the £1,000,000 which we put at the disposal of the local authorities will permit, I cannot say how much, but perhaps £5,000,000 or £7,000,000 worth of capital works, and perhaps more.
There is a further aspect of the drought, and that is the drought as it appears in the newspapers. On the whole, the Press have been very helpful in calling attention to the need for economy, but I have here an article which is typical of some. It is from one of our brighter little contemporaries, and it makes three points. It says first that beasts are dying everywhere in the fields; secondly, that there is an outbreak of scarlet fever and diphtheria, and that those diseases are everywhere increasing and that, thirdly, three powers must be taken at once by the Minister. It was such an alarmist article—it led the paper on last Monday week—that I rang up the Ministry of Agriculture. I was told, with regard to the starving beasts, that cattle and sheep were in a fair condition and that lambs were healthy. As regards scarlet fever, I sent for the best expert in the country. He pointed out that scarlet fever and diphtheria are not diseases that are connected with absence of water but, on the contrary, that those diseases come in cycles of four years or five years and that more often than not they occur in areas where the water supply is satisfactory. Thirdly, the three powers that this particular article asked the Minister to take he had taken under the Emergency Powers Act three months before. That sort of article is not an appreciation of the water position but written with a political motive, and from my knowledge of journalism in the old days I presume it was written on a Sunday night when the water expert was out and the editor sent for the dramatic critic to write the article.
The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) attacked my right hon. Friend for the complacency with which he was facing the situation and quoted the 1920 Report. The hon. Gentleman forgets that as a result of that 1920 Report an advisory committee was set up at the Ministry of Health and the whole policy of regional committees started and that £60,000,000 worth of work was sanctioned for water undertakings all over the country; and he absolutely misrepresents or forgets the amount of legislative and administrative activity in the last year. When one talks about complacency, for the last nine months all I can remember is intense activity at the Ministry of Health by circular, conference, consultation with every national body that matters, and frequent visits of our able engineering inspectors to every area where drought is reported. We have been able, by attaining an exact appreciation of the conditions in rural areas this year, materially to assist. We ascertained two months ago that only 150 rural districts had a shortage of water, and, as a result of our efforts and consultations, 78 are now seeking an alternative supply, 62 are applying for schemes, and the balance have made temporary arrangements. The hon. Member for Platting forgets all this practical and useful work and wants an academic survey of the whole water problem, an interconnection which would be uneconomic, and a national allocation which would bankrupt most consumers. To sum up, by legislation, by administrative action, inspection and conference we have been able to render great assistance to local authorities in this matter of the drought. The one thing we cannot do, nor can the hon. Member for Platting, is to make rain water.
A second category of criticism is made under the heading of housing. May I refer to that? We had a very interesting speech from the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris); and with many of the suggestions he made, suggestions which coming from him with his experience were very valuable, we shall be dealing in the very near future. I am not allowed to-day to reply to some of the questions, but when the Bill is produced I am confident that he will be an enthusiastic supporter as will also be the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West). Very much of what he said about overcrowding causing disease and infant mortality cannot be denied, and for that reason we are bringing in a Bill which particularly will apply to those troublesome aspects of the problem. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield made a violent attack on the 1933 Act. I claim that that is one of the shortest and most effective Acts on the Statute Book. He spoke of what had been done under Section 2 of that Act, and the hon. Member for the Yardley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Salt) made a very interesting reference to what the Act had done. In the Birmingham district alone 10,000 houses were in contemplation under the guarantee scheme. What does it matter whether houses are provided under one Section or another? In effect, it has turned out that builders have been able to realise their own resources for building and have not relied on Section 2 of that Act.
Private enterprise has been building at a terrific rate. The figures are known to the House, but let me read them for the purposes of accuracy. In the year ending last March, 266,000 houses were built, of which 208,000 were built without State assistance and 58,000 with State assistance. That gave employment to 425,000 men, and it is very gratifying that since this vigorous housing policy started, since my right hon. Friend took charge, unemployment in the building industry has fallen by 40 per cent. in two years, and among bricklayers by 78 per cent. That is in itself a tribute to the activity of the Department. Of the 208,000 houses built without State assistance, 19 per cent. were to let and 77,000 were "C" class houses. The houses built by private enterprise and the 58,000 built in the main by local authority make 135,000 houses last year of the "C" class in this country.
An hon. Member spoke about the rents of these houses. A "C" class house has a certain rateable value; in the provinces it is under £13, and it is fixed for five years, but rents are variable. At the moment, the tendency is downwards because of greater building, and we may get a return one month which is quite inaccurate in another. It is generally accepted that these "C" class houses are of a nature catering for the needs of working-class housing. I do not know if hon. Members really appreciate what is going on in the housing world. The effect of cheap money and the cost of building means that houses are being provided under the building societies scheme, the owner-occupier scheme, at rents which compare favourably with the old subsidised municipal rents. In fact, you see on the notice boards that instalments are equal to rents. The owner-occupier scheme houses are really to let, the only difference being that you pay 2s. or 3s. more and that is in respect of the capital redemption of the house.
Why should not private enterprise build houses like this? The evidence is that artisans and skilled labourers are going into them. There is one thing that the right hon. Member for Wakefield forgot. Since the Rent Restrictions Act we have set up control of "C" class houses. Whenever you build a "C" class house now it is an addition to the "C" class pool. Before the Act, if these 77,000 houses had been occupied by "C" class tenants, 77,000 other houses would have become decontrolled when they were vacated. You were not increasing the pool. Now that we have put these houses under control they mean an addition to the pool. The old accommodation remains controlled. Do not let us forget that very important and salient fact about these working-class houses.
The hon. Member for North Hammersmith spoke of overcrowding in a street in Kensington that I happen to know. It is one of the most overcrowded streets in that particular borough. I was told the other day that there had been an 8 per cent. decrease in the population of that street, because the artisans were moving out to some of the new houses on the outskirts, leaving accommodation available, and in fact there were more and more notices of vacancies going up. More and more artisans move out to these houses as the result of building at this terrific rate, and the process of filtering goes on. We recently examined a sample of these houses to see who the occupants were and the kind of accommodation that they left. We took at random about 700 houses outside London in various parts of the country, and we found that they were largely occupied by the artisan type. When we followed up removals, even to the third removal—the end of the chain—we found that the chain ended in a great improvement or in empty houses, and actually in respect of 709 houses which were occupied largely by artisans 694 other working-class families had moved outwards, and the bulk of them had bettered their position either as regards more accommodation or the lowering of rents. That is a typical example of what is going on owing to the very accelerated rate of building.
Someone raised the question of the agreement with the building industry in 1924. The Committee will remember that in 1924 when Mr. Wheatley was Minister of Health, the building trade agreed to increase the number of apprentices on condition that there should be a 15 years programme of building at a certain figure. The total production fixed for 1933 was 210,000 houses and for 1934, 225,000 houses. That was Mr. Wheatley's anticipation in 1924, but the building industry told him at the time that they did not expect to achieve two-thirds of that number. Last year we exceeded by 50,000 the total output for the year 1933 anticipated in 1924. The real difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is that as long as there is a subsidy attached to a house he calls it a house. We say a house is a house whether there be a subsidy or not, and he said the same thing when he was Minister of Health. Sir Ernest Simon put a question to him, and I remember how angry he got and gave the identical reply I am giving to him that a house is a house whether there be a subsidy attached to it or not.
The hon. Member for the English Universities, while saying it might be agreed that the building of "C" class houses was going on, asked how the lower-paid worker could afford to pay the rent of one of these houses? The same point was put by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pickering). Private enter- prise can never cater for the really poorly paid worker, and it has never been stated from this Box that it can. My right hon. Friend in his slum clearance crusade is, in the next five years, putting at the disposal of local authorities, for finding accommodation for the poorer-paid workers, 300,000 houses at a cheaper rent than anything which has hitherto been provided, and, in connection with the new overcrowding Bill, that policy will be continued, and the local authorities, under subsidy where necessary, will cater for the poorer-paid workers. We maintain that the result of our Act of 1933 has been to liberate private enterprise, and so increase the rate at which the shortage will be overtaken, and to make for the first time adequate provision for the really low-paid worker.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there is a large number of people who are not slum dwellers, but who are poorly paid; and how is he proposing to cater for that class—people who have kept out of the slums, but who cannot afford to pay the ordinary rents?
The 300,000 houses are replacement houses, but it does not follow that a person who has been moved from a slum will necessarily go into one of them. It would be wrong to move a wage-earner drawing, say, £4 a week into a house at an inclusive rent of 6s. or 7s. All that is being done is to put at the disposal of local authorities these houses which can be let at cheap rents. The statistics show that about one-third of the people now living in slums can afford to pay a higher rent up to, say, 15s. for a house, and in fact are paying that amount for single or double rooms in some of our large cities.
Let me now turn to some of the points which have been raised in connection with slum clearance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said how lucky we were in having taken over the survey under the Act of 1930 which he handed over to us, but one of our real troubles has been that survey, because, when we examined it, before starting our slum clearance crusade, we found that it was absolutely useless. It was a mere paper survey; indeed, it was not a survey at all, but a guess, made at the beginning of 1930, as to the sort of slum question that the local authorities might have to face in five years' time, and I know from my own constituency what a hopeless guess it was. It only applied to authorities with a population of over 20,000 persons, and, when we compared like with like, we found that, in respect of 145 local authorities, the reply to the right hon. Gentleman's request for a survey of the slum problem was that 76,000 houses would be cleared in five years, while the reply to us, based on an accurate and careful survey, was that 172,000 houses would be cleared by those same authorities. These facts show what a difference it makes when the problem is tackled properly. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman leaving his child on our doorstep and saying that we have malnourished it; his brat has been one of our greatest troubles; and, after that, he participated in causing a financial crisis which brought all slum clearance to an end. I may be gay, but I prefer my accurate figures to the right hon. Gentleman's brilliant imagination.
The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. E. J. Young) made a point with regard to compensation in reference to some houses in Southampton. I never expected to hear a defence of the slum landlord from the Liberal benches, and the hon. Member was taken to task by the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green, who gave a true explanation of the Act of 1930. The houses to which the hon. Member referred were not fit for anyone to live in; I shall be pleased to show him a photograph of them. The density was 100 to the acre, the brickwork was perished, and the damp line was high. I would not have allowed a child of mine to live a day in one of them, and it was about time that someone came in and cleared them away. My sympathy is with those who had to live in them rather than with the landlord who tried to make a profit out of them. Why should people pretend that houses are the only sort of investment that goes on for ever? A gold mine is given a life of, perhaps, 20 or 30 years. A house after 60 years, which is the length of the loan period, should be sus- pect, particularly some of the working-class houses which were built at the beginning of the last century. After 80 years it should be very suspect, and after 100 years, in the great majority of cases, it ought to come down.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that I made no defence of slum owners, or of the retention of these particular houses, but only claimed that, if decent houses in the same area were destroyed, there should be compensation, and that the owners of land, whether in slums or otherwise, should certainly be entitled to the site value, which they are not getting? I did not argue that the houses should be retained, but only that the local authority who took them over should pay for the land which they took.
The hon. Member is now running away. He objected to the whole basis of compensation under the Act of 1930, but that basis was passed in the Act of 1919, it was affirmed in 1925, and it was re-affirmed in 1930. It simply says that, if a house is proved to be unfit for human habitation or injurious to health, and cannot be reconditioned, therefore it has no value except the value of the site on which it stands. What other basis of compensation can there be in the case of a house of that nature? The hon. Member seemed to think that a clearance area would consist partly of good houses and partly of bad houses, but that is not the case. If a house is fit for habitation, it is excluded at the inquiry, or, if it is not so excluded, we exclude it ourselves when we come to review the evidence.
I have said that the only compensation payable in such a case would be in respect of the site value. I am not prepared to recommend that either the taxpayer or the ratepayer should waste his money in compensating a person who is making a profit out of houses of that nature. We have to be careful, however, to see that a house which is doing no harm, which is fit for human habitation, or can be made so, is not wrongfully included in the clearance order. That is a very different thing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Boulton) raised the question of shops in a clearance area, about which he feels strongly. In the Act of 1930 there is a special Section, Section 41, which gives power to local authorities to compensate for removal and disturbance of business, and, if hon. Members who are interested will look at that Section, they will find that it is so worded that, in the case of shops occupied at a weekly rental, the local authority must take account of what is a reasonable period of occupancy in such a case, in order to prevent the compensation being limited to a week's rent. Our view is that, when you are clearing an area and rebuilding on the site, the local authority should build shop accommodation on the site and should give the first option to the displaced shopkeepers. So far as they do not do that, they should give reasonable, and, indeed, generous compensation for disturbance of business. It is no light thing for a shopkeeper to be moved from his position and lose his business, and no local authority would want to ride roughshod over a case like that. They will find that, if they deal adequately, and indeed generously, with such cases, it will pay them over and over again, because an accumulation of hard cases will make matters very difficult for them. If they are not rehousing on the site, but on a new estate, they should do their best to see that a chance is given to the displaced shopkeeper to take up premises on the new estate. Moreover, local authorities should remember that the cost of compensation is not an extra burden on the rates, but comes into the housing account.
Yes, that is what I am talking about; it is permissive in Section 41 of the Act of 1930.
I should like now to deal with one or two other points which were raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green. We have been able, by minimising delays, to accelerate the whole slum clearance programme. Hon. Members can well imagine that this has meant a very great burden on the staff, who have had the arduous job of examining the reports of our inspectors on a very large number of inquiries. They are, however, meeting it with cheerfulness and with the added strength which comes to those who are doing what they know to be a great task. The figures are as follow: In the two and a-half years between the passing of the Act of 1930 and the commencement of our crusade, in April of last year, about 600 houses a month were declared in clearance areas. In May last, 4,300 houses were included in the areas declared as clearance areas by local authorities. In other words, the monthly average has gone up from 600 in the pre-crusade period to 4,300 last May. The present rate of declaration of clearance areas is now 40,000 houses per annum; the orders are being made at the rate of 36,000 houses per annum; and re-housing is going on at the rate of 30,000 houses per annum. The hon. Baronet will perhaps remember the rate of progress before the crusade started. In the two and a-half years before we started, only 17,000 houses were included in the areas declared as clearance areas. We are going now to make 40,000 in one year. We have speeded up progress five or six times even at this stage. The hon. Member will remember how the 1919, 1923 and 1924 Acts started and how disappointing the results were. Then he will remember how the great local authority machines got going and put their hearts into it and the results exceeded anticipation.
It is exactly the same with slum clearance. We have started the machine working. It is gaining pace, and we shall, I hope, at the end of the year be able to improve even upon these figures. When it is considered that in the last 60 years we have only rehoused 200,000 slum workers and that in the next five we hope to rehouse 1,280,000—that is 76 times as fast as we have gone in the last 60 years—the Committee will agree that this is a very great task to which we are bending our energies. It is the greatest health contribution that any Government has ever made. I consider it as the supreme justification of a National Government, and I am proud to have been associated with my right hon. Friend in making this contribution.
I do not butt into these Debates as a rule, and I only rise now because I think the bon. Gentleman has given scant treatment to a very important and serious question. My hon. Friends have raised the point that there is a large number of men who are losing their insurance rights as the result of the 1932 Act. The hon. Gentleman rode off by saying that the grievance does not exist, because it only comes into operation as far as pensions are concerned in 1935. I am wondering if he has convinced himself that that was just treatment of such an important matter, because he knows that the grievance does exist. There are 125,000 who have lost insurance rights. They are scattered all over the country, but the great bulk of them are concentrated in a few areas. If the hon. Gentleman had been in one of those areas, he would not have spoken as he did. This is a complicated question, so complicated that I, am sure, if the House had known what it was doing in 1932, what the Minister was doing, and what the effect of it was going to be, they would not have allowed the Bill to pass. If a man has been out of work for two years and nine months he loses his right to medical benefit. He comes into the hands of the Poor Law for medical attention. Unless they get two years' work and pay their arrears, they cannot get benefit. It is a very awkward question for the Government, but the hon. Gentleman has no right to treat the matter in the scant way that he did. It was calculated to mislead the Committee. If these men are 58 years and three months of age and do not get their two years' work and come into benefit and pay all their arrears, which they cannot possibly do, when 1935 comes they lose all pension rights.
This is rather important. Payment of arrears does not affect the right to a pension one way or the other. The 1932 Act does not affect in any way the old age pensions of these persons. It affects it for the better, because it enables them to get it if they have been in work until 58¼, whereas previously they could only get it if they had been in work until 60. Apart from that favourable effect, the 1932 Act does not affect in any way whatever the pension rights of those persons.
If that be the case, how is it that the hon. Gentleman tried to explain that that did not come into operation until 1935? The fact is that, if a man loses his insurance rights, he loses his rights as a contributory pensioner under the Insurance Act. The hon. Gentleman now realises that it is a serious matter, though it was not worth more than a single sentence when he first dealt with it. If the whole of the country were in the same position as a few areas are, the matter would become a very live one, and no Minister would attempt to ride off as the hon. Gentleman has done. We have people coming to us now who will lose their right to a pension unless they get themselves put into insurability in a proper way.
I do not blame the Minister of Health altogether with regard to the question of water. He is the victim of people on the local councils who are of like mind with him. There is one thing that we are not depressed about in the North-East. We have plenty of water. I remember the time, since the War, when people like myself, the wife and the rest of us had to carry water something like a mile. The water companies realised that they could not do the work, so it was taken over by the county council. The kind of people that the Government represent, the Conservatives, never ceased to attack the new County Water Board because it was a Labour board. No words have been too evil to say about its administration. At the election three years ago the one thing upon which we were fought was the extravagance and wastefulness of the Water Board. This year they did not attempt to deal with it for the simple reason that it is owing to people of like mind with the Government who have been operating for years on the various councils that the country is in the position of to-day. Coming from such an area, I have seen nothing more pathetic, through at the same time somewhat humorous, than the notices on the trams to use less water, when we have been taught for years to use more water as a rule of good health.
I wish to call attention to a different matter altogether. There is on the Order Paper a Motion in my name to reduce the Minister's salary by £5, and another to the identical effect in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan). So far as the integrity of the Minister's salary is concerned, he may derive consolation from the fact that the two Amendments cancel out, because, though we both wish to refer to the report of the Departmental Committee on Sterilisation of Mental Defectives, we do so from very different angles. I regret that, when we have a unanimous report on this very important subject by so weighty a committee, the Government have not yet found it possible to implement it or to hold out any immediate prospect that they are going to do so. I warmly welcomed the Minister's statement last week that he personally concurred with the committee's finding. I should like to assure him, from some personal knowledge of the situation, that he is not alone in that respect. A very large number of people who have not previously been very interested in the matter have, after reading the report, come to the conclusion that action on the lines of the Brock Report is of very great importance. If witness is wanted to that, I would call attention, first, to the attitude of the medical Press. I have been very interested in the subject for many years. A few years ago medical practitioners regarded sterilisation as the hobby, so to speak, of a few cranks. Today all over the country medical officers of health and general practitioners, no less than London specialists, are accepting the conclusions drawn from this report, that action on these lines would do something to stem the stream of mental deficiency which is pouring into the population.
Something must be done to deal with it. We in this House are most concerned with attempts to raise the standard of living of the people as a whole, and yet we do nothing to turn off this source of infection, so to speak, of mental deficiency, which enters into the problem of slums, because the unfortunate people who are less capable of making their way in the world tend to drift to the slums, and even to help to create slums. There is not an education committee in the country which is not becoming increasingly alive to the problem of the defective child in the schools. In Northamptonshire we are becoming quite advanced in this respect. Our most energetic and efficient medical officer of health, who is so well known for his activity in housing, has had a survey carried out of local school children, with the enthusiastic co-operation of the school teachers. The result has been very striking. Apart from the medical profession and teachers, two bodies which one would expect would early become interested in this matter, the general public is moving too. If the Government are holding back by reason of imagining that there is no sufficient volume of support in the country for the implementation of the recommendations of the Brock Report, I can assure them that they are mistaken. Only within the last fortnight, to give one illustration, I have addressed two large meetings of women on this subject, one in Belgrave Square and the other in the Mile End Road, audiences of nearly 200 women in each case. You could scarcely get audiences further apart than those two in the social sphere, and yet I have never on any political question seen such enthusiastic unanimity as those two audiences displayed in their demand that the women of this country especially should not be deprived of this recent development of what is nothing more or less than preventive medicine.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister of Health himself one or two questions arising directly from the Brock Report. What steps are being taken now to carry out the recommendations in respect of research that are made in Chapter 7 of the report? There are nine specific heads under which it is stated that further information is needed. I will not detail them, because most hon. Members have read the report themselves, and those who have not should do so. What surveys are being carried out? There is a great lack of uniformity in this respect as between the different counties. Some county councils, such as those of Northamptonshire and Kent, to name but two, are very alive, but others are not, and I hope the Minister will call the attention of other county councils to the need for surveying their own areas in regard to the problem, so that they will be in a position to take advantage of sterilisation when it is legalised, as it no doubt ultimately will be.
In considering the questions of social reform in this country, from whatever angle it may be, whether that of population, housing, education, or unemployment, there is what is known as the social problem group, that submerged tenth of the population who, by reason of largely hereditary mental deficiency, are not only incapable, but always will be in many cases, of looking after themselves and bringing up their families, and are a drag on the standards of the race. I do not say that all defectives are incapable of earning a living. I know myself of several cases of defective agricultural labourers who, by reason of their skill in one line of action, are able to earn a living, but directly you get into the cities and to areas where defectives congregate and reproduce you get these unfortunate people drifting into casual labour and dragging down wage standards. That is a problem which wants more accurate surveying in certain areas. It has not been adequately done, and I commend to hon. and right bon. Members opposite, in their study of social conditions, this problem, so ably outlined in the Brock Report, of the influence of mental deficiency upon the conditions of the people.
I regret that the Government have not been able to implement the recommendations of the report, because those recommendations require only permissive legislation. The Committee recommends specifically that voluntary sterilisation alone be permitted, and they point out—and this, I think, counters the arguments of the bigoted opponents of all advance in this direction—that in every country where it has been tried, voluntary sterilisation has been taken advantage of and compulsion has inevitably been a failure. All that we want is permissive legislation to enable people to take advantage of the present state of medical science on this question.
I apologise, Sir Dennis, and I will not refer to legislation again. There is another angle of the problem which I would like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is that once people know that there is a method of attaining alleviation in this respect, you will not prevent them using the method of sterilisation. It is in common practice to-day in therapeutic medicine, and I am afraid—in fact, I am certain—that unless sterilisation is legalised, or rather Sir Dennis, I should say regularised, you will find people taking advantage of it sub rosa, and then abuses will undoubtedly creep in. I submit that the safeguards recommended by the Brock Report are so ample that the risk of abuses is practically nil, and such risks as there are are squarely faced up to by the report. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he can to inform us what steps are being taken in respect of research, and secondly if he can hold out some hope of the implementation of this report.
I must first express my obligation to the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James), who, before he put down his Amendment slightly to modify the salary of a hard worked Minister, informed me of the ground on which he would press that application, but I have listened to his arguments, which hardly tally with the reputation that the hon. and gallant Member has acquired in this House for being a man of most benign character with the gentlest possible inclinations towards the welfare of his fellow human beings. He has drawn our attention in very plain prose to the social question, and he has pointed out to us, as we well know from the character of this afternoon's Debate, that we have overcrowded houses, slums, and poor people; but, instead of pointing out that these things might be remedied by greater activity on the part of His Majesty's-Government and of the business world, and by perhaps the institution of fair rent courts, together with many other planned alleviations of our social distress, he offers the short cut of the surgeon's knife. "The poor in the lump are bad"; if then the poor can be sterilised, they will cease to multiply and cease then to be a burden on the purses and an embarrassment on the eyes of those who, with exquisite sensitiveness, find the sight of poverty a painful process.
The poor we have with us, and they will not thank the hon. and gallant Member for indicating that the surgeon's knife is the best and quickest relief for the burden of poverty that afflicts our social conscience. I was horrified when he said that medical officers of health, with the enthusiastic co-operation of teachers, have investigated or looked into this problem and inspected their children, enlightened by the findings of this report. A little child goes to school, perhaps willingly, perhaps unwillingly, but how dreadful would be its dreams if it thought that the teacher had also an eye on its future procreative ability, and if it did not reach a certain percentage of accuracy in its arithmetic, spelling or memorising, its future as a virile man or a fertile woman was in danger from His Majesty's inspectors in those subjects.
We have been asked to implement this report, and the report starts, as we have all noticed, on a high moral plane. This naturally calls for close inspection, as do the accounts of the traditional office boy who goes regularly to his master's Sunday school. The report starts by saying that it is difficult to illustrate in a more striking fashion the serious social results and the moral corruption arising from the failure to control mental defects; and then I turn to page 84, where certain of these instances of moral corruption are printed at our expense. The one case to which I would like to draw attention and that is worthy of the Sunday newspaper at its best—and the Sunday newspapers are always worth reading, whether on the question of mental defectives or, as we have heard, on the drought—is a West Wales case, No. 1222; that of
a woman still under 30, who has had five illegitimate children, and in not a single case has she received any maintenance under the Bastardy Acts.
Five men may be grateful for that she is not a gold digger. One of the children is dead, and the ages of the survivors range from 13 years to 6 months. I comment that a girl given as an instance of a mental defective can without a paternity order keep those children alive. "The first child was actually born in a field," and I comment that even Moses was deposited in bullrushes. "Two of the children are suffering from rupture." Many Members of this House are suffering from rupture. "Belts have been provided by the welfare centre." Hundreds of belts are provided by the London Hospital, and I trust that those patients are not in danger of a mental ascertainment and a quick visit to the operating theatre. "These belts were not being used." Well, many people seek prescriptions of medical men and do not use them, but that is no proof that they are
mental defectives. "The woman has a violent temper and uses vile language"; and there that case record stops. It is Case No. 1,222, a perfect description, save sex, of King Henry VIII, and no one has suggested that that personage was a mental defective. I do not quote it in condemnation of this report. It is well that this subject of mental defects should be measured and considered, but I do not think the hon. and gallant Member who-has spoken is quite consistent or fair when he asks for permissive legislation, or for that to be considered by the-Minister, and at the same time paints before our eyes the whole picture of poverty and social misery. Permissive sterilisation will not solve poverty. Therefore, "bigoted" though I may be, as the hon. and gallant Member has delicately suggested, it is surely intelligent as well as bigoted to deduce that this short-cut method for the surgical relief of poverty is to be applied to the picture of misery he outlined.
He has in mind a great increase in the functions and responsibilities of the Ministry of Health. Children who enter our schools and are inspected by school medical officers, and boys who enter our factories and are inspected by factory medical inspectors, and those of us who enter public hospitals, where our case-records are kept in perpetuity, may all be submitted by their case sheets at fixed periods to experienced and zealous-eugenic officers. The surgeon's knife will then be busy day and night reducing the population until the sensitive and select few can contemplate the great work that the medical profession have done to make them the elect few in a happy and almost lonely England. Surely it is selfishness in extenso to want to raise our own standard of living by mutilating the bodily integrity of those who are admittedly our weaker brothers. I ask the Committee to contemplate this possibility, that people classed as mental defectives belong to a class that my profession find the utmost difficulty in labelling.
In the medical Press, to which the hon. and gallant Member has drawn special attention, there are many articles pointing out, and I am sure that he has read them, that many so-called mental defectives are in fact dullards. If dullards are mental defectives by modern standards and tests, I would suggest that in the body politic we need dullards as well as the highly acute intelligence; for, if warfare is still to be part of our civilisation, the dullard can stand life in the front line trenches. The sensitive man, who can never be called a dullard, is the one who becomes subject to shell shock, because he cannot stand the stress of that strenuous, soul-searching existence. Moreover, social life would be impossible if we had only acute intelligence. If this House were filled by nothing but geniuses in oratory, in ability, in imagination and in indiction it would resemble a mad house; but it consists of a mixture of quiet Members, back-bench Members and Cabinet Ministers. So it is in social life. The dullards are as much the dough of society as the brilliant people are the currants, and, if all were currants, you would soon have as impossible a social organism as would be the case if in a regiment all were officers and none were private soldiers.
We must not consider this matter too solicitously from the point of view of those who dislike the procreative powers of the poor. It was the poor who won the last war. It was the poor who put the National Government into power, and the contemplation of the thought that we should have a Minister of Health with too cold a concern for the physical integrity of the bodies of the poor gives one a queer feeling. My profession has always loved the poor. It has always been, to the best of my knowledge, a ministry of life, and I hope that the hon. Member will, as the years pass, will come round to the view of my profession that we have no desire to be a ministry of death. In the tradition of the Hippocratic oath, when we enter a house it is only for the patient's good, and, if the public think that the medical profession are looking upon them with the thought as to whether they should be reported or notified that in the end they might be compulsorily sterilised, there will grow up between the public and my profession a breach in the affection and trust which exists between patient and doctor which will be of the greatest disadvantage to the calling of medicine.
Another difficulty will arise in public life and in our hospitals if you have administrators insisting on sterilisation as being good for the State, while doctors and nurses for professional and con- scientious reasons differ from such conclusions. It will mean that there will be position and promotion for those who are eugenically minded in front of members of their own profession whose sympathy with advanced thought is suspect, and those who are conservatively minded will be relegated to the dull jobs at the bottom of the ladder and will not be thought fit for leadership because they are not in sympathy with what seems to them more adventurous and experimental than truly wise.
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member has raised this question and that he has drawn the attention of the Minister to it. The Minister said, very properly, the other day, that beyond the scientific aspect of the case, and beyond the social aspect there were points of conscience which needed consideration by the churches. Man is a complex being of mind, body and soul, and I hope that the Minister will maintain that fair impartiality of outlook, recognising that there may be people who care as much for the social problem as those who are zealous for wholesale sterilisation, who also realise that there are limits set to the powers of the State over the minds and body of men. The mental defectives need all the care that we can give them. In most cases they are the product of our own failure as administrators, doctors and governors, and I hope there will never grow up in this country a state of mind by which there shall be attached to mental defectives the punitive idea that they are to be selected for the surgeon's knife because of something which is beyond their control, and which we could prevent if our own social conscience was sufficiently acute and effective.
We have bad a number of informative and suggestive speeches on a variety of social problems, and I should like to refer to two evils which particularly oppress the area from which I come. Reference has been made to certain of those aspects but there is one which I should like to stress a little further. In connection with our social legislation it has become an accepted responsibility in some respects jointly of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour to look after the unemployed. In regard to the man who, through mis- fortune, is unemployed, there is a responsibility placed upon Government Departments to see that he is succoured whilst unemployed, or if he is suffering from illness the means of recovery are placed at his disposal. By the legislation that has been passed by this House it has become a national responsibility and not one that is regarded as local in character to deal with the evil of unemployment. It is 12 months since the Minister of Health, in response to tremendous pressure which had been brought to bear upon him, said that the Government had made up their mind to accept responsibility on account of the unemployed. In other words, the statement implied that up till then the distressed areas had been asked to carry the main burden of unemployment and that the National Government had made up its mind that the country as a whole was to bear it.
To a degree, and only to a degree, has that principle been set forward and accepted in the new Unemployment Act. In that Act the responsibility has been accepted in a measure but not to the full. Since the Ministerial statement was made a new problem has developed in the County of Glamorgan, and I am certain that it has developed in other counties. I do not say that the Government are entirely ignorant of it, but the problem has grown up within the past 12 months, and particularly in the months of 1934 it is going to increase tremendously. I refer to the problem of men who are going outside insurance, and particularly to the problem of medical benefit and medical service. Hon. Members have referred to the problem which will shortly affect the aged and also the women folk in regard to maternity benefit. The problem of medical service has already in the County of Glamorgan attained tremendous proportions and is bringing upon the county authority a very big problem. Twelve months ago it was recognised that the county was being oppressed by the steadily growing problem of able-bodied unemployed who were not entitled to unemployment benefits in the ordinary way.
The county of Glamorgan has from 50 to 60,000 unemployed, and the great mass of them are going outside medical benefit. In my own area the great mass are going out of medical benefit. Not only is the individual unemployed workman going out of medical benefit from the State Insurance Scheme, but his family is going outside the local medical schemes which previously looked after them. To-day so far as the county Poor Law system is concerned the old parish doctor scheme is wholly inadequate and cannot possibly deal with the situation. The infirmaries and other institutions of the county have already become inadequate to deal with indoor cases. It will be found that where the parish doctor under the county authority formerly had to attend to perhaps 12 cases in a year, the medical men in these areas to-day will have to deal with thousands of cases. In point of fact, in the Rhondda urban district and other parts of the county of Glamorgan that is what is happening. The county will be called upon to meet the burden of additional medical service to a cost of many thousands of pounds. The commitments in this respect two months ago were already more than double the cost of last year, and steadily from week to week the problem will develop.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be good enough to put this matter most seriously before the Minister of Health. Here is a problem which cannot be disputed, and it will compel either the Ministry or the local authorities to improvise another medical service to take the place of the service under the Health Insurance Acts, if those Acts are not extended to meet the responsibility. Seeing that the old parish system is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of these distressed areas, a new medical service will have to be improvised. The local authorities in these districts are the least able to do that. These authorities 12 months ago were so distressed that the national conscience was awakened and even the conscience of the National Government was awakened to such a degree as to compel them to come forward and say: "We will undertake a part of the burden." While the new Act is being developed and perfected, here is an additional problem and burden which is being pressed upon these distressed authorities. In my own area the most outstanding social problem of the moment is: "How are we going to find medical service for the thousands of people who need it?" In Tonypandy there are 6,000 unemployed, and I am confident that three- fourths of that number if not already outside will rapidly be outside medical insurance. Suppose that there are only 3,000, who is to look after them? The county of Glamorgan are compelled to face the problem, and they are making provision. Why should the county of Glamorgan be burdened alone with the expense of looking after 50,000 unemployed and their families in this respect?
I am not going to question the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman when he made his statement, but if he meant on behalf of the Government that they were going to take responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed, surely that responsibility for the able-bodied unemployed should not be withdrawn from them, when a number of these people become ill, or a member of the family becomes ill. That is a responsibility for the unemployed which the Government ought to undertake.
The other matter with which I want to deal is one which, in certain aspects, is even more serious. Many complimentary remarks have been made to-day with reference to the work of the Ministry, particularly as revealed by the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman himself during the earlier discussion in Supply. On that occasion, the right hon. Gentleman gave records of progress, particularly in the direction of bringing certain diseases under control and thereby making effective strides towards the improvement of the health of the nation as a whole, all of which is very welcome to every Member of the Committee irrespective of party. The whole nation must welcome any evidence of improved health on those lines. But I want to refer to the problem in the Rhondda, and the remarks which I have already made will emphasise the gravity of the situation to which I am about to draw attention. I hope that the Committee will bear with me while I explain precisely the position which has to be faced.
The Rhondda Valley may merely be a name to some hon. Members who are listening to me. Let me briefly describe it. Commencing at the town of Pontypridd, 12 miles from Cardiff, the Rhondda Valley extends for 12 or 13 miles until it comes to a dead end in the hills. It is a narrow valley, so narrow that in some parts there is not sufficient room for the river, the railway, and the highroad. In certain parts the highroad has to wind itself up the hills in order to leave the Valley to the river and the railway. The three R's, the river, the railway, and the road, entirely fill the bed of the valley in many parts. The valley, in its widest part cannot possibly be half-a-mile wide, but even in that narrow valley, with what one might call its tributary, the smaller Rhondda, there is a population of 145,000 congested and concentrated.
That community, like other communities in this country, has been compelled to develop social services, which in certain respects, on its educational side at any rate, are second to none in the country. It has been compelled under very grave restrictions of space to develop its other social services, particularly the sewage system. There is no room for sewage pipes in the ordinary sense, and the sewage system has to follow the river bed down the valley. Consider the nature of this area, which is purely mining, and what it means to carry on mining operations in an area such as the Rhondda. I wonder if hon. Members could picture London with mining operations taking place underneath the soil and 15 or 20 seams of coal being taken out under the whole area of London, 10, 15 or 20 feet being taken out in succession. What do hon. Members think would happen in London? I will tell them what happened in the Rhondda, The whole of the area, mountain and valley, sinks 12 inches every year, and has been doing so for many years past, steadily going down, due to the mining operations. Think of the effect of that upon the gas mains, the water mains, and the sewage mains. It is not a very easy place from the engineering standpoint, but it so happens—and I want hon. Members to imagine a picture of Rhondda—that for the last three years at least sewage has been pouring into the river at three places due to subsidences. An appeal was made in vain to the Ministry which has prided itself in looking after the health of the people.
This year we are all afraid of the consequences of the drought. Was last year any better? Last year this sewage system was pouring out at three places in the Rhondda into the river, which is really no longer a river. The Rhondda River is a torrent in a rainy season, but to-day you can walk across it in your slippers anywhere you like. There is hardly any water, but the sewage still pours into it. There is not a Member of this Committee who would have dared to go to Pontypridd last year unless he were compelled to do so. The Rhondda would have come to meet him. The whole place was a stench which befouled the atmosphere, and a deaf ear was turned to the appeal of the Rhondda for money. If the heat and the drought even equals that of last year, as it bids fair to do, who knows but that I or my colleague the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) may not be the innocent carrier of the germs of typhoid to this House, and that all the other hon. Members of the House may not equally be the innocent carriers of the disease to other parts of the country. It is not a small population which is affected by these conditions. The Rhondda has a population of 145,000 and Pontypridd, at its lower end, 50,000 or 60,000, while there are the intervening villages, and Cardiff, only 24 miles away from the farthest end of the Rhondda, with a population of one-third of a million. Therefore, you have half-a-million people living in the neighbourhood of this stench and fouled bed of the valley. The Rhondda is a distressed area, and because of that, I suppose, it can be left alone.
What if Westminster had a problem of this kind. If instead of the sewage running down this dried-up bed of the river, it ran down Oxford Street in London, or if Reading had a burst sewer which flowed into the Thames, would London consider itself safe? No, but Rhondda is inhabited by distressed and oppressed miners and their families. No one lives in the Rhondda if he can possibly get away from it. No mineowner lives in the Rhondda. If mineowners lived there, the matter would have been seen to long ago. It is inhabited absolutely by working men and their wives and families, and apparently the Ministry of Health have either been sadly misled or they have not understood the plea for the Rhondda. Having made this statement to-night, I am satisfied that the Ministry of Health will not now refuse us. I am satisfied that having been able to make a statement on the Floor of the House the Ministry of Health dare not refuse money for the Rhondda. Rhondda appeals for £40,000 in order to remedy one section of its defective sew- age system lest in the coming weeks and months the whole valley may be fouled. I am not exaggerating when I say that last summer I saw men and women sicken in the highway because of the foul stench arising from the river. In the face of this public utterance I do not believe that any Minister in creation will dare to refuse to advance the necessary funds to the Rhondda Valley to enable them to avoid the perils which must be inevitably associated with the continued existence of such a condition.
I have listened patiently to all the speeches which have been made during the Debate and I desire to take this opportunity of making a few observations on the question of our water supply. No one, of course, will blame the Government or the Minister of Health for the drought, but in my view the position in which we find ourselves to-day has been caused by the neglect, if I may use the term, of Governments in the past. At the outset I wish to emphasise that there is ample water in the country even to-day. It is a question of conservation and distribution. I have always maintained that water supply is a national problem and should be dealt with by the National Government. The Government have more or less pooled transport, they have nationalised, more or less, the roads, and we see also practically a nationalisation of electricity. But what have we done with regard to that essential, water supply? Up to now practically nothing. The Postmaster-General, and I pay him my tribute, is certainly progressive. He says, very rightly, that he wants to see a telephone in every cottage in the country. The hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray) has taken on the very important position of the chairman of the Electrical Development Association, and he says, very properly, that he wants to see electricity in every cottage throughout the country.
But these are amenities. What about that essential, water? Surely, water is the most vitally essential of all health services. If the Government were to bring in a large and comprehensive scheme then I say that the Minister of Health, with his energy, ability and experience, is the right man to carry such a scheme into effect. No one can blame him, it is a question of Govern- ment policy; and if the Government adumbrate a comprehensive policy then we have the right man to carry it into effect. There is a story told of a man who went down into a village to buy a cottage, and whilst he was examining the cottage he said to the agent: "Tell me what facilities have you got for putting out a fire if one should happen to occur?" The agent scratched his head and said, "Well, sir, it sometimes rains." That is the truth. In a very large part of the country there is no organised water supply and they have to rely on the haphazard of the rainfall. When they have abnormal rains they are flooded out and the water runs to waste, but directly they have a dry spell then there is a shortage of water. It is true that a number of urban areas have an efficient water supply, but they cover only a relatively small part of the country.
I do not desire to go into the appalling conditions which exist in many parts of the country to-day owing to the water famine, I use the word "famine" because there is no water at all in a number of areas, and the Minister of Health knows that unless water is carried from long distances these particular areas have no water at all. I cannot see how the Minister of Agriculture is going to revivify agriculture, how he is going to reinhabit the land or how he is going to get pure, clean milk, without a proper water supply. There are many dairy farmers to-day in various parts of the country who cannot get a Grade A certificate for the milk they produce because they have not got pure water to do the cooling and cleansing. It is true to say that if the rules and regulations dealing with dairy farming were strictly carried out that a number of farms which produce milk would not be able to supply that milk to the urban areas because they would be unable to conform to the rules and regulations owing to the shortage of water.
I want to examine this problem from another angle. For years past water supply has been left in the hands of the various local authorities concerned, and under the powers which have been given them by Parliament a number of them have discharged their duties, so far as water supply is concerned, very efficiently, but a large number of them are quite unable to do so. We have to remember that there are 1,700 local authorities, and
we know how jealous they are of the powers they have got and how reluctant they would be to have them cancelled or restricted. One of the difficulties which the Minister of Health no doubt finds is that until they themselves, that is the local authorities, come to the conclusion and decide definitely that they cannot discharge these duties, he cannot say that the Government will have to step in and do it. But that time now appears to have arrived. On Saturday last the Urban District Councils Association of England and Wales held their annual conference at Whitby and passed a resolution demanding the establishment of a national water board with full powers to control supply and distribution throughout the country. I hope I am not boring the Committee by quoting what the mover and seconder of that resolution said. The mover said:
It was an anomaly that in some districts water should be running to waste and that other districts should have no supply at all. In one district that he knew they were offering prayers for rain, but in another they were wishing to be preserved from the effects of floods.
He then went on to say:
We are sick and tired of memoranda, circulars and advisory committees. Up to the present nothing has been done that is at all satisfactory. In my small district we once had a serious epidemic, in which we had 400 cases of illness and lost 40 lives.
The seconder declared:
The Government's response to the national feeling had been to put up a smoke-screen, and now that the screen had lifted, they were still sitting with their heads in the sand. All the resources of the country should be pooled so that no district would be without an adequate supply.
I do not quite agree with the seconder's speech. What is important in this resolution and in the quotations I have read is that the Urban District Councils Association have put on record that they are quite unable to discharge the function of providing water supplies within their areas, and that they call upon the Government to deal with the problem as, a national proposition. That is the attitude that I have taken up all along. I have been advocating it for two and a-half years, and with all respect I say that for all the response and encouragement I have received I might just as well have been whistling for a taxi-cab in the middle of the Sahara Desert. We all know the difficulties that are ahead in bringing
this huge scheme into effect, if there be a scheme. I am not paying my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health any compliments. In Yorkshire we do not pay compliments; we call a spade a spade. I am confident that may right hon. Friend is quite capable of carrying out even such an enormous scheme. This is a national problem, and should be undertaken as one of the duties of the National Government. The question of the water supply of the country must be outside party politics. It cannot be done by every one of the localities. Bui I do not wish that all the efficient water undertakings should be taken over, even in any national scheme.
Then I will leave that point. I was referring a little while ago to the development of our underground resources. My right hon. Friend not long since opened the waterworks at Swindon. Swindon was very hard put to it for water. The authorities knew there was water below the ground, but they thought they would have to make several bores. Fortunately by making one bore they have not only got a sufficient supply for their area, but they have a surplus. It is well known, too, that the Secretary for Mines is at this moment confronted with the flooding of mines. Therefore I say that the general public are looking to the National Government to tackle the problem resolutely and vigorously. They are sick and tired of conferences and talk, and are demanding action.
The National Government is the most capable Government the country has had for generations. That has been proved by the work it has done since taking office. I am a Government supporter, but I have always held that helpful and constructive criticism is good. I am no less a supporter of the Government because I make those criticisms, and I hope the Minister will accept my criticisms in the spirit in which they are intended. There has been a survey going on since 1923. Therefore, there should be no question of any further survey being necessary. I hope that when the Minister replies he will see that although the two Acts which he has been instrumental in passing have done some good, they hardly touch the fringe of the problem. In any case they do not and cannot solve the problem. I hope the Government recognise the urgency of the matter and that they intend to set up a national water board in order to deal with the problem. If the Government do that I am sure that they can confidently rely on the support of the general public as well as of the Members of this Committee.
I listened with interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), and I am bound to say that I am in sympathy at any rate with some of the purposes he has in view. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health was presenting his Estimates a fortnight ago I could not help being struck by his reference to the fact that water supplies are more satisfactory in the urban than in the rural areas. When one looks at great cities like Manchester, which I have the honour to represent, or Liverpool or Birmingham, one asks what have they done to ensure for themselves adequate water supplies in time of great drought? Manchester used to be supplied by reservoirs in the near neighbourhood up to 40 years ago. There was, for instance, the Longdendale Reservoir, 20 miles out. I remember that when I was only a boy, somewhere about 1890, it was announced that Manchester would acquire a vast tract in the Lake district, 100 miles away, and obtain compulsory powers in an Act of Parliament to acquire a lake, mountain and watershed and the like, that it was said to be ridiculous, that there was no need for all this expenditure, and that it would be many years before the water reached Manchester. But Manchester did it, and got the first supplies of water from Thirlmere exactly 40 years ago this year; and so far from those gloomy prognostications about the water being in excess of any possible requirements being true, the reverse is the case. Manchester has since taken a similar step in regard to another lake. It has got none too much water now, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who lives in Manchester, is well aware. In the same way Liverpool and Birmingham obtain their main supplies from the Welsh mountains.
Small towns and rural areas cannot take action on the same scale as cities with big rateable valuations and big populations like Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham. I might as well admit that I have no knowledge of this subject. I do so on the principle that if a man about to be tried for an offence is sure to be found guilty, he might as well plead guilty at the outset. I, therefore, confess that I am speaking without knowledge but I would ask the Minister whether all the possibilities of securing water have been explored apart from springs and borings? I am afraid my hon. Friend the Member for Elland and I will make the Committee feel that boring is inseparable from water supplies. I would ask, however, whether the water experts have considered the possibility of making a general survey and of doing on a still greater scale what some of the large cities have done—for instance, bringing water from high altitudes in the Highlands of Scotland down to the Midlands of England with great reservoirs at strategic points—
I bow to your ruling, Captain Bourne, and I do not propose to pursue that subject any further. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is not in his place. In his interesting speech about two hours ago he made a statement in regard to slum clearance to which I wish to draw attention. I would hate to incur even the possibility of misrepresenting him but I understood him to say that no house which was not insanitary and unfit for human occupation was to be included in a slum clearance area without compensation other than site value. He engaged in some little argument with the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. E. J. Young) and I understood him to say that if a house was going to be forfeited, as it were, without anything by way of compensation other than site value, that house must be insanitary and unfit for human occupation. Section 1 of the Housing Act of 1930 provides for
clearance areas. In this case I am dealing with legislation which has already been enacted, and, therefore I am not on dangerous ground or liable to be called to order. The Section clearly visualises three classes of houses within a potential clearance area. It provides:
Where a local authority upon consideration of official representations or other information in their possession are satisfied as respects any area in their district
Those are two classes of houses. Then it is provided that the authority in preparing the plan shall define the area on a map
in such manner as to exclude from the area any building which is not unfit for human habitation or dangerous or injurious to health.
That is the third class. As regards the first class that of dwelling houses which by reason of disrepair or sanitary defects are unfit for human habitation, I think, as was claimed by the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), there will be, broadly speaking, agreement. Although there must be border-line cases because there are degrees of defectiveness, I think it will be agreed that owners of insanitary and defective houses who have pocketed rents for those houses and have not spent the requisite money on them to keep them in good order should not receive compensation. I am not going to raise my voice in favour of compensation in those cases. But I join issue with the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to houses which are not themselves in a state of disrepair or sanitary defectiveness, but which, owing to their bad arrangement or the narrowness or bad arrangement of the streets, are to be swept away without compensation. In those cases the owners have taken care of the houses and have kept them in repair but owing, perhaps, to a change in by-laws or to the changed view taken in modern times of the width of street which is desirable, they are now to be included in these clearance areas without any compensation. As I read it, this section visualises the possibility of houses being included in a clearance scheme, not
because they are in bad condition but merely because they happen to abut on a street which is narrower than the present regulations require or than is considered desirable according to modern views of these matters. They are to be swept away along with the insanitary houses and their owners are to receive no compensation other than site value.
On this question of slum clearance there is, I think, unanimity in this Committee, in that we all want to see insanitary houses swept away and our people getting a chance of healthy homes. I think it was the Minister who compared insanitary houses to unsound meat or unsound fish and in the case of houses which are unfit for human habitation there should be no compensation. But if the community in their laudable desire to do the right thing, propose to clear away houses which are in good repair but which on account of the narrowness of adjoining streets may be held to prejudice the health, not of the people living in the houses, but of people in the area generally—I say that in such cases it is contrary to the British instinct for fair play that we should seek to be generous at the expense of the individual owners of those houses. I am almost forced to believe either that I did not understand the Parliamentary Secretary aright, or that he did not put what he really intended into his words, and I should be obliged if the Minister when he replies would give us some assurance that, in such case as I have indicated, the owners of houses who have acted with a sense of responsibility and have kept their houses in good repair, although they happen to adjoin narrow streets, will not be deprived of compensation other than site value. I assure the Committee that neither directly nor indirectly am I interested in any house in a clearance area. I should like to put to the Minister a point with regard to the rents which local authorities are having to charge for the houses they have built under the various housing Acts. It is particularly acute in the City of Manchester. The Manchester Corporation has built houses on their various housing estates under the provisions of three Acts of Parliament—the Housing Acts of 1919, of 1923 and of 1924. The last two were passed under the direction of Mr. Wheatley.
The 1923 Act provided for a subsidy of £6 a year per house over a period of 20 years, and the 1924 Act increased it in a case of certain houses to £9 for 40 years.
The hon. Member is quite right in disclaiming the 1923 Act and taking full credit for his party for the 1924 Act. In regard to the houses built by the Manchester Corporation under the 1923 and 1924 Acts, the corporation have the right to fix the rents, but in the case of houses built under the 1919 Act they have not. They receive from the Government in respect of the houses built under the 1923 and 1924 Acts a subsidy of an amount which is laid down in those Acts, and therefore it is their funeral if they take rents which are too low. In the case of houses built under the 1919 Act, they do not receive a definite subsidy from the Government. That Act provided in the case of a local authority building houses under its provisions—at a time, the Committee will remember, when houses which now cost £400 were costing £l,000 or more—that to the extent of the produce of a 1d. rate the municipality should bear the loss, but that the Government would bear the rest of the loss. Since the Government were directly interested in the rents to be charged for those houses, it was provided that the rents should be subject to the approval of the Minister of Health, and the Minister should not regard as sufficient any rent which was less than the best that could be obtained from the class of tenants in the district, having regard to structure, amenities, and so on.
The net result has been that in Manchester there are three lots of houses on the housing estates. I will give-figures to show how identical houses are rented differently. Houses built under the 1919 Act are paying an inclusive rent of 13s. 2d. a week. Some built under the 1924 Act of identical type are paying 10s. 8d. There are some of a better type paying 16s. and others of a similar type that were built subsequently pay 13s. 2d. Some are rented at 19s. 3d. and the same type of house built under a later Act 16s. 3d. The Committee will see that identical houses are paying rents that differ as much as 2s. 6d. and 3s. a week. Imagine what effect that has on the housing estates where, on one side of the road, tenants are paying 16s. a week and, on the opposite side, for similar houses under the same landlord, namely, the Corporation, they are paying 13s. 2d. A tenant may have a brother or a close personal friend across the road. They know they pay rent to the same landlord, and the Committee will appreciate the amount of dissatisfaction and friction that is being caused because one is paying 2s. 10d. more than the other.
I appeal to the Minister to give favourable consideration to the requests which have been made—and I have no doubt-further requests will be made to him—by the Manchester Corporation to agree to the rents of the 1919 houses being brought down to a level comparable to the houses built under the later Acts. Arguments can no doubt be advanced by the Minister and the Department in favour of retaining the present high rents. Nevertheless, it is an unwise thing and one which brings a strong sense of injustice into the minds of the tenants of the municipal houses. The chief argument on the Minister's side is probably that the houses are not empty, although every now and then tenants have to be turned out because they are in arrears, and the corporation can generally let them again. They go, however, to the wrong class of people, to those who are in a position to pay £l a week, and it is not for their benefit that the houses were erected.
I agree with the hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Radford) that there is complete unanimity in all parts of the House as to the desirability of dealing adequately with the slums. Every right thinking person will support the Minister in a real crusade against slums. The slums of our great cities are a definite blot on the land, and speedy removal is very much to be desired. We should preserve a sense of proportion in this matter. If there is to be a crusade against slum property, whether it is in fact slum property or not, let it be on fair and British lines. In many parts of the country the very negation of what we believe to be British justice and fair play is happening. The popular conception of slums is that they are the rabbit warrens of the unhealthiness, vice and iniquity which exists in thickly populated areas. I am not going to accept that as a proper definition. It is too narrow.
It is not realised that the campaign against slums is being carried to the length of destroying houses and cottages in villages and hamlets far removed from these thickly-populated and congested areas where slums commonly exist, simply because those houses are not regarded as conforming to modern standards. I am sure I shall have the support of other hon. Members when I say that in some cases the destruction is being carried out in ruthless fashion. The Minister tours the countryside, he is taken to thickly-populated areas and shown, in their nakedness, some of the most hideous and most vile slums which exist, and he returns to his Department filled with a divine fervour to rid the country of these slums, with the result that instructions issue from his Department to the local authorities, imperative in tone, requiring them to submit schemes for slum clearance. If in a district there is not what might properly be called a slum area the authority put forward a scheme dealing with what most nearly approaches a slum area, and it is here that cases of real hardship arise. Local authorities complain that in some cases they are harried and badgered by the Ministry of Health into submitting clearance schemes. Councillors have told me that they realise that they are inflicting individual hardships in certain cases, but plead that they have very little option in the matter and must submit a scheme owing to the pressure from the Department.
It is perfectly true, as an hon. Member behind me stated a few minutes ago, that in some of these clearance schemes perfectly good properties are included. I have attended more than one of these slum clearance inquiries in a professional capacity, and I can give the Committee the advantage of the experience I have gained. I have no hesitation in saying that hardships are being inflicted which are utterly indefensible. Some time ago a slum clearance scheme was submitted from a place in my own constituency, the usual inquiry was held, and in that village, far removed from any thickly-populated area, a whole street was scheduled to be wiped out. I inspected some of the property personally, and while I entirely agree that it did not conform to what are acknowledged modern standards it was quite habitable, from the point of view of health. It was admitted at the inquiry by the medical officer of the district that the record of that particular village in the matter of infectious diseases was infinitely better than that of a new council housing estate some little distance away. One of those houses was occupied by its owner and I say, speaking with a full sense of responsibility, after having inspected the property, after attending the inquiry, and after having conversed with the owner, that the destruction of that particular house was nothing short of wanton waste. The Minister will appreciate that I should not use language of that strong character unless I felt there was justification for it.
I have a recollection of another inquiry and of the case of two properties which were abutting on one another. One of the properties was a house and shop, for which the owner had not long previously refused £1,200. The other was a perfectly good dwelling-house. At the inquiry the medical officer of health admitted under cross-examination that, taking those two properties separately, each of them was sanitary, was habitable and was, in fact, a substantial and valuable property; but simply because the amount of lateral space between the two properties was not in accordance with modern standards they were included in the clearance scheme and would have been demolished had the whole scheme gone through. Fortunately, as a result of the fight which was put up, but only after a very big fight, those two properties were excluded. That instance shows the danger of valuable properties being included in a slum clearance scheme. Had those two properties been demolished under that scheme not a penny piece of compensation would have been payable, except in the event of the council sooner or later requiring the land for rebuilding.
I will give two other examples of hardship. In another place in my constituency there was an ex-service man who suffered from a disability after three years' service in France. He saved up and in 1924 purchased a house and a small shop. He paid £400 for that property, borrowing £275 from a building society after the property had been
inspected by the building society representative. That property was included in a slum clearance scheme, and although an inquiry was held it has not been excluded. I have here a letter from the man:
I wish to lodge with you a strong protest against the methods of the Minister's representative in holding the inquiry. When the proposal of the council first came forward I, as owner, lodged an objection in writing, and I attended at the inquiry with my witnesses. The building society had also lodged their objection and they were heard, but I was never called upon by the inspector, although he must have had in his hands my written objection. As subsequently I was asked for and gave an undertaking in writing to carry out the alterations and improvements required by the local council I did not worry about not having had an opportunity at the inquiry, and I am amazed now to find that my property is condemned to be destroyed. I ask you to make further inquiry into the matter. The only objection to the property which I have not remedied was that the floor was six inches below street level; but had I been heard at the inquiry I could have explained that when I bought the property the floor was not below street level but that lately the street level has itself been raised.
In giving that instance I ask the Committee to remember that since 1925 the man has been indebted to the building society. He has paid off £115, and there is £160 still to pay. The property is to be destroyed without the man having been heard at the inquiry, and without a penny of compensation to him; moreover, under the Order, he will have to pay the cost of the demolition of his own property. The man is being ruined by the operation of this procedure. His life savings are gone, and he is losing his property, and he will still be faced with indebtedness of £160 towards the building society. That is un-English treatment of a man who did his bit in the War. There is a mistaken idea as to what happens to a man who has a building society mortgage on his property. Do not let bon. Members think that because there is an order for the destruction of the property under a clearance scheme, and because that property was the security of the building society—
May I put a question to the hon. Member on the case which he has just cited? If the deeds of that property were handed to the building society, how does that affect the man in regard to his debt of £160?
I am just explaining the position. If a man obtains a mortgage from a building society on the security of his property, whether the security remains or not he is still liable, in the amount which he borrowed, upon his personal property. In the case of most mortgages, whether with building societies or with private individuals, in addition to the security of the property mortgaged there is always inserted a personal provision which binds the borrower. I am endeavouring to point out to the Committee that even in circumstances where the property has been taken this man is ruined, because he is faced with this debt to the building society hanging over his head. I would utter a word of warning to the Minister and to the Committee, that this is not an isolated case and that there are many such cases. The operation of the Act is having the effect of driving law-abiding, thrifty, patriotic citizens of this type into the Fascist camp. I have direct evidence that this is happening. The Parliamentary Secretary may smile at the suggestion, but, if he will make inquiries, he will find that this is not such a far-fetched statement as he appears to think it is.
The other case which I wish to mention is that of a widow of 73 years of age, an old age pensioner living with her daughter in a house with three rooms. The daughter is also of an advanced age. The woman was the owner of the property, and was able to carry on with the aid of her old age pension. She lived there quite comfortably and happy. I visited her myself, because she was a constituent of mine, and I was charmed with the manner in which she kept her house—clean and comfortable—and she was living happily with her daughter. The lady had had the property for some time, and in 1919 she had had it remodelled, having a dormer window fixed, and she spent a good deal of money upon it. The house is included in a slum clearance scheme. She appealed against the inclusion, and she was represented at the inquiry. All that could be said against the property was—and here I have the actual list of defects which was produced at the inquiry:
Dwelling-house; two rooms and attic (partitioned off, making two attics); two adults; cement rendered in front; pantiled roof; height of attic 7 feet 3 inches in centre; no lateral space; no fireplace; no special ventilation"—
although, as I have explained, there was a dormer window in the attic and there was ventilation in the skylight. It goes on:
Tap in lobby with no sink.
Then there is a paragraph to explain the extent to which the dwelling-house is dangerous or injurious to the health of the inhabitants of the area, and here is typed:
Narrowness and bad arrangement of street.
The medical officer of health's summary at the foot of the form is:
Apart from the fact that the attic is low and that there is no lateral space, the chief objection is the narrowness and bad arrangement of street.
That is all that could be said against this property. The lady resisted strongly the inclusion of the property in the slum clearance scheme, but, despite all that was said on her behalf, the property is to be destroyed. She was represented by a qualified architect, who gave evidence at the inquiry as to the habitability of the house, and a doctor also gave evidence in her favour, but, despite that, the property is to be destroyed. In response to a request by the Minister's inspector she gave this undertaking:
I hereby undertake to carry out the improvements shown on the annexed plan and the following repair work and alterations to the satisfaction of the council.
to execute such pointing repair and painting as may be needful; to repair yard and sanitary arrangement, floors and walls, as possible to satsify the council.
Then she agreed to this:
I further undertake to comply with the requirements of the council in regard to other repairs referred to in the evidence of the medical officer of health, put in at the inquiry, to the like satisfaction.
Not only did she allege that the property was habitable and sanitary, but she also undertook in writing to carry out any additional repairs that the council have asked her for. Despite all that, the property is to be destroyed, although she was only an old age pensioner.
Can the hon. Gentleman give the Committee the capital value of that house, and the rent charged to the tenant? Without those particulars, the information is not very useful
I do not care what the capital value of the house is. It is not possible for me to put a capital value on it. It does not affect the principle of the matter whether the capital value is £100, £200, or £400. If the Parliamentary Secretary had been in a few minutes earlier, he would have heard me instance a ease where the capital value was £400. I do not suggest that the capital value of the house in this case is £400. As to the rent, if the Parliamentary Secretary had understood me aright or heard me, he would know that this old age pensioner herself occupied the house, and that she was not receiving any rent for it. I am sure the Committee will agree that you cannot include this case in the category, of which we often hear, of rapacious landlords and owners of slum property. The Committee will appreciate that a woman in these circumstances is quite unable to pay the rent of a new house, and only one thing would be left to her after her property was destroyed and she had to pay the cost of demolition; that would be the workhouse. Mercifully, she was saved from what would have been to her an everlasting disgrace, because I have a letter which states that:
Mrs. Mills (the widow in question) has died this week.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give me his attention while I read this letter, because I think it will, at any rate, appeal to his sympathies:
Her death is a direct result of the worry she has been caused through this clearance order. I think you will agree that her little cottage was by no means a slum, and also that for her age she was in good health when you saw her in the early weeks of this year. In her last moments she could only speak of the thing that was preying on her mind, that is, the loss of her little home she had managed to provide. Her daughter, who is nearly blind, is left behind to face the music, and her only income is obtained from the guardians.
A case like that must appeal to the Committee as one deserving of their sympathetic consideration, and I do not think it any exaggeration to say, after having read that letter and knowing what I know of the facts personally, that that
poor woman was hounded to her grave by soulless bureaucracy. I want to appeal to the Minister to look into these cases and see what can be done to alleviate them. The cases I have mentioned could be multiplied a hundredfold, and I think he will not be unresponsive to my appeal, for I would like to remind him of a speech he himself made at Birmingham on 5th October, 1933, when he said he realised that there was anxiety lest injustice might be done to the owners of habitable property in slum areas. In passing, perhaps, I may explain that it was never alleged that the area in which this property existed was a slum area. In fact, the inspector and the medical officer of health went out of their way to say that they did not regard it as a slum area, nor were they so characterising it.
The Minister in that same speech went on to say that it was feared they might lose their buildings without compensation in order to obtain a clear site. That was not his idea of the way in which the Housing Act ought to be administered either in law or in equity, and special consideration would be paid to such people. It was not in accordance with the spirit of the Act that buildings of that sort should be cleared away without compensation. I appeal to the Minister, and I think my appeal will not be in vain, because, having made that speech, he must agree that for things of the kind I have mentioned to be permitted to happen in the name of slum clearance is nothing short of a prostitution of the powers given by this Parliament. By all means let the right hon. Gentleman proceed with his task of slum clearance. Indeed, I should like him to go down to posterity as the man who removed the blot of slums from the fair face of England, but in all conscience let it be done in a way that is compatible with our notions of British justice and fair play.
In conclusion, I would like to make one suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. Where there are areas on which slum property is situated or property not regarded as up to modern standpoints of sanitation, unless these areas are required for rebuilding purposes, surely it would be better to concentrate on construction rather than on destruction, and lot the energies of the Department and of the local authorities be devoted to the erection of new houses, instead of being dissipated in the destruction of property, the sites of which are not required for rebuilding. If the Minister will accept that position, many of the hardships I have mentioned to-night would not occur.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken. The touching details he has quoted must appeal to the Committee. I should have liked to make some observations on the views of the Parliamentary Secretary, but I propose to touch on one only, and that is his announcement of the intention of the Minister to introduce further housing legislation at an early date. I heard that announcement with no degree of pleasure. The Minister, when he first assumed office, explained that he was quite satisfied that there had been a plethora of housing and similar legislation, and that the country needed a complete rest from it. That was accepted by all who heard the announcement, but as soon as he was confirmed in office he evidently changed his mind, and has come to the conclusion that it would be a good thing for the Minister to have further powers in matters such as building. That is a view I do not share. I am perfectly satisfied that housing progress and progress with slum clearance will be made in proportion as the Minister takes his hand out of the business and leaves it to ordinary enterprise.
I wish to make reference to a proposal of the Minister, the object of which I now see rather more clearly than I did, since the announcement of the Parliamentary Secretary—I mean the proposal very considerably to augment the technical staff for housing purposes. From page 20 of the printed Vote it would appear that the Minister's present technical staff consists of 21, and he proposes to augment it to 45. I do not know what proportion of the provision, amounting to about £14,000 a year, is in respect of housing and what in respect of town planning, but I have assumed that they are in approximately equal proportions and, if that estimate is correct, and my further assumption is correct that the whole of this additional staff will be required for housing purposes, it is the intention of the Minister to triplicate his present technical staff for housing pur- poses. If that is his present intention, I sincerely hope he will not give effect to it. In the interest of housing progress, I would appeal to him not to do so. If he should disregard that advice, I hope he will get, as I expect he will be able to get, additional technical assistance of that high standard of skill, energy, initiative and loyalty which he at present possesses in the excellent technical staff he has in this particular branch of his Ministerial Department.
If there were the slightest probability of this increase in staff resulting in an acceleration of the production of houses, and in remedying the slum evil, everyone would agree with it, but it is my experience, and I should have thought it would have been the Minister's, that the result of Ministerial activities of this kind is quite the reverse. I am satisfied that housing progress will be in inverse ratio to Ministerial activity, and I think I shall be able to prove that to the satisfaction of the Committee and, I hope, also of the Minister. In order to do so it is necessary to remind the Committee that houses were built in very great numbers long before there was any Ministerial intervention, or before the Minister had any housing staff. He might have had a staff of one, but certainly not more. In 1905, 30 years ago, without any Ministerial assistance or subsidy, houses were built in enormous numbers; the country was overbuilt, and there were plenty of houses to let. In that year, 130,000 houses were built, and, of these, 100,000 were of an annual value of less than £20.
It is not fair to compare any one particular year with any other particular year, but in 1910 there came a piece of Government intervention which created a considerable setback in housing production in this country. That was the Finance Act, 1910, following the "People's Budget." It struck a staggering blow at private enterprise in house building generally. During the five years previous to its passing, the average production of small houses was 80,000 per annum, but during the four or five years following the Finance Act, 1910, which was the first act of Government interference in the business of housing, the figure of 80,000 was reduced to approximately 40,000 a year, and that was [...] beginning of our national housing problem. During the five years following [...] Government intervention, there was an annual deficit in housing production of 40,000 houses a year, or a total deficit, up to the beginning of the War period, of 200,000. It was not until 1925 that we were able to equal the rate of production in 1905, and by that time we had had further Government intervention in a number of Housing Statutes from 1919 onwards. That Government intervention was of such an extent that, altogether, the total deficit amounted to nearly 500,000 houses. In attempting to put that right, great efforts have been made, and lavish expenditure of Government money has been incurred, with the result that the country has been mulct in costs amounting to between £500,000,000 and £600,000,000.
When the Government intervened in 1919, they certainly did so with a vengeance. After the War, the Minister of Health took complete charge of the housing business of this country. From 1919 to 1923, private enterprise was absolutely crippled. Nothing could be doen in housing production except with the assistance and consent of the Ministry of Health. The net result of those years of Ministerial activity was the building of not more than 60,000 houses a year, an increase in the price of houses from £300 to £1,200 per house, and the creation of an amount of demoralisation in the building industry from which the industry did not recover for a full decade. It is true that a certain amount of relief came after that. It came with the Chamberlain Act of 1923, purely and simply from the fact that Ministerial control was relaxed, and private enterprise was permitted a certain measure of play and latitude. Immediately the Government pressure was relaxed, housing production started to increase considerably. The effect was the converse of that produced by the Finance Act, 1910, and the Government's housing activities between 1919 and 1923. In the latter case, the Government intervention retarded progress, but, with the relaxation of Government control, the activities of private enterprise greatly increased, and the production of houses increased in proportion. The result of the relaxation of Government control in 1923 became apparent in 1924 and 1925, for the previous annual rate of production, namely, 80,000 houses per annum, became, in 1924, 108,000, and in 1925, 160,000.
It is peculiar, but it will be found to be the case from the statistics of housing production, that during the eight years following 1925 housing production has remained at about a constant level. It has varied a little, but one finds that from the three sources of housing production combined—private enterprise unaided, private enterprise subsidised, and local authorities' activities subsidised—there has been a steady production of nearly 200,000 houses per annum, and, do what you will, you cannot get more than that so long as the Minister exercises a large degree of control and supervision over matters of this kind. Evidence of that will be found from the results of the Measure of 1923 and of the Minister's Bill of last year, whereby he removed, not only all the subsidies, but also the controlling hand of the Minister, which is necessary when he is administering subsidies. Immediately all that Governmental control was removed, the production of houses went up enormously; it increased to what the Minister himself has described as a very astonishing extent.
I did not hear the Minister's speech on 20th June, but I have read it since, and would like to call attention to some observations which he then made. Referring to the great boom in house building, he said:
As a result of this astonishing boom, we are now building houses at the rate of 300,000 a year and at the rate of 155,000 a year for the lower-paid wage earners.
I do not know why that should be so astonishing to him. It would not be astonishing to anyone who had any experience of industry in general or of the building industry in particular. It is a natural consequence of the removal of Governmental control. If you take control off and leave enterprise entirely free, up goes the production of houses immediately. There need be no astonishment at that. I do not quite know in what sense he uses the word "we." I do not think he can be referring to himself in his Ministerial capacity, because the boom is not the result of any positive action that he has taken but of his purely negative action in withdrawing ministerial control. He goes on:
I am sure that we all join in satisfaction at the astonishing number of houses, but I should 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 into a system of controlled subsidy for slum clearance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1934; col. 402, Vol. 291.]
I think the Minister does less than justice to the Act, because the boom was really consequent upon, and was entirely due to, the provisions of the Act, and he ought to take full credit for that. I think he is a little disingenuous when he says the Act alters the system from a general subsidy into a system of controlled subsidy for slum clearance. My recollection is that there was no reference in the Act to slum clearance at all. In any case, none of the subsidy which previously had gone into the building of houses under the 1923 and 1924 Acts can possibly have gone into slum clearance. It can have nothing whatever to do with that, and the explanation is a little disingenuous. If he had said it was solely due to the fact that he had stopped the subsidy, I should entirely agree with him. The only astonishing thing that I can find is that he has failed to draw the proper deductions from this astonishing progress. The Act of 1933 was a very short one. The first Section contained a provision for the entire elimination of all subsidies under the previous Housing Acts. The result of the purely negative action of the relaxation of Government control was that housing increased rapidly until you are building at present at the rate of 300,000 a year, entirely because the Minister no longer interferes or intervenes.
Under the second Section of the Act the Minister did, however, institute some positive powers when he made provision for some measure of co-operation and control by the Department, the local authorities and the building societies. The result of that Section has been a profound and absolute failure. Where he has retained a measure of control he is building houses at the rate of 3,000 a year. Under the first Section, when he entirely gives up control, he gets an output of 300,000 houses per annum. I should have thought he would have read the writing on the wall and would have seen clearly that progress is in proportion as he leaves it alone. The converse equally applies. There are two respects only in which housing progress is unsatisfactory, and those are the two respects in which the Minister retains a certain amount of control. So far as he has given up control, everything is quite satisfactory. In these two respects in which he retains a measure of control they are unsatisfactory. One is slum clearance and the other is in regard to small houses to let under the 1933 Act. I have dealt with the respects in which the 1933 Act is unsatisfactory and, so far as slum clearance is concerned, notwithstanding anything that the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I am still satisfied that practical progress is distinctly disappointing.
In this respect I am particularly sorry that the Minister is on the point of triplicating his staff, particularly so because with this triplicated staff, coupled with the use, and in some cases the misuse, of Government money and with a system of coercing local authorities, he is going to precipitate matters in regard to slum clearance and the housing of the dispossessed, which will have serious and unfortunate repercussions. I wish he had never made the political pledge that he would clear the slums within five years, because it is clear that it can never be implemented. A slum is not a positive thing at all. It is a comparative term. Slum conditions are frequently conditions of occupation, and not of construction. The solution of the slum problem is coming in two directions, one, from the supply of a great number of alternative houses and, secondly, and most important, I think, by a process of education, enlightenment and improved wages for the working people. There are two alternatives to consider, and the Minister cannot escape from them. If he attempts to fulfil his pledge, he will overload the industry again, just as it has been overleaded by his predecessors. The result will be that building prices will go up and nothing that he can do will prevent it, and that will prevent, restrict and retard the production of houses. The other alternative is that, if he will forget the pledge that he made so rashly and unwisely, he will solve the problem by permitting things to go on exactly as they are without any further interference from him, and without any further legislation. If he will do that, he will find that the present enormous rate of production, without any assistance at all from the Minister or the Department—
May I be quite sure that I am following the hon. Member? Is it his contention that we should leave the clearing of the slums to private enterprise, without any stimulus at all?
Not entirely that. All the building and rebuilding can be left entirely to private enterprise, although the actual clearance of the sites will need to be done by the Ministry of Health and the local authorities. Obviously, it must be so. You cannot leave it to private enterprise to demolish houses of the kind to which the hon. Member was referring just before I spoke. Neither can you leave it to private enterprise to expropriate property. That must be left to the Minister and the local authorities to deal with, and when the sites are cleared, then you can with perfect safety leave the building of the new blocks of flats or whatever they may be to private enterprise, without any financial assistance or any intervention whatever from the Ministry. You will find that houses at the rate of 300,000 per annum will be built for the better class artisans, and that when that class is overbuilt, they will be built for the rather lower class, and then the smaller houses again. First, you build to sell, and then you build for investment, and I submit that that is the right and proper way to approach the solution of this problem. It can and will be done quickly if you will only permit this flowing tide to run, without intervention on the part of the Minister.
Immediately after the War no one ever saw a notice board posted outside a house, "House to let," and people assumed that houses to let would never again be available, but in the course of a few years the whole town was bristling with notices, not only of houses for sale, but of houses to let, and if the Minister would only leave things alone, he would get such a production of houses that the problem could safely be left to solve itself by the process that I have mentioned. Although I agree that demolition and expropriation must be done by public departments, once those sites are cleared, then, by just the same process as you have got this enormous supply of cottage houses, you would get these tenement blocks in the centre of these areas, and your problem would be solved. The Minister has only to remember to leave things alone, and they are going with such a swing at the present time that the problem will soon solve itself without any cost whatever to the State.
I am somewhat surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith). I remember the day, and it is bound to be within his recollection, when he was administering a State scheme of housing with a very heavy subsidy from the Government, and it ill becomes him to-night, though I admire his courage as the one lone voice standing for unaided private enterprise in this House, to speak as he has done. He is "a voice crying in the wilderness"; he is now preaching an even earlier economics than the right hon. Gentleman himself, and I have criticised the Minister of Health many times. In spite of his experience in administering State-aided housing schemes, the hon. Member for Barrow is now persuaded that the one way to deal with the housing problem is to leave it with him and his friends. He stands alone, and the other 614 Members of this House are against him, or certainly the vast majority are against him.
Although I had a good deal to do with the housing schemes of 1919 to 1923, the fatal policy of the Minister of Health at that date was no policy of mine, and I reported very strongly against it. I reported absolutely that it was doomed to failure, but we had to do the best we could with it, and it is on account of my experience at that time that I am so satisfied that further Ministerial assistance is not required.
I do not think there is any point in the hon. Member's intervention. He has had it both ways, and he has come to this conclusion. However, I wish to say something with regard to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. What struck me in the interrupted Debate that we had about a fortnight ago was that the Government had singularly few friends as regards their housing policy, and certainly the hon. Member for Barrow is not to be counted among the friends of the National Government in this respect. Yet the Parliamentary Secretary, towards the end of his speech, claimed that the real justification for the National Government was the policy of the Ministry of Health. He referred to two main questions, both of which I touched upon when I spoke on the first occasion when the Vote for the Ministry of Health was before the Committee. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to my statement about faith and works, but he made no reference whatever to the works before the National Government took office or to what had been done in the sphere of water supply by the previous Labour Government. He confined what he had to say to the past two and a-half months. What was his statement? I cannot write shorthand, but I took it down as well as I could. First he told us—and he has told us this in the House before—that two months ago there were only 150 parishes where there was a water shortage.
Only 150 rural districts in which there was a water shortage. This really strengthens my case, yet in the past two and a-half months applications have been received from 593 parishes, covering I do not know how many rural districts, for schemes requiring the expenditure of capital amounting to £1,700,000. The Government have approved schemes within the last critical two and a-half months—this is a new period in our national history, and we shall come to another one presently, but this is the pre-water and the post-water period—for 211 parishes, about a third of the parishes which made application, for schemes of a capital value of £700,000; that is to say, within the last two and a-half months the Government have allocated nearly three-quarters of the £1,000,000 which they thought was going to deal adequately with the situation. When the Bill was before the House we were told that the million pounds was to deal with one problem and the previous Bill was to deal with another problem, but for the convenience of the Government we had both schemes inextricably mixed together to-day, for their own advantage, and the moral which the Parliamentary Secretary draws is that in the last two and a-half months twice the amount of money has been devoted to expenditure on water supplies as in the past two years. I can only say that that is the Government's own fault. They stopped all the water schemes two and a-half years ago.
The Parliamentary Secretary is an old journalist, but he does not refrain from referring to his old colleagues. He spoke of newspaper areas of drought. It may be true that the newspapers have exaggerated the situation, but the Parliamentary Secretary is not going to be able to escape from his responsibilities by referring to an unknown, unnamed writer in a contemporary. I do not know whether he was referring to the "News Bulletin," which is the official organ of the Government, or whether it was the "Times."
I am very glad the hon. Member referred to it as a bright little contemporary. I thought that I should draw out that statement. That is why I mentioned the "News Bulletin." Is it the "News Bulletin"? [HON. MEMBERS: The "News Letter."] It is difficult to keep up to date with all these new publications. In his bright, journalistic way the Parliamentary Secretary said that probably the article had been written by the dramatic critic. I should like to suggest to him that the Government's attitude has been determined by the sports editor of their own newspaper, because they have been gambling. They have been gambling on dry weather ever since they came to office, but they have not quite got away with it, although they are doing their best to make the situation appear a good deal better than it really is. Let us discount, if you like, the high lights thrown up in the morning newspapers. We all know what the morning newspapers are and the evening newspapers too, but it is undoubtedly true that the situation to-day is as serious as it was a fortnight ago when this question of the water supply was before the House. It is certainly more serious than it was when the two Bills which the right hon. Gentleman has put on the Statute Book were before the House, and we have had no statement to-day, nor could we have a statement, which could assure the people of this country, especially in view of the Minister's statement on the last occasion, that we are going to get through this summer with relative ease. How- ever, I have spoken enough about the water shortage, and I will leave that point.
I turn to what the Parliamentary Secretary said about housing. Reference has been made to my Act. In the vulgar journalistic terminology of the Parliamentary Secretary, it has become a brat. He says that my brat has been one of his greatest troubles. The whole purport of the speech was to show that my brat was the greatest foster child in the Government's family. The Parliamentary Secretary slurred over water and tried to make the best of the housing crusade. We have now got to a dividing line in Parliamentary history, the time before the right hon. Gentleman took office and the time afterwards. It is not B.C. or A.D. any longer. We must think of dates in terms of the time before the crusade and after the crusade. History will have to readjust dates. The right hon. Gentleman has made great play with the question of housing and I do not blame him, because it is one of the big problems with which he has to deal; but the Parliamentary Secretary's speech did not in the least convince me that the Government are making any real headway. I am reminded of that rather cold speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Budget, when he said that we were going from "Bleak House" to "Great Expectations." The right hon. Gentleman has gone from "Great Expectations" to "Bleak House," and I am using the term "Bleak House" advisedly, because it is far more appropriately applied to him than it can be to any other Minister of State.
His great contribution to the history of the housing problem of this country is the 1933 Act. We had to-night a considered defence of that Act from the Parliamentary Secretary, but he did not really defend the Act. He began his reference to the housing situation and the housing policy of the Government by saying: "What does it matter whether houses are produced by one means or another?" He said that the builders are now building houses without any kind of assistance outside the 1933 Act. What was the case which was put to the House when the right hon. Gentleman, at the end of 1932, introduced his Bill? It was that there was still a great need for the building of houses to let to the poorer paid workers. He believes, in his wisdom, that that can best be done by private enterprise, aided by the building societies. He has more than once expressed himself as seriously concerned with the provision of houses to let at reasonable rents. What did the Parliamentary Secretary say to-night? He said: "What does it matter if houses are produced one way or the other? The builders are doing it without help." It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister supplying figures about the number of houses built in England and Wales during 12 monthly periods.
What we are entitled to ask is: "How many houses have been built to let at rents within the means of working-class families?" I gave the figures to the House when I spoke a few weeks ago, and I do not want to repeat them. The point is that the 1933 Act is a bad failure. It has not produced the houses. It certainly has not produced within the knowledge of the Minister houses to let at rents which working people can pay. The Parliamentary Secretary falls back on the defence that it does not matter how the houses are produced, that a house is a house anyway, and he tries to draw me into his defence by some answer which I gave to Sir Ernest Simon, who was then in this House, some time ago. I should like him to send me the context of the question and the answer or the Debate, because I have never argued that a house for working people to let is the same thing as a house built by private enterprise for whomsoever can afford to buy it.
The Parliamentary Secretary goes on to say that the owner-occupier house is as good as a house to let. That is a new theory. It was not said when the Act of 1933 was being placed on the Statute Book. The Government's concern was for houses to let and not houses for owner-occupiers. We have had speeches from the Minister and from the Parliamentary Secretary on the question of the people who could not, or who for various reasons should not, buy their own houses. We know from their previous speeches that it is necessary to provide houses to let for working people. Now the defence of the Government in support of their futile and fatuous Act of 1933 is that the owner-occupier is in exactly the same state as the tenant, and that the artisans and the skilled workers are going out to the suburbs. They are being driven out to the suburbs. It is not that they wish to go far from their work, but there is a limit to their patience in waiting for houses, and they are having to take on obligations of ownership which they do not wish to undertake. The whole of the suburbs of London are littered with houses which have been occupied, not by artisans, but by professional people, now out of work, who took on the obligation of purchase and ownership when they thought that they could do so, and they are now sharing houses at Pimlico. There are thousands of houses on the outskirts of London belonging to owner-occupiers which are in pawn. Many of these people have not been able to redeem them and have had to go elsewhere.
It is no solution of the problem and no defence of the Housing Act, 1933, for the Government to say: "It does not matter how it is done. We have more owner-occupiers, and that is just as good as having houses to let." Members of the Committee here to-day who heard the explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary in defence of the Government's housing policy will be disappointed, and rightly so. There is not a Member of this House who makes himself heard outside on the public platform who has not said that the urgent need, quite apart from the question of slums, was houses to let at reasonable rents. It has been said by Members of His Majesty's Government. Where are we now? We are driven back to the question of slum clearance. The Parliamentary Secretary uses that as an excuse. He says that it is to help to solve the problem of working-class houses, but it is not. The Act of 1933 was to have solved the problem of working-class houses. It has not done it; it cannot do it.
The housing policy of the Government has been proved to have been a failure. If the right hon. Gentleman could come to this House and say that under the Act of 1933, with the guarantee of the building societies, he had built his 200,000 houses which were being let at reasonable rents, nobody on this side of the Committee and nobody anywhere would complain, because he would have fulfilled what he undertook to do. He has not done it. He said that he was going to do it, and he has not. He has produced 2,000 houses under this scheme, and the only defence he has today is that houses are being built in as great numbers as ever before, and that the owner-occupier is the man who has taken these houses. In the vast majority of cases the owner-occupiers have put themselves under obligations which most of them find it difficult to fulfil. I am satisfied that members of the Committee will look at this problem of housing as they looked at it two and a-half years ago, as they looked at it when the Bill of 1932–33 was before the House. That was a Bill to allow private enterprise to supply all our housing needs, and it was said that if we only left it to private enterprise everything would be well. The experience of the 1933 Act has proved that all is not well as a result of this recourse to private enterprise. It has even been hinted on more than one occasion that the Government are going to introduce legislation to go back on their tracks; that proves the case that I have tried to make to-night.
Let mo say at once that the passionate outburst of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was for the purpose of concealing an argument based on a mis-statement of the facts; it was a concealment of every material consideration in this matter. He says that the object of our housing policy should be the supply of houses for the lower-paid wage-earners. That is the object towards which we are striving. Was it being obtained under the policy of the right hon. Gentleman? Year by year public expenditure was being piled up under his policy until there was an expenditure of £14,000,000 a year for the construction of municipal housing estates. Year by year the whole housing energies of the State were being occupied in the construction of these housing estates under the policy initiated by the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors, who are, apparently, unable to profit by the simple lessons of experience and are unable to realise that that money was being wasted. A sum of £13,500,000 a year is the bill which we have now to pay for the mistaken policy and the series of grotesque proposals of the right hon. Gentleman.
Was it not time that we put an end to such a waste of public money and introduced some reason and common sense into our housing policy? That is what we are trying to do. These municipal houses were not being occupied, on the whole, by lower-paid wage earners; that is the opinion of every housing expert. They were being occupied by the wrong classes, and what we have set out to secure is that when public money is spent, it shall be directed and used in order to secure the better housing of the people who must be better housed, that is the lower-paid wage earners and the dwellers in slums and overcrowded areas. This period of wastage will, I trust, never recur. All the efforts of the State, directed by intelligence and knowledge, will, I hope, be made to secure that once and for all we shall get the work done which we want to have done, that is the pulling down of slums, the abolition of overcrowding and a decent standard of housing accommodation for the lower-paid wage earners. The right course to pursue is to put an end to a period of undirected and uncontrolled subsidies, producing no good results, and substitute for it a period of a directed and controlled use of subsidies. That is what we are doing now. I have been led a little from the main lines on which I should conclude a Debate of this character by a sense of impatience that the experience and knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman should not have enabled him to learn and profit by the lessons of his experience. I trust that in course of time he will be able to mend his ways and assist the good work, instead of pulling down what has been done.
Let me turn to the question of water, which was mentioned by the right, hon. Gentleman. I was asking myself while he spoke why it was that I felt so curiously indifferent to his criticisms on the subject of water. It is not indeed an indifferent matter. If any words of the right hon. Gentleman gave me the least cause to think that anything was being left undone by me or by the Ministry over which I have the honour to preside, in order to mitigate the evils and the hardships of a time of great drought, I should indeed be concerned by his criticisms; but I believe that the reason why I felt so little concern was that he made it too clear that he cared not so much about the hardships of his countrymen in the drought, as about making some party political capital out of the drought problem. It is so easy to do. The right hon. Gentleman has given us full warning that as the summer goes on his criticism of the Government will be renewed. I have no doubt it will. I think it will leave us quite unmoved as long as we are quite sure that we are doing all that can be done. It is upon that aspect of the question that the House needs a word of assurance.
The recent dry weather has, of course, renewed the necessity for sparing use of water on the part of the whole country. Let me deprecate earnestly the words used by the right hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who seemed to indicate that the public could consider that it need not economise water if someone else did their duty, that is to say, the water undertakings or the Government. That is a most dangerous line to develop. In such a drought as this a nation with political common sense must recognise that in its own self-defence it has got to economise in the use of water. Everything that can be done will be done by local authorities and the Government. But the nation must co-operate in its self-defence by preserving water for essential uses. I can say that at the Ministry of Health we are as far as this is possible in control of the situation, with the assistance of the actual executive water authorities in the country. We have now direct means of knowledge wherever there is shortage, and are sure that whatever measures can be taken to alleviate that shortage are taken. I can also say that there is no water authority within my knowledge, where there is a shortage, which is not taking all practical measures that it ought to take in order to relieve the shortage.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton asked a question that was both practical and pertinent. He said, "Can you assure us that not only are you asking the public to go short, but that you are doing all that can be done to develop new supplies to assist in the drought?" That is so. Under the emergency powers the water authorities are doing all that can be done to develop new supplies and to prevent their having to reduce the amount available to the public. To a large extent, for reasons that. I have, explained, that can be done by way of voluntary arrange- ments, because the water authorities have the powers of the Act behind them. There are seven cases already where fresh emergency supplies have been secured—Daventry, Llangollen, Market Drayton, Yeovil, Bridport, Huddersfield and Sevenoaks. Under these conditions I can give the House an assurance that all that can be done is being done to relieve the hardships of the districts during the emergency. As regards the permanent work which is going on for the relief of rural areas under the £1,000,000 grant, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield showed something less than his usual clearness of apprehension in his comments upon the figures given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. On reflection he will see that the figure of £700,000 which my hon. Friend gave was not and could not be the amount of the grant involved but the value of the work to be done.
It is within the memory of the Committee and I think hon. Members will agree that the right hon. Gentleman left the Committee under the impression which I have indicated. I repeat that the £700,000 is the value of the work and not the amount of the grant. The amount of the grant is very much smaller. We have had a most interesting Debate to-day ranging over a wide variety of subjects. We had particularly interesting speeches from the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Salt) with his great knowledge of housing, and from the hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) with his great knowledge of London housing conditions. We had also a very interesting speech from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) which supplied the answers to a good many of the questions put by the hon. Member for Westhoughton. So many points have been raised that I am sure the Committee will realise that I could not attempt to deal with them all in the course of my speech but I assure the Committee that the suggestions which have been made will be taken into careful consideration and that I have listened to many of them with the greatest interest. With regard to questions asking for particular information on particular cases I will go through the Debate and communicate with the hon. Members who have asked those questions, supplying information where I can usefully do so, on the matters which they have raised.
Let me now come to some of the more general topics dealt with in the Debate. The hon. Member for Westhoughton made, as we would expect from him, a most interesting speech on the subject of national health insurance. Indeed it is a matter of some surprise that such an interesting branch of the Ministry's work should have been left until so late in our discussions on these Estimates. Here again, I think the hon. Member shared the unfortunate experience of some of his colleagues upon that bench by falling into a mistake—a surprising thing for him to do in relation to the subject of national health insurance—and he led the Committee, unintentionally I am sure, into a misapprehension. This in turn led another hon. Member on his side the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) to make a very curious speech in which he demanded the immediate remedy of a grievance which has not occurred and will not occur. The hon. Member for Westhoughton left the Committee under the impression that old people were now being deprived of their pension rights because of failure, through unemployment to maintain themselves in insurance. That is a complete misapprehension. There is no foundation for it. I can confirm what has been said by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. All those who are in insurance for pensions are continued in insurance until the end of 1935 and after that year, by the much-abused Act of 1932, to which the hon. Member opposite seems to have taken such a dislike, it is actually made easier for them to continue in insurance by the reduction of the age at which they become permanently insured.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is now-putting a completely different case. Let me clear up one mistake before I proceed to deal with another. It is not the case that aged persons are losing then-pensions insurance rights, and it is a confusion of thought to suppose that they are. I am really astonished that the hon. Member for Westhoughton did not turn his attention to another part of the field of National Health Insurance, because he is an expert on these matters. I thought he shared with me great anxiety about the position of those who, owing to unemployment, fall into arrears of their Health Insurance contributions, arrears which affect their cash benefits. It is a very large class, numbering 750,000 in the year. It is a class that has given me the greatest concern throughout my administration, because I am well aware that that is where unemployment affects those insured under National Health Insurance. They fall into arrear, and they find it difficult to get out again.
With the assistance of the approved societies and my advisers, I have constantly sought for means of relieving the position of these arrears. We have taken measure after measure for that relief and it has been very effective for the purpose. In the first place, the unemployed discharge their arrears by paying half the normal contributions, that is, 9d. instead of 1s. 6d., half of the arrears due to unemployment being excused. In addition, we have made it possible for them to pay by instalments instead of in a lump sum, which the approved societies assure us is a practical step. We extended the period of grace to the 31st March, 1934, and I shall deal with sympathy with any proposal to make a similar extension in any succeeding year. Lastly, in the course of this year a very big concession, which has not been announced to the House, has been made. Formerly the reductions of the arrears payments to 9d. was only available to those who could account for three-quarters of the year's contributions, either by unemployment, or sickness, or actual contributions. In order to simplify the matter and to assist the position of those who are falling into arrears, we have now succeeded in arranging that this reduction of the arrears of contributions from 1s. 6d. to 9d. shall be made not only to that class but in the case of all those who, owing to unemployment, are falling into arrears.
That is a very big concession indeed, and one which we are told by the approved societies will make a very great alleviation of the situation for the unemployed. The Committee will ask on whom the financial burden of this concession falls. It falls upon the pensions fund, and therefore indirectly upon the Exchequer. No immediate allocation of funds is necessary in order to meet it. The Committee will agree with me that the best remedy for those who are falling out of National Health Insurance or for those who are falling into arrears on their Health Insurance payments is to enable them to keep up their payments by increasing employment. It is to that that we look. That is the really constructive work that should be done in order to benefit those whose rights under National Health Insurance are prejudiced. From that point of view, it is encouraging to look at some figures which I will give to the Committee. They are a little sidelight upon the increase of employment and they are taken from figures that are available from National Health Insurance. The sale of stamps gives direct evidence of the increase or reduction in employment, measuring the weeks of employment in the country, and this guide shows that compared with the first quarter of 1932—I do not take 1933, because it was a year of influenza epidemic—there was an increase at an annual rate of 18,000,000 more weeks of employment in 1934.
While the right hon. Gentleman is on that point there is another matter we would like to get cleared up. Is any provision made for those who have already gone out of cash benefit and medical benefit and who will be called upon to become voluntary contributors and not only to pay 9d. but 1s. 6d. a week? Is there any method by which those people are being assisted?
The hon. Member is dealing now with a different class, those who have gone out of employment altogether. I will not repeat the argument upon that subject, which was familiar to us at the time the Act was passed which now governs these matters. The House will remember that we said then that we look forward confidently to the time when improving circumstances will make it possible for us to increase the allowance which was made in respect of the continuation of insurance, but it must always be governed by the fundamental necessity of maintaining the relation between contributions and benefits, because unless we maintain that principle National Health Insurance may meet with the same disasters as were experienced in the case of unemployment insurance.
There are one or two aspects of housing to which I ought to refer. The Parliamentary Secretary has said so well what had to be said about slum clearance that I do not think there is very much more I can say about that in addition to what I said in my former speech. I would suggest to hon. Members, however, that they should approach the consideration of the slum clearance position in this way. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green put his finger on the spot when he said that what we really want to watch is the progress of the conversion of the programme into the actual clearance of slums and the building of houses. I want to fix the attention of the country on this matter in order that the country may judge how far our programme is being converted into actual work. May I draw the simile of a mill? The machinery which condemns slums and gets houses built in their place is like a mill turned by water. At the present time in order to get our slum clearance programme concluded in the limited time we have to work to an average flow of water through the mill—of "house water" that is—at the rate of about 4,500 houses a month. I invite the country and the Committee to look to see whether we are working up to that average and are going to get sufficient periods above the average to make up for the periods below the average. At present we are, of course, only in the initial stages of the work. The water is only just beginning to be led into the mill, and we cannot yet see anything like a proper flow. I am glad to say that the last available returns in connection with that average flow reveal that we have now touched the 4,000 mark. I confess that when I saw that we had touched the 4,000 mark my heart rejoiced, because I saw that we were really going to get a flow comparable with what we need in order to get our programme running.
I always like to remind hon. Members when I speak on this subject that the slums are not going to fall like the walls of Jericho before the blast of a trumpet, not even when it is a blast on his own trumpet blown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. It requires hard fighting and a gallant assault against the walls. What delights me and encourages me is that there is now complete unanimity on the subject in this House. I delight, too, in the thought that when the second National Government passes and is replaced by the third, and when one Minister of Health is replaced by another, the country will still be committed to this effort, and I do not think that any Government will be able to discontinue it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield charges me with having wasted two years before I got to work. Wasted them? No. We were refounding the basis of security and safety on which it was possible to make such an effort, after the shattering of the confidence of the country brought about by our predecessors. To anybody with a sense of proportion in this matter, it must be perfectly clear that the country cannot undertake an effort of the sort on which it has now embarked, and which we are going to ask it to increase in the autumn, except upon an assured basis of national stability and confidence.
As time goes on and this work becomes more widecast, strains will appear and reactions will take place, and we shall have the case thoroughly searched in regard to justice to the owners of the houses. It is right and necessary that it should be so. When people say, "Why cannot you speed up the process of the work?" I say, "You must not speed it up to the extent of running the risk of not giving a fair trial to each house. It is necessary to give a fair trial to each house, when you are going to do away with it without allowing any compensation. What is the state of affairs in regard to that? I thought I made it clear before, but I should like to make it clear again, that the houses considered are divided into houses that are unfit for habitation and houses that are fit for habitation. If a local authority includes as unfit for habitation a house which is fit and which it ought not to include, then, upon the advice of my inspectors, I exclude it. That is the security that houses which are fit shall not be condemned. As regards the point about houses that are unfit and which should be cleared without compensation, I quite agree that houses that are not fit should be cleared.
There remains the third class of houses which are included in the Act. I can summarise the provisions of the Act by a phrase that will be perfectly familiar to all hon. Members. They are houses which are condemned as bad neighbours. It is nearly a year since I said that, on the scale and the manner in which we are now administering this Act, it did not seem to me that it would be administered properly if we included houses of that sort for condemnation without compensation. I gave those undertakings which have been quoted to-day, to the effect that those houses should not be included, and they are not so included. "Bad neighbours" are not being included at the present time.
I am using a phrase to summarise the provisions of the Section referring to houses which are a danger to health because of the narrowness or congestion of the streets or because of their arrangement. Their characteristic is that they are fit for habitation themselves, and may be perfectly good houses in every way, but they are "bad neighbours," and these are the houses that I say are not being condemned without compensation'. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. McKeag) made a very strong appeal on behalf of the owners of certain slums. He had the frankness to tell us that he had himself been the advocate on behalf of these properties at the inquiry. I would remind the Committee that they have had the benefit of hearing a very able and ingenious advocate on one side, but not the evidence on the other side which was heard by my inspector, and enabled me to come to a conclusion without the slightest hesitation that the properties were totally unfit for habitation, and it was because they were unfit for habitation that they were condemned. In some cases, no doubt, the slums are held by people of great moral worth and honourable record, but that is quite irrelevant. We are all bound by the laws of the country whether we are just or unjust, and we cannot plead against a law which has not only the support of authority, but the moral approbation of the country as well.
We may expect that as this work goes on the whole system of slum clearance will be tested by the heavy weight being put upon it, but up to now I think it is most satisfactory to recognise that the machine has stood the strain well, and that it has enabled us, in justice to the owners and with a reasonable celerity as regards the public interest, to carry out the work laid upon us. In this matter I would make one observation to the Committee. I think it is of so much importance to the country and the House to be able to follow step by step the progress made by the Government in dealing with housing, that I propose to make a full half-yearly return of the housing conditions of the country. I propose to make that return on the first occasion when I get the September half-year figures some time after the quarter day in September. It will put the country in full possession of the facts as regards house building, slum clearance and the progress we are able to make in certain other matters with which I have not been able to deal to-day. I feel, as I said on the last occasion, that in dealing with housing policy we have to play the part of a hero. I have so much regard for the severity of the ruling of the Chair about legislation not being discussed, that I am not going to step aside to draw down on my head the lighthings which have descended so freely on the heads of others.
There is one other matter on which I would not like to leave the Committee under any misapprehension, that is, maternal mortality. I have been challenged about the intentions of the Government. It is our intention to press ahead with the development of this service for the sake of mother and child. We are not content, and shall not be content, until we have these services in every part of the country as good as they are in the best-equipped towns. I propose, at the proper time, to renew the measures which are familiar to local authorities and to the House, for stimulating efforts of this sort by a direct message to the local authorities. I am indifferent to complaints of the number of circulars; you cannot get work done as between the central Government and the local authorities without circulars. I propose to do that at what I would call the time of tender mind with the local authorities, that is to say, in the early autumn, when they are preparing their budgets, and that is my answer to a question which was put from the benches opposite as to the time at which it was proposed that the circular should be issued.
I think that this is a matter in which we ought not to consider ourselves bound by any accepted ideas as regards present methods. We have an object; it is to reduce the rate of maternal mortality. We will try these methods of achieving that object. If they do not succeed, we must proceed to others. I do not think it is possible to state the policy more clearly than in these words. These are, in my belief, the right methods to adopt—the improvement of existing services all over the country to the greatest possible extent in order to deal with the matter. If they fail, undoubtedly we shall have to take more urgent and strenuous measures; but I do not think they will fail.
In such a Debate as this, we see how wide are the aspects of many of the
points, and how deeply significant are all the matters in which the work of the Ministry of Health touches the life of the country. It certainly fills one with a sense almost of awe at one's responsibility when one realises the vital significance and the infinite variety of the matters which fall to one's attention. In so wide an administration as that, it is inevitable that there should be matters for criticism. I welcome those criticisms which have been made to-day, and which have been most instructive and helpful to me. I welcome them most because many of them have recognised the differences between the responsibilities of the individual on the one hand and the responsibilities of the State on the other, and because they have recognised also the difference between the responsibilities of the central Government, and the responsibilities of the local authorities. I am sure the Committee will agree with me in my final reflection on an occasion such as this. Realising the immense variety of our local government, and how well it is adapted to our national needs, they would be evil days in our political history when we took any steps in the direction of replacing the vitality and the variety of our local government system by the cast-iron rule of a highly centralised government.
|Division No. 317.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding)||Maxton, James.|
|Banfield, John William||Groves, Thomas E.||Milner, Major James|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Healy, Cahir||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Buchanan, George||Jenkins, Sir William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||West, F. R.|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lawson, John James||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Daggar, George||Leonard, William||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Dobbie, William||Lunn, William||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Edwards, Charles||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Wilmot, John|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Mainwaring, William Henry||Mr. John and Mr. D. Graham.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Brown, Ernest (Leith)|
|Albery, Irving James||Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Browne, Captain A. C.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Blaker, Sir Reginald||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Bossom, A. C.||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Boulton, W. W.||Burnett, John George|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)|
|Balniel, Lord||Broadbent, Colonel John||Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Clarry, Reginald George|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Remer, John R.|
|Craven-Ellis William||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Rickards, George William|
|Critchley, Brig.-General A. C.||Ker, J. Campbell||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gaintb'ro)||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Cross, R. H.||Leckie, J. A.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Levy, Thomas||Salmon, Sir Isldore|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||Liddall, Walter S.||Salt, Edward W.|
|Denvllie, Alfred||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Dickie, John P.||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Drewe, Cedric||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Selley, Harry R.|
|Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.||Loder, Captain J. de Vera||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Loftus, Pierce C.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Both well)|
|Edmondson, Major Sir James||Lyons, Abraham Montagu||Slater, John|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine, C.)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McKeag, William||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Spens, William Patrick|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Magnay, Thomas||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Martin, Thomas B.||Stones, James|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.|
|Gledhill, Gilbert||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C.||Morrison, William Shephard||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)|
|Greene, William P. C.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Grimston, R. V.||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Nunn, William||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Hammersley, Samuel S.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Hanbury, Cecil||Orr Ewing, I. L.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Owen, Major Goronwy||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Palmer, Francis Noel||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Pearson, William G.||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur F.||Penny, Sir George||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Perkins, Walter R. D.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Petherick, M.||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Holdsworth, Herbert||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut-Colonel George|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Radford, E. A.||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Rathbone, Eleanor||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Ray, Sir William||Commander Southby and|
|Jamieson, Douglas||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Dr. Morris-Jones.|